Fair Go swallowed by education gap
THURSDAY, 24/5/2012 Peter Garrett
No country can really claim to be the land of the fair go unless that fair go is extended from the start, in our classrooms and our school playgrounds.
But, as we read on the front page of The Advertiser (21/5/12), too many Australian school students are being denied a fair go because of the gap between rich and poor that has developed in our schools.
SA Education Department chief executive Keith Bartley was spot-on when he identified this disadvantage gap as one of the most urgent issues facing the state’s education system. In fact, it’s an urgent issue for the whole country.
Australia has a high-quality school system and, of course, many students from disadvantaged backgrounds are able to access a great education and go on to fulfilling jobs and successful lives.
But there is a hard truth to be faced. Compared with other countries of similar wealth and education standards, the gap in results between wealthy and poor students in Australia is far too large and entrenched.
The recent Gonski review of school funding reminded us that the most successful schooling systems not only have high standards, they also have high levels of equity. That is, students are able to achieve to the best of their ability regardless of their background.
Australia only has average equity. In practice this means that students from disadvantaged background are often not reaching their full potential.
For example, by Year 3, nearly 90 per cent of students from the poorest quarter of our community are below the national average in reading. By the time they reach Year 9, these students are almost three years behind the average marks of students from the wealthiest families.
Only 56 per cent of students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds finished Year 12 in 2009, compared with 75 per cent of students from better-off families.
For a country as rich as Australia, this is simply unacceptable.
We’re spending $1.5 billion dollars on the Low SES Schools National Partnership, including $232 million for South Australian schools, to provide much-needed support to schools serving disadvantaged communities.
We’re helping kids with the core skills of reading, writing and maths through $540 million in the Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership, and boosting support for indigenous education as well.
But these are short-term measures. They’re plugging the gaps and patching the holes in our system without addressing the long term needs of our schools.
The truth is that while we have provided our schools with support for specific programs that can lift student performance, what they need now is the security of a funding system that will provide the resources they need, year after year, to give all their students a quality education.
The Gonski review has recommended a new funding system, one that would provide a set amount per student and additional money for the schools and students who need it most.
Unlike the way schools are funded now, this means that the additional dollars needed to overcome disadvantage are built into the system and will be delivered every year.
We’re now working with state and territory governments and non-government schools to refine the details of the proposed new model, including making sure we get the amount per student right.
I am committed to introducing legislation to the Federal Parliament this year that will set out a new funding system for our schools. For Australia to be the true land of the fair go, we need nothing less.