The AEU has launched the next phase of its long-running campaign to secure full funding for all public schools, as multiple reports highlight the impact of funding gaps on students and staff across Australia’s largest school sector.
Leaders from every branch of the AEU travelled to Canberra to launch the For Every Child campaign at Parliament House in August. There, they spoke to politicians and the media about the need for Labor to fulfill its promise to ensure all public schools reach 100% of the schooling resource standard (SRS), which is the agreed minimum required to meet student needs.
“We welcome the commitment of the Albanese government to full funding of public schools but there needs to be a clear timetable to achieve that by 2028,” AEU Federal president Correna Haythorpe said. “We also need a permanent Commonwealth capital works fund for public schools to match the one in place for private schools.”
New analysis of MySchool data has revealed that government funding for private schools grew at double the rate of funding for public schools in the decade since the Gonski Review landed in 2007. The release of this year’s NAPLAN results on 23 August drove home the impact, showing that significant numbers of students across Australia require additional literacy and numeracy support, especially in our most disadvantaged schools.
“NAPLAN is just one measure of achievement, but these results add to the evidence of unacceptable achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds and locations,” said Haythorpe.
Public schools educate most students with higher needs, yet almost 99% are not funded to the SRS. “We need real action from politicians to ensure public schools are funded to deliver the additional support to the children who need it,” she said. “We can’t close the achievement gap without closing the resource gap.”
With federal education minister Jason Clare declaring that the drop in the number of students finishing high school is “keeping him up at night”, the union is calling on the federal government to take the lead in upcoming negotiations with state and territory leaders.
At the For Every Child campaign launch, the AEU released its national plan, Investing in Australia’s Future, outlining the top priorities for additional investment: smaller class sizes, a permanent small group or individual tutoring program in every school, and additional support for students with disability or behavioural issues.
Based on a national survey of 7,808 teachers, principals and support staff, the plan reveals the extent of staffing shortages across Australia’s school system and the impact of rising workloads on teachers’ physical and mental health.
Almost 90% of principals reported taking funding from other areas of their school budget, such as maintenance, to meet the lack of funding for students with disability, whose numbers have increased by 29% since 2015. And 70% of principals had seen a decline in student wellbeing in the past year.
More than 90% of teachers surveyed believed additional support for students with a disability or behavioural issues, more time for lesson planning, more classroom assistance and smaller class sizes were key to helping them improve student outcomes.
A new report from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work reveals the economic pay-off of fully funding public schools would be two to four times the annual cost. Released on 28 August, the report says that funding public schools to 100% of the SRS requires an additional $6.6 billion per year but would deliver long-term economic and fiscal benefits of between $17.8 billion and $24.7 billion a year due to lifting Year 12 completion rates, higher direct employment levels and increased economic activity.
Speaking at the launch in Canberra, Greens spokeswoman Penny Allman-Payne urged the federal government to right the wrongs of the past and guarantee full funding to all public schools in the next national funding agreement. “Australia now has one of the most privatised and inequitable school systems in the world,” Ms Allman-Payne said. “It’s a system that heaps privilege onto a fortunate few under the guise of ‘parental choice’, while robbing millions of disadvantaged kids of their futures.”
The For Every Child campaign features targeted advertising, events, state tours and activities in school communities, and meetings with federal politicians. “Students and teachers are giving 100% and politicians should do the same,” said Correna Haythorpe at the launch in Canberra. “Funding public schools at 100% of the standard is the only way to ensure every child gets every opportunity to succeed and that we have the teachers we need for the future. The needs of our children are growing but the funding from governments hasn’t kept up.”