Government warned of widening gap between country and metropolitan schools
Students in regional and remote parts of Australia are up to two years behind their metropolitan peers in NAPLAN English and PISA maths tests, and this gap is likely to widen in coming years if major funding and structural issues are not addressed, according to the Australian Education Union.
In a submission to the Australian Department of Education's ongoing review into regional, rural and remote education, the AEU has warned that changes to federal funding for public schools will magnify these "issues that confront students in non-metropolitan areas".
The AEU represents about 185,000 principals, teachers and other educators.
Under the Turnbull government's new funding model, dubbed Gonski 2.0, AEU president Correna Haythorpe said most public schools will not meet the accepted funding benchmark by 2023, and this will disproportionately affect students in non-metropolitan areas.
"Across Australia, 87 per cent of public schools will not reach their schooling resource standard by 2023, it's going to have a significant impact," Ms Haythorpe said.
"In the country, 70 per cent of children are educated in public schools and we are very concerned that achievement gaps will widen if we do not address resourcing issues."
Ms Haythorpe said delays in reaching the resourcing standard will mean that these students will "experience compound disadvantage".
Between 30 and 40 per cent of children in remote and very remote areas are considered vulnerable in one or more of five key domains – physical, social, emotional, language and cognitive, or communication and general knowledge – when they enter school, according to the Australian government's 2015 early development census
This falls to about 21 per cent of children entering schools in major cities. Students with a low socioeconomic status are also over-represented in regional and remote schools, according to the AEU submission.
Gae Masters, a NSW Teachers Federation councillor, said that "a funding shortfall risks magnifying the existing challenges that we face".
Mrs Masters, who is principal at Kyogle High School in northern NSW, said the school performs below the state average in NAPLAN tests and has issues "with reading, writing, numeracy, spelling, grammar and punctuation".
She said the school would ideally "increase professional development for staff to upskill them in delivering a differentiated curriculum [and] employ youth workers" to address attendance issues relating to the high number of students who have part-time jobs.
However, Mrs Masters said a lack of resources means she can't seek targeted support for students or cover the costs of sending staff to professional development days in major cities, which add up to as much as $1500 per teacher for regional schools compared to $500 for city schools.
"We do well with what we have but it feels like we can just do the minimum," she said.
"We're reacting to NAPLAN results and poor HSC results rather than being in a situation where we can be proactive in our educational approach and look at what we can do to lift all students' results."
The AEU submission also includes a number of recommendations to address the gap in educational outcomes in different parts of the country.
These include the need for "comprehensive workforce planning ... across the states and territories" to improve teacher quality and retention, the need for improvements in initial teacher education, and the need for a far greater focus on improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
The government's review is being led by Flinders University professor John Halsey and aims to "consider the key challenges and barriers that impact on [country] students' learning outcomes". The final report and recommendations are due by the end of the year.