The view from Australia: 'We want every kid to achieve regardless of their socioeconomic background'

14th May 2016 at 12:20
An Australian teacher explains why a new needs-based model for funding could be the answer to raising achievement in struggling schools

Wherever you are in the world, you can bet there is a debate going on around funding for education. This is because school funding is such a tricky area to get right. Governments need to make sure that schools have enough cash to allow every child to reach their potential, while also providing value for money for the taxpayer.

Here in Victoria, the debate reached a climax last December with the publication of the final report of the government’s Schools Funding Review.  The report follows a full year of consultation and outlines 70 recommendations that aim to make Victorian schools more accountable for their results, while also directing money where it is needed most.

The review suggests that funding be allocated initially on a per-student basis with targeted loadings added for factors that could create disadvantage, such as students with a disability, low socio-economic school status, indigenous students and applied-learning programs. 

In addition, there would be three new funds available to schools to help them to overcome barriers to improving performance. The first would assist in forming partnerships between schools, the second would support re-engagement programs for at-risk students and the third would be used to optimize and upgrade the physical learning environments of schools.

Repairing a disconnect

These recommendations are based on a list of key findings that will come as no surprise to Victorian teachers, because the headlines are all too familiar. For instance, the report highlights the poor academic performance of Aboriginal students, those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those in rural areas.

It also recognizes that existing school funding arrangements are often incomprehensible, with funding not allocated on the basis of need. The review recognizes that the current model actually contributes to further marginalizing already disadvantaged schools and seeks to repair this disconnect.

Some of the report’s other recommendations include establishing a dedicated independent schools watchdog, publishing annual audits of how effectively schools are using their resources and introducing salary increases for principals to incentivise improved performance, particularly in disadvantaged schools.

But for teachers, the most interesting and potentially most far-reaching of all the 70 recommendations are those that concern the new needs-based model for funding.

We want every child to achieve regardless of their socioeconomic background. An overhaul of the current system for allocating money is a great place to start. If these recommendations can be put into practice, then there is real hope that the most vulnerable students in the state can start to overcome some of the disadvantages that the system has been putting in front of them for years. 

Kai Pukarinen is an assistant principal in a special school in Victoria, Australia.

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