Posted 2018-05-02

The Association of Independent Schools of the Northern Territory (AISNT) has been consistent in its support for the so-called Gonski 2.0 reforms to school funding. The Australian Government’s school funding legislative changes (passed in June 2017) were based on principles of fairness, putting the needs of children ahead of sectoral or system biases.

These reforms have been broadly accepted across Australia, with the exception of strong criticism from the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria. AISNT has no view on Victorian funding matters and would not presume to make comment about that jurisdiction. However it is important to clarify that it is unreasonable to apply any criticisms made by that body to the Northern Territory context, and most particularly to the Independent schooling sector here.

AISNT applauds the intent of the reform package to create a more equitable situation for all students in all schools, in a shorter amount of time. Across Australia, schools in all sectors – government, Catholic and Independent – are receiving assistance to transition to the new funding arrangements. Nationally, in 2018, $36.7 million is being provided to Catholic systemic schools, $3.6 million to Independent systemic schools and $7.1 million to stand-alone Independent schools to assist with transition.

In the Northern Territory all Independent schools bar one have been operating at a funding level below entitlement, and will now transition upwards to their allocated Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) funding entitlement over a period of six years. In an ideal world these schools would receive their full entitlement immediately, but AISNT accepts that changes cannot be implemented instantaneously. We applaud Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham and his team for devising a clear and equitable ‘road map’ to fair funding.

Complaints by any system office about schools ‘losing money’ can only be made in the context of past system-weighted averaging, which allowed systems to average the SES of their schools. The result of this was that certain systems received more Australian Government funding per student for most students in their system. This created an inequity whereby students in other systems attracted greater funding per capita than if those same students had been in an Independent School. The inequity is mostly prevalent where systems have significant numbers of schools operating at or above their entitlement, which provides extra funding to students in those schools when the system-weighted average is applied. This mainly occurs in Australia’s eastern states and has not been the case in the Northern Territory where there are very few schools operating at or above their entitlement.

A disappointing aspect of the current commentary being run from Victoria is that AISNT has always worked diligently to create strong cross-sectoral relationships with all education bodies in the Northern Territory. It would be regrettable if our efforts to work collegially with Catholic and Government schools in the NT were undermined by a misleading campaign on school funding from a distant state that takes no account of the unique NT context. AISNT will continue to advocate for quality educational outcomes for all children, and a fair go for all schools.