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Needs-based funding crucial to improving educational outcomes for Victoria’s vulnerable students

schoolkids (flickr Lucélia Ribeiro)

In early April, the Victorian Government released the final report of the Government Schools Funding Review, led by Hon Steve Bracks AC. The independent review makes 70 wide-ranging recommendations to reform how school funding is allocated and used to lift educational outcomes for all students, provide greater transparency and accountability of school funding and help break the link between disadvantage and poor educational outcomes. The report also makes broader recommendations about school leadership, collaboration and data sharing to drive systemic improvements and better support the inclusion of all students.

The Government has stated it will carefully consider the Review’s recommendations and intends to release its response in the middle of the year.

Key findings include the importance of needs-based funding based on the individual circumstances and barriers students face, more support for schools in the disadvantaged communities and for young people at risk from disengaging from school, better support for vocational training and learning, and increased collaboration,  transparency and accountability.

In this blog, VCOSS summarises some of the major findings and recommendations contained in the final report.

 

Needs-based funding model

Key recommendations:

  • Commonwealth and Victorian government funding models should be aligned and provide needs-based funding to Victorian schools.
  • The Commonwealth government should meet its commitment under the Gonski deal in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
  • If the Commonwealth does not meet its commitments, the Victorian Government should focus its funding allocation on where it will have the greatest impact, prioritising the needs of the most disadvantaged students.
  • A series of changes proposed to the Student Resource Package (SRP) formulae. There are welcome recommendations about loadings based on individual student backgrounds and targeted funding to meet their individual needs.
  • DET should progress work on the introduction of a unique child identifier that will help to build a richer dataset on students’ educational pathways from birth to 18 and may lend support to an early years catch up loading.

The report confirms support for a needs-based funding model finding that Victorian “students who are disadvantaged because of socioeconomic circumstances achieve lower assessment results, have poorer health and experience poorer transitions through school.” Educational gaps were also found for students with disability, Aboriginal Students, student with low English proficiency, and those living in rural areas. The report identified a shortfall of $1.1 billion for Victorian government schools if the Commonwealth Government does not meet its commitment under the Gonski deal.

VCOSS strongly supports a needs-based funding model, with equity funding targeted towards assisting the most disadvantaged students and schools where it will have the most benefit. Socioeconomic factors, or other forms of disadvantage, should not determine how well a child can do at school, or the educational outcomes they are able to achieve. It is imperative that our education system be structured and resourced to operate in a way that ensures people facing disadvantage are supported to fully participate and achieve strong educational outcomes. For further information, see the VCOSS submission to the Schools Funding Review.

 

More support for schools with high levels of disadvantage

Key recommendations:

  • Encourage high performing teachers to work in disadvantaged schools through fund a workforce quality and mobility pilot program ‘Teacher Premium Pilot’ to operate in up to 50 of Victoria’s most educationally disadvantaged schools.
  • Regions support low SES schools to develop their partnering and fundraising capacity, including forming partnerships with businesses, philanthropists and not-for-profits, and facilitating partnerships between schools.
  • Victorian government advocates for Commonwealth tax law amendment to enable the registration of government schools as deductable gift receipts.

If implemented these recommendations will help address the negative effects of concentrated disadvantaged. Evidence suggests that effective teaching is the most significant resource schools can provide for their students. Yet schools with concentrated disadvantage often experience difficulties attracting teachers, particularly high quality and experienced teachers. Schools with high levels of disadvantaged students often have less capacity to increase their revenue either through fundraising efforts within their communities, or through the limited ability of families to make parenting payments.

 

More support for students at risk of disengagement

Key recommendations:

  • Extend late enrolment funding to follow any early school leaver who is successfully reintegrated into the school system.
  • Require schools to report on their disengagement strategies.
  • DET improves systems support for schools to aid in the early identification of at-risk students.
  • Local areas should monitor, estimate and report on the numbers and location of students that are disengaged and work with schools in their region on strategies to strengthen student engagement and reintegrate students who have left school.
  • Establish a Student Engagement Fund, to help support local partnerships and new ways for schools to strengthen student engagement, keep students at school or to reengage young people who have disengaged.

The report finds there is limited system, region and school level accountability for disengaged learners. VCOSS welcomes measures to improve student engagement through greater collaboration, disengagement strategies and early identification of ‘at risk’ students. Preventing students from disengaging is a far more effective strategy than reengaging young people once they have left school. Stronger accountably mechanisms will also help ensure young people don’t fall through the cracks.

 

More support for applied learning

Key recommendations:

  • DET reviews the way it fund VET in schools (VETiS) and integrates the two VET related funding sources (SRP and VTG) within a single funding model for all school aged students, so that funding is adequate.
  • A series of recommendations to improve the quality of VETiS provision including establish an ‘approved supplier panel’ for the delivery of accrediting training.
  • Modify SRP portability rules to require the release of a proportion of equity funding to service providers who can meet the needs of students in alternative settings, which will require partnerships between schools and accredited providers.

VCOSS is pleased to see the report identify concerns about the quality, availability and equity of VETiS and inadequate funding, which pushes unfunded costs on schools and families creating barriers to students facing disadvantage. VCOSS members identified this as a key concern for the young people they work with.

 

Stronger collaboration

Key recommendations:

  • Implement ‘Collaboration Hubs’ to bring government schools and partners together to explore collaborative opportunities to share resources, data and experiences, and to work on solutions for shared problems. Initially these would be coordinated by DET Area Offices.
  • Establish a Learning Partnerships Challenge Fund, to enable collaboration between schools, other service providers and business, to develop innovative solutions to complex or systemic issues, such as overcoming barriers to learning and creating effective learning environments for students. Good practices shared and successful solutions will be promoted.

VCOSS welcomes initiatives to increase collaboration, between schools and partners.  Strong collaboration between the education sector, the community sector and families has been shown to be highly effective in supporting children and young people, particularly students facing disadvantaged. Sharing data and evidence of best practice is also crucial to better supporting students across Victoria.

 

Greater transparency and accountability

Key recommendations:

  • Government schools should report publicly each year on how they intend to raise local funds and deploy them to lift student outcomes, how they take family financial hardship into account, and how funds from the previous year were raised and expended for strategic benefit through new Strategic Accountability Statement.
  • Government schools should be clear that they are seeking voluntary contributions from parents for student learning materials and for the purpose of enriching the school curriculum, and not funding the provision of the core curriculum.
  • DET undertakes annual strategic audits of schools to report on how effectively schools are using resources to lift outcomes for their own students and across the schooling system.
  • Establish a dedicated independent body ‘the Education Performance Monitor’ to improve the accountably and transparency of school funding and performance, help share best practice evidence and undertake projects on system wide issues related to student inclusion and improvement. The Education Performance Monitor would report directly to the Minister for Education.
  • Publish information on school funding, school and system performance and administrative data, including audit findings, via a new Education Performance Portal, administered by the Education Performance Monitor.
  • DET to undertake benchmarking of the SRP periodically to align funding and costs for all components of the base allocation and loadings with student improvement.

VCOSS welcomes recommendations to increase transparency and both school and system level accountability, particularly in relation to how equity funding is distributed and used to support students facing disadvantage. Specifying the voluntary nature of parent contributions is also welcome to address the lack of clarity and inconsistent application of this policy.

VCOSS looks forward to the government’s response to these broad ranging recommendations and working together with the government and community sector to create positive educational outcomes for Victoria’s vulnerable students.

 

Header image courtesy: Flickr/Lucélia Ribeiro (CC BY-SA 2.0)