Minister announces expert panel to tackle funding, disadvantage crisis in Australia’s schools

Minister announces expert panel to tackle funding, disadvantage crisis in Australia’s schools

The Federal government has announced the appointment of an expert panel chaired by Dr Lisa O’Brien to advise on the key targets and reforms to be tied to school funding in the next National School Reform Agreement (NSRA).

Dr O’Brien, Chair of the Australian Education Research Organisation and former CEO of the Smith Family, will chair a panel of experts with significant and diverse experience in school education who will deliver their final report to the Federal Government on 31 October. 

The panel, announced by Federal Education Minister Jason Clare today, will focus on driving “real and measurable” improvements for students most at risk of falling behind and helping all schools reach 100% of their School Resourcing Standard (SRS).

Minister Clare said the panel will place a particular focus on students from low socio-economic backgrounds, regional and remote Australia, First Nations students, students with disability and students from a language background other than English.

The recommendations of the panel will inform negotiations next year between Federal, State and Territory Governments on the detail of the next NSRA. The review will also consider how funding and reforms can be more transparent and better demonstrate links to student outcomes.

“At the election we made a commitment to work with State and Territory Governments to get every school on a path to 100 percent of its fair funding level. Funding is critical, but so is what it does,” Minister Clare said.

“If you’re a child today from a poor family, or from the bush, or you’re an Indigenous child, then you’re three times more likely to fall behind at school.”

Minister Clare said the reforms will target the gap in students’ reading outcomes, which has widened significantly since 2008.

“Fifteen years ago, the gap in the reading skills of eight-year-olds from poor and wealthy backgrounds was a bit over a year. Now it is over two and with every year, that gap grows bigger,” he said.

“This expert panel will provide us with the advice we need to put in place the specific reforms to help turn this around.”

Dr Lisa O’Brien said her work at The Smith Family showed her how educational achievement can bring positive change to a young person’s life.

“That’s why I am grateful and excited for the opportunity to lead this critical work with such a team of experts,” she said.

“I look forward consulting broadly to ensure sure we provide Ministers evidence informed advice on the types of reforms that can make a lasting difference to our young people and boost educational outcomes for all Australian students – no matter what their background.”

The panel

  • Ms Lisa Paul AO PSM, former Secretary of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and former Chair of the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review.
  • Professor Stephen Lamb, Emeritus Professor at the Centre for International Research on Education Systems at Victoria University and member of the National School Resourcing Board.
  • Dr Jordana Hunter, School Education Program Director at the Grattan Institute.
  • Ms Dyonne Anderson, President of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principals Association and Principal at Cabbage Tree Island Public School.
  • Professor Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Educational Leadership at University of Melbourne.

‘A welcome development, but clarity needed on timing’

Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe welcomed the announcement, saying students are the “ultimate beneficiaries of full and fair funding”.

“If Australian public schools had 100 per cent of their fair funding level, students from every background would benefit from smaller class sizes, additional teachers and more resources,” Haythorpe said.

“We welcome the Federal Government’s focus on students who experience disadvantage, including students with disability, from regional and remote areas, First Nations’ students and students from a language background other than English.”

However, Haythorpe said the government needs to set a clear timeline as to when its funding reforms will come to fruition.

“As we said when the Government announced the review process late last year, funding delayed is funding denied. We have a cohort of students in year 12 this year who have never attended a fully funded public school,” she said.

“We need to see a clear timeline and pathway to delivery of full funding for every public school and for the students in public school classrooms as soon as possible.”

The Australian Government Primary Principals Association (AGPPA) says the Federal Government’s decision in December to extend current agreement means the nation’s public schools will continue to receive 10% less funding from the public purse than has been recommended under the Gonski Review.

“The delay to renegotiate the National School Reform Agreement will ensure that this year another 220 000 students, including our most disadvantaged, will leave government primary schools having never received the benefit of the minimum recommended resourcing level,” Pat Murphy, AGPPA president, told The Educator in an interview earlier this month.

“School leaders are particularly frustrated that the agreement negotiated by the former Commonwealth Government means that the soonest most children in a government school will attract 95% of recommended public funding would be 2027 and in some states, not until 2032.”

The expert panel will deliver its report to Education Ministers by 31 October 2023.