School funding back on the agenda
A symposium* on school funding reform had grim news to share with Australia: education outcomes are just as inequitable as they were when David Gonski handed down the findings of the review he led in 2011. The symposium, run by school funding reform group Need to Succeed, heard evidence assembled by former principals Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd that education equity (the strength of the relationship between between socioeconomic status and academic achievement) has stagnated if not declined in recent years. This would represent a worrying trend, as OECD data for the period up to 2012 had shown Australia’s education system became more equitable in the preceding decade.
Even if the equity of the education system has not declined in recent years, a failure to see improvement after the reforms of recent years is troubling. Analysis of Australia’s results in the 2012 PISA international student tests from the Australian Council for Educational Research showed large disparities in academic achievement across a range of demographics:
- Indigenous students were behind their non-Indigenous peers by more than two-and-a-half years worth of schooling in all science, maths and reading test results
- Geographically remote students were between one-and-a-half to two equivalent schooling years behind metropolitan students in all science, maths and reading test results
- The gap in average scores between the highest and lowest socioeconomic status (SES) quartiles equated to around two-a-half years of schooling in all science, maths and reading results
Though Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne believes improving teacher quality is more critical to narrowing this disparity, Gonski review panellist Ken Boston questioned this prioritisation:
“The reason for our poor performance in disadvantaged schools is not that the teachers are poor but that there is not enough of them and there is not enough additional support. These are the emergency wards of Australian education and in a hospital you throw everything into an emergency ward.”
New data was also unearthed of more advantaged private schools attracting greater government funding than nearby public schools, a finding that will no doubt trouble many advocates of a more equitable school funding system.
*Disclosure: CNPE was a co-organiser of the event.
What do educators think?
The results of the 2013 Staff in Australia’s Schools Survey were also reported on this week, with the responses showing over half of public high school principals wanted additional powers to dismiss poor performing teachers and decide their school’s staffing profile. Interestingly, Catholic and independent high school principals expressed significantly less need for expanded authority in these areas and others.
The survey also showed that almost 9% of secondary schools were unable to fill math teaching positions at the beginning of 2013. One of the problems in attracting mathematics teachers is the high salary those with tertiary level qualifications in mathematics can command. With regards to pay, the survey revealed that while 64% of teachers were satisfied with their salary, only 47% of primary and 37% of secondary teachers were satisfied with the rewards available for superior performance.
So is the current salary structure working? Principals had quite different views across the public and independent sectors, but a large number in both indicated they thought the pay structure was ineffective in retaining staff or recruiting people to the profession.
When asked about different criteria for remunerating staff, secondary school principals were quite quite united in their distaste for extra pay based on gains in student learning.