Fighting for Equity in Education

The struggle is long but hope is longer

Closing the Gaps

Wednesday November 3, 2010

This is a summary of a new research paper called Closing the Gaps published by Save Our Schools.

Private schools are better resourced than government schools
Total expenditure per student in government schools in Australia is much lower than in Independent schools and similar to that in Catholic schools. Average total expenditure in Independent schools in 2007-08 was $15,147 per student compared to $10,723 per student in government schools and $10,399 per student in Catholic schools. The average total expenditure for all private schools was $12,303.

Many elite private schools in Australia have total annual resources of between $24,000 and $30,000 per senior secondary student, which is double or more that available to government secondary schools.

The gap in total expenditure between government and Independent schools has more than doubled since 1998-99 while the gap between government and Catholic school expenditure decreased by more than half. The expenditure advantage of Independent schools over government schools increased from $1,971 (in current $’s) in 1998-99 to $4,424 per student in 2007-08. The expenditure advantage of government schools over Catholic schools decreased from $852 to $324 per student.

The above figures remove some major incompatibilities in the way government and private school expenditure are measured, but they are still likely to significantly under-estimate private school expenditure in comparison with government schools for several reasons.

Expenditure on school transport by governments is included in government school expenditure but not in private school expenditure. In 2007-08, school transport expenditure in NSW and Queensland was $402 and $220 per student respectively.

Private school expenditure does not include government expenditure on administration of funding and regulation of private schools and expenditure on shared government services for private schools, whereas these items are included in government school expenditure.

The expenditure figures do not include the cost to government of tax deductible donations, which are much more significant for private schools than government schools. Government school expenditure does not include the use made of parent financial contributions, but these are very small. For example, they amounted to $72 per student in NSW and $31 per student in Queensland in 2009.

Increases in total expenditure (adjusted for inflation) by private schools outstripped those in government schools between 1998-99 and 2007-08. Government school expenditure increased by $1,147 per student compared to increases of $1,739 and $2,207 per student in Catholic and Independent schools respectively. The increase in Independent schools was nearly double that in government schools while the increase in Catholic schools was 52% more.

Total expenditure per student (adjusted for inflation) in government schools increased by 1.9% a year compared to 3.1% a year for Catholic schools between 1998-99 and 2007-08 and 2.6% a year in Independent schools.

Education disadvantage is greater in government schools
Government schools have to do more with their resources than Catholic and Independent schools because the extent of education disadvantage is much greater in government schools than in private schools.

Government schools are the main provider for educationally disadvantaged groups. The vast majority of low income (77%), Indigenous (86%), disability (80%), provincial (72%) and remote/very remote area (83%) students attend government schools.

Educationally disadvantaged students comprise a much larger proportion of government school enrolments than in private schools. Students from low income families comprised 40% of government school enrolments in 2006 compared to 25% in Catholic schools and 22% in Independent schools. In contrast, only 27% of government school enrolments were from high income families compared to 43% of Catholic school enrolments and 53% of Independent school enrolments.

Indigenous students accounted for 5.7% of government school enrolments in 2008 compared to 1.9% in Catholic schools and 1.6% of Independent school enrolments. Students with disabilities comprised 5.5% of all government school enrolments compared to 3.3% of Catholic school enrolments and 1.9% of Independent school enrolments;

Students in provincial areas comprised 28% of government school enrolments in 2008 compared to 21% of private school enrolments. Students from remote/very remote areas comprised 2.9% of government school enrolments compared to 1.5% of Catholic school enrolments and 0.7% of Independent enrolments.

Overall, the extent of education disadvantage in government schools in Australia is much greater than in private schools. Low income, Indigenous and disability students comprise over 50% of government school enrolments compared to 30% in Catholic and 26% in Independent schools. The extent of education disadvantage in government schools is 1.7 times that in Catholic schools, and almost double that in Independent schools.

There are large achievement gaps between low socio-economic status (SES) and high SES students; between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students; and between provincial and remote area students and metropolitan students.

In 2006, 22-23% of low SES students did not achieve international proficiency standards in reading, mathematics and science compared to only 5% of high SES students. On average, low SES 15 year-old students are 2-2½ years behind high SES students. Low SES students enrolled in low SES schools are nearly four years behind students from high income families in high SES schools.

About 40% of 15 year-old Indigenous students did not achieve international proficiency standards in reading, mathematics and science in 2006 compared to 12% of all Australian students. On average, 15 year-old Indigenous students are 2-2½ years behind non-Indigenous students.

In 2006, 24-28% of 15 year-old students in remote and very remote areas did not achieve expected international proficiency levels in reading, mathematics and science compared to 12% of metropolitan students. On average, remote and very remote area students are about 18 months in learning behind metropolitan students.

Thirteen to twenty per cent of provincial area students did not achieve international proficiency standards in reading, mathematics and science, respectively, in 2006 compared to 12% of metropolitan students. Provincial area students are about six months or less behind metropolitan students.

Apart from the large achievement gap between low and high SES students there are also large gaps between Indigenous and provincial and remote area students and high SES students. On average, 15 year-old Indigenous students are about 3½ years behind high SES students; remote and very remote area students are about 2½ years behind high SES students; and provincial area students are about 18 months behind high SES students.

These large achievement gaps are a grave social injustice and a waste of talents and resources. They curb productivity growth and lead to higher expenditure on health, welfare and crime. Closing the gaps is the major challenge and priority for Australian governments. Low SES, Indigenous, and provincial and remote area students should achieve similar outcomes to students from high SES families.

Government funding increases have favoured privilege over disadvantage
Australian government funding policies have favoured privilege over disadvantage for the last decade. Despite the higher level of education disadvantage in government schools, the largest percentage increases in government funding (federal, state and territory) have gone to private schools. Schools serving the wealthiest families in Australia continue to receive large and increasing amounts of government funding.

The most privileged school sector – Independent schools – received the largest increase in government funding over the last decade. Between 1998-99 and 2007-08, government funding per student in Independent schools increased by 112%, 84% for Catholic schools and 67% for government schools. The average increase for all private schools was 89%. The percentage increase for Independent schools was over 1½ times the increase for government schools.

Many high fee private schools have total expenditure per student which is two to three times that in government schools, yet they receive $2,000-$4,000 per student in Federal Government funding. For example, the most expensive private school in Australia, Geelong Grammar with Year 12 fees of nearly $28,000, will get $3,456 per student in federal funding in 2010. King’s School, one of the most expensive schools in Sydney with Year 12 fees of nearly $25,000, will get $3,211 per student.

In contrast, the additional federal funding to be provided to disadvantaged schools under the Smarter Schools National Partnership program is less than $500 per student. Thus, Federal Government funding for high fee private schools is 4 to 8 times greater than the additional funding provided to disadvantaged schools.

Moreover, Federal Government funding per student in many elite schools increased by 100-200% and more since 2001 compared to increased funding (federal, state and territory) for government schools of 67% since 1998-99. For example, it increased by increased by 236% for Kings School and 268% for Geelong Grammar.

Thus, huge increases in government funding have gone to the wealthiest and least needy schools in Australia, while those most in need – government schools – continue to be denied the funding they require to provide an adequate education for all their students.

Supporting privilege is seen by governments as more important than eliminating disadvantage and inequity in education. It is a policy which extends the advantages obtained from a wealthy background rather than reducing them. It effectively places more value on enriching the lives of those from privileged backgrounds than those who are not as well favoured in society.

This is indefensible in a society that calls itself a democracy. A fundamental change in the funding priorities of Australian governments is required to close the achievement gaps in education. A massive funding increase for government schools is needed to transform our high quality, low equity education system into a high quality, high equity system.

Government schools need a massive funding boost
Overseas research studies show that the additional expenditure required for low income students to achieve at adequate levels is 100-150% more than the cost of educating an average student.

If average government school expenditure is used as this benchmark, some 22-33 times the level of funding for low SES government schools provided through the Smarter Schools National Partnership program is needed to close the achievement gap between low SES students and the average for all students in Australia. This amounts to at least an additional $6.3 – $9.2 billion a year. Double this amount ($13.6 – 18.4 billion) is needed to close the achievement gap between low and high SES students.

An alternative measure of the funding needed to address disadvantage in learning in Australia is to apply the ratio of targeted equity enrolments in the government and private sectors to the average level of resources in private schools. As government schools have 1.8 times the learning need of all private schools, they should receive 1.8 times the level of average private school expenditure. On this basis, additional funding for government schools of $26 billion per year is required to resource government schools to the level of private schools taking into account the greater extent of education disadvantage in the government sector.

Whatever, benchmark is used, it is clear that a massive funding increase for government schools is needed to close achievement gaps in Australia and turn our high quality, low equity school system into a high quality, high equity system.

Trevor Cobbold

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