Educational disadvantage continues to be one of the greatest barriers facing our young people. If Australia is going to fix this issue, we need to ask the important questions: what do schools need and how can we best direct funds to equip our children for the future?
As the government commits to a needs-based model of school funding, Gonski 2.0 might finally bring the answers our education system so desperately wants. This new review into school funding provides a brilliant opportunity we must not waste. It’s time to open up the conversation and work together to ensure every dollar, whether government or philanthropic, has a significant impact in our schools.
Over the past two years of setting up Schools Plus, we’ve had hundreds of discussions with disadvantaged schools to determine how philanthropic funds can be best directed to impact those students with the greatest need. During this time, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet and talk with many of the phenomenal educators who are not only leading these schools but also pioneering the way to ensure all students have access to an equitable education.
There is nobody that knows better the needs of students and how to meet them than those principals and teachers on the frontline and now with Gonski 2.0 we have the unique opportunity to bring their voice to this conversation. In a recent report, we analysed nearly 350 funding submissions to reveal what schools have been telling us: where the need is greatest and how support can be channeled to create significant impact.
Projects that improve student engagement are at the top of the list, with one third of schools telling us that re-engaging students in their learning is fundamental to success. In order to do this, donations are being used to buy equipment, train staff and bring in external expertise to create meaningful learning experiences for those students who need it most.
For Marsden State High School in Brisbane this took the form of a trade training program, specifically targeted at engaging female students in industrial subjects to support the transition from school into the workforce. Through a philanthropic partnership, the school purchased industry-grade equipment, formed partnerships with local businesses and TAFE and provides masterclasses in trades like bricklaying and tiling to give its female students the best chance at finding work.
The initiative was so successful that an extra class was formed after the first year to accommodate the girls who wanted to participate and to date 30 students have already benefited from the program.
One of the comments that resonated most with me from the Marsden High program was that of seventeen-year-old Tegan who has already gained a part-time apprenticeship in carpentry with a local firm. Not only did she say that her apprenticeship was far better than she imagined but also stated that without the program she might not have found what she wanted to do.
While the government will continue to provide the bulk of funding for schools, philanthropy will increasingly play an important role in supporting schools like Marsden and students like Tegan.
Disadvantage still remains a huge factor in determining student success in more than 4,600 schools across Australia. Gonski 2.0 won’t change this. But what I hope it will do, is to provide all interested parties – whether teachers, education departments, parents or donors – with a greater knowledge and deeper understanding of how we can all work together to create and support an education that will allow our children to thrive in this rapidly changing world.
Rosemary Conn is the chief executive of Australia Schools Plus, a charity which connects donors with schools in need to improve student outcomes