Funding for schools and student wellbeing

Budget Review October 2022–23 Index

Dr Shannon Clark

The Budget October 2022–23 gives effect to the Australian Labor Party’s (Labor) election commitments to address teacher shortages, upgrade schools and support student wellbeing, and improve consent and respectful relationships education.

The measures are geared towards improving student outcomes and student wellbeing, particularly as school communities manage the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the measures also highlight the role of schools in addressing broader social concerns, including the status of teachers, children and young people’s wellbeing, and issues relating to consent and relationships.

These measures reflect the Australian Government’s role in school education. States and territories are primarily responsible for school education. The Australian Government contributes to school funding and works together with state and territory governments on national policy.

Unless otherwise indicated, figures are drawn from Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: October 2022–23.

Teacher shortages

The biggest school education measure in the October 2022–23 Budget is a package aimed at addressing teacher shortages and improving the quality of teaching. Although national data is limited, there are numerous reports, including from peak bodies, advocacy groups and unions, of teacher shortages across Australia, with some describing it as a national crisis. Workforce shortages have been exacerbated by COVID-19 contributing to staff illness and burnout.

In August 2022, the education ministers met with principals, teachers and education experts for the Teacher Workforce Shortage Roundtable. At the Roundtable, Education ministers committed to developing a National Teacher Workforce Action Plan to increase teacher recruitment and retainment. A working group is developing the Action Plan and will deliver its report in December 2022. On 3 November 2022, Minister for Education Jason Clare released the Draft National Teacher Workforce Action Plan for public consultation.

Recent reports, such as the Productivity Commission’s Review of the National School Reform Agreement – Interim report (September 2022) and Next steps: report of the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review (QITE review, February 2022), have called for better data to inform an effective national workforce strategy.

Drawing on high-level modelling from the Department of Education, Minister Clare released an issues paper, which stated that ‘between 2021 and 2025, the demand for secondary school teachers is projected to exceed the number of new graduate teachers by approximately 4,100 teachers’ (p. 4). However, a breakdown of the projected demand also projected the supply of primary teachers would exceed demand by 8,420 teachers in the same timeframe.

Table 1 Projected demand for teachers compared with supply of new graduate teachers by year

Year Available teachers less required teachers
  Primary Secondary
2021 930 -865
2022 3,385 -2,654
2023 1,652 -1,079
2024 1,220 32
2025 1,233 444
Total 8,420 -4,123

Source: Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Education, Skills and Employment Portfolio, Budget Estimates 2022–23, 6 April 2022, Question SQ22-000180.

Addressing teacher shortages

The October 2022–23 Budget includes a package of measures aimed at attracting and retaining high-quality teachers and improving student outcomes, which implements Labor’s election commitments in this area.

Overall, the package provides $310.4 million over 9 years from 2022–23 (and $7.9 million per year ongoing)(Budget paper no. 2, pp. 96–7). Funding is provided for:

  • Bursaries to attract high-achieving students to teaching – $160.1 million will be provided over 8 years from 2023–24 for up to 5,000 bursaries of $10,000 per year available to school leavers with an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank of 80 and above, First Nations students and students from regional areas (see also Regional ministerial budget statement October 2022–23, p. 81). An additional $2,000 will be available for students completing their final year placement in remote or regional areas.
  • Expansion of the High Achieving Teachers program – $78.8 million over 5 years from 2022–23 will be provided to support an additional 1,500 high-achieving professionals to become teachers through employment-based pathways.
  • Implementation of recommendations from the QITE review$60.6 million will be provided over 9 years from 2022–23 (and $7.1 million per year ongoing) to implement recommendations, including those with a focus on attracting quality candidates, ensuring initial teacher education (ITE) programs are high quality, and providing better support for early career teachers.
  • Administrative costs associated with the measure – $10.9 million will be provided over 9 years from 2022–23 (and $0.8 million per year ongoing) for the Department of Education.

The Australian Education Union welcomed the funding to address teacher shortages, although it cautioned that ‘this step alone does not solve what is an escalating national crisis’.

Improving initial teacher education

Work is also underway to improve ITE. The QITE review’s final report was released in February 2022. Then Acting Minister for Education and Youth Stuart Robert announced that Professor Mark Scott would chair a new Initial Teacher Education Quality Assessment Expert Panel to develop threshold standards for ITE courses. The Coalition Government’s March Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2022–23 included $228.5 million over 5 years from 2021–22 (and $1.3 million per year ongoing) to implement recommendations from the QITE review and for initiatives to improve educational outcomes for students.

In September 2022, Minister Clare announced Professor Scott would lead a review into how teaching is taught at universities and announced members of the Teacher Education Expert Panel. The Expert Panel will deliver its report by 30 June 2023.

Upgrading schools and improving student wellbeing

Students in Australia have faced years of disruptions to schooling due to COVID-19, fires and floods, which have significantly impacted their wellbeing. In its interim report, the Productivity Commission emphasised the importance of student wellbeing as an important outcome of schooling as well as it being a vehicle to achieve improved learning outcomes (p. 103).

The October 2022–23 Budget delivers funding for school infrastructure and for student wellbeing initiatives.

Schools Upgrade Fund

Currently, the Australian Government provides capital funding to block grant authorities for non-government schools through the Capital Grants Program under subsection 67(2) of the Australian Education Act 2013, with the amount available worked out via provisions in the Australian Education Regulation 2013 (the Regulation). Using the Regulation’s indexation percentage for 2022, $194.5 million is allocated to block grant authorities, an increase of $15.6 million from 2021 (p. 2).

The Schools Upgrade Fund will provide $270.8 million over 2 years from 2022–23 to support capital works projects for schools. It will be delivered as grants over 2 rounds in 2022 and 2023 (Budget paper no. 2, p. 94).

Under Round 1 in 2022, the Australian Government will provide $50.0 million to states and territories. Grants will be open to all schools ‘to help improve ventilation and air quality and make small scale improvements such as upgrading computing equipment and school facilities, as well as targeted grants for schools identified with priority needs’ (Federal financial relations: budget paper no. 3: October 2022–23, p. 41).

In 2023, Round 2 will provide $215.0 million to states and territories for grants for government schools. Grants will be available for major works, such as new classrooms, buildings or other major refurbishments and upgrades. Allocations will be made in consultation with state and territory governments. Under Round 2, ‘government schools will receive the same amount of funding as non-government schools for new buildings and major facilities upgrades’ (Budget paper no. 2, p. 94).

This measure will not require amendments to the Australian Education Act 2013 as the Act does not preclude the payment of capital grant funding for government schools. As noted in the Department of Education’s Incoming Government Brief for Minister Clare, the Regulation will need to be amended to give effect to program guidelines which will include funding conditions and expenditure requirements (p. 51).

Student Wellbeing Boost

The potential for schools to contribute to prevention and early intervention in the mental health of their students was highlighted in the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry Report into Mental Health (2020; see Chapter 5), and the Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention’s inquiry report.

One recommendation from the Select Committee’s report was for governments to work together to ‘implement an agreement to increase the ratio of school psychologists to a minimum of one full time equivalent on-site for every 500 students across all levels of school’ (p. xxxiv).

Under the Student Wellbeing Boost, the Australian Government will provide $203.7 million over 2 years from 2022–23 for ‘a funding boost to every Australian school to help address the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on student wellbeing’ (Budget paper no. 2, p. 96).

Labor’s policy commitments stated that the average school would receive $20,000, with funding able to be used for:

· extra school mental health professionals like psychologists and school counsellors

· camps, excursions, as well as sporting and social activities that improve kids’ wellbeing

· proven student wellbeing and mental health initiatives.

The measure also includes $10.8 million for the development of a voluntary mental health check tool to help schools identify declining mental health in students.

The support for student wellbeing has been welcomed by stakeholders. For example, Independent Schools Australia’s Chief Executive Margery Evans said that ‘Looking after wellbeing of students has never been more important and our understanding of students’ needs is increasing’. Citing ISA commissioned research, Ms Evans said ‘students are experiencing poor mental health more often and at an earlier age’. However, Ms Evans also noted the need for flexibility in the program to allow schools to determine the most effective programs for their communities.

The Student Wellbeing Boost appears to have some similarities of purpose to the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP). For example, the NSCP’s project agreement outlines outputs:

The output of this agreement is the delivery of the NSCP, which consists of the provision of chaplaincy services in Australian schools to support the wellbeing of students through:

(a) pastoral care services; and

(b) strategies developed in consultation with the relevant school staff and school principal that support the wellbeing of the broader school community, for example: coordinating volunteering activities and support, breakfast clubs, lunch time activities, excursions, school incursions, and parent/carer workshops (p. 3).

The NSCP supports more than 3,000 school communities annually, with participating schools receiving up to $20,280 (or $24,336 for schools in remote areas). In June 2022, media reported that Labor was ending the compulsory religious aspect of the NSCP and opening up the program to qualified student welfare officers.

The Australian Government provides $61.4 million annually to states and territories for the NSCP. The current agreement runs until 30 June 2023. An evaluation of the NSCP is currently underway.

Consent and Respectful Relationships Education

The Budget includes $65.3 million over 4 years from 2022–23 (and $18.2 million over 2 years from 2026–27) for age-appropriate consent and respectful relationships education (Budget paper no. 2, p. 91).

The need for improved consent and respectful relationships education in schools gained prominence through the ‘Teach Us Consent’ campaign. The campaign originated from an online petition launched by Chanel Contos that went viral in February 2021, receiving hundreds of allegations from respondents saying that they had been sexually assaulted as school students.

Ms Contos spoke to education ministers at their meeting in February 2022 about the need for consent to be included in the curriculum. Minister Robert stated that there was ‘wide and unanimous agreement from all jurisdictions about including that consent-based education within the curriculum under health and physical education’.

In April 2022, education ministers endorsed version 9.0 of the Australian Curriculum. The revised curriculum included ‘a strengthening of explicit teaching of consent and respectful relationships from F–10 [Foundation to Year 10] in age-appropriate ways’.

As outlined in Budget paper no. 3, the Government will provide funding to states and territories through a national partnership, with $20.4 million to be provided annually from 2023–24 over the forward estimates (p. 39).

As part of its election commitment, Labor pledged to establish a National Respectful Relationships Education Expert Group. Budget paper no. 2 states that the Expert Group will conduct a rapid review to identify key areas of need in respectful relationships education across the states and territories, and will develop an accreditation framework for external providers of educational programs (p. 91).

In the March 2022–23 Budget, as part of the $1.3 billion Women’s Safety package, the Coalition Government provided funding for initiatives related to consent education. The October 2022–23 Budget will partially reverse the respectful relationships component of the Women’s Safety package and redirect uncommitted funding. From this, the Government identified savings of $5.9 million over 4 years (Budget paper no. 2, p. 92).


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