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Issues in Australian school education

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Government education policy
Despite a substantial increase in government spending per student over ten years (after correcting for inflation), the proportion of students who are proficient in math, reading and science have actually declined over that same period. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Menzies Research Centre have both concluded that increasing school funding above a basic level has little effect on student proficiency. Instead, they both recommend greater autonomy. That is, the states should merely monitor the performance of the schools. Individual principals should have full authority and responsibility for ensuring student proficiency in core areas.

In 2010 the Gillard Government commissioned David Gonski to the chair a committee to review funding of Australian schools. Entitled the Gonski Report, through the Council of Australian Governments the Gillard Government sought to implement the National Education Reform Agreement that would deliver an A$9.4 billion school funding plan. Despite some states and territories becoming parties to the Agreement, the plan was shelved following the 2013 federal election. The Turnbull Government commissioned Gonski in 2017 to chair the independent Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, commonly called Gonski 2.0. The government published the report on 30 April 2018. Following negotiation, bilateral agreements between the Commonwealth of Australia with each state and territory commenced on 1 January 2019, with the exception of Victoria, whose bilateral agreement commenced on 1 February 2019. The funding agreements provide states with funding for government schools (20 percent) and non-government schools (80 percent) taking into consideration annual changes in enrolment numbers, indexation and student or school characteristics. A National School Resourcing Board was charged with the responsibility of independently reviewing each state's compliance with the funding agreement(s).

Indigenous primary and secondary education
Indigenous Australians are at a significant disadvantage when compared to non-indigenous Australians across a number of key school educational measures. In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments announced seven "closing the gap" targets, of which four related to education, namely:

participation in early childhood education: with the goal of 95 per cent of all indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education by 2025;
reading, writing and numeracy levels: with the goal to halve the gap for indigenous students in reading, writing and numeracy within a decade (by 2018);
Year 12 attainment: with the goal to halve the gap for indigenous 20–24 year olds in year 12 or equivalent attainment rates (by 2020); and
school attendance: with the aim to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous school attendance within five years (by 2018).

Religious education in government schools
Constitutionally, Australia is a secular country. Section 116 of Chapter V. The States in the Australian Constitution reads:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

Nevertheless, Australia maintains one of the highest concentrations of religious schools, when compared with other OECD countries. Historically, the teaching of religion in Australian government schools has been a contentious issue and was a motivator for the foundation of the government schooling system.

While the National School Chaplaincy Programme provides an over-arching framework based on pastoral care, not religious instruction,  the practices and policies of religious instruction in Australian schools vary significantly from state to state. In New South Wales, the Special Religious Education classes are held in the government school sector that enable students to learn about the beliefs, practices, values and morals of a chosen religion. In Queensland, religious organisations may apply to school principals and, if approved, deliver approved religious instruction programs in government schools. In Victoria, legislation prescribes that government schools must not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect, and must be open to adherents of any philosophy, religion or faith. However, individual school principals may permit approved organisations to deliver non-compulsory special religious instruction classes of no more than 30 minutes per week per student, during lunchtime or in the hour before or after usual school hours. In Western Australia, both special religious education (not part of the general curriculum) and general religious education (as part of the general curriculum) are offered in government schools.

School violence
In July 2009, the Queensland Minister for Education said that the rising levels of violence in schools in the state were "totally unacceptable" and that not enough had been done to combat violent behaviour. In Queensland, 55,000 school students were suspended in 2008, nearly a third of which were for "physical misconduct".

In South Australia, 175 violent attacks against students or staff were recorded in 2008. Students were responsible for deliberately causing 3,000 injuries reported by teachers over two years from 2008 to 2009.


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