Investing in every child’s future
The SSTUWA endorses a public education system that is fully supported by government and underpinned by the principles of equity and the notion that all students should have the same right to a high quality education accessible in their local community. Our focus must be on high standards, not minimum benchmarks or funding levels.
The recent and on-going pandemic has highlighted the valuable and essential role that public education plays in and across our communities. There is now a greater understanding of the complexity and value of the work that teachers do and of the importance of social interaction between students themselves and students and teachers. It is beyond doubt that teachers, school leaders and TAFE lecturers have gone above and beyond to provide stability to their students and their communities in the face of significant adversity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed fundamental inequities in our education system. The huge variation in systems’ capacity to respond to the demands of remote learning were laid bare over the COVID-19 period. The transition back to more normal forms of education must not be a transition back to undervalued, underfunded and deeply unequal education systems – rather, we now have opportunities to address those issues.
It is now more critical than ever that our public education staff, systems and infrastructure are fully funded and supported to provide the highest quality and accessible education to students across WA, which will ultimately support the recovery of the WA economy.
Investing in public schools and TAFEs now will ensure that we will have a local, highly skilled workforce which is essential for the recovery of our economy as we navigate our way through and out of this pandemic. Our public education institutions, properly resourced, can provide the avenue for our state to build on the educational attainment of all WA students from the early years of education through to tertiary levels and throughout their lives.
The Rudd Federal Government introduced Universal Access National Partnership (UANP) funding in 2009. The current government has seen fit to fund that national partnership on an annual basis since 2016.
A recent report from the Nous Group (2020) on a review of universal preschool funding for the Australian Education Council highlights the positive impact of federal preschool funding. In particular, the rate of participation in preschool education has increased significantly since 2008 (see figure 1 below).
The report also documents the negative consequences of failing to lock in ongoing funding for pre-schools and for parents.
The report also highlights that “A recent analysis of the UANP found that every dollar invested produces a $2 return to the economy. Australian governments benefit from their spending on preschool through increased workforce participation, greater overall consumption and higher tax revenues. Considerable savings are also realised in the health, education and justice budgets” (Nous Group 2020).
The latest OECD PISA report, released in late September 2020 and covering the 2018 school year, found that Australian students are almost twice as likely to start school without attending kindergarten or preschool than the OECD average (OECD 2020). These low attendance figures are likely to be the result of low government subsidies in most states and a fractured childcare system.
The PISA test also found that students who had not attended preschool or who had attended for less than a year scored lower in reading at the age of 15 than students who had attended for between one and three years – before and after accounting for student and school socio-economic profiles (OECD 2020).
The SSTUWA believes that the continued failure of the federal government not to guarantee ongoing Universal Access to Preschool funding creates significant uncertainty in the sector – thereby making it significantly harder for it to recruit and keep qualified staff – which has a consequential effect for the children involved.
As long as the federal government continues to prevaricate on this matter, the certainty required for the sector to be able to properly plan and develop is absent and the effect will be felt across the country.
While in Western Australia, the provision of preschool as part of the formal school system is much more desirable than the mix of privatised and community childcare which exists in much of the rest of Australia, it remains crucial that schools are funded for the full 15 hours of preschool.
The SSTUWA calls on the state government to guarantee funding for Universal Access to Preschools, in the event that the federal government withdraws its funding.
In 2018 the federal government abandoned the Gonski funding model and endorsed a legislative change allowing the combined federal and state funding for public schools to be 95 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS); while requiring the combined federal and state funding for private schools to be 100 per cent of the SRS. That 100 per cent is not inclusive of fees – they are additional.
The 95 per cent for public schools is made up of 20 per cent from the federal government and 75 per cent from state and territory governments.
The bi-lateral agreement signed by the federal and WA governments in 2018 also allows the state government to include up to four per cent of its total SRS contribution for items that were originally funded over and above the SRS. The WA government has taken up this offer, meaning that effectively it will be contributing 71 per cent of the SRS by 2023. The federal government funds 20 per cent of the SRS for public schools, therefore combined state and federal government funding would total 91 per cent of the SRS.
WA public schools have previously been funded at 105 per cent of the SRS, which is required due to the geography and remoteness of the state, plus the additional four per cent for other items.
The new funding model represents a shortfall of 14 per cent of the minimum amount required to properly fund WA public schools.
This reduction in percentage is a significant loss of funding to public schools. Over the next four years the combined loss of state and federal funding for WA public schools will be almost $2 billion dollars.
The SSTUWA seeks a commitment that public schools will receive 85 per cent of their SRS funding from the state government.
The SSTUWA seeks a commitment from the state government to reinstate, as additional funding, the four per cent allocated to items not previously included in the SRS.