Funding model ‘biased to rich independent schools’

Tuesday 14 November 2017

John Ferguson, Rebecca Urban, The Australian

Wealthy independent schools will be overfunded by billions of dollars over the next decade due to serious flaws in the Turnbull government’s funding system, a new report will argue today.
                                     Christian Brothers College principal Gerald Bain-King with students Liam, Tom and Daniel 
                                                         at the St Kilda East campus. Picture: Aaron Francis

The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria (CECV) has calculated that wealthy independent schools will receive hundreds of millions of dollars extra each year, leaving the Catholic sector and other low-fee independents underfunded because of the funding formula.

The CECV estimates the funding gap means that if every wealthy independent school had more accurate socio-economic status (SES) funding scores they would receive between $200 million and $360m a year less from the federal government.

The commission blasts holes in the SES, claiming it means that on paper wealthy boarding schools such as Geelong Grammar have parents judged notionally with a lesser ability to pay fees than some distinctly poorer Catholic schools in the inner suburbs.

For the first time, the report uses confidential data from Catholic systems in four states or territories, enabling CECV to drill down into the full effects of what it says are the distortions created by Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s new system.

It says the data disproves the assertion that the SES scoring methodology accurately portrays the amount of money a family can afford to pay for their children’s education. Instead of families in given neighbourhoods being the same, the CECV data shows there is a wide disparity in neighbourhoods in terms of income and general means to pay.

The government is reviewing the SES system but has been at war with Catholic educators after promising to provide a fairer funding formula, a claim emphat¬ically rejected by CECV.

CECV executive director Stephen Elder has accused Senator Birmingham of refusing to listen to the facts on school funding.

‘School SES scores are calculated from the characteristics of student neighbourhoods, rather than the characteristics of each student,’ he told The Australian.

‘Under this broad brush ¬approach, all families in the same neighbourhood are assumed to have the same capacity to pay school fees. Specifically, SES scores assume Catholic and wealthy independent schools attract the same types of students from within each neighbourhood, even though wealthy independent schools tend to have much higher fees.

‘Common sense will tell you this just cannot be right.’

Senator Birmingham is facing internal pressure to deal with the backlash from the Catholic sector.

He said he had asked the National School Resourcing Board to review the SES score methodology and look into the way SES scores were calculated. ‘The government is committed to empowering parental choice in education and this review will help ensure we have the best possible data and formula to distribute funding so that communities with the greatest need get the greatest support,’ he said.

Christian Brothers College principal Gerald Bain-King believes his St Kilda East school is a prime example of why SES scores are a crude instrument for measuring the perceived wealth of a school community. The school has an SES score of 112, despite 42 per cent of its students being classified as disadvantaged.

Independent Haileybury College, where more than 73 per cent of students are from advantaged backgrounds and 8 per cent from disadvantaged backgrounds, has an SES of 111. A SES score of 100 is regarded as average.

Mr Bain-King said the similar scores suggested his families had the capacity to pay more towards their children’s educations than those at Haileybury, where fees are more than $20,000 a year.

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