Olivia lives with the rare Kleefstra Syndrome.

News Articles and analysis

School costs: Giving voice to children’s experiences

Recently VCOSS published an Open letter to the Minister for Education on behalf of the Education Equity Coalition calling on the Government to continue to provide targeted support for families to help them meet the costs of state education. The Education Equity Coalition represents schools, parents, students and community sector organisations that are concerned about the impact of the Victorian Governments’ decision to cut the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) from 2015.

In this guest post Susie Richards writes on behalf of the Statewide Children’s Resource Program.

“I don’t want to go on camp anyway. We won’t be doing any work so it doesn’t matter if I don’t go and Mum said I can stay home all week.”

“I stayed home and watched TV cos I didn’t want to go to the zoo. It just has dumb animals all in cages.”

These are comments that children in their very first years of primary school make, already self-excluding as they understand the financial burden that camps, excursions, swimming programs and other school programs have upon their families. Too often, these children can lose the sense of entitlement to experiences and participation that their classmates enjoy.

Along with missing out on the educational benefit of these experiences, they miss the shared memories of time spent with classmates enjoying fun together, the friendship shifting, forming, storming and reforming that can happen, and the range of experiences that often inform the curriculum in the days/weeks around the excursion, camp or other experience. Children also take on responsibility for ‘protecting’ their vulnerable parents from any feelings they feel may cause their parent more distress.

It should come as no surprise that far too many of these children, never fully engaged in education and school relationships, leave as soon as they are able or continue to self-exclude through high school by choosing not to pursue subjects that may be their passion, skill set and potential career.

In many cases, teenagers do not merely disengage from education; they were never fully engaged from the very early years. They simply do not feel they have the same entitlement to participation as other, more engaged, students.

Intergenerational poverty, joblessness and homelessness can mean there is no one in a family with the positive experiences of education that encourage support for the notion that all children should have equal access to the high quality education available in Australia.

The barriers to the lifelong positive outcomes that quality education can offer are substantial enough without the added burden that school costs put on students and their families.

The Statewide Children’s Resource Program (SCRP) positions grew out of recognition within government that children were a significant presence in adult focused services within the specialist homelessness and family violence sectors. The ongoing work of the Children’s Resource Program is primarily to encourage capacity building and develop best practice in responses to children. This aims to ensure that children receive the support and care they need for their safety and wellbeing.

The position supports all Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) and Family Violence (FV) agencies across divisions and is auspiced through one agency on behalf of each area.

The brokerage money these positions administer, funded by the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH), is to support children whose families are receiving support from a Specialist Homelessness Service, including Family Violence services. The brokerage aims to support children to engage with community and/or education.

Across the state, approximately 60-80 per cent of this funding goes to education costs; camps, excursions/incursions, technology, uniforms – particularly items requiring logos – and special programs/elective costs. Despite this assistance, and that of many other agencies, children are still missing out on education, relationships, self-esteem, play opportunities and social skills development through reduced access to the richness of full educational opportunities.

In rural communities, support may be more difficult to access due to the lack of anonymity within the community, staff acting as gate-keepers in the school who are aware of families outside the school and fear of the family’s business being known. For Aboriginal families and for culturally and linguistically diverse families, such issues add another layer of complexity for people who already face enormous hurdles engaging with schools.

The impost of technology, the reliance upon it within the school curriculum and the high cost of access to it is a growing part of the burden on the brokerage funds. Without money to pay for access to laptops or iPads children are falling further behind and excluded from classes until payments are made. Costs of internet access at home can stop children from using such information technology to its full capacity, adding another barrier to educational opportunities.

The Statewide Children’s Resource Program holds a core belief that all children in Victoria and the wider community are entitled to equal access to and participation in the full range of experiences that our education system has to offer, to maximise their enjoyment, social development and to develop their potential without barriers.