You’d at least expect to see good attendance rates for students in Years 7 to 10 at rural schools but sadly, that’s not what the Auditor-General found in his damning report on the Education Department.
LAST week, the most senior, independent officer of the State Parliament, the Auditor-General, came out with a damning report on the Education Department and the parlous state of education in country Victoria… and nothing!
No one has responded.
The report on ‘Access to Education for Rural Students’ found that “rural students continue to lag behind their metropolitan peers on a range of performance indicators, including completion rates, academic achievement and university attendance”.
Worse than that though, they also lag behind their city cousins in even attending school from Years 7 to 10.
And the Auditor-General found the department doesn’t understand what’s happening.
“The gap in performance between rural and metropolitan students,” said the Auditor-General Mr John Doyle in his report, “has persisted and shows no sign of narrowing.”
The audit concluded that the Department of Education and Early Education (DEECD) has not provided access to high-quality education for all students.
“Rural students face significant barriers to educational achievement such as distance, lack of transport and lower aspirations. DEECD is aware of these barriers, but needs to do further work to understand how to overcome them.”
The Auditor-General said DEECD’s efforts “do not form part of a cohesive or targeted strategy to overcome known barriers to improved educational outcomes”.
Response from Government
It took the newest man in State Parliament, the Member for Eastern Victoria, Danny O’Brien, who was only sworn in last week, to put the following on the record: “Clearly we’ve still got a lot more work to do.”
The Minister for Education, Martin Dixon, didn’t issue a general response nor did the Leader of the Nationals, Peter Ryan.
However both responded to a request for comment from the Sentinel-Times, as follows:
“As the Auditor General stated in the Access to Education for Rural Students report, this is a long running issue that predates the life of this government,” Mr Ryan said.
“In saying that, the Victorian Coalition Government is committed to improving outcomes for rural and regional students.
“We have accepted all five of the report’s recommendations.
“The Minister for Education Martin Dixon is currently developing a new rural and regional education plan to improve educational outcomes for students.
“In addition, we have invested a record $8.8 billion in Victorian schools this year, $554 million more than in Labor’s last budget.
“Our record education investment includes a $60 million per year loading for rural schools.
“We are delivering a suite of measures to support regional students stay at school longer, including the $5 million Local Solutions Year 12 Retention Fund and the $20 million Regional Partnership Facilitation Fund, which have both been funded through the $1 billion Regional Growth Fund.
“We have also introduced legislation to tackle serial truancy, provided additional school busses, boosted the conveyance allowance, connected more than 500 schools to Wi-Fi networks, built new rural science labs, created new industry pathways to support regional students find work, and reduced red tape for our smaller rural schools.”
School bus troubles
The audit also examined the School Bus Program.
It found that schools face difficulty coordinating and enforcing student eligibility.
“DEECD and Public Transport Victoria are implementing reforms to address this and other issues,” said the Auditor-General, but the fallout is already being seen locally as the department tries to force children and families to break with established usage.
Local bus coordinators are trying to lay down the law about attending the nearest school and other eligibility criteria without taking into account how it affects the children and their working parents.
“The DEECD is developing a new Rural and Regional Plan. However, it has been delayed and there is no certainty that it will be completed on time or to a sufficient standard. The report makes five recommendations to DEECD, including that DEECD improve its understanding of the value of its programs to rural students, develop better outcome monitoring of rural students and ensure that its Rural and Regional Plan is completed on time and will actually make a difference.”