Getting a world class education

2020 Victorian Budget Analysis

VCOSS has long been concerned about the digital divide. The shift to remote and flexible learning during 2020 brought these concerns into sharp relief, as many students and families faced the prospect of trying to learn from home without . VCOSS welcomes the Victorian Government’s announcement that 71,000 families who were provided with iPads and laptops during stage 1 and 2 restrictions will be able to keep them, with a $24.5 million investment for schools to replace equipment. We look forward to working with Government to ensure students who missed out during the pandemic have equitable access to devices at home.

VCOSS also welcomes the $241.4 million investment to provide more than 4,000 tutors to help students catch up on learning. This academic support is complemented by significant investments in wellbeing, including $28.5 million to extend mental health practitioners in specialist schools and expand the primary school pilot program, as well as boosting Navigator capacity and expanding LOOKOUT centres.  These investments recognise that, while some students thrived during the period of remote and flexible learning, many fell behind and some disengaged from education completely. Students who disengage from school are more likely to face mental health challenges, experience long-term unemployment and come in contact with the police. Supporting students to stay engaged or re-engage in school is one of the best tools we have to help young people reach their potential and to combat poverty and disadvantage in our community.

Another Budget highlight is support for students with disability. For many years, students with disabilities have not enjoyed the same educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers becauseof funding limitations and lack of school-based specialist supports. This Budget addresses the root causes of the funding issues by completely redesigning the Program for Students with Disabilities. The Disability Inclusion package also addresses other constraints on student participation, inclusion and attainment by investing in school leadership and culture and workforce capability.

There will be a staged rollout over five years, by geographic region. It is vital that no student falls through the cracks during the transition, so that all students with disability receive timely support to participate in learning irrespective of which region they live in. It is also important that the Victorian Government engages with students prior to, and during, implementation of the new model. Student voice must be at the centre of this landmark reform, at a systemic level and individual level.

This Budget continues the Victorian Government’s commitment to early childhood education. There is an investment of $169.9 million to make kinder free in 2021. This will make it easier for families to access vital early learning as the state grapples with recession.

 

Positive initiatives

 

Positive initiatives in early childhood education

 

Supporting families with children in kindergarten

$84.8m in 2020-21 ($169.9m/2yrs) to deliver free kinder in 2021 for every child enrolled in a participating funded kindergarten program for four-year-olds and eligible three-year-olds, including in long day care centres. Families with kids attending unfunded three-year-old programs in sessional kindergartens will have reduced fees.

 

Early Start Kindergarten for refugee and asylum seeker children

$0.9m in 2020/21 ($2.5m/5yrs) to support three-year-old refugee and asylum seeker children to access 15 hours of free or low-cost kindergarten in all parts of Victoria from 2021. This initiative will also offer the Early Start Kindergarten (ESK) extension grant to four-year-old refugee and asylum seeker children to enable them to access free or low-cost kindergarten regardless of setting.

 

Increasing the availability of outside school hours care

$4.3m in 2020/21 ($81.7m/4yrs) for grants of up to $75,000 to start new outside school hours care programs at up to 400 government schools that do not have a program.

 

Maintaining access to high-quality and affordable kindergarten

$17.8m in 2020/21 ($49m/2yrs) to continue funding for the Ratio Supplement, Kindergarten Fee Subsidy, Early Childhood Teacher Supplement, Rural Kindergarten Subsidy and the Kindergarten Inclusion Support program, to meet growing demand for kinder.

 

Ready for school: Kinder for every three-year-old

$17.9m in 2020/21 ($302.2m/4yrs) to continue the progressive roll-out of universal three-year-old kindergarten. Funding will meet increasing demand for Early Start Kindergarten (ESK) and extend eligibility for the ESK extension grants to all children known to child protection. The Early Childhood LOOKOUT program will be expanded to meet additional demand.

 

Maintaining universal access to 15 hours of four-year-old kindergarten

$8.3m in 2020/21 ($16.6m/2yrs) to supplement the contribution provided by the Commonwealth Government for 15 hours of four-year-old kindergarten under the National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education in 2021.

 

Responding to coronavirus (COVID-19) impacts in early childhood

$3m in 2020/21 ($6.2m/2yrs) to support families and children experiencing increased or more complex vulnerability as a result of the public health response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by:

  • providing family-focused support for vulnerable children transitioning to school;
  • expanding outreach services through the Access to Early Learning program, with a focus on public housing communities; and
  • providing additional supports for engaging refugee and culturally and linguistically diverse families in kindergarten.

 

Economic recovery support for Victoria’s multicultural communities and young people

$30.1m in 2020/21 ($34.3m/2yrs) economic recovery support package for Victoria’s multicultural communities and young people, includes funding up to 26 playgroups to support up to 1,000 parents from recently arrived refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds across Melbourne.

 

Building Blocks

$0.6m 2020-21 ($38.5m/4yrs) in grants to local government and other eligible providers to build, expand and upgrade early childhood infrastructure.

 

Positive initiatives in schools

 

Inclusion for all: New funding and support model for school students with disability

$124m in 2020-21 ($1.56b/5yrs) to overhaul support for students with disability in line with previous recommendations in the Review of the Program for Students with Disabilities. This funding will double the number of students with disability in government schools that will receive extra supports in the classroom through a new tiered funding model that includes a functional needs assessment approach. This will be rolled out from mid-2021 over five years. A new Disability Inclusion Profile will be introduced that includes a facilitator role to help schools and families work together through this new approach, and an investment to deliver new resources and supports to build the skills and knowledge of school staff.

 

Tutors deployed to bring students up to speed: Government schools

$134.8m in 2020/21 ($219.9m/2yrs) to enable government schools to deliver small group learning support to students who need it, to address the impact of interrupted face-to-face schooling on their learning. More Koorie Engagement workers and Multicultural Education Aides will also be employed across Victoria to support engagement and lift student outcomes.

 

Marrung (Koorie Initiatives Package)

$3.8m in 2020/21 ($7.5m/2yrs) to support the delivery of Marrung: Aboriginal Education Plan

2016-2026 to improve the educational outcomes of Koorie students in Victoria.

 

Youth mental health support

$14.3m in 2020/21 ($28.5m/2yrs) to expand existing supports for the wellbeing and mental health of students, including the Navigator program, LOOKOUT, Headspace mental health training, expanding the mental health practitioners in secondary schools program to include specialist schools, and introducing the mental health in primary schools pilot to 20 further schools.

 

Supporting secondary students for jobs of the future

$8.1m in 2020/21 ($38m/4yrs) to support implementation of the recommendations from the Review into Vocational and Applied Learning Pathways in Senior Secondary Schooling. This includes merging VCAL and VCE and introducing new Jobs, Skills and Pathways Coordinators in government secondary schools to support students with vocational and applied learning pathways and transitions.

 

Supporting families in need

$15.8m in 2020/21 ($31.6m/2yrs) in additional funding is provided to the Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund and State Schools’ Relief for the Affordable School Uniforms program.

 

Bridging the digital divide and supporting connected learners during coronavirus (COVID-19)

$4.8m in 2020/21 ($24.5m/2yrs) to allow government school students to permanently retain school-owned computer devices where this is necessary to ensure they are not educationally disadvantaged.

 

Engaging students in learning and the world of work

$2m in 2020/21 ($6.9m/3yrs) to continue a range of programs that support students, including those at risk of disengagement, to understand and participate in school, training and employment pathways.

 

Respectful Relationships for children and youth

$12.8m in 2020/21 ($37.5m/4yrs) in continued funding for Respectful Relationships to support schools and early childhood educators to promote respect, positive attitudes and behaviours.

 

Students with Disabilities Transport Program

$14.5m in 2020/21 to continue providing transport assistance through the Students with Disabilities Transport Program, supporting eligible students to attend their designated government specialist education setting.

 

Social cohesion through education

$0.7m in 2020/21 to continue support to school communities and young people in West Heidelberg, Dandenong, Broadmeadows, Shepparton, North Melbourne and Wyndham areas to be more engaged and informed to reduce the risk of isolation, marginalisation and attraction to violent extremism.

 

New schools construction and school upgrades

$128.1m in 2020/21 ($1.9b/4+yrs) to deliver upgrades to 169 schools, and funding to acquire land for 11 future schools. This is on top of more than $1b announced in May as part of the Building Works Package.

 

Positive initiatives for Training, Higher Education and Workforce Development

 

Apprenticeships growth strategy

$9.7m in 2020/21 ($19.3m/2yrs) to continue and enhance the Apprenticeship Support Officer program to target apprentices most at-risk of dropping out, and an Apprenticeship Innovation Fund to develop innovative approaches to boost commencements and ensure retrenched apprentices and trainees complete their training. Additional funding will support group training organisations to deliver more apprenticeships and traineeships and increase under-represented cohorts’ participation in priority areas, including women and disadvantaged Victorians.

 

Skills for women, young people, migrants, vulnerable Victorians and retrenched workers

$42.7m in 2020/21 ($155.5/4yrs) to provide additional flexibility for Victorians particularly affected by economic disruption, including women, young people, migrants, vulnerable Victorians and retrenched workers, to access subsidised and Free TAFE training to reskill and upskill in 2021. Support is also provided for Koorie learners and multicultural communities.

 

TAFE and training driving economic recovery

$115.5m in 2020/21 ($631.5m/4yrs) for subsidised training places and to boost Free TAFE in priority areas. The Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work has been added to the Free TAFE list, as has the Course in Introduction to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Funding will also support people to reskill as teachers at Victorian TAFE, and support to lift adult literacy, numeracy and digital skills through the Learn Local sector.

 

Regional skills demand profiles

$1.8m in 2020/21 ($4.2m/2yrs) to develop and deliver regional skills demand profiles. This will provide a strong evidence base to align local skills with labour market needs and assist in coordinating the Government’s skills program in regional Victoria.

 

Further policy directions

Victorian schools are not currently funded to deliver free, high-quality education to all students. Instead, families are required to make significant contributions through fees, hidden co-payments or compulsory fundraising. When families can’t afford these costs, children often end up excluded from school activities and curricula, putting them at risk of disengagement, bullying and poor learning outcomes.

In future budgets, the Government can review and update the way they calculate the Student Resource Package, in line with recent Victorian Auditor-General’s Office recommendations and a 2015 report on Additional School Costs for Families, to make sure schools are fully funded to cover the costs of the standard curriculum, without families bearing the financial load.

When parents can’t afford out-of-pocket costs, community service organisations help them out. The distribution of computer and iPad devices has provided welcome relief, but emergency relief services are still being overwhelmed by requests for assistance with school costs. With increased financial pressure experienced by many families as a result of the summer bushfires and COVID-19, emergency relief services need additional funding to meet demand.

VCOSS welcomes the extension of Free TAFE and the introduction of subsidised Skills Sets, making it easier to gain nationally accredited skills to support upskilling or reskilling. But some TAFE students need additional support to remain engaged in their studies. The 2021-22 Budget can help more people complete their studies by providing additional funding for wrap-around supports to boost retention, and student placement support to community services industries to support the pipeline of workers needed to meet community demand.