We learnt worrying facts when we prepared our submission for the Senate Select Committee on School Funding.
The Committee is considering new national school funding arrangements – the model developed following the Gonski Review of School Funding.
Millions of dollars were spent during the 676 days from when the Gonski Review was announced and the release of its final report. A total of 7357 submissions and 977 pages of interim and final reports were published.
And what did we find when we examined the new funding model that came out of this work?
We are known for our strong economic analysis, and our research detailed in the submission to the Committee showed that:
the new funding model is based on poor evidence that is not robust and was not thought through
the model is not sustainable, causing public policy problems in the next five years for governments and schools – government and non-government
there is a gap between people’s understanding of the model and what is actually happening.
It’s likely that many people think that once the funding model is in place the issue is done and dusted but in fact there is likely to be continuing instability.
We agree that all schools should receive base funding plus additional loadings for particular categories of educational need. This was a key suggestion in our submission to the Gonski Review. We told the Committee that we welcome greater funding for schooling, and that it is available for all schools. This policy of ‘sector-blind’ funding must be retained. We also said that allocated funding should follow the student.
But missing in the new funding arrangements is solid evidence about what is causing apparent differences in student outcomes in schools with varying concentrations of socioeconomic disadvantage.
Research overseas and in Australia shows that students’ socioeconomic status (SES) has a limited impact on their educational needs and outcomes, and that its importance is over estimated. It is not as important in some cases as behavioural problems, less experienced teachers, lower student and family aspirations, less positive relationships between teachers and students, less homework and a less rigorous curriculum.
But after enrolments, socioeconomic background of the student population is the major single determinant of a school’s funding. All schools receive significant funding through the Low SES Loading and while it is warranted the large amount of taxpayer dollars spent is not justified. We do not advocate its removal but it should be reduced so that funding can be re-directed to support schooling priorities that are based on evidence.