‘We can’t wait any longer’: Principals demand full funding for their schools

‘We can’t wait any longer’: Principals demand full funding for their schools

More than 50 principals from public schools across Victoria have taken their demands for full school funding to state parliament today.

The principals are meeting with more than 30 Labor MPs, including the Deputy Premier and Treasurer throughout the day to raise their concerns about the growing challenges faced by public schools across the state.

Victoria’s principals continue to struggle unsustainable workloads and worsening levels of burnout despite a range of government initiatives aimed at addressing the crisis.

A 2023 report by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) found “the Department is not effectively protecting the health and wellbeing of its school principals”, despite implementing 28 initiatives since 2018.

Principals reported working an average of 55 hours per week during school term and 21 hours per week during school holidays in 2022. Averaged over a year, they reported working 94 hours per fortnight – 18 hours more than their ‘ordinary hours of work’. The report went on to point out that there has been "no material change" in working hours since at least 2015.

‘It is simply an injustice’

Tina King, the Australian Principals’ Federation’s Victorian branch president, said the state’s schools warrant 100% of School Resource Standard (SRS) funding to uphold educational equity and excellence.  

“It is simply an injustice that Victorian government schools do not receive the full allocation of their SRS [funded at just over 90%], when in comparison, private schools are funded to over 100% of the SRS,” King told The Educator.

“This means that private and catholic schools have a significant resource advantage over government schools yet, it is the public system that accounts for over 90% of disadvantaged students.”

King noted that with diverse student populations and unique educational challenges across the government system, full SRS funding is essential to provide necessary resources, including qualified and specialised teachers, and programs. 

“Ensuring equitable funding empowers schools to address individual and complex learning needs, bridge achievement gaps, and foster a supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students,” she said.

King said current bilateral funding agreement between Commonwealth and State Governments “authorises under-funding of state schools”.

“If as claimed, Victoria is the Education State, then it is time to fully invest in our  government schools, as such an investment is a commitment in the future workforce, innovation, and societal progress,” she said.

“It's a commitment to fairness and opportunity, ensuring every child in Victoria has access to the quality education they deserve. Then we can genuinely claim to be the Education State.”

Victoria’s public schools the lowest funded in Australia

Australian Education Union (AEU) Victorian Branch President, Meredith Peace said Victorian public schools are only funded to 90.4% of the Schooling Resource Standard, now the lowest funding level in the country.

“This figure also includes a loophole allowing state governments to count 4 per cent of public school funding on costs not directly related to the education of students, including capital depreciation, transport and regulatory costs,” Peace said.

“In effect, one in every ten public school students in Victoria is not funded for their education and our principals, teachers and support staff have to make up the shortfall.”

Peace noted that this shortfall amounts to $1.7bn in 2023 – an average of $2,611 per student.

In December 2023, a major review by an independent expert panel urged Australia's education ministers to fully fund public schools “at the earliest opportunity”.

Chaired by Dr Lisa O’Brien, the expert panel highlighted urgent action to address glaring funding gaps in Australia’s schools, noting that 98% of public schools remain underfunded.

“The panel was clear in the report that full funding to 100 per cent of the SRS is a critical prerequisite for successful education reform and student learning and wellbeing improvement across the country,” the report stated.

“All jurisdictions should fully fund schools within a comparable timeframe” and the issue is all the more urgent “because of the full funding arrangements that already exist in the non-government sector”.

Federal, State and Territory governments are currently negotiating a new national school funding deal which hopes to bridge the growing divide between Australia’s poorest and wealthiest schools.

Today, Victoria’s principals will tell their elected representatives today at the state parliament that this deal must lift funding to 100% of the SRS.

Failure to act now will worsen existing problems 

Victorian Principals Association president Andrew Dalgleish said a generation of public students has already missed out on urgently needed funding, and schools cannot afford to wait any longer.  

“A failure to invest will see widening equity and achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds, a worsening teacher crisis and a decline in teacher and student wellbeing,” Dalgleish told The Educator.

“It is critical that educators and policy makers co-design how these funds are used to ensure maximum impact on student wellbeing and outcomes.”

‘We cannot wait any longer’

Peace says the Allan Labor Government needs to address the teacher workforce shortage crisis with “bold measures”, including a retention payment for public school staff, and an expansion of the scholarship program and paid placements to all students studying to be a teacher.

“Full funding is crucial to deal with the workforce shortages significantly impacting schools. With more than 1400 vacancies in Victorian public schools being advertised each week for most of term one, many schools are feeling the impact of being unable to find the staff they need,” Peace said.

“Principals have been left with no choice but to increase class sizes, reduce curriculum offerings, split classes, ask staff to carry additional duties, and undertake classroom duties themselves.”

Peace said “short-changing” Victoria’s public schools will short-change students, and at a time when they can least afford it.

“We cannot wait any longer to fully resource our schools.”