ACT: Australia’s best schools?

Council’s Policy Officer, Veronica Elliott, looks behind the headlines boasting that ACT schools out-score other states on NAPLAN tests. But if ours are not the country’s best schools, how can Council – with your help – make them better?

At first glance, ACT students collectively achieve NAPLAN results well above the national average. These results are released by Ministers with a great sense of satisfaction. So it would follow that many believe the ACT to have Australia’s best schools. But the ACT is an unusual place. Our lack of regional and rural areas, very well educated population and relatively high socio-economic status all make doing well on NAPLAN an expectation rather than an achievement.

Trevor Cobbold, Convenor of Save Our Schools and former Productivity Commissioner, has carefully analysed ACT NAPLAN results and found a worrying disparity between the achievement of students from disadvantaged and advantaged backgrounds.

ACT results from 2015 show that over a quarter of year nine students with minimally educated parents and over 40% of Indigenous students did not achieve the minimum national writing standard. In spelling, grammar, punctuation, reading and numeracy, between 13 and 20% of disadvantaged year nine students failed to achieve the minimum standards. The gap in performance between students from disadvantaged and advantaged backgrounds is large. It equates to Indigenous students being three-and-a-half to four years behind their peers and students of parents with minimal education lagging by two to three years of schooling.

The analysis also shows a blatant disparity in funding, clearly supporting already advantaged students. Indigenous, disability and students from low socio-economic status families make up 19% of public school enrolments, compared with only 8% of Catholic and 7% of independent school enrolments. Yet remarkably, in 2013, Independent schools received the most overall support at $17,646 (per student income) despite educating the smallest proportion of disadvantaged students, while public school income was $14,794 per student and Catholic schools $11,998. The analysis shows that calls from private school lobbyists for equal government funding of students in public and private schools (a voucher-style system) would further exacerbate current inequity and the under-achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. So, how to address the inequity in ACT schools?

Council is committed to ensuring that public schools deliver great education to all students, irrespective of their background. We have been briefed on how the ACT Education Directorate is implementing funding measures under the Gonski agreement to ensure that funds allocated to disadvantaged students are used appropriately, without creating greater administrative burden for school leaders. The question is, how does one create flexibility to allow for the particular needs of the school and at the same time account to the community to ensure that ‘targeted funds’ to combat inequity reach the intended recipients, and whether that is the best use of funds?

Council will continue to explore these and other important questions through our regular meetings with the ACT Minister for Education, senior staff at the Education Directorate and the Shadow Minister for Education.

Remember that we are your Council, representing P&C associations within the ACT and providing a voice for our members. The Council Executive are elected from Council Delegates – one or two from each school P&C — who have been elected to represent the school at Council. So get involved! Join us for our next General Meeting, Tuesday February 28 (see back page) where you will find a supportive environment to raise and discuss issues. When members bring issues to Council, we may advocate for change to improve our schools. Some of the issues Council is currently exploring include: the management of unreasonable or violent conduct, ensuring election commitments are kept, and the need for common reporting requirements in all schools (including private).

This article appeared in ParentACTion, Term 1, 2017.