Saturday, 24 August 2019

Crying poor

Some schools have swimming pools. Others have orchestra pits. But Mitchell High School just wants some new plastic chairs.

The chairs in the Blacktown school's hall are 20 years old; they are stained, marked by graffiti and their legs are beginning to rust.

So Mitchell High, like many schools, competed with other community organisations in their electorate under the My Community Grant project, which lets constituents vote on the projects they deem most worthy.

Many of the proposals provide an insight into the ageing facilities and tight budgets at the state's public schools. Some are asking for money to erect shade cloths, or upgrade their drainage, or pay for a wheelchair-friendly gate. Mount Hunter Public School wants about $20,000 to upgrade its old, sparse playground.

Yep

Teachers need school supplies and the resources to help students succeed — not guns. K. Harris ( Democratic Candidate) 

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Good point

Serious question. If the Catholic Church refuses to obey the law & report child rapists,how can it possibly be allowed to run schools?

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

A view from a Finnish expert

Teachers and principals are advanced professionals akin to their peers in Finland, Singapore, or any other country. 

But, as I have noticed, and what was well reported in recent ABC reportage, this world-class educational excellence is very unevenly distributed around this country and its communities.

Frankly speaking, "Rich school, poor school: Australia's great education divide" is a depressing read. 

Having world-class schools is not the same as having a high-performing school system. 

David Gonski's Review Panel in its 2011 report got it to the point: 

"Funding for schooling must not be seen simply as a financial matter. Rather, it is about investing to strengthen and secure Australia's future. Investment and high expectations must go hand in hand. Every school must be appropriately resourced to support every child and every teacher must expect the most from every child." 

In other words, we need to fix current inequalities in and out of schools before educational excellence can truly be achieved.

It is that simple. The evidence is clear and so should be the road ahead.

Pasi Sahlberg is professor of educational policy and deputy director at the Gonski Institute for Education in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Fucking hell!

The richest 1% of schools spent $3 billion. The poorest 50% spent $2.6 billion combined.
The poorest 50% of schools teach nearly five times as many students.


An ABC News investigation has revealed for the first time the gaping divide that separates the capital expenditure of Australia’s richest and poorest schools. 

It is based on school finance figures from the My School website — a dataset so tightly held that in the decade since its creation, it has only been released to a handful of researchers under strict conditions. Independently compiled by ABC News, it provides a more detailed picture of school income and expenditure than any publicly available data. 

The investigation, which encompasses more than 8,500 schools teaching 96 per cent of students, reveals:

“Certainly the public investment in private schools, and the public investment in the wealthiest schools, is a factor,” she said.

“They have that security of their operating costs being heavily subsidised — or, for some schools, completely covered — so they can use other money for their building projects.”

Sheidow Park Primary School spent $25,005 over the five-year period. It received no capital funding from government.

“The school has never had lots of money and principals have had to be very careful with what they’ve done,” Ms Gorman says.

  • Half of the $22 billion spent on capital projects in Australian schools between 2013 and 2017 was spent in just 10 per cent of schools
  • These schools teach fewer than 30 per cent of students and are the country’s richest, ranked by average annual income from all sources (federal and state government funding, fees and other private funding) over the five-year period. 
  • They also reaped 28 per cent (or $2.4 billion) of the $8.6 billion in capital spending funded by government. 

University of Sydney associate professor Helen Proctor described the figures as “extraordinary”.

Sheidow Park Primary is a public school 20km south of Adelaide. Its sits among the poorest 20 per cent of schools on the income ladder. 

Despite soaring enrolments — student numbers have nearly doubled since 2013 — the last major capital project at Sheidow Park was a gymnasium completed in 2011 as part of the Rudd government’s school building program, known as Building the Education Revolution.

“At the end of the year, when we walk around the school, it’s not: ‘This needs fixing, so we’ll fix it’. It’s always… ‘What’s the worst of the worst?’” Ms Gorman says.

“It’s tricky because you don’t want to be the poor neighbour down the road. You want to put your best foot forward… But I guess it’s the inequity that annoys me the most.”

You don’t have to look far to find that inequity. About half an hour’s drive north is Saint Ignatius’ College in Athelstone, a Catholic school among the richest 10 per cent in Australia. It spent just over $30 million on capital projects (including $124,000 from the federal government) in the same period Sheidow Park spent $25,005. 

Enrolments at Saint Ignatius’ shrunk by roughly five per cent over that period.

Capital funding: A complex system

Capital funding is considered separate to recurrent funding, which covers the ongoing costs of running a school. Recurrent funding cannot be spent on capital projects.

Part of the problem with the current system, according to critics, is that private schools have two public sources of capital funding — the Commonwealth and the states — whereas public schools only receive capital funding from state governments.

So far in 2019, the Commonwealth Capital Grants Program has allocated more than $146 million to fewer than 140 non-government schools. According to the Federal Government, the CGP is “to improve the infrastructure in [non-government] schools that do not have enough capital resources.”

However, the Australian Education Union has previously drawn attention to projects in wealthy private schools that do not appear to meet this criteria.

It is calling on the Federal Government to establish a Commonwealth capital fund for public schools, in line with the recommendations of the 2012 Gonski review.

But while the debate over capital grants rages, numerous education researchers point to a far larger source of public money as the real problem. 

Are taxpayers funds making the system more unequal?

Some education experts believe increased public funding has allowed many private schools to amass funds for capital expenditure from private sources.

“I’m not at all surprised to see some well-off private schools at the top of the list for capital spend. Parents and others are of course welcome to fundraise for the schools they support,” said the Grattan Institute’s school education program director Peter Goss. 

“But every one of those schools also receives substantial recurrent funding from the Australian Government and it’s legitimate to ask whether taxpayer funding is contributing to making our education system even more unequal.”

Adrian Piccoli, director of UNSW’s Gonski Institute for Education and NSW education minister from 2011 until 2017, said the way government funding was distributed to private schools meant “there is the ability to shift money from recurrent to capital”.

“I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if that happens… It’s very hard — and I say this as a former minister — to see what non-government schools spend their money on,” he said.

“I was always astounded that we [the NSW government] gave the Catholic system $800 million a year and, basically, they filled out a one-page form to verify that they’d spent the money appropriately.”


Sunday, 11 August 2019

Choice....sure.

Once upon a time, Sydney families did not angst about where to send their children to school. If they wanted public education, they chose the local one.

But due to policy shifts over the past few decades, parents now feel they have a right to choose their child's school. Some base their choice on NAPLAN results, some base it on a school's reputation, some base it on the socio-economic status of its students.

Some base it on practical considerations, too. Families might choose a school that's on their way to work, or close to grandma, or has subject offerings that appeal to their child, like a dance program or a school newspaper.

Choice is good for the families that know how to exercise it, but bad for the system.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Teachers can't do it all

You are probably familiar with the concept of the “superstar teacher,” particularly since it is perpetuated in popular culture through movies like the classic Edward James Olmos film “Stand and Deliver” and 2012’s “Won’t Back Down.” The idea is that with the right teacher – a committed, bright, in-tune, talented teacher – P-12 problems like the achievement gap and high dropout rates will cease to exist. If only every student had a standout teacher like the ones portrayed in these shows, the very P-12 system as we know it would be transformed for the better.

I do believe in the power of teachers, both positive and negative, on their students. I train educators for a living and have written books about following “the calling” to become a teacher. I do think that teachers make a difference – but I cannot put all of my faith in these “superstar teachers” to reform the education system the way that is truly needed, and here’s why:

  1. There are not enough superstars for the schools that need them. The schools that desperately need some sort of superstar saviors are often unable to attract them. In a study on urban schools and poverty released by the National Center for Education Statistics, urban administrators said that they had difficulty attracting and retaining high-quality teachers.
  2. Teachers are normally only temporary fixtures at a school. Teachers come and go, moving from school to school or on to different careers. In their early years of teaching and when nearing retirement, they have a particularly high attrition rate. Location of teaching position definitely impacts mobility and attrition rates. Most studies show that suburban and rural school districts have lower attrition rates than urban districts.
  3. Poverty is a problem that teachers cannot fix. Schools with higher percentages of students living in poverty had fewer resources available for teaching. They often have a persistent achievement gap and lower standardized test scores. Counting on teachers to counterbalance these structural issues by themselves is a recipe for disaster.
  4. Parents need to become more involved. When parents get involved with their children’s education, they tend to succeed academically and perform better on exams. They miss fewer school days and tend to be more conscientious about completing school-related work outside of school. Conversely, children, whose families are not as involved in their school experiences, are often unable to compete academically with peers, have irregular attendances, and are less likely to graduate from high school.
  5. School leaders also have a role to play in the success of students. Districts, for example, can create a reform team to restructure their school districts. Restructuring teams normally consist of a school board member, the superintendent and assistant superintendents, principals, teachers, and other pertinent individuals.

Once the team is created, efforts must be made to assess the district’s capacity for implementing and sustaining school reform. The team must ask itself whether the district has all of the resources needed to implement and sustain a successful school reform. In extreme cases, when the district feels it is unable to coordinate its own reform effort, the team might want to consider allowing the state department of education to oversee the reform process.

Another option for schools that feel they are lacking in the area of certified and experienced reform personnel is to hire an educational consulting firm.

I think it is unfair to blame teachers solely for the performance of their students. Yes, they play a role in shaping the young minds in their classrooms and yes, they should be held accountable for that. However, it seems to me that the root of issues in classrooms that tend to cause the most problems for students (like poverty and ill-equipped or uninvolved parents) should be the target of any true reform.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Thin edge of the wedge!

Farming families call for a tax break to send their kids to boarding school  A push by the Pastoralists & Graziers Association of WA  for tax breaks for school boarding fees has sparked debate among country parents battling to meet rising costs. 
Maybe support local state schools instead!!!!

Saturday, 20 July 2019

40 large is too much! Bullshit!

Is a minimum salary of $40,000 too much to guarantee a teacher? The governor of Illinois believes so.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

“Gov. Bruce Rauner on Sunday vetoed legislation that would have raised the minimum salary for an Illinois teacher to $40,000 within five years, putting the re-election-seeking Republican at odds with teachers unions once again.

The bill approved by lawmakers in the spring would make the minimum teacher salary for next school year $32,076. The number would rise to $40,000 for the 2022-23 term and grow with the Consumer Price Index after that.

‘Teachers are our greatest asset in ensuring the future of our youth and they deserve to be well-compensated for their hard work,’ Rauner wrote in his veto message. ‘However, minimum pay legislation is neither the most efficient nor the most effective way to compensate our teachers.

‘Things like pay-for-performance, diversified pay for teachers in hard-to-staff schools or subjects, or pay incentives for teachers with prior work experience are all viable options to provide greater compensation for teachers,’ the governor wrote.

The Democrat who sponsored the salary bill said Sunday that he was “disappointed.”

‘Refusing to guarantee professional educators a livable minimum wage is no way to lure more teachers to Illinois,’ Democratic state Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill said in a statement. ‘I’m disappointed in the governor’s veto, and I know thousands of dedicated, hard-working, creative educators throughout the state are too.'”


Americans love putting poor people in jail.

KINGSTON, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania school district is warning that children could end up in foster care if their parents do not pay overdue school lunch bills.

The letters sent recently to about 1,000 parents in Wyoming Valley West School District have led to complaints from parents and a stern rebuke from Luzerne County child welfare authorities.

The district says that it is trying to collect more than $20,000, and that other methods to get parents to pay have not been successful. Four parents owe at least $450 apiece.

The letter claims the unpaid bills could lead to dependency hearings and removal of their children for not providing them with food.

"You can be sent to dependency court for neglecting your child's right to food. The result may be your child being taken from your home and placed in foster care," the letter read.

After complaints, district officials announced they plan to send out a less threatening letter next week.

Luzerne County's manager and child welfare agency director have written the superintendent, insisting the district stop making what they call false claims.

Their letter calls the district's actions troubling and a misrepresentation of how the Children and Youth Services Department and its foster care program operate.

Wyoming Valley West's lawyer, Charles Coslett, said he did not consider the letters to be threatening.

"Hopefully, that gets their attention and it certainly did, didn't it? I mean, if you think about it, you're here this morning because some parents cried foul because he or she doesn't want to pay a debt attributed to feeding their kids. How shameful," Coslett told WYOU-TV.

The district's federal programs director, Joseph Muth, told WNEP-TV the district had considered serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to students with delinquent accounts, but received legal advice warning against it.

School district officials say they plan to pursue other legal avenues to get the lunch money, such as filing a district court complaint or placing liens on properties.

For the coming year, the district will qualify for funding to provide free lunches to all students.

The district underwrote free lunches for four elementary and middle schools during the 2018-19 year, and WNEP-TV said school officials suspect some parents did not pay their lunch bills as a form of protest.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Austerity and education in the U.K.

Ten years into austerity, schools have found countless ways to get by on squeezed budgets, from banning colour photocopies to making staff redundant. For years it has been a delicate balancing act what can we get rid of while minimising damage to our pupils? But there comes a point when there is nothing left to give.

Over 200 headteachers across the country are now turning to a new way to save money: reducing the length of the school week. Pupils are sent home at lunch time on Friday. In place of a five-day school week, there is a 4.5 one instead. 

Reducing the school week is set to save schools such as Bellfield Junior School in Birmingham around £50,000 a year. But what does a 4.5 day school week mean for pupils? And why are so many schools choosing to do it?

No headteacher would take the decision to reduce the school week lightly. If schools fulfil their purpose and enrich pupil’s lives, it is essential this service is not withdrawn – even partially. But, after years of real-terms funding cuts, many schools are finding it increasingly difficult to function. 

Ultimately, the decision to reduce the school week is a choice to prioritise the quality of children’s time children in school over the quantity of it. In an interview with the BBC, the Bellfield headteacher said “We are on absolute minimum staffing levels for the needs of our children.” Better to meet the needs of your pupils 4.5 days a week, than fall short for five. 

Yet it’s important not to romanticise the effect a shorter week will have during those 4.5 days. Many schools are making Monday-Thursday longer in order to partially compensate for leaving early on Friday – even though this can be highly counterproductive for younger children. Since pupils will still need to sit the same exams, the same curriculum will need to be squeezed into those 4.5 days – the usual pattern of arts and humanities being the first to go are likely to apply.

On Friday we had the arresting image of MP Jess Phillips' son doing his homework on the steps of No 10. But what will the Friday afternoon off actually mean for pupils? They can't all gather in Downing Street.

For an affluent middle-class family, it might become a slot for a music lesson or a game of tennis or even a session with a private tutor. Perhaps some parents will be able to afford the luxury of taking the afternoon off to spend quality time with their child. 

However, for the child of a single mum who is working overtime to make ends meet, the picture will be very different. It might also be different for any of the 4.5 million children growing up in poverty – for the families who can’t afford to heat their homes in winter let alone pay for them to do extracurricular activities.

In some parts of Texas they don't open on Mondays. 


Monday, 8 July 2019

Funding ugly

Skulduggery by the Morrison & Andrews Governments robs Victorian public schools of billions. Special deals in funding agreement defraud public schools so that they will be under-funded indefinitely while private schools will be fully funded by 2023.  

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

iPhones

Breaking: The Victorian government has adopted one of the world's toughest stances on mobile phone use in schools. From the start of next year, mobile phones will be banned from all state primary and secondary schools.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

RI sucks.

The courier mail reports that in the last gov't review of QLD religious instruction (1972), RI was found to be "...at variance with the educational role of the state school in contemporary society." The review was then "buried". 
That was in 1972!!!!!

By the way: HOORAY FOR 180000 views!

Modern teaching


Australian teachers have higher workloads, fewer resources: OECD report 


Australian public school teachers face higher workloads, fewer resources and more administration duties than global averages, according to a new international report. Despite this, they are amongst the most innovative and enthusiastic adopters of new ideas and approaches to education. 

The OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018 report focuses on teachers’ work in the classroom, demographics, classroom challenges, Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and training and provision of professional development.

  • Teachers in schools with high levels of socioeconomic disadvantage face greater complexity in the classroom. Consequently they have six minutes less per hour of class time available for actual teaching and learning than their colleagues in more affluent schools. This is the highest gap of any OECD country
  • Less than 30 per cent of new teachers in Australia received formal or informal induction
  • School time spent teaching has fallen in the last five years. Time spent on administration has increased, and is now 33 per cent higher than the OECD average
  • Australian teachers spend an average of 45 hours per week engaged in work on school grounds – well above the OECD average
  • 60 per cent of Australian teachers report that their professional development is curtailed by conflicts with their work schedule 
  • Australian teachers reported that “reducing class sizes” and “reducing teachers’ administration load by recruiting more support staff” were by far their highest priorities

TALIS says Australian teachers regarded ITE and induction processes as leaving them feeling unprepared for the classroom, while access to professional development was limited by excessive workload and inflexible schedules.

Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe said it is critically important that Departments of Education provide sufficient support to beginning teachers in these schools to enable them to do their job well and teach students despite the overwhelming pressure they are under.

“As recommended by the OECD, this includes induction programs, reduced teaching load, access to regular mentoring and secure, ongoing employment,” Haythorpe said.

“Escalating workloads impacts on teaching and learning in schools. Teachers should not be spending more time on administration than on teaching.

“Schools in socio-economically disadvantaged areas face staffing and resource shortages at a greater level than schools in more advantaged communities. It is vital that these schools have a diverse staff mix, including staff with significant experience in the classroom.

“This creates an environment where new teachers can learn from more experienced teachers and provides a collegial environment for support and mentoring, which the OECD tells us Australian teachers are striving to create despite the resource challenges they face.

Australian public school teachers are amongst the best in the world and should be part of a system which is the envy of other countries, Haythorpe said.

“Australia’s teachers are constantly asked to do more with less, leading to excessive workloads and workplace stress. The Federal Coalition Government has denied public schools $14 billion over the next decade which entrenches funding inequality in our schools for years to come.

“These TALIS findings demonstrate the critical importance of fair funding for public schools to ensure that Australian teachers have the resources to give every student the teaching and learning opportunities that they need attention they need.”


we have spent the past six years 'increasing our productivity' with a culminating rise in stress and overwork.

This is not to the benefit of children and young people at all.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Age editorial

A fair and prosperous nation can only be built on and sustained by equality of opportunity, an unassailable principle that compels, above all, universal access to quality education from early childhood. It is, then, profoundly alarming that many students from rural and regional areas are being denied the educational opportunities available to their city-dwelling contemporaries.

Extensive research by The Age’s education editor, Henrietta Cook, and our data expert, Craig Butt, has revealed a widening achievement gap between city and country students. The performance of regional and rural schools is as much as 20 points behind that of city schools, according to NAPLAN data. Victorian year 9 regional students are a full year behind city students, and lag by almost as much in reading. Following their finding, published in recent days, that the VCE results of more than half of all regional and rural schools have declined over the past decade, Education Minister James Merlino has commissioned an inquiry. That is not necessarily a bad move, but it is an insufficient response to a fundamental flaw and must not be allowed to merely lead to yet another expensive report. Calling an inquiry is not enough in itself. The state government risks a bush backlash should it not demonstrate it is fixing the issues.

The impediments faced by rural and regional schools include: a lack of incentives to attract teachers to the regions; declining populations in about a quarter of regional areas as farms are forced to consolidate to survive; and the demoralising disincentive of the prohibitive cost of leaving home to go to university

The Age’s investigation not only ventilated the problem, but found clear elements of a solution; while there has been a general decline in rural and regional results, some schools – although fewer than one in 10 – are improving.

So, what might be done to reverse such an unacceptable situation? Increasing financial and housing incentives for teachers is crucial. The state government allocated more money in the budget to build regional schools, but it needs to buttress this with an investment in the skills and quality of the teachers outside of cities.

Mr Merlino argues schools in regional and rural Victoria have received almost double the increase in funding per student compared to city students since 2015. His advisory panel will examine how this might be better deployed. Areas for consideration should include not only enhanced staffing, but access to early childhood education and co-ordination between state and independent schools, which is providing some great results, our research found. Other parts of the solution include providing more curriculum opportunities, which would help students’ aspirations and motivation, as would financial assistance with attending university.

A recent end to a multi-year stand-off between the federal government and Spring Street will provide an extra $7 billion under the Gonski 2.0 reforms, which are designed to allocate funds on the basis of need. This adds to the state government’s record funding of schools through its ambitious Education State agenda. So, the money is there, but needs to be properly targeted. Change shouldn’t be delayed for the results of an inquiry.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Groan....chaplains!

$247m to school chaplains and only $2.8m towards mental health. And we don’t want to indoctrinate children, right? Federal Government.

Monday, 17 June 2019

FINALLY!

An expert panel has been appointed by the Andrews government to investigate why rural and regional students are lagging behind their city peers.

The announcement follows an investigation by The Age last week that revealed more than half of all regional and rural schools have recorded a slump in their VCE results over the past decade.An expert panel will make recommendations to the state government on how to bridge the divide between country and city students.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said while the achievement gap between rural and city students was a national problem, he wanted to take a lead in addressing the issue.

“We are already doing a lot to boost results in regional and rural Victoria, but we now need to look at what more we can do and that is why this panel is so important,” he said.

The expert advisory panel, which will be chaired by Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority chief executive David Howes, will make recommendations to the government on how to bridge the divide between country and city students.

It will include principals and regional education experts and run consultations in Ballarat, Bendigo, Horsham, Mildura, Morwell, Wangaratta and Warrnambool throughout July and August.

If it's determined by Regional Office and it probably will be then I probably won't get an invite but that doesn't matter so long as they have a good cross section and that they actually LISTEN and LEARN!

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Country education crisis.

Reports last week in the Age by Henny Cook, finally

More than half of all regional and rural schools have recorded a slump in their VCE results over the past decade, triggering concerns about a widening achievement gap between city and country students.

The figures have prompted education experts, principals and students to call for more resources for country students, incentives for teachers to leave the city and greater support for country kids at university.

At one Gippsland school, the median study score dropped from 29 to 23 between 2009 to 2018.

At another school in the Wimmera, the median study score fell from 32 to 24, while a school in north-east Victoria saw its score drop from 28 to 23.

The Age’s analysis comes off the back of the latest NAPLAN results, which found that Year 9 regional students in Victoria lag an average 12 months behind their city peers in maths. They are 10 months behind in reading.

What does the data show?

While the Andrews government has pumped record amounts of funding into schools as part of its ambitious Education State agenda, the data highlights serious inequities between country and city students.

The VCE results of more than 60 per cent of state high schools in the country and regions and almost 50 per cent of non-government schools have deteriorated over the past decade.

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority data for 100 state high schools outside Melbourne shows the average VCE performance of 61 schools had worsened, eight schools improved and the remaining 31 have maintained their results.

Among 53 non-government schools outside of Melbourne, 49 per cent had worsened, 16 per cent had improved and 36 per cent had maintained their results.

Median study scores are regularly used as a measure of a school’s academic performance, with schools striving to achieve the statewide average of 30 out of 50.

Small schools with incomplete data and schools that have opened or closed within the past five years have been excluded from The Age’s analysis.

While state schools recorded an average drop of almost two study scores, non-government schools recorded a drop of about one study score. During this period, the performance of city schools remained stable.

But what is causing the decline? There’s no simple answer, and we have sought the views of students, principals and education experts. Here are five of the major factors:

Teacher troubles

Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Meredith Peace said attracting teachers to the bush, and retaining them, was a major issue.

"I don’t think there are enough incentives," she said.

She said the Education Department should be given powers to allocate staff to rural and regional schools, more staff should be moved onto ongoing contracts and the HECS debt of teaching graduates who work in rural schools should be waived.

One principal, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said rural schools had to accept teachers that other schools wouldn’t accept because they were so desperate for staff.

"In my former school they advertised the same job three times in a row."

Out-of-field teaching – which involves teachers running classes outside their expertise – is also more common in rural locations.

Demographic changes

Drought and changes to farming practices are making some rural areas less attractive to families and teachers.

"To make ends meet, farms have gotten bigger," explains Ms Peace, who hails from north-west Victoria. "Where there were three farms there are now one. Your schools get smaller, your community gets smaller and that impacts people’s attractiveness to that community. Do you really want to go to a community that is declining?"

While Melbourne’s population is booming, the population of around one quarter of Victorian rural areas is shrinking.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that the median age of residents in most rural areas is increasing as younger people seek opportunities elsewhere and the gap between average incomes in metropolitan and rural/regional areas has widened.

Peter Goss, the Grattan Institute’s school education program director, said the achievement gap could be explained by country schools being more disadvantaged than city schools.

"The further you get away from the city the worse the level of achievement," he said.

"There are fewer professional jobs and higher unemployment. The education and employment backgrounds of the parents really impact the outcomes for students."

The cost of university

One principal, who did not want to be named, said his school’s VCE results had plummeted because students couldn’t afford to move away from home to attend university. This, he explained, killed their motivation to study.

"Parents know they can't afford it so they aren’t pushing them. Why bother? There is no drive," he said.

He said bright kids were instead choosing to pursue apprenticeships and trades that were closer to home. The experienced principal called for more scholarships to help country students attend university.

"There has been an absolute lack of recognition that the country areas are struggling," he said.

Remoteness

While she speaks highly of the teachers at Myrtleford P-12 College, Year 11 student Bri Hines said she doesn’t get the same opportunities as her city peers.

The 16-year-old said the six hour round trip to Melbourne made it difficult for her to attend VCE study seminars.

She said students from small schools such as hers were also unaware of the intense competition they faced in the VCE. This meant they were unaware of the work required to do well.

"We are all moseying along together," she said. "We are in a bit of a bubble."

The teenager is an executive student on the Victorian Student Representative Council, a student-led organisation that has made the issue of equity for rural schools one of its key priorities for 2019.

Bri said moving away from home to attend university was daunting for many students.

"The idea of moving three or four hours away from your family can seem very intimidating," she said.

"There’s a mentality that the city is a big scary place. There’s a feeling of inequity, that these city people have all their stuff together and country kids aren't good enough. They feel like their only option is to drop out."



Subject availability

Many rural students who spoke to The Age said they were unable to enrol in the VCE subjects of their choice because they were not offered at their schools. Others were unaware that certain subjects even existed.

Rose Vallance, who grew up in Ouyen in the state’s north-west, said poor access to VCE subjects led to her choosing an unsuitable university degree.

Two years ago, Rose moved away from home and embarked on an arts degree, majoring in drama, at Deakin University.

But the 22-year-old discovered the course wasn't for her.

"I didn't get to try those subjects in my school because the subjects were not offered," she said.

"I couldn't get down to the open days. It was a massive leap of faith that it was going to work."

Associate Professor Philip Roberts of the University of Canberra said VCE students at rural schools were less likely to have the opportunity to take science and maths subjects, which in turn limits their choices for tertiary study.

Fewer than one third of state schools in the country offer specialist maths, compared with 64 per cent of city state schools.

The political response

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said addressing disadvantage in rural and regional Victoria was a strong focus of his government.

"This is why students in regional and remote areas of Victoria receive double the increase of equity funding of metropolitan schools to support numeracy and literacy," he said.

He said the government’s $21.5 million Greater Shepparton education plan, new minimum ATAR requirements for teaching course and the Navigator program for students at risk of disengaging were improving outcomes.

The Opposition’s education spokeswoman Cindy McLeish said the figures were concerning and the state government should consider an inquiry into rural and regional education.

"You want kids in the country to do well but you also want them to stay in their towns and give back to the community," the former secondary school teacher said.

"They need to keep kids engaged in education. There are so many jobs in the country and they can’t get doctors, speech therapists, chefs and welders."

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said his government was working to close the higher education attainment gap between regional and metropolitan students. He said Victoria would be able to better support these students if it signed up to his school funding deal.

He said the government was pumping an extra $400 million into regional higher education over five years, which included scholarship programs and five new regional study hubs.

Former premier Denis Napthine is leading a review of regional higher education and will report back to the federal government this month.