The following letter was sent to Canberra MPs, Andrew Leigh and Gai Brodtmann (and forwarded to Kate Lundy and Gary Humphries) on Sunday 14th of August. ______________________________________________________________
Dear Dr Leigh and Ms Brodtman,
I write to draw your attention to two issues recently raised by the ACT Minister for Education, Andrew Barr, in the context of the Commonwealth Government’s Review of Funding for Schooling.
As you’d be aware, Commonwealth funding to private-schools is currently indexed against the average cost of educating students in the public system. This is despite the reality that public schools face additional costs associated with providing education to all young Australians, including those with high needs. In his submission to the Commonwealth Government’s Review, Minister Barr questioned the current arrangements.
“The ACT considers the use of the AGSRC as the basis for providing funding to non-government schools results in a generous level of indexation and funding to some non-government schools, when considering the needs of students as the primary focus. Public schools have a higher proportion of students with high needs including special needs students, Indigenous students, low-SES students and students from non-English speaking backgrounds.”
Minister Barr has also raised concerns about another aspect of the socio-economic status model introduced by the Howard government in 2001. He has noted that using census district averages to assess a student’s socio-economic status leads to significant inaccuracies. In The Canberra Times of the 10th of August he was quoted as stating:
“The key example I always give is the postcode 2603, which takes in the suburbs of Red Hill and Forrest… This is one of the richest postcodes in Australia, but it also contains quite a number of disadvantaged families in public housing and rentals… I have to raise these examples in virtually every discussion I’ve had with education ministers, because more often than not funding is aggregated across postcodes and the ACT misses out, yet we know we have pockets of disadvantage.”
Minister Barr pointed out that there is a better alternative already employed in the context of My School 2.0. The Index of Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) used on My School 2.0 relies on school-level information about parental occupation and educational attainment. When this measure was implemented on My School earlier this year, it gave a more accurate picture of the socio-economic background of the student populations at Australian schools. Surely, the same superior measure should be employed to inform Commonwealth funding of schools.
As the Gillard Government receives the Gonski Review in the coming months and then formulates its response, I urge you to attend to these two important arguments advanced by the ACT Education Minister. More generally, I urge you to advocate within the Government for a fairer, smarter funding system that strengthens the public schools that, amongst other things, educate the overwhelming majority of Australian kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.