Education International
Education International

Australia: Cuts hit public schools in remote areas of Northern Territory

published 19 August 2016 updated 5 September 2016

A report shows that public schools’ per-student funding in Australia’s Northern Territory decreased by 6.7 per cent between 2012 and 2014, hitting public schools in remote areas and indigenous students the hardest.

The report, Northern Territory (NT) Schools 2012-2015, was commissioned by the Australian Education Union (AEU), an Education International (EI) affiliate, and was based on My School website data.

The NT School Report shows how the administration and funding of schools - government schools in particular - has been working out on the ground over the period 2012 -2015:

• A 6.4 per cent overall reduction in average per-student recurrent funding from the NT Government across all schools between 2012 and 2014

• Public schools were worst hit, losing 6.7 per cent, or an average of A$992 per student, while Catholic and Independent schools saw funding increase

• Schools in very remote areas were worst hit, losing 12.5 per cent of their per-student funding. Schools in remote areas lost 7.5 per cent, while schools in greater Darwin lost 1.5 per cent

• NT public schools have lost over 330 full-time teaching positions between 2012 and 2015 (13 per cent of the total) leading to higher student/staff ratios across the board

• Schools have also lost 116 other full-time staff including teacher aides

Adequate investment needed

The AEU deplores these cuts and AEU NT President Jarvis Ryan stressed that NT students should have benefited from Gonski funding, designed to ensure all children are educated in properly resourced schools.

The NT has high numbers of Indigenous students and high numbers of schools in remote areas. Instead of these schools getting the adequate resources, their students are missing out on the benefits Gonski funding is already delivering in other States.

In addition, Federal Budget Papers clearly show that federal funding for public schools in the NT drops from US$ 127.5 million (A$167.3 million) in 2016-17 to US$ 105.5 million (A$138.4 million) in 2018-19. Gonski should have meant an extra A$272.5 million in federal funding going to NT schools, but the Giles Government has reduced its own contribution to public schools, Ryan emphasised.

Remote schools most affected

Ryan went on to highlight that the NT Government had neglected remote education, remote schools having suffered the greatest cuts at 13 per cent. “We will see an even wider gap between the haves and have nots, we will see a growing racial divide because these cuts are affecting indigenous students as, overwhelmingly, they attend remote schools.”

While almost A$1,000 of funding per public school student has been slashed since the current government took power in 2012, the NT School Report indicates that very remote government schools were hit hardest with cuts equivalent to A$2,236 per student of funding between 2012 and 2014. And very remote Catholic schools received a A$1,107 increase in NT government funding per student while remote independent schools’ funding increased by $657.

Ryan also highlighted that the funding cuts had increased the student-teacher ratio by an average of 13 per cent.

New NT Government must act

Schools funding is likely to be an issue in the upcoming NT election, to be held on 26 August, with new evidence showing that the NT government has cut funding to public schools and failed to pass on its Gonski funding in 2014. The new government must act given Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s plans to cut Federal funding to NT public schools by $29 million over two years – after 2017.

The AEU NT is adamant that whoever wins government in the NT must guarantee the future of all remote schools and needs to shift back to a needs-based funding system, ensure all 2017 Gonski funding goes to public schools, and put pressure on Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to reverse his cuts and honour the full six years of Gonski.