Other countries are shutting schools – why does the Australian government say it’s safe to keep them open?


Peter Collignon, Australian National University

Victoria started school holidays a week early while parents can choose whether to send their children to school in other states. All states and territories are working towards reopening schools in term two.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the medical expert advice is that it is safe to send your children to school.

This seems inconsistent with other strict quarantine measures the country is adopting to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, termed SARS-CoV-2.

People are told not to leave the house if possible. All non-essential travel in and out of the country (and between some states) has been banned. Many businesses have closed and services, including open house inspections, have been banned. Even funerals are limited to no more than ten people.

Why then are our schools still open? And why are so many other countries closing their schools?

In short, strict quarantine measures have been shown to be more effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 than closing schools. And many countries where schools have closed had community transmission for too long before putting in measures to prevent it.

But let’s look at it in more detail.

Children appear to spread the disease less

There is a lot we still don’t know about COVID-19. But we do know children appear to very rarely have serious disease and complications, compared to those in the older age groups like their parents and especially grandparents.

We have a lot of data from a number of countries (China, South Korea, Japan, Italy) where this pandemic has infected large numbers of people. The data show children have rarely (and in many countries never) died from the infection.




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Even those under the age of 30 have rarely died from the disease. Children also appear to get infected at a much lower rate than those who are older – although we can only confirm that once we have rolled out large-scale testing.

Children can get infected. And both here and in other countries, children with infections have attended schools. But there have been no documented outbreaks in the schools infected children attended and the schools were shut and cleaned.

Australia has low community transmission

In Australia (as of March 25) we still have very low community transmission of this virus.

Some argue we haven’t detected community transmission because we are not testing enough. Yes, there will be some cases that might be missed – but not many. Australia has done more than 135,000 tests with only 1% of those tested showing positive results.

Australia has one of the highest per capita testing rates in the world and one of the lowest rates of positive diagnoses. And more importantly, current testing includes people who come to hospital with pneumonia, especially if they need to go to the intensive care unit.

If there was already widespread community spread we would be picking up these cases.

The cases we are seeing are overwhelmingly still in returned travellers and in their contacts. Hopefully by quarantining cases and high-risk people (close contacts and returned travellers) for infection, we will be able to limit any ongoing spread in the community.




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What we are seeing with our rapid increase in numbers is not an uncontrolled epidemic in Australia. It is more a reflection of what has been the uncontrolled community spread of the infection in places like the US and Italy. This is reflected in returned travellers who were in recent months part of those communities and who were or are now quarantined.

Australia’s situation is different to other countries

Most of Europe and the United States introduced widespread school closures. This is because they didn’t control community spread until very late, and the virus had already been circulating widely without them realising due to less or delayed testing . This is not the case for Australia where there is still little community spread.

There have not been extended national school closures in some countries where there has been good control with a reversal of the curve and fewer and fewer new cases, such as South Korea and Singapore.

These countries and others have had localised school closures in many areas. But this usually occurred where frequent community spread was detected. This may also be what is needed in some areas in Australia.

Data released by the Imperial College, London found:

in the UK and US context, suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population (and especially for those over 70 years of age), home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members.

Most models have been done so far on the assumption the coronavirus spreads in a similar way to influenza (the normal flu). But this doesn’t appear the case. COVID-19 appears to cause many less infections in children than occurs with influenza. While we don’t know the exact infection rates in children, symptomatic infections appear to be much lower than what would be expected with influenza .

The Imperial College model assumes household contact rates for student families will increase by 50% during the time schools close. Contacts in the community increase by 25% during closure.

These increased community interactions, such as with grandparents and the community in general, may be why there are worrying findings from their model during the first three months with school closures.

Their model shows that if school closures themselves were our only intervention, that would only have a modest impact on decreasing the demand for hospital beds (14%) and be the least effective of all their modelled interventions.

But what about teachers?

Children do get infected but at a much lower rate than other age groups. Some teachers might be at risk, such as those over 60 years old with heart conditions. Those teachers should be be at home anyway and practising even more social distancing than the general population, along with all those over the age of 70 years old.

Higher risk groups should be decreasing their current contacts and trying to use the 2 meter distancing as well as not letting anyone unwell, such as those with a cold symptoms (including their children and grandchildren) visit.




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Closing schools will not likely decrease the spread of the virus by much, but the spread in our community will be associated with lots of potentially long term and detrimental outcomes on children’s education. It will also impact the ability of society to function and deliver essential and other important services. It may even increase deaths from COVID-19 based on some modelling.The Conversation

Peter Collignon, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

My child is staying home from school because of coronavirus. Is that illegal?



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John O’Brien, Queensland University of Technology

In a recent press conference on the COVID-19 situation, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Australia schools would remain open for the foreseeable future. He said:

The health advice here, supported by all the Premiers, all the Chief Ministers and my Government is that schools should remain open […] I am asking all other parents around the country […] There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.

But many parents are keeping their children home. Some are doing this in an effort to “flatten the curve”, and others may be worried for the health of their child or elderly relatives.

Attendance in schools across Australia has fallen, by as much as 50% in some. Considering parents are going against the directive of governments, are they breaking the law by taking their kids out of school to study at home?

On the face of it, the answer is yes. But it’s not black and white, and the likelihood of criminal proceedings is traditionally very low. Fining parents has always been considered a last resort, and that would seem unlikely to change in a time like now.

But the law is the law, and is there for a specific social purpose – it is never advisable to willingly and persistently ignore it.

What does the law say?

School education is governed by state and territory laws that mandate compulsory education. Parents are legally obliged to ensure their child attends school (or other educational options such as homeschooling) every school day, unless the parent has a reasonable excuse.

The maximum fine that can be issued to a parent varies considerably across jurisdictions. If a parent was to face court (normally this would be for persistent non-attendance), the fine in Queensland can be up to A$800, whereas in New South Wales, it could be $2,750.




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But again, prosecuting parents will not usually be the first response, and these figures are the maximum a court may impose. Many states either suggest or require warnings, notices, meetings or conferences before a case can be recommended for prosecution.

Is COVID-19 a ‘reasonable excuse’?

Most jurisdictions provide for a reasonable excuse to be given, and then often provide a few examples of what this might cover. If a child is actually sick, this would often be listed as an acceptable reason for their absence.

Similarly, six of the jurisdictions (ACT, NSW, NT, Qld, Tas, WA) specifically mention a defence where the child is required to stay home due to a public health direction. The current direction of governments is for healthy children to go to school. But this defence could cover a situation where a family member is confirmed to have COVID-19, or the child has recently returned from overseas, and therefore needs to self-quarantine for 14 days.

South Australia has a new Act which could allow a parent to keep a healthy child at home to prevent the risk of the child catching a disease; however this law has not yet begun to operate.

Without there being any specific and obvious defence for parents, it would come down to whether removing a child from school due to the threat of COVID-19 is considered a “reasonable” excuse.

Who decides?

In a worst-case scenario, it would be a court that would ultimately decide this question. But there are a range of decision-makers involved in school non-attendance cases who precede a court, including school principals.

Parents could apply for an exemption to their obligations in advance of their child’s absence. Decision-makers for exemptions vary between jurisdictions, and sometimes even within a jurisdiction depending on whether the child is at a state or non-state school.

Powers might be vested in the relevant minister (NSW, SA, Tas, Vic, WA), a departmental CEO/director-general or their delegate (ACT, NT, Qld State Schools), or a school principal (Qld non-state schools).

A factor that might make it more reasonable for the child to be exempted could be if there are other household members who fit into high-risk categories (for example, someone who is immuno-compromised). Also relevant might be what provision has been made for the child once the parent removes them – will the child be doing schoolwork, or playing video-games unsupervised all day?




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The prime minister said anything we do we would need to do for six months. This situation isn’t likely to resolve itself anytime soon, and it’s uncertain whether government advice will change with regard to schools.

For now, technically, keeping healthy children at home can be considered illegal. But the likelihood of criminal proceedings is low, and a government decision to prosecute parents would, I imagine, be publicly unpalatable.The Conversation

John O’Brien, Associate Lecturer, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Schools are open during the coronavirus outbreak but should I voluntarily keep my kids home anyway, if I can? We asked 5 experts



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Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation

Editor’s note: This article is based on the coronavirus situation in Australia as of March 19. The situation may change over time.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said government schools across Australia will remain open for the foreseeable future as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads. He added that:

as a father, I’m happy for my kids to go to school. There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.

However, many parents are already voluntarily keeping their children home in an effort to “flatten the curve” – or are considering doing so.

We asked five experts to answer the question: schools are staying open but should I voluntarily keep my kids home anyway, if I can?

Four of the five experts said no

Sign up to The ConversationThe Conversation

Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No, Australia is not putting teachers in the coronavirus firing line. Their risk is very low



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Gerard Fitzgerald, Queensland University of Technology

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today confirmed schools across Australia will be staying open for the foreseeable future as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads.

Morrison said this was based on health advice, supported by the federal government, premiers and chief ministers.

I’m telling you that, as a father, I’m happy for my kids to go to school. There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.

But many teachers are concerned the government is ignoring their welfare and exposing them to risk of infection. This is particularly so for teachers who are in high-risk groups, such as the elderly and those with a chronic illness.

So, is the government sacrificing our teachers’s health by keeping schools open? Generally speaking, teachers are at very low risk of being exposed to COVID-19. But schools need to offer support for teachers who fall into high-risk groups.

What is the risk of COVID-19 to the average Australian?

Teachers may be feeling exposed, but it is important to be clear about the current status of this disease in Australia.

At March 17, 512 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19. On the information compiled by the ABC, of the diagnosed cases for which the potential source of the infection has been traced, most had returned from overseas or had contact with someone who returned from overseas.

That means there is currently no evidence of significant and sustained community transmission of COVID-19 in Australia – although this could change rapidly. But for the moment, the risk to those who have not travelled abroad or those who have not had contact with those who have travelled remains very small.

Everyone entering Australia from overseas (except flight attendants and residents from the Pacific Islands) is required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 is asked to self-isolate, and those who have been in contact with them may also be asked to do so. People showing symptoms are being tested.

This further reduces the chance of community transmission.

On top of this, the Australian government has put in place proactive measures to reduce this low chance of community transmission further. This is done by encouraging enhanced personal hygiene and increased social distancing measures.

These include working from home where possible, staying at home unless you need to go out, banning mass gatherings of more than 500 people and indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, and avoiding non-essential travel.




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All of this means the risk of anyone coming into casual contact with someone who has COVID-19 is very low. This of course means the risk of a teacher coming into contact with someone at school with COVID-19 is low too.

What if a child has COVID-19 and comes to school?

This risk to students and teachers is increased if someone in the school community has tested positive and potentially infected others.

A number of schools in Australia have shut after some students tested positive for COVID-19. This was to allow time to monitor students and teachers for any signs of infection and for extensive cleaning.

The NSW health minister said:

The advice to schools is if a child does present with a heavy cold, sore throat, cough, fever or flu-like symptoms, we’ll be contacting parents to come and collect their children.

Detailed analysis of the outbreak in Hubei province has shown that the majority of patients are adults between 20 and 50. But the severity of the disease and death rate increases with age.

Children are less likely to be diagnosed with the condition or to have severe illness. This makes teachers even less likely to encounter an infected person in the workplace.




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And like every other member of the community, children at risk of COVID-19, such as those who have travelled overseas or who have been in contact with someone who is infected, are required to self-isolate for two weeks.

Any child who is ill is being asked to stay home from school. Anyone showing symptoms or who may be a risk is tested for the disease.

Why have other countries closed schools then?

Again we must remember, there is currently no significant and sustained community transmission of COVID-19 in Australia.

It is quite different to the circumstances earlier this year in China (particularly Hubei province) and in Europe where there is uncontrolled spread of the disease. This is particularly the case in Italy, which has shut schools nationwide.

Researchers at Imperial College London have modelled the impact of various public interventions based on data from Hubei, and their previous work with influenza.

They concluded closing schools in the case of influenza will likely reduce further infections. But school closure in the case of COVID-19 is not enough in itself to do so. And the modelling was based on established community transmission which, of course, is not currently present in Australia.




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Closing schools has consequences as parents need to stay home from work, some of whom will be essential workers including health workers. Or kids will end up gathering in shopping malls or with grandparents who are at particular risk from COVID-19.

Should this disease break out into the community, it may last months and prolonged closure of schools may have significant impacts on the children and their education.

The Australian government’s decision to keep schools open is based on weighing up the risks posed by schools against the health, economic and social costs of their closure.

Are teachers a high risk group because they are older?

COVID-19 is particularly threatening to certain groups of people. This includes the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and those with chronic diseases including hypertension, diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases.

Figures from a 2018 OECD report show Australian teachers are, on average, 42 years old and 30% are above the age of 50.

A government report from 2014 shows around 5% of Australian teachers are above the age of 65 and therefore at increased risk of COVID-19. It is likely many more have chronic diseases that also increase their risk.

Teachers in this group, as with any Australian, are advised to avoid travelling overseas and to avoid contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.




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And although the risk is small, teachers aged above 65 or who have a chronic condition, should consider not going to school. It is advisable for schools to have policies in place to ensure people in the higher risk groups are supported if they need to stay away for a period of time.

The situation is very fluid and if COVID-19 does break out further into the community, much more aggressive social distancing measures will need to be taken, including closing schools.


Correction: this article previously said most diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Australia were in people who had returned from overseas or had contact with someone who had. This has now been clarified to say this has been found to be the case in most diagnosed cases for which authorities have released the potential source of transmission.The Conversation

Gerard Fitzgerald, Emeritus Professor, School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: International


sing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKDx098WLPA

eu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gEKJSp_2QI

Italy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f09UEjxzd0c

USA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThT-GAKwXpY

Africa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgxGqexBiS4

UK https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_E9A-Z4QW-c

A familiar place among the chaos: how schools can help students cope after the bushfires


Rachael Jacobs, Western Sydney University and Carol Mutch, University of Auckland

School will start on a somewhat sombre note this year. Some schools will still be shrouded in smog from the bushfires. Some students will be grieving the loss of property, animals or even family and friends. Some remain evacuated and others are part of the recovery effort.

In recent days, Australia’s education minister Dan Tehan highlighted the importance of schools supporting students in the aftermaths of the bushfires.

Announcing A$8 million for mental-health liaison officers and clinicians to work with schools and early childhood services in affected communities, Tehan said:

[…] child care centres, preschools, schools and universities are important community touchpoints that are helping families and children get back on their feet after the bushfires.

Even students not directly affected by the fires might be distressed by images they have seen or stories they have heard.

So, what can schools and teachers do to help students cope in the aftermaths of this crisis?




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A sense of control

Schools can provide a sense of familiarity, routine and security among chaos. Even if a school has been affected by fires, it’s important it still feel like school with familiar things such as books, desks and chairs, classes and lunch breaks.

But these same structures should, for a time, be more flexible than before. Time spent on activities might be shorter, the breaks a little longer and the pace a little slower. Providing options to share or respond in different ways gives students a sense of control in a world that, for a time, seemed out of control.

Schools are also supportive communities. Researchers who studied the experiences and the responses of schools in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, suggest it is important to provide opportunities for students to process their experiences in a safe and structured way.

Students should not be forced to share their feelings but can be guided in a calm manner that avoids further trauma. A teacher who provided help after Hurricane Sandy suggested teachers model calm and optimistic behaviour, acknowledging students’ distress but demonstrating constructive actions that provide hope for the future.

For example, creating a photoboard of communities coming together in recovery can be a powerful civics lesson. Or students could write letters of thanks to volunteers in a literacy lesson.




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Creative activities are helpful for students to express their experience. This could be done through writing, drawing, painting, making things with their hands, moving to or creating music, singing, drama or photography.

Some older students may have controversial questions or opinions about climate change or the funding of emergency services. Teachers can lean into difficult conversations and allow for respectful debate.

Perhaps collate a reputable series of articles for students who want to know more.

‘A teaspoon of light’ project helped students deal with the trauma of earthquakes using drama.

Distracting children from going over things they find distressing is important too. There comes a time when teachers can gently move on from acknowledging students’ fears or sadness to another activity – especially calming ones such as relaxation exercises, listening to a story or quiet music.

Following the 2010 Canterbury earthquakes in New Zealand, researchers suggested teachers help students regulate their emotions with relaxation exercises or using play, and re-frame their thoughts more positively such as by thinking of happy things like their pets.

Traumatised children

Young people who have been injured, or have suffered a major loss (a loved one or a home) might have difficulty adjusting to returning to school. Those who have experienced prior trauma or have a history of mental illness are more at risk of adjustment difficulties.

It helps if schools can brief teachers on signs of trauma and ways to notice unusual behaviours, such as becoming quiet and withdrawn or appearing nervous and fidgety. Some students might cry, some might get angry and some might even laugh inappropriately. Some might be frightened by sudden noises.

There is no blueprint for how or when people might respond to their experiences. Students might appear fine initially but later display unusual behaviours. With younger children, this might be nighttime (or even daytime wetting), clinginess, restlessness or tiredness.

Older children might display hyperactivity, aggression, withdrawal, lethargy or panic. Teenagers could also have poor impulse control or show a loss of interest in friends and activities. Students might have arrived at school distressed, but over time gain control of their feelings, or they might take it all in their stride.

Research shows most students who have experienced trauma as a result of natural disaster adjust in a year or two but might have ups and downs depending on other factors in their lives, such as family relocation or financial difficulties. But up to 20% of these young people might have prolonged symptoms that stop them engaging in or enjoying everyday activities.

These students will need professional help beyond what teachers can provide. This is why keeping in touch with parents is essential. If necessary, teachers and parents should agree on strategies that will support students at home and school.




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Eventually, a school in recovery will settle into the routine of a new normal, in which students become a little more used to their changed lives and continually changing world – although they may have occasional emotional or behavioural wobbles.

And it is still OK to have fun. Playing games, re-reading a favourite story or watching a video can help lift the mood. Dancing or getting outdoors can release energy and tension. Talking about the future and discussing what has been learned from the experience is also part of healing and moving forward.The Conversation

Rachael Jacobs, Lecturer in Arts Education, Western Sydney University and Carol Mutch, Professor in Education, University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The UK Labour Party wants to abolish private schools – could we do that in Australia?



Britain’s Eton College charges charges annual fees of more than £40,000.
from shutterstock.com

Paul Kidson, University of Wollongong

The UK’s Labour Party recently voted in a policy to effectively abolish private schools and integrate them into the state system.

This is a courageous move designed to redress social inequity – many of those working in the top levels of the UK government were educated in private schools. Two of Britain’s three most recent prime ministers went to the prestigious Eton College, which charges annual fees of more than £40,000.

The UK opposition party’s plan will likely warm the hearts of similarly minded Australians. Many of the same arguments about educational inequality have been floated in Australia. Many individuals and organisations have also, for years, been calling for the government to stop funding non-government schools.




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But implementing a policy in Australia like that proposed in the UK would prove very difficult. For one thing, it’s a matter of numbers. Only 5% of the United Kingdom’s students go to a private school. The challenges are magnified in Australia where nearly 15% of students are enrolled in independent schools and nearly 20% in Catholic parish schools.

But beyond that, Australia’s complex set of school governance structures would make such a move very unlikely to succeed.

Eight education systems

Under UK Labour’s proposal, if it took office, private schools would lose their charitable status and any other public subsidies or tax breaks. Their endowments, investments and properties would be “redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions”.

For Australia to do the same, at the outset, it would be a constitutional issue. The Australian Constitution empowers states and territories to provide school education, thus creating eight different education systems. For Australia to abolish private schools like that proposed in the UK, a choice from three possible processes would need to occur to get around this issue.

First, Australia could change the Constitution. Second, all states and territories could voluntarily cede their powers for schooling back to the Commonwealth. Or third, each state and territory government could agree to enact the policy in its own jurisdiction.

Only eight of the proposed 44 changes to the Australian Constitution have been agreed to since Federation. And given the political territorialism that exists between states and territories, it is hard to imagine any of these solutions being implemented.

Assuming one of the above could be enacted, taking over existing non-government schools would be further complicated by the diverse nature of school governance structures.

Australia’s different school governance structures would make it almost impossible to cede all private education to the Commonwealth.
from shutterstock.com

In addition to being registered with their relevant state or territory government authority, more than 1,000 non-government primary and secondary schools are registered with the Australian Not-for-profit Charities Commission.

This means there are no “owners” who financially gain from operating the school. Financial surpluses are not distributed to shareholders but must be reinvested in the school.

For a government to take over a not-for-profit charity in such a way would cause extreme anxiety to the thousands of community organisations which also exist under this legal structure.




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Another group of non-government schools are governed by church authorities. A school such as William Clarke College in Sydney’s north-west, for instance, is governed by an ordinance of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney whose own authority is derived from state legislation. A smaller number of schools, such as Newington College in NSW or the eight Queensland Grammar Schools, are governed directly through acts of parliament.

To absorb these schools into one government system would require a change to a range of legislation covering charitable and religious organisations. Given various state and territory governments can’t even agree on the age students should start school, achieving consistency in the legislative realm seems remote.

We should keep working to reduce inequality

Advocates of private schooling in the UK have hit back at Labour’s proposal, indicating lengthy, and costly, legal challenges. These could range from parents’ rights to make choices for their childrens’ development (enshrined in Article 18 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) through to property and charitable trust laws.

Resistance to the proposed policy change from the UK Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (that describes itself as an association of heads of “some of the world’s leading independent schools”) is already fierce and suggests the same would likely be the case in Australia.

One consequence of inaction is growing inequity. Successful education systems prioritise equity and quality. Analysis of social disadvantage by the OECD found more than 52% of Australian disadvantaged students are enrolled in disadvantaged schools. This is compared to the OECD average of 48% and 45% in the UK (world leaders are Nordic countries at an average of 43%).

Australian analysis also highlights a growing concentration of advantaged students are already in educationally advantaged schools.

Creating a socially and politically just education system is a worthy objective. But it’s not just a public-private issue.

Segmented schooling also exists in some Australian government schooling jurisdictions. For example, NSW has a highly stratified government education system which includes single-sex schools and various selective schools (academic, performing arts, sports and technology schools).

This creates enrolment interest from families living outside local communities, exacerbating infrastructure pressures in government schools. And some of NSW’s selective schools have concentrations of students who are far wealthier than in some private schools.




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The debate over what our society wants from schooling is about equitable opportunities for everyone. The policy outlined by the UK’s Labour Party raises fundamental questions about the role and process of education in society. There seems value to ask the same for Australia.The Conversation

Paul Kidson, Lecturer in Educational Leadership, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What the next government needs to do to tackle unfairness in school funding


Peter Goss, Grattan Institute

School funding debates in Australia are complex and messy. Stakeholders routinely complain about being hard done by. But the real unfairness is that state schools get less government funding than governments themselves say the schools need, and will continue to do so.




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Meanwhile, many private schools are already funded at 100% of their target level, and the rest are on the way.

This fails the playground test: the lament of a five-year-old when an adult says one thing and does another. Australian school funding is unfair because it doesn’t live up to its own rules and standards.

School resources

Needs-based funding has broad public and political support. David Gonski’s 2011 report stated differences in educational outcomes should not be the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions. It’s written in legislation, which defines each school’s target level of government funding, or Schooling Resource Standard.

Under the SRS, every student receives a base amount of funding. When parents choose a non-government school, base funding is reduced according to their capacity to contribute. Students with higher needs attract more funding, regardless of their parents’ capacity to contribute.

No model is perfect, but the structure of the SRS is sound. Schools get more money if their students need it.

Parents can (generally) afford to exercise their right to choose, because non-government schools that serve disadvantaged communities are nearly fully funded by government. Meanwhile, taxpayers save money – at least in theory – when parents opt out of the state school system.




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Of course the formula could be improved. The SRS is long overdue for a refresh.

A proposed new model for calculating parent’s capacity to contribute, based on their family income, still needs to be finalised and legislated. But it’s clearly fairer than the previous model based on where families lived.

Looking beyond the formula, the federal Coalition’s A$1.2 billion Choice and Affordability Fund should go. It subsidises low-fee private schools even when parents can afford to pay their way. And education systems (such as Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican, plus state education departments) need to better account for how they distribute the funding they receive as a lump sum.

Theory doesn’t necessarily translate to practice

But these issues pale in comparison with the gap between funding theory and funding practice.

Very few schools actually get their target level of government funding. Most schools get less, some much less. A few schools get more. And a handful of high-fee private schools – the schools least in need of extra cash – get nearly three times what the formula says they need.

The discrepancies are not random. Government schools educate the bulk of disadvantaged students, but in 2017 were funded at 90% of SRS on average. The non-government school average was about 95%.

Recent analysis by the ABC shows the funding gap grew over the past decade. Because parents pay fees, non-government schools should never get more public dollars per student than comparable government schools. A decade ago, one in 20 private schools did. By 2016, it was more than one in three.

What about the coming decade?

Under the Coalition’s 2017 legislation, federal funding will transition to 80% of SRS for private schools and 20% for government schools. It will be consistent across states – a big improvement. And overfunded schools finally lose funding, something Labor never managed to achieve.

The 2017 legislation also requires minimum contributions from state governments. But based on the recently signed National School Reform Agreement, it looks like most government schools will be stuck at 95% of their target level (20% federal funding, 75% state), while private schools will hit 100% (80% federal, 20% state).

And there’s one last sting in the tail. The National School Reform Agreement allows state governments – for the first time – to claim depreciation, transport and part of their expenditure on regulatory authorities as up to 4% of their contribution to school funding. But only for government schools. This reduces effective funding for government schools by about A$2 billion per year by 2027.




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Explainer: how does funding work in the Catholic school system?


Under Coalition policy, the effective funding for each state school will plateau at 91% of SRS, while non-government schools get full whack. Private schools serving disadvantaged students will continue to get more taxpayer dollars than similar government schools. As a five-year-old might say, it’s not fair.

Labor is on course to deliver fairer funding, having committed to building on the 2017 legislation. Labor should lock in the new model for calculating parents’ capacity to contribute, instigate a broader review of the SRS formula and abolish the Choice and Affordability Fund.

Labor has also promised A$14 billion extra for government schools over a decade. This would lift the federal contribution to 22.2% of SRS by 2022. Yet government schools would still be underfunded relative to SRS, especially if states could continue to count depreciation, transport and regulatory expenditures as if they represented real money for schools.

If Labor wins the 2019 federal election, it should leverage its budget war chest to renegotiate the national agreements so states can no longer claim depreciation, transport and regulatory expenditures as part of their schools funding. That would put government schools on track to reach 97.2% of SRS. Not quite full funding, but within touching distance.




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For an average government school, the difference between 91% and 100% of SRS is about A$1,500 per student per year. With just half of that money, a typical state primary school could employ two dedicated instructional leaders to improve teaching practice and pay for relief time for other teachers to work with them. Fair funding just might transform the education of the children at that school and the thousands of schools like it.The Conversation

Peter Goss, School Education Program Director, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Gonski 2.0: there is evidence inclusive schooling will help those left behind



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The benefits of mixed-ability classes are shared by all.
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Linda J. Graham, Queensland University of Technology; Ilektra Spandagou, University of Sydney, and Kate de Bruin, Monash University

The recently released Gonski 2.0 Review aimed to examine how school funding should be used to improve school performance and student outcomes. A particular area of focus was to improve outcomes across all student cohorts including disadvantaged and vulnerable students, and academically advanced (“gifted”) students.

The report sets out a radically different vision of Australian school education but does not fully explain how this vision can be achieved.




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This omission has been rightly criticised. But there has been little acknowledgement of the positives in the report or the problems it seeks to address. These problems are real and are important to confront as they affect us all and will increase in the future.

By far the biggest problem is more than one quarter of Australian school students are “missing out” from their school education. This affects their ability to participate in an increasingly high skills economy, setting them up for a lifetime of precarious work or welfare dependency.

The presumption has always been that these students just aren’t “smart enough” to “keep up” and seldom is the need to do so questioned. Gonski 2.0 changes that by recognising and challenging deep fault lines in our education system that have extremely negative equity effects.

What’s the problem?

The report notes our current age/grade system leaves too many students behind. It acknowledges the huge range in the learning readiness of students the same age, stating the:

most advanced students in a year group can be five to six years ahead of the least advanced.

The presence of this gap does not mean students at the lower end are destined to remain there. These students can and do succeed, but it takes the right supports from expert teachers and the time to provide them.

Yet, our system is currently structured in such a way that those who fall behind get left behind. This is because the Australian curriculum is content heavy and the pressure to cover this content over the course of a year leaves teachers with little time to provide the individualised support needed by almost one in five Australian students.

“Summative assessment”, or benchmarking, is used as a blunt tool to determine what students have or have not learned. They are then graded A-E against the achievement standards. In some schools they’re also ranked against their peers.

By the end of their schooling, some 26% have still not achieved a Year 12 Certificate or its equivalent.


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What is Gonski’s solution?

The report proposes a “radical” new approach based on:

  • all students being educated in mixed-ability classrooms

  • greater use of formative assessment to determine where students are in their learning

  • differentiated teaching to meet students at their respective point of need

  • a redirection in focus from comparative achievement against an age/grade standard to individual growth in achievement against a defined learning progression.



The Conversation/Federal government, CC BY-ND

Some commentators have criticised the lack of supporting evidence and it’s true the report relies heavily on a select range of sources and does not make the grade in terms of academic rigour. This does not mean the ideas proposed or practices described are fanciful or have no evidence to support them.

Take, for example, the concept of teaching students in mixed-ability classrooms, the use of formative assessment, and differentiated teaching. While these might sound radical when combined into a new vision for school education, each has evidence to support them. They’re all elements of inclusive practice.

The evidence for inclusive education

The benefits of mixed-ability classes are shared by all. There are a range of important academic and social benefits for students with disabilities (including improved memory and stronger language and literacy and mathematics skills), as well as students without disability (such as social and emotional development).

Ability “streaming”, which involves assigning students of the same grade into ranked classes based on prior achievement or perceived ability levels, has a neglible effect on achievement and profoundly negative consequences for lower ranked students. Despite strong evidence against streaming, many schools still stream classes by ability and some education systems stream entire schools.




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Formative assessment is feedback given to students during the course of their learning, and can help students understand what progress they have made and what the next steps are. It has been highlighted as one of the most effective practices a school can adopt to individualise learning for all students with long-standing and consistent evidence to support its use. Teachers can also use the information to differentiate their teaching to ensure that they are truly teaching each student based on their needs.

Teachers differentiate when they provide appropriately challenging work for all students, using a variety of means to help them engage with the content and demonstrate their learning. There is evidence whole-school models of differentiation can improve academic outcomes and close achievement gaps including in high stakes tests. Teachers who have the opportunity to practice differentiated instruction and receive ongoing professional development develop competency and stronger belief in their own capability.

Inclusion is better for everyone

In offering a bold vision for the future, the Gonski 2.0 report has encouraged Australia to help more of our young people successfully navigate a precarious future.

The ConversationMore flesh is needed to make this vision a reality but the individual components that make up the vision are not radical and, if done well, can enhance students’ learning experiences and outcomes. And that is better for everyone.

Linda J. Graham, Professor in the School of Early Childhood & Inclusive Education, Queensland University of Technology; Ilektra Spandagou, Senior lecturer, University of Sydney, and Kate de Bruin, Researcher in Inclusive Education, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.