Don’t be angry about schools funding. Be furious. 

Federation recognises that the NSW Department of Education’s recent decision to pull back education funding from schools was hard felt. 

The shift of education funding from school bank accounts to the Department centrally represented a dramatic break with the culture and practice established over the past 12 years under the failed policy of Local Schools, Local Decisions. 

Since the beginning of that policy in 2012 and throughout its various manifestations, Federation maintained that the devolution of education funding to school budgets was an exercise in blame-shifting that absolved the Government and its diminished Department of Education of responsibility for staffing our public schools with qualified, permanent teachers. 

Despite the illusion of principal autonomy and local decision making, the funding tap could be turned off at any given moment and schools would be left to make compromised decisions about staffing, educational programs and resources for teaching and learning. 

In this context, schools gradually became overwhelmed by managerial and administrative tasks that were often extraneous to teaching and learning, emanated from a Department stripped back and reconfigured to maintain a culture of compliance, ensured by an expanded managerial class of Directors, Educational Leadership (DELs), and characterised by a near meaningless preoccupation with the collection of data where the educational return was rarely commensurate with the labour required to gather and enter such data. 

This technocratic turn transformed the role of the school principal from educational leader to that of an administrative compliance manager bound to the excruciating detail of their local school budget.  

Over a decade since the beginning of Local Schools, Local Decisions, a systemic crisis has been realised and includes: 

  • the proliferation of non-teaching temporary executive positions designed locally to pick-up the burden of a burgeoning curriculum, high stakes testing, and the excessive administrivia and over-bearing compliance that resulted from the gutting of the Department of Education 
  • the related rise of unsustainable workloads and teacher burnout as the work of teachers increased in intensity and complexity 
  • a creeping casualisation of the teacher workforce, with thousands of unfilled permanent vacancies filled by temporary teachers and many more temporary positions created locally using school budgets 
  • a chronic teacher shortage as teacher-supply dried-up and too many existing teachers left after losing confidence in the system. 

Of course, this crisis is inextricably linked to the massive discrepancy between anticipated and actual student enrolments over the past five years; the Department’s identified reason for pulling back funds and rightfully beginning the process of properly dismantling the remaining infrastructure of the disastrous Local Schools, Local Decisions policy. 

Yes indeed, our public schools are right to be angry about education funding. But they should be furious. 

The pull back of education funding because of falling enrolments pales into insignificance when contrasted against what our public schools and students are really being denied. 

Right now, only 1.3 per cent of public schools across the nation are funded at 100 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), which is the minimum level governments agreed a decade ago was required to meet the needs of students. This year alone in NSW, our public school system is underfunded against the SRS by $1.9 billion. 

In addition to failing to fully fund the SRS, the Federal Budget includes the Government’s decision to discontinue capital works funding for public schools beyond this year, while giving private schools $1 billion in funding for new buildings and facilities over four years. In short, the Albanese Government will worsen the $30 billion capital spending divide that exists between the sectors. 

Together we must continue to campaign to secure the much-needed investment in recurrent funding and capital works. It is the key to everything that must be achieved to rebuild and renew the public education system and the teaching profession. 

Our historic wage rise, a revitalised statewide Staffing Agreement, the permanent employment of more than 10,000 temporary teachers and the ‘right to disconnect’ are just the first strategic steps.  

In correspondence to Federation on 1 May 2024, the Department wrote: 

“I write to confirm the Department’s intention to undertake a review of the School Staffing Entitlement allocations to ascertain if they remain fit for purpose as we continue to wind back elements of the Local Schools, Local Decisions policy in order to rebuild system-wide support for schools, particularly in relation to staffing.” 

“Our intention is to identify cost neutral opportunities to convert flexible funding allocations into school staffing entitlement.” 

Federation welcomes this commitment by the NSW Government and its Department of Education to engage with the union to review and expand staffing entitlements. This will signal the beginning of the end for a significant feature of the Local Schools, Local Decisions policy and reinforce the importance of a strengthened statewide permanent staffing system supporting all schools. 

These significant and historic developments are due to the determination of Federation’s membership. 

However, there is much more to be achieved.  

Wages must keep pace with other jurisdictions and like professions. The Department must be rebuilt to liberate schools from the ongoing burden of administrivia and compliance. Teachers must be given the additional release time to collaborate and do the important work that supports teaching and learning. And schools must be provided with the stability and inbuilt flexibility that comes with expanded staffing entitlements of permanent qualified teachers. 

Don’t be angry. Be furious.  

Join the tens of thousands of colleagues campaigning for the public education system that our dedicated teachers and students deserve.