Ensuring education excellence and equity in equal measure

Inquiry into the State Education System in Victoria 2023

The Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) welcomes the opportunity to provide feedback to the Victorian Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee’s (the Committee) Inquiry into the state education system in Victoria. Should the opportunity arise, VCOSS would also be pleased to provide further evidence at an inquiry hearing. 

Our submission responds to Inquiry Terms of Reference pertaining to student learning outcomes, wellbeing, and examples of best practice to improve student learning outcomes. It draws on VCOSS research and policy analysis, as well as insights from our members, who represent community sector organisations (CSOs) that are active across education (providers of learning and/or wellbeing supports, including community sector-run ‘like schools’), child and family services, family violence, health/mental health, social wellbeing, and more.  

From VCOSS’ perspective, Victoria is on the right track with its approach to supporting student educational achievement, engagement and attainment and wellbeing. This is reflected in Victoria’s strong performance compared to other states in tests such as the National Assessment Program (NAPLAN). 

However, there are still too many students who are behind where they should be academically. Disengagement is also a concern, with increased prevalence of school refusal among students of all ages. This problem predates the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has magnified since then as community mental health challenges have risen. 

Looking ahead, the Victorian Government should continue to enact policy measures and make system investments that drive excellence, support more students to stay in school, and break the link between disadvantage and student outcomes. 

The following recommendations highlight opportunities to make further advancements to improve Victoria’s state education system, to ensure that all students are supported to do their best and have a positive education experience.  


Partner with the Commonwealth

The Victorian Government should:

  • Ensure that the new five-year National Schools Reform Agreement it executes with the Commonwealth: 
    • Embeds evidence-based measures that improve student outcomes (for example, school-based small-group tutoring, student voice). 
    • Focuses effort on priority cohorts – and embeds universal academic and wellbeing supports in the education system so that school staff can identify and support any student at risk, regardless of their background. 
    • Has a focus on health and wellbeing as well as academic achievement, including measures to capture student wellbeing.   
    • Facilitates stronger partnerships, connected systems and access to wellbeing support outside the school gate, to complement in-school expertise and offerings. 
  • Develop and publish a roadmap that clearly sets out how the State will engage with and fund policy initiatives in the new National Schools Reform Agreement, when it is executed. 

Improve in data and monitoring systems and revise measure of success

The Victorian Government should:

  • Develop a clearer picture of the factors that impact student learning and wellbeing outcomes by: 
    • Working with the Commonwealth to improve data and monitoring systems. This should encompass both learning and wellbeing outcomes.  
    • Addressing specific data gaps relating to educational achievement and wellbeing for students with disabilities. 
    • Tracking students that have disengaged or become disconnected from the education system.  
    • Introducing additional measures that assess success beyond academic achievement. These should be co-designed with students and provide robust insights into student voice, student satisfaction and individual progress.  

Implement best-practice initiatives and work with the community sector to improve student wellbeing, address education inequities and reduce the impacts of poverty

The Victorian Government should:

  • Continue to engage the community services sector as a key partner across policy development, system reform design and implementation, program/service delivery, as well as education provision. To ensure this way of working is consistent, systemic, and drives impact, formal partnerships with representative peak bodies should be sustained and backed with adequate resources.  
  • Complement existing efforts to drive inclusion, wellbeing, attainment and retention in mainstream school settings by: 
    • Developing a tailored literacy and numeracy strategy for Grade 1 students, as a key early intervention strategy prevent education disengagement and lifelong problems with low literacy.
    • Making the successful, evidence-informed Tutor Learning Initiative an enduring feature of Victoria’s education system. 
    • Expanding wellbeing teams in schools to identify students facing barriers (for example, homelessness, family violence) and supporting them to access specialist capability and capacity from funded community sector organisations. 
    • Providing more evidence-informed strengths-based early intervention supports to students, their families and schools to prevent expulsions and suspensions, and invest in systems to more accurately track informal suspensions.   
  • Continue efforts to break the link between disadvantage and student outcomes by introducing additional measures that ameliorate the impact of financial hardship on learning and wellbeing. The Victorian Government should:  
    • Declare digital devices, textbooks and stationery a free part of the standard curriculum. The government would need to allocate additional school funding to cover these items.    
    • Fund free lunches in schools to address growing rates of food insecurity and hunger and make sure that all children can access healthy, nutritious school lunches so that they can learn.   
  • Take steps to address racism in schools through the development of anti-racism policies, supports for students, guidance for schools and training for teachers, school leaders and administrators.  
  • Ensure access to high-quality flexible learning and alternative education settings for disengaged/disengaging students who prefer not to complete their education in a mainstream setting.  

Adequately fund public schools

The Victorian Government should:

  • Negotiate a new bilateral funding agreement that ensures Victorian public schools are fully funded (receive 100 per cent of the School Resourcing Standard). 

VCOSS is the peak body for Victoria’s social and community sector, and the state’s premier social advocacy body. We work towards a Victoria free from poverty and disadvantage, where every person and community experiences genuine wellbeing. Read more.

We welcome the opportunity to provide this input.

VCOSS acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country, and we pay respect to Elders and Ancestors. Our business is conducted on sovereign, unceded Aboriginal land. The VCOSS offices are located on Wurundjeri Woiwurrung land in central Naarm.