Victorian schools face a dramatic shake-up, with a new performance watchdog, revamped funding and financial incentives for principals among changes being considered by the Andrews government.
One year after former Labor premier Steve Bracks was commissioned to review schools funding, the final report – to be released on Sunday – has warned that urgent action is needed to stop thousands of students falling through the cracks.
"Students in Victoria perform well compared to the rest of Australia and international benchmarks. Yet, for nearly a decade, education outcomes in Victoria overall have not improved," says the report, which makes 70 recommendations designed to target money where it is needed most and make schools more accountable for their results.
"The school system is simply not serving the interests of all students and more should be done to engage students and lift performance overall."
The review was designed to shape funding arrangements in Victoria beyond 2017. But its findings come at a critical time, with education emerging as a key battleground between Labor and the Coalition ahead of this year's federal election and uncertainty over school resources heating up in the wake of this week's Council of Australian Governments meeting.
After failing to reach a consensus with the states on income tax, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Friday his government was not wedded to implementing "the full Gonski" – the final two years of the funding agreement signed by the previous state and federal governments.
But the report makes clear that the Commonwealth's decision to renege on the last two years of the deal could cost Victorian government schools around $1.1billion. What's more, unless this decision was reversed, the report says, the state would be forced to rethink its own funding regime in a bid to negate the impact. The recommendations also include:
The establishment of a dedicated independent watchdog – the Education Performance Monitor – to drive student improvement.
An increase in principal salaries to "incentivise improved performance", particularly in disadvantaged schools.
Annual audits allowing the public to examine how effectively schools are using their resources and fundraising revenue.
Changing Commonwealth tax law to allow public schools to be registered as deductible gift recipients.
The full implementation of the Gonski reforms by both the state and federal governments.
Mr Bracks' 246-page report was based on 100 meetings and more than 220 written submissions, and the government will spend the next few months consulting teachers, principals and parents before releasing its response in the middle of the year.
Education Minister James Merlino said the review was the most comprehensive state-based examination of school funding in over a decade but conceded the findings would create a number of challenges in terms of how schools are resourced in future.
"The reality is if Malcolm Turnbull does not deliver on years five and six of Gonski, government schools in Victoria are going to be disproportionately worse off," Mr Merlino said. "They've got to change their mind… because if years five and six aren't delivered, Victoria needs to rethink the funding model."
In line with the Gonski principles, the Bracks review recommends a needs-based funding system where every student gets a base allocation with extra loadings to account for disadvantage. It also proposes three new "problem based" funding streams: a Learning Partnerships Challenge Fund (to encourage collaboration among schools); a Student Engagement Fund (to give schools incentives to work with partners to strengthen student engagement) and a Government School Renewal Fund (to clear a backlog of upgrades).
Mr Bracks said education should be seen as an investment – "not an expense" - but with extra funding there should also be greater accountability across the system.
"I think accountability is extremely important and there should be much more transparency in how money is applied and what affect it's having,"
@theage on Twitter | theageAustralia on Facebook
Bracks is right, we do have an excellent education system. The best in Australia and one of the best in the world. The main reason for its stagnation is that we endured 4 years of neglect from the previous government and now one and a half years of a new government still initiating their reforms ( some might say slower than invisaged)
Speaking as a principal I still don't understand this belief that paying principals more money will somehow "incentivise improved performance".Poor performing schools need good principals but all schools need good principals and there is a problem attracting principals to some schools ( one advertised recently in Ballarat had only one applicant.) Kennett offered more money and perks to principals as opposed to all teachers and that simply created a them and us culture in schools which still exists in the minds of some principals.
The notion of a dedicated independent watchdog – the Education Performance Monitor – to drive student improvement is an interesting one. Data in my region clearly shows, and has done so for over a decade that kids maths and reading results 'go south' once they get to secondary school and writing does likewise after grade 3. Our region knows this, surely it is their role to do something about it. ( They have done nothing for 5 years) What would this watchdog do exactly? Shouldn't our SEILs be monitoring individual school performance?
The idea of 'Annual audits allowing the public to examine how effectively they are using their resources and fundraising revenue' is more bizarre. I've been 'adjusting' our annual report ( Because DET made some error with the template!) these holidays which is the document we have been using to report to parents for over 20 years. Are they going to change the format of the annual report? How much more 'red tape' will that require? As it is, the region and the SEILs are unable to monitor schools adequately. Are they going to hire a lot more people as 'monitors?' What about the schools that are performing well ( like Glen Park) are we expected to jump through lots of unnecessary hoops.
These new 'funding streams' sound interesting. Tax deductible donations to schools sounds like a 'no brainer'. Does that mean school fees would be tax deductible?
Surely DET needs to be focussing on our secondary schools to help them lift their capacity? That's where the issues are in our region. We haven't seen the new 'reforms' implemented yet ( How are we going with those Networks? and what about all the PD required for those new curriculum areas?) let alone all these 'reforms'
Oh well, I guess we will hear all about it in the newspapers..... eventually.
Copy and paste in this address to find the final Brack's Report