Shocking Inequity in NSW school outcomes and fundingFeb 13, 2023
The latest NAPLAN results show shocking inequalities in school outcomes between highly advantaged and disadvantaged students in NSW.
Very high proportions of low socio-economic status (SES), Indigenous and remote area students do not achieve national literacy and numeracy standards compared to very small proportions of high SES students. By Year 9, low SES, Indigenous and remote area students are several years of learning behind their high SES peers. There has been very little progress in reducing the learning gaps between rich and poor over the last decade or so.
The paper shows that 28% of low SES Year 9 students were below the national reading standard in 2022, 35% were below the writing standard and 15% were below the numeracy standard. Nearly 30% of Indigenous students were below the reading standard, 38% were below the writing standard and 16% were below the numeracy standard. Nearly one-third of remote area students were below the reading standard, 46% were below the writing standard and 15% were below the numeracy standard. By contrast, only 3% of Year 9 high SES students did not achieve the reading standard, 5% did not achieve the writing standard and 1% did not achieve the numeracy standard.
These are shocking inequities. For example, it is totally unacceptable that the percentage of low SES Year 9 students not achieving the national reading standard is 9 times that of high SES students and the proportion of Indigenous and remote area students not achieving the standard is 10 times that of high SES students.
Year 5 low SES, Indigenous and remote area students are about two years behind Year 5 high SES students in reading, writing and numeracy. Year 9 low SES, Indigenous and remote areas students are four years or more behind high SES students in reading, writing and numeracy. The NAPLAN scores of Year 9 low SES, Indigenous and remote area students are significantly below those of Year 5 high SES students. That is, they are four years behind after nine years of education.
There has been no learning improvement amongst low SES students since 2010 and declines in many cases. Only one of 18 indicators of learning showed any improvement. There was no reduction in the proportion of Year 5 and Year 9 low SES students not achieving the reading, writing and numeracy national standards. NAPLAN scores fell in Year 5 writing and numeracy and in all Year domains. Achievement gaps between high and low SES students either increased or showed no statistically significant change.
There were several improvements in learning by Indigenous students. Learning improved for 12 out of 18 indicators. The percentage not achieving national standard decreased in Year 5 reading and numeracy and in Year 9 writing and numeracy. NAPLAN scores also increased significantly in Year 5 reading and numeracy and in Year 9 writing and numeracy. Achievement gaps between high SES and Indigenous students decreased in Year 5 reading and numeracy and in Year 9 reading and writing.
There were some learning improvements amongst remote area students, but mostly there was no significant improvement in learning. Only 8 of the 18 indicators showed any improvement. The percentage not achieving national standards fell in Year 5 reading and numeracy and in Year 9 numeracy but increased in Year 5 writing while there was no significant change in Year 9 reading and writing. NAPLAN scores increased in Year 5 reading and numeracy but decreased in writing and there was not significant change in Year 9 results. The achievement gaps between high SES and remote area students fell in Year 5 reading and in Year 9 writing and numeracy.
These outcomes are an appalling inequity that has continued for far too long. Funding failures by successive Commonwealth and NSW governments are a major factor contributing to these education inequities. Over 80% of low SES, Indigenous and remote area students in NSW attend public schools. Despite this, government funding increases since 2009 have heavily favoured private schools.
Combined government funding per student, adjusted for inflation, increased by $1,279 per student in public schools between 2009 and 2020 compared to $2,252 per student in Independent and $2,051 per student in Catholic schools. In percentage terms, the increase in funding for Independent school (34.8%) was nearly three times that of public schools (12.4%) and the increase for Catholic schools (25.7 %) was double that of public schools
Public schools in NSW are vastly under-funded to meet the challenges they face. In 2022, they were funded at 87.4% of their Schooling Resource Standard (SRS). They will remain under-funded until at least 2029 under current funding arrangements.
By contrast, private schools, who serve only a small minority of disadvantaged students, are significantly over-funded. In 2022, they were funded at 105.9% of their SRS and will remain over-funded for the rest of the decade.
The decision by the Education Ministers Meeting to extend the current National Schools Reform Agreement (NSRA) to 2024 is disastrous for public schools. It stops any funding increases for public schools and they will be stuck at their 2023 SRS funding level for another year. It also continues the absurd arrangements that defraud public schools of funding by allowing the NSW Government to claim expenditures excluded from the measure of the SRS as part of its share of the SRS. The extension of the current arrangements also provides a small funding windfall for NSW private schools because it halts the planned reduction in state government over-funding.
At present, there is no indication when NSW public schools will be fully funded. Increased funding for public schools is of vital importance to improving school outcomes for disadvantaged students and reducing the massive achievement gaps between rich and poor. It should be a central issue in the lead up to the NSW election in March. The chronic severe under-funding of public schools cannot be allowed to continue.
The recent Productivity Commission report on the current NSRA says that governments have to do better on equity in school outcomes. It recommended that governments focus on ensuring that all students achieve basic levels of literacy and numeracy and reducing achievement gaps between different groups of students. This will require increased funding. Numerous studies show that increased funding directed at disadvantaged students increases results.
Candidates and parties contesting the NSW election must commit to ensuring that public schools are fully funded at 100% of their SRS by 2027.
They must clearly answer three basic questions:
- Will you take action to reduce the shocking inequalities between the school results of advantaged and disadvantaged students?
- Will you support increased funding for disadvantaged students and schools?
- Will you support increased NSW Government funding of public schools so that they are funded at 100% of their SRS by 2027?
- Will you support removing the special allowances in the current Commonwealth-NSW bilateral funding agreement that allow the NSW Government to defraud public schools by including non-school expenditures as part of its share of the SRS?
Trevor Cobbold is National Convenor of Save Our Schools. This article is a summary of a new Education Research Paper published by SOS.