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Education key to breaking the cycle of disadvantage Analysis

Education key to breaking the cycle of disadvantage

A quality education is key to developing an inclusive society and economy. Too many children and young people have missed out on a quality education as a consequence of experiencing disadvantage. They face barriers to participating in school and sometimes drop out of the education system altogether. There is a growing inequality of educational outcomes within Australia’s schooling system.[1]

VCOSS welcomes the significant $747 million education investment,[2] part of the Victorian Government’s commitment to make Victoria the Education State. VCOSS is a strong supporter of equity funding that recognises the individual circumstances of the child and their family, as well as the overall levels of disadvantage within schools. Our education system should be structured and resourced to support vulnerable students to fully participate and gain a strong educational foundation.

The key funding initiatives announced include:

  • $566m over four years (and $171m in ongoing funding) –  targeted towards schools and students most in need, including:
    • $493m over four years (including in $148.8m in ongoing funding) in equity funding, targeted to students experiencing disadvantage. This will be based on parents’ education levels, the concentration of disadvantage within the school and parental occupation. Students in out-of-home care will be identified as being eligible for the highest level loading in their school.
  • $72.3m over four years (including $21.8 million in ongoing funding) to help improve the educational outcomes of around 9,500 secondary students who have fallen behind academically. This can be used by schools to implement evidence-based teaching and other tailored activities to address the specific challenges faced by their students.
  • $13.2m over four years (and $4.8m in ongoing funding) to establish and operate LOOKOUT Education Support Centres to help improve the educational outcomes for around 6,000 students in out-of-home-care. A Centre will be established in each of the Department of Education and Training’s four regions, with a focus on improving school attendance, engagement and achievement for these vulnerable students.
  • $8.6m over two years to pilot the Navigator program to help support young people aged 12-17 years who are not connected to schools at all or at risk of disengaging. Eight services will be established across the state to help re-engage vulnerable students to return to school or a training pathway.  A centrally managed database, the Disengaged Students Register, will be established to identify students with the greatest need and to track their progress.
  • $27m over 5 years to train 200 primary maths and science specialists to work in the 100 most disadvantaged schools
  • $21.6m over three years to help government school teachers teach the new curriculum, including respectful relationships
  • $82.2m over 4 years (and $24.8m in ongoing funding) to provide greater operational support and advice to schools to enable principals to focus on students. This will include the establishment of 17 new local area-based teams, employing over 150 staff across the current four Department of Education and Training regions.
  • $12.1m over 4 years (and $3m in ongoing funding) to increase training for principals and aspiring principals
  • $18m for a new online assessment portal ‘Insight Assessment Platform’ that will monitor and track student’s progress.

The $493m in additional equity funding will help address the growing inequality in funding and educational results for students experiencing disadvantage, by recognising both the individual circumstances of students and their families, as well as the adverse effects of concentrated disadvantaged within a school, a key recommendation outlined in the VCOSS Submission to the Schools Funding Review.

Disadvantaged students exist across the entire school system, not just in schools located within with low socioeconomic status communities. Even in wealthy suburbs there are often pockets of disadvantaged families, yet their disadvantage can be hidden by the high overall socioeconomic average of their schools or suburbs and it is important that these students are adequately supported.

A concentration of disadvantaged students can negatively affect their education.[3]  It also reduces the ability of the school to supplement their revenue by fundraising or collecting parent payments. Schools with concentrated disadvantage may also experience difficulties attracting high quality and experienced teachers.[4] Yet disadvantaged students benefit most from high quality teaching and leadership. The equity funding combined with more resources to train maths and science specialists for the 100 most disadvantaged schools is a positive step.

The new investment for secondary students who fell behind in primary school and didn’t meet the national average in Grade 5 NAPLAN is designed to help them catch up. Whilst this is an important recognition that it is never too late to invest in helping children and young people overcome barriers to achieving strong educational outcomes, gaps in outcomes between children doing well and those lagging behind their peers begins early. Students facing disadvantage are more likely to be developmentally vulnerable than their peers when they start school.[5]  These trends continue into the school years and children from low-income families, Aboriginal children, children with disabilities, those with low English proficiency and children living in remote areas are most at risk of poor educational outcomes.[6]  VCOSS members suggest it is important to provide additional assistance to students at the time performance issues are first identified, rather than waiting until secondary school.  Early intervention is important to support these students, with evidence suggesting that children who are behind when they start school can benefit from additional support within the first few years of schooling.[7]

The LOOKOUT Education Support Centres are an important recognition of the unique barriers and challenges children in out of home care face in succeeding in education.  About half of all children in out of home care are below the national benchmarks for numeracy and literacy, and only a small percentage complete year 12 or equivalent.[8] In addition to dealing with the trauma which led them to be placed in care, these children face numerous challenges and disruptions to their social connections and education.[9] Due to placement instability, children and young people may miss substantial periods of schooling, experience frequent change of schools (requiring them to adjust to new teachers and classmates); and experience curriculum disruptions, repeating some components, whilst not continuing others.[10]  Lack of access to appropriate education programs, and delays in enrolments can also disrupt their learning. The increased focus on supporting these vulnerable children to overcome the challenges they face in education and training is therefore warmly welcomed.[11]

The announcement of Navigator program to help support at-risk and disengaged young people will go some way towards addressing the huge service gap from the loss of the federally funded Youth Connections program in 2014. Every year more than 10,000 Victorian students disengage from school,[12] and disengagement is starting younger, with patterns of irregular attendance often commencing in the primary school years. Early school leavers are vulnerable to financial hardship, increased risk of physical and mental health issues, greater susceptibility to drug and alcohol misuse and homelessness and have higher chance of being involved in the justice system.[13]

Obtaining quality and holistic data about how children and young people are performing in the education system is an important step to improving student outcomes, informing policy development and evidence-based practice. Equally, monitoring and tracking where vulnerable students are learning in the system, or whether they have disengaged from education, is critical to better supporting these students. A new online assessment portal to monitor and track student’s educational progress, combined with a centrally managed database to identify and track at-risk students is therefore a positive step to better support students’ education and wellbeing.  Further attention in the future could also be given to tracking the educational performance of specific cohorts of vulnerable and disadvantaged students to identify and address systemic barriers, including children with chronic illness and children with disability.

Feedback from the community sector indicates that many schools are under resourced and lacked support from the department to meet the needs of students with additional needs, particularly schools in growth corridors and regional Victoria. [14]  The announcement of greater training and operational support to principals and teachers is a welcome step to address this problem.

VCOSS congratulates the State Government for prioritising education for all students, particularly those experiencing disadvantage. VCOSS looks forward to working with the government to build on this significant investment to help ensure that all students are given the opportunity to succeed in education, from early childhood through to school and onto further education and training.

[1] T  Bentley and C Cazaly, The shared work of learning: Lifting educational achievement through collaboration, Mitchell Institute research report No. 01/2015, Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy and the Centre for Strategic Education, Melbourne, 2015,

[2] Victorian Government, Education State: Schools, September 2015, p.9 http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/about/educationstate/launch.pdf

[3] D Gonski, K Boston, K Greiner, C Lawrence, B Scales and P Tannock, Review of Funding for Schooling: Final Report, Canberra, December 2011, p. xxxii.

[4] L Connors and J McMorrow, Australian Education Review, Imperatives in School Funding: equity, sustainability and achievement, ACER, Victoria, 2015, p. 50.

[5] D Gonski, et al., Op.Cit. , p. 112.

[6]Ibid., p. 111.

[7] Australian Early Development Census, Op. Cit.

[8] S Wise, S Pollock, G Mitchell, C Argus and P Farquhar, CIAO: Care-system impacts on academic outcomes, Anglicare Victoria and Wesley Mission Victoria, Melbourne, 2010, p. 8.

[9] CREATE Foundation, Report Card on Education, Sydney, 2006.

[10] Ibid., p.10

[11] VCOSS, The Education State: VCOSS Response to the Education State Consultation Paper, July 2015, http://vcoss.org.au/documents/2015/08/SUB_150731_Education-State-Consultation_FINAL.pdf

[12] Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Reforming Support to Vulnerable Young People: A discussion paper, Melbourne, 2012.

[13] Deloitte Access Economics, The socio-economic benefits of investing in the prevention of early school leaving, prepared for Hands On Learning Australia, 2012.

[14] VCOSS, Strengthening DET regional relationships and support: VCOSS Submission, May 2015, http://vcoss.org.au/document/strengthening-det-regional-relationships-and-support-review/.