Disadvantaged children ‘the biggest losers’

Principal of Queanbeyan South Public School, Genevieve Jackson, left, discusses the Gonski funding cuts with the Federal President of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos. Photo: Graham TidyThe most disadvantaged children will be among the biggest losers from the federal budget, with no provisions made for the fifth and sixth years of Gonski funding, labelled a “disaster” for public education.Under the previous Labor agreement with the states and territories, about two-thirds of the Gonski reform funding was due to be delivered in the fifth and sixth years.While the Abbott government has funded the four years, as committed by the previous government in its forward estimates, Save Our Schools convenor Trevor Cobbold said schools would lose $6 billion by the abandonment of the fifth and sixth years of the funding reform.“State governments are unlikely to make up the loss and may not even meet their own commitments to increase funding, in which case the loss to government schools will be even bigger,” he said. “It is a disaster for the future of public education in Australia.”At Queanbeyan South Public School, where 44 per cent of students are in the bottom socio-educational quarter and a quarter are indigenous, the Australian Education Union says the decision will leave students “short-changed to the tune of $650,000”. “Eden-Monaro won’t see $30 million that was promised to kids in this electorate,” AEU federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said. “There will actually be a cut in real terms in the fifth year of Gonski.”Mr Gavrielatos said the decision would leave 20 per cent of schools nationally below the determined minimum resource standard, and also noted there was no additional funding for disabled students, as previously promised by Education Minister Christopher Pyne.Queanbeyan South principal Genevieve Jackson has been able to fund several programs under previous national partnership funding, which was successfully closing achievement gaps within the school, particularly with the indigenous students.“I know I can’t maintain the programs within my school because I simply can’t hire the personnel,” she said. “We employ a speech pathologist; 50 per cent of my kindergarten students alone were recognised as having speech difficulties. With the funding we have now – which is running out in the next couple of months – we can only address 20 per cent.“[These programs are] imperative for the future of these children; so we need that funding; it’s not just for literacy and numeracy, it does have social and emotional implications as well.”In a press release, Federal Member for Eden-Monaro Peter Hendy lauded the government’s “record recurrent funding investment” over the next four years.“This government has matched funding for schools over the four-year forward estimates as promised . . . and has increased it’s [sic] investment by adding $1.2 billion more than the previous government,” he said.Dr Hendy said the government had also kept its promise to invest $243.8 million over four years in the School Chaplaincy Program.The program offers schools up to $24,000 per year to support a chaplain, but will no longer allow principals to elect for a secular student welfare worker instead of a chaplain, something Dr Hendy said he was “particularly pleased” about.Over the same four-year period, the government committed $5 million to a program encouraging students to study science and mathematics, and $11.6 million to improve uptake of languages other than English.Meanwhile ACT children could see their free pre-school time cut from 15 hours a week to 12 hours, with federal funding of the National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education up in the air.The ACT funds 12 hours, while the federal government funds an additional three hours.Federal funding for the program designed to provide “affordable, quality early childhood education” was earlier in the year extended until December, and a report commissioned into the program.“That review has been extended until September; that does not provide us with any time whatsoever to reconfigure our system,” ACT Minister for Education Joy Burch said.An unstated provision for the program has been made in the budget’s contingency reserve, subject to the outcome of the review and negotiations with the states and territories.

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