Question without notice
My question is for the Minister for Education.
The government has called Victoria the education state and has claimed that as the basis of its policies during the term of the current government.
In April 2014 the Auditor-General tabled his report Access to Education for Rural Students. The Auditor-General found that the department had not provided access to high-quality education for all students. He found that the gap in performance between rural and metropolitan students in Victoria has persisted and shows no signs of narrowing. Many reports both before and after support that. Will the minister advise what steps are being taken by his government to address this clearly inequitable situation?
Mr Merlino, Minister for Education
I thank the member for Shepparton for her question, and I take this opportunity to congratulate her on her advocacy for her community, particularly in relation to schools, students, teachers and parents in Shepparton.
Could I say that I could not agree with the member more. Report after report has illustrated the inequality in student outcomes between regional and metropolitan areas, and it is simply not good enough. There is an unacceptable difference in student outcomes across the state. We have a good system in Victoria, one we can be proud of, but we must be focused on creating and building a great one, one characterised by excellence and equity right across the state. We must have both a sustained investment in and a genuine commitment to supporting regional schools. It is not just about money; it is about the quality of teaching, educational pathways and the aspirations of our regional students.
In terms of the actions that the government is taking, this year it is providing $566 million in additional funding direct to schools. That is targeted to help schools and students most in need to break the cycle of disadvantage and to support our students to catch up. We have boosted needs-based funding by 70 per cent. Of this, students in regional Victoria are receiving more than double the additional funding per capita that those in metropolitan Melbourne receive — more than double for the students in regional and rural Victoria. This is confirmation of the lack of funding in our regional schools over the last several years, which is clearly impacting on student outcomes, as identified by the Auditor-General’s reports and many other reports. The Nationals members sitting in front of the member for Shepparton would do well to reflect on that fact and their performance when they were in government.
Schools across the member’s electorate of Shepparton received $10.5 million in equity funding. That is in addition to, over and above, their base funding; it is over and above the equity funding that they received last year. This has been a much-needed and much-welcomed boost to funding. I will give the member an example. Mooroopna Primary School received $451 000 in additional funds. It was able to employ a leading teacher as a coach and mentor for its staff. It was able to employ a specialist to run specific numeracy and literacy programs for its most vulnerable kids, who are at risk of falling behind. Whether it is equity funding or capital, we are investing in rural and regional Victoria.
Given that the principals of our four Mooroopna and Shepparton secondary colleges have taken steps to look for their own solutions through the Better Together Alliance and that three of our most disadvantaged primary schools have done the same through the Neighbourhood Schools project, will the minister commit to supporting these local initiatives to address the particular disadvantage in this part of my electorate?
I thank the member for Shepparton for her supplementary question. We will support programs such as those initiated by the secondary and primary schools in the Greater Shepparton area, in addition to increasing equity funding, which I just spoke about. I recognise the particular challenges faced by many of our rural and regional schools. Additional equity funding represents an increase of $1.45 million for those four secondary schools the member mentioned.
I am pleased to confirm to the member for Shepparton that following the meeting with those schools that the member organised, I requested additional funding of $120 000 over three years to support the appointment of an assistant principal to coordinate the Better Together Alliance, with the schools each contributing $25 000 out of their equity. In regard to the primary schools, I have asked the new and improved regional staff to work closely with those schools to develop those projects. These are exactly the types of projects that we want.