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Beyond education funding - dealing with social disadvantage

Friday, 03 November 2017

In our submission to the review into the Gonski funding arrangements this week, we challenged the notion that pouring money into schools does much if anything for the most socially disadvantaged children.

We argue that the Gonski Review’s narrow focus on education funding meant that scant consideration was given to the link between social disadvantage and educational achievement. There is abundant evidence, for example, that the life chances of a child growing up in a welfare dependent home are severely curtailed. Educational attainment, workforce participation, criminality, poor health and addiction are closely correlated to home background. The challenge of breaking the welfare dependency cycle has been embraced by governments in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The level of funding to a particular school will make a marginal difference at best to the educational outcomes of children who have the misfortune to be raised in circumstances of severe socio-economic disadvantage. School attendance by children in this category is spasmodic, classroom engagement poor, and support from the parent weak or non-existent.

The most severe examples of this pattern have been observed in remote Indigenous communities and have been the subject of innovative interventions focussed on the needs of the child. The most effective interventions frequently require the child to be removed from the home environment.

The evidence, therefore, suggests that attention paid to improving or offsetting the effects of impoverished homes is a pre-requisite for educational progress. To address social disadvantage through school funding is, therefore, to put the cart before the horse.

We are persuaded by the work of Noel Pearson, the Centre of for Social Justice in the UK, evidence from welfare reform in New Zealand and other places that a concentrated focus on eliminating welfare dependency is a more effective public policy response to entrenched socio-economic disadvantage than increases to school funding.

In practice, the two must go hand in hand. Spending priorities, however, are a crucial consideration in this fiscally-constrained era. We would encourage the Review to carefully define the problem we are trying to fix. If educational disadvantage is considered in isolation without the need for calibrated welfare programs, the most severely socioeconomically children will be left stranded.

You can read more about this in our report published earlier this year- Nick Cater

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