Survey sparks indigenous funds row

By Chee Chee Leung
Education Reporter

September 12, 2005

THOUSANDS of indigenous students across Australia are missing out on extra tutorial assistance under changes to the Commonwealth's indigenous education funding scheme.

And schools have received almost $2 million less in funds this year under the program, leading to a deterioration in relationships between schools and the indigenous community.

These are some of the findings of an Australian Education Union survey of 561 schools with 17,451 indigenous enrolments, including responses from 91 Victorian schools.

Of these, 67 per cent said the changes to indigenous education funding were negative, compared with 4 per cent that thought they were positive.

"Schools with indigenous enrolments, many in Australia's capital cities, have commented that these funding policies have caused further disadvantage to indigenous students," the report said. "Schools are dismayed that indigenous parents are 'voting with their feet' and staying away from the school because they felt 'disenfranchised'."

So far this year, 2745 fewer indigenous students accessed tutorial assistance, with 447 tutors losing their jobs, of whom 265 were indigenous employees.

Previously, all indigenous students were eligible for extra tutorial support. But under the policy change, students in capital city schools with fewer than 20 indigenous students are ineligible. To access the assistance scheme, students must have failed to meet the national literacy and numeracy benchmarks in years 3, 5 and 7. There is also some funding for students in years 10 to 12 to receive tutoring outside school hours.

The union called for an "urgent and independent assessment" of funding changes, and said the Commonwealth needed to work with the states and territories in the interim to minimise the damage.

A spokesman for Education Minister Brendan Nelson said federal funding had increased by more than 20 per cent. "The AEU has conveniently forgotten that these federal programs are meant to supplement, not replace, mainstream state education funding, which is the responsibility of the State Government," the spokesman said.

"Indigenous students in metropolitan areas have better access to mainstream education services and the Government has unashamedly redirected funding to those indigenous students of greatest educational disadvantage those in remote areas."

The Opposition's education spokeswoman, Jenny Macklin, said many schools including remote ones had applied for funding but were yet to receive it. "Their (the students') capacity to learn has been put back because the Howard Government has been so incompetent in delivering them much needed money," she said.

A spokesman for Victorian Education Minister Lynne Kosky said that in metropolitan Melbourne, of the 218 indigenous students who failed to meet the literacy and numeracy benchmarks, 193 were not eligible due to the changes.

Funding for the tutorial assistance will be available to Victorian schools from next term.