For everyone News in brief: Term 1 2024

Gross inequity between public and private
A new report by education economist Adam Rorris has found that public schools will remain underfunded by between $6.2 billion and $6.5 billion per year unless state and federal governments significantly lift their investment in new funding agreements due next year. By contrast, private schools will be overfunded by almost $3 billion in the next five years. The richest schools in the nation are among those that will be most overfunded, including Haileybury ($19.1 million) and Ivanhoe Grammar ($11.5 million). Public schools have been working from a position of extreme underfunding for more than two decades. AEU Federal president Correna Haythorpe said the report exposed the shocking inequity of school funding, with only 1.3% of public schools resourced to the SRS compared to 98% of private schools. “If governments can afford to overfund private schools by hundreds of millions each year, they can afford to fund every public school to their own minimum standard,” she said.

Principals wellbeing a priority
The latest Victorian Auditor General Office report into principal health and wellbeing found that the Department of Education is failing to provide adequate health and wellbeing protections and supports for principals. Workload is the most significant cause of poor principal health and wellbeing, correlated with increased heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and burnout. Between 2015 and 2021, the median rate of annual workers compensation leave was three times greater than for teaching staff, and the majority of those claims were for mental health injuries. VAGO makes several recommendations to address these issues, including proper access to part-time work for principals. DE has accepted the recommendations and set a timeline to achieve them by the end of 2024. With principal attrition rates at an all-time high, the AEU will be holding the department to account. 

National plan to rebuild TAFE
The new National Skills Agreement, including an additional $3.7 billion in Commonwealth investment, realises the Albanese government’s promise to rebuild the capacity of TAFE. Federal president Correna Haythorpe welcomed the agreement, which sets out a critical path to rebuild TAFE following over a decade of destruction and neglect by the previous Coalition government. The agreement includes $100 million to grow the workforce, $142m for foundational skills education, $250m towards improving course completions, $325m for the TAFE Centres of Excellence, $214m for Closing the Gap initiatives, and baseline funding agreements. The restoration of TAFE as the heart of Australia’s vocational education reflects the significant policy work of the federal government, alongside skills ministers from the states and territories, in consultation with TAFE teachers through the AEU. 

Councils not kind to kinder

In August, the City of Knox decided to cease provision of its kinder services, affecting the early years education of more than 1,100 three and four-year-olds and leaving 120 employees with no job security. In November, Glen Eira City Council told families of its preliminary decision to close its three early learning centres in Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Caulfield. The Mornington Peninsula Shire, provider of 28 sessional kinder services, is also assessing its operations, claiming they can’t afford the $53.6 million upgrades needed. Meanwhile, Darebin Council has reduced the lease offered to day care centres from five to two years. These ongoing threats to council provision of kindergarten services across Melbourne is a great source of destabilisation and insecurity for staff, families and children. The AEU is pushing the state government to step in and work with councils to secure locally provided and publicly funded early learning services for all community members.

Can’t hardly vape

The importation of disposable, single-use vapes is banned as of January 2024, following the growing popularity of vapes among teenagers. Data from 2023 shows that one in seven 14 to 17-year-olds and one in five 18 to 24-year-olds vape. Legislation is being introduced to prevent domestic manufacture, advertisement and supply of non-therapeutic and disposable single-use vapes. This will criminalise the sale of nicotine vapes, which have been sold in flavours such as bubble gum, designed to appeal to children, and begin to undo the harm being caused to young Australians.

PISA results reveal widening achievement gaps

The latest international PISA results reveal that Australia has defied a global trend of declining scores overall, but also show entrenched achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds and locations. Once socioeconomic background is factored in, public schools outperformed Catholic schools in maths, science and reading, and there was no difference with independent schools. Public schools are the only ones not to have a decline in average reading scores since 2009. However, the data shows unacceptable achievement gaps between high and low SES students, and between those in remote and metropolitan schools, equivalent to three to five years of learning. In science, 78% of high SES students attained the National Proficient Standard compared to 40% of low SES students. It also showed that between 2018 and 2022, the percentage of students in Australian schools whose principal reported that instruction was hindered by a shortage of teachers increased from 17% to 61.2%. The results highlight the need for full funding for public schools, which cater for the vast majority of disadvantaged and high-needs students but currently lack adequate resources to address that disadvantage. 

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