Tasmania’s public schools and colleges continue to perform very well despite a lack of support and funding from our state and federal governments.

The latest Productivity Commission report on Government Services 2020 (2018) clearly gives a huge tick to our public high schools and Tasmania’s eight public colleges.

It shows that public colleges continue to achieve retention rates that meet or exceed the national average (82.5% compared to 81.6% nationally).

The Australian Education Union supports extension schools in regional areas but has long called for a cost benefit analysis for the roll out into urban high schools, to maximise the use of their limited funding allocation.

Data from the latest Productivity Commission report clearly shows that the introduction of year 11 and 12 extension schools has made no difference to state-wide retention rates where the public system was already performing above the national average.

Tasmania’s government school retention rate has remained between 80 and 85 percent since 2013.

But we’ve known this since 2017 when the ACER Review of Years 9 to 12 showed the Liberal Government’s Extension Schools program was falling short of expectations.

In fact, the review noted back then that the model of extending Year 11/12 courses to high schools is “very expensive, likely to have low impact and is probably unsustainable.” It instead favoured the networking of schools, such as implemented with huge success in Norway.

Anyone who visits regional extensions schools such as Huonville High School and its Trade Training Centre across the road can see the incredible program delivery and heard of terrific results and re-engagement of students.

Mr. Harrison’s Aquaculture program is a highly successful example that has changed the learning culture for students in regional areas, resulting in enhanced attendance and attainment.

Adding to this are the achievements in urban areas such as last year’s ATAR results – our public colleges took up the top three places for highest achievers in Tasmania!

But rather than celebrate the terrific work of government schools, the Education Minister last Wednesday elected to quote our overall state retention rate of 74%, a figure brought down by very low retention figures for private schools (66.8%).

The retention data clearly reflects the strength of our public colleges as families abandon private schools in the final years for our public colleges – which are centres of excellence.

It is widely reported that over 600 students annually move from the private school system to public school colleges for a variety of reasons – educational, social and emotional.

As a teacher supporting Elizabeth College’s Athlete Development night course, I saw first-hand students making this very transition and never looking back on the move.

Now it has to be said that our public schools and colleges continue to perform well despite the far greater rates of disadvantage faced by public students and state funding that is virtually stagnant while public funding to private schools grows rapidly.

It is galling that in the first five years of a Tasmanian Liberal Government, state funding per public school student increased just 1.5%, while per student funding to private schools increased 18%.

When did some children become more important than others in the eyes of this state government?

For comparison, the ACT, who also have a high functioning college system, has taken serious steps towards school funding that is consistent with the Gonski-recommended school resource standard over the same period.

In fact, in the 2019-20 budget, the ACT government increased funding for government schools by 7 percent and reduced funding to private schools by 1 percent.

I think it’s clear which government is serious about being “a government of conviction, of compassion and importantly one of opportunity for all,” to quote our new premier.

Will we demand a per student funding model from our state government that reflects their rhetoric or continue on the path to an increasingly inequitable and segregated school system?

The positive achievements of our public schools and colleges are even more impressive when you consider that 42.4% of Tasmanian public-school students come from a low socio-economic background – compared to 20% at private schools.

Over 10% of Tasmanian public-school students are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, compared to 5.5% at private schools.

Two out of every 100 public school students have an Extensive disability and 3.4% have a substantial disability, while for private schools those figures are 0.7% and 2.4% respectively.

The Tasmanian Government has spent huge sums of money and effort on extending high schools to years 11 and 12 in urban areas where colleges are easily accessible and without completing a full review.

While there has been success in regional areas with strong local community support, the data clearly shows that extending urban high schools represents a devastating waste of precious little resources for government schools when they already retain students consistently above the national average.

Instead, the government should be singing the praises of our public schools and colleges that maintain impressive retention rates and standards, despite inequitable funding and very high rates of disadvantage among students.

Public education is already a great success story and to quote the 2018 Grattan Institute report: Tasmanian educators “are doing a tough job reasonably well.”

Just imagine if our government gave public schools, colleges and staff the full support and promotion they deserve and the additional resources they need.

Maybe, just maybe, Tasmania might then be ready to go to the next level…

 

Adam Clifford
Former Primary Teacher
AEU Tasmania Branch Acting State Manager