The Australian Education Union is urging the Federal Government to change a “failed” school funding model. 

The government and union have responded to the release of the Productivity Commission's review of the National Schools Reform Agreement (NSRA).

The commission slammed the current National School Reform Agreement, which was developed by the former Coalition Government, pointing out that it has only one single weak target for academic achievement, and lacks targeted reforms to improve outcomes for students.

The NSRA was also found not to include sufficient clear, measurable targets to drive reform and lacks transparent, independent and meaningful reporting on the reform activity of governments.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including;

  • clear and measurable targets for academic achievement of all students, in particular students from priority equity cohorts

  • targets to reduce the proportion of students who do not meet minimum standards of literacy and numeracy

  • public reporting on progress on implementing reforms and achieving targets

  • a focus on student wellbeing

Federal education minister Jason Clare says the commission’s report will play a key role in the development of a new National School Reform Agreement.

“The Albanese Government is committed to working with State and Territory Governments to get all schools to 100 per cent of their fair funding level,” he said.

“In future, funding needs to be tied to reforms that will make a real, practical difference.”

State and federal education ministers have agreed to establish an Expert Panel to advise on what the reforms should be.

“Shortly I will announce the team that will conduct that work and their Terms of Reference,” Mr Clare said. 

Meanwhile, the Australian Education Union (AEU) says the release of the report is an opportunity for the Federal Government to deliver on their election commitment of establishing a pathway to 100 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) funding for Australia's public schools.

The union says that the Productivity Commission review did not take into account inequitable funding arrangements for public schools.

“It is a shame that from the outset, the review was prevented from taking into consideration the primary driver of inequity in student outcomes - that is the denial of full and fair funding for Australia's public schools,” said Correna Haythorpe, Federal President of the Australian Education Union.

“Improving educational outcomes for all students cannot be separated from school funding. Equitable school funding is a crucial piece of the puzzle that has been entirely overlooked by the review.

“The current NSRA has many shortfalls that fail to address inequity in student outcomes, workforce shortages, escalating workloads and student and teacher wellbeing. And with the subsequent bilateral agreements between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments, it has been used as a vehicle to deliver deep inequality in school funding.”

The first Gonski Review proposed a framework for needs-based school funding, with additional funding for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Over a decade later, the Productivity Commission's review raised the same points about the need to lift the outcomes of students from ‘priority equity cohorts’ but failed to address the funding needs of these students.

“We have been going around in circles for over a decade,” Ms Haythorpe said. 

“The sad reality is that successive governments have failed a generation of public school students, denying their schools urgently needed resources for more teachers, support staff and additional learning programmes, especially for students with additional needs.

“2023 must be the year that delivers full and fair funding for public schools in Australia.”