The role of education as a pathway out of disadvantage has featured strongly in policy rhetoric over time. Successive governments have introduced policies that have enabled greater access to higher education. Yet there remains concern that the educational opportunities for our children are unevenly distributed across locality, with something of a ‘postcode lottery’ within major population centres in terms of educational outcomes and achievements.
The analysis in the report makes it clear that many of today’s young children will not receive a ‘fair go’ in accessing education opportunities, for no other reasons than family background, demographic characteristics and geography.
A child from a low socio-economic background is up to three times more likely to be developmentally vulnerable by the time she or he starts primary school. An Indigenous child is 40% less likely to finish high school and 60% less likely to go to university compared with a non-Indigenous child. A child born in remote Australia is only a third as likely to go to university as a child born in a major city.
Progress has been made in a number of areas, with the fruits of the education reforms introduced during the Rudd/Gillard governments being realised in a number of areas. More children than before are now accessing pre-school, with positive outcomes flowing on to child development and literacy and numeracy outcomes.
However, the new BCEC Educational Disadvantage Index is a sobering reminder of the level of inequality that still exists in our community, with many children falling far behind in educational access, performance and outcomes.
Compared to the most advantaged localities in Australia, children in those fifty areas at greatest educational disadvantage are, on average, half as likely to be enrolled in pre-school at age 4, half as likely to attend pre-school for 15 hours or more, and seven times as likely to be vulnerable on two or more developmental domains. Non-attendance rates are nearly five times as high, at 22%, of areas at greatest disadvantage compared to areas of least disadvantage, and nearly half of young people in areas of greatest need are neither learning nor earning.
Our findings also show that funding is largely being distributed relative to need, but what is absent from the current debate on needs-based funding is a clear understanding of the extent to which the funding changes being proposed under Gonski 2.0 would lead to improvements in educational outcomes.
The findings in this report also draw out points in the education journey where issues emerge and where we need better policy responses. This includes greater emphasis on the early years, innovative solutions to the problematic transition from primary to high school especially for Indigenous children, and bespoke programs that target a number of equity groups that are not receiving the same outcomes as other children and young people.
It is also clear that education reform will need to go beyond funding in order to address the complex barriers that impede our most vulnerable children over the course of their education journey.