TREVOR COBBOLD. Elite Melbourne Private Schools to Get Big Funding Windfalls

Several wealthy Melbourne private schools are set to get large windfall gains from the Turnbull Government’s Gonski 2.0 funding model after revisions to their assessed student need. Many of the schools will get increases of $1-$3.2 million between 2018 and 2027 because their student need has been revised upwards due to implausible stories about disabilities.

Lauriston Girls’ School is the biggest winner with an increase of $3.2 million. Bialik College will get an increase of $2.7 million, Shelford Girls’ Grammar $2.6 million, Scotch College $2.4 million, St. Michael’s Grammar $1.9 million, Strathcona Girls’ Grammar $1.4 million and St. Catherine’s School $1 million. Other increases include $0.9 million for Korowa Girls’ School and $0.5 million for the Christ Church Grammar.

These funding increases are much larger than those planned under the previous need assessments. Just 9 schools will receive over $9 million more than they would have under the previous assessment. The increase for Lauriston is over 10 times more than it would have received. The increase for Christ Church Gramma is over 4 times that originally estimated, the increase for St. Catherine’s is over 3 times its original estimate, the increase for Bialik College is over double its original figure and that for Strathcona is nearly double.

The funding increases are the result of revised Schooling Resource Standards (SRS) for these schools which result in the current Commonwealth Government funding shares of the SRS being much lower than in the previous assessment. For example, the Commonwealth funding share of SRS for Lauriston has been revised downwards from 102.3% to only 49.6%. Other large revisions include Christ Church Grammar from 98.8% down to 66.9%, Bialik College from 86.5% to 55.5%, St. Catherine’s from 92% to 67.7% and Shelford Grammar from 72.4% to 52.6%. The lower assessments mean larger funding increases to get the schools up to the Commonwealth target of funding private schools at 80% of their SRS.

The revisions will result in very large amounts of Commonwealth Government funding for many of these schools by 2027. Scotch College will be receiving just over $8 million in Commonwealth funding in 2027, St. Michael’s Grammar $6.3 million, Lauriston $5.9 million, Bialik College $5.6 million and Shelford Grammar just over $5 million, and Strathcona $4 million.

These are some of the most elite schools in Melbourne. They are high fee, wealthy schools serving some of the most privileged families in Victoria. The level of student need is very low. The My School website shows that each school had about 75% or more of its students from the top quarter of socio-educationally advantaged (SEA) families in 2016. They have no students or very few from the bottom SEA quarter. For example, 87% of students at Christ Church Grammar are from the top SEA quarter and none from the bottom quarter; Korowa has 85% of its students from the top SEA quarter and none from the bottom and Lauriston has 83% from the top quarter and none from the bottom. None of the 9 schools have any Indigenous students.

According to the Commonwealth Education Department, the dramatic increase in funding has largely been driven by these schools reporting significantly higher numbers of students with a disability. This is highly implausible. According to data provided to Senate Estimates in July, the number of students with disabilities in these schools was very low in 2017 [Senate Education and Employment Committee, Question on Notice No. SQ17-000796, Budget Estimates 2017-2018]. For example, Korowa and St. Catherine’s has less than 6 disability students, Christ Church has 11, Lauriston has 12 and Shelford has 14. They represent only 1-3% of total enrolments in these schools.

The dramatic increase in disability enrolments is due to changes in how disability is assessed and funded in schools following the introduction of the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD). The assessment of disability has changed from a medical assessment and certification to a school assessment. The Guidelines for the NCCD state that under the new approach teachers and school staff of a school will use their professional judgement to determine the level of adjustment students with disability receive as well as the broad category of disability of the student.

The new arrangements for funding disability students are open to rorting because the funding loadings are large and because schools themselves determine their number of disability students and submit the figures to the Commonwealth Department of Education. Under this new system, Independent schools in Victoria have reported huge increases in the number of disability students. A confidential report to a Joint Working Group of the national education ministers’ council shows that Independent schools in Victoria reported that 26% of their students had a disability under the new definitions in 2016, including 29% in primary schools. These are by far the highest proportions of disability students of any school sector in any state in the country. By comparison, public schools in Victoria reported 17% and Catholic schools 13%.

Not all these students are eligible for disability funding loadings because there is a category determined not to need educational support beyond that reasonably expected as part of standard classroom practice. However, disability students eligible for Commonwealth funding in Independent schools in Victoria is five times more than under the previous arrangements compared with an increase of less than two times for public and Catholic schools.

The report to the Joint Working Group revealed that 12.7% of Victorian independent school students were eligible for disability funding in 2016 compared with 10.6% of public school students and 8.9% in Catholic schools. This contrasts with the previous funding arrangements whereby only 2.5% of Independent school students were funded disability students in 2016, compared to 5.6% in public schools and 4.7% in Catholic schools (based on data provided to Senate Estimates).

It is inconceivable that one in every four Independent school students in Victoria has a disability. An independent audit of enrolments of disability students by Independent private schools should be undertaken. The new system is open to rorting, the huge increases in disability students in Independent schools are not credible and there is a very real possibility that future funding increases will not be directed at those most in need.

Trevor Cobbold is the convenor of Save Our Schools

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