The Labor government’s education proposal adds grants for Indigenous students on top of the Gonski recommendations for increased school funding. This proposal does not take into account the overwhelming evidence that funding is not a principal constraint on educational outcomes in Australia.
Past funding increases have failed to close the COAG ‘gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
The 2012 NAPLAN results showed that a ‘gap’ persists between the majority of students (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) who pass literacy and numeracy tests and a minority of Indigenous students who fail.
A majority of Indigenous students – at least 120,000 out of a total of 180,000 students enrolled – pass NAPLAN. These students attend a large range of mainstream private and government schools. They are mainly the children of working parents who ensure that their children attend school regularly and achieve good results. These successful students and their parents are demeaned and stigmatised by being classed as ‘disadvantaged’ just because of their Indigenous ancestry.
Some 40,000 failing Indigenous students attend schools that concentrate students from low socioeconomic and often welfare-dependent backgrounds. Employers constantly complain that these schools produce school leavers who cannot read, write or count and are not ‘job ready.’ Low socioeconomic characteristics contribute to poor attendance and behavioural problems that undermine school performance. Good teachers leave such schools. Parents enrol their children in performing schools. In the absence of strong principals, such schools become ‘residualised.’
Another 20,000 Indigenous students attend separate ‘Indigenous’ schools in remote communities that have no individual property rights and, therefore, no economy or jobs. These Indigenous schools have developed separate curriculums and teaching standards that fail to deliver literacy and numeracy. There are still 40 Homeland Learning Centres in the Northern Territory that do not have qualified teachers every school day. Although many students do not speak ‘standard’ English, unlike schools with high concentrations of immigrants, Indigenous schools do not have ESL teachers. Attendance is usually poor in Indigenous schools, and more than 90% of the students fail NAPLAN tests.
There is no correlation between funding per student and education performance. Indigenous schools already receive the highest funding, often more than $30,000 per student – more than three times the mainstream school average per student. Yet (with a few notable reformed exceptions), Indigenous school NAPLAN results are persistently at the bottom of all Australian schools.
Using ethnic characteristics to identify students who should receive additional education funding is doubly wrong: Indigeneity is not the cause of high failure rates so race-based funding will not reduce failure rates. Poor teaching, not lack of funds, is real reason for poor educational outcomes.
Helen Hughes is a Senior Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.
Mark Hughes is an independent researcher.