Why Rooty Hill HS needs "needs based funding"....

As I work across the state and around the country with educators and in my roles on the board of the GWSGiants, The Smith Family and the Australian Council of Educational Leaders I am frequently challenged by the lack of understanding of why the work of David Gonski(and his panel) to secure needs based funding for all schools matters so much to schools like Rooty Hill HSwhere I am principal. I have taken to carrying pamphlets to explain needs based funding to people who ask me about it. I also talk about Rooty Hill HS and schools like it.

"We" are the schools that under the previous federal funding formula were "cheap as chips" to run. We were cheaper than other local schools from other sectors and cheaper than many schools within the government system across Australia.  Our students could have the basics but we relied on the occasional new program or donation from a community charity to make any difference. Our school was never classified as a "low SES" school even though 50% of our 1125 students came from families in the lowest SES quartile (MySchool) and 50-80% of any year group was more than 2 years behind the academic level for Year 7 when they started high school.

As a school and community in western Sydney we have a deep understanding of our purpose as a school. We have to lift expectations, capacity and achievement of students, staff and the school community so that our students leave school as well educated as their peers from more affluent schools and communities.

Our goal is to understand the skills, capabilities and dispositions of the most educated 19 year olds and create teaching and learning opportunities to help each student achieve his or her best.

Secondary education in this century is highly complex work that requires great expertise from teachers and students within each subject area and also requires students to have access to the learning resources that will best prepare them for university, TAFE, employment and life.

There is a deep moral contract about learning and achievement that our school has with every student, every parent and every family.

There is also the moral contract the Australian community has with all its children and young people to ensure every student has his or her best opportunity. This is at the heart of the Australian value of fairness which I believe is so central to our national character.

It is the reason why needs based funding is so critical. In a country where every adult needs to contribute to our economic and social well being as we transform into a knowledge based economy, highly educated school leavers are an investment in our shared future.

We know that when students are already achieving at or above the best benchmarks of learning they have advantages that their peers who are below and well below expectations do not have. We know from national and international data that, where educational disadvantage is "clustered" in schools, those schools struggle to close the equity gap.

Needs based funding underpins everything schools like ours can do if given the opportunity.

In 2013 the school received additional funding through a National Partnership for literacy. The money was given to the school because 80% of the Year 7 group were below expectations in reading, with 60% below Grade 4 level. As this money was able to be used in innovative and creative ways the school designed a program for teaching reading within the curriculum supported by an intensive 'We are Readers' program. As a result of the drive of the teachers and parents to make a difference 60% of students increased their reading by at least one year in 6 months with 30% increasing by 3-4 years. On top of that, they became much more resilient learners and their learning trajectories have continued to increase.

In 2014 the school received additional funding as part of the rollout of the "Gonski" funding through the NSW government's Resource Allocation Model. As a school we have used this additional equity funding to find new and innovative work practices that will help us achieve our purposes.

Some of this could continue if we went back to being "cheap as chips" high school. The difference is that the creativity of the teachers in finding great solutions, supported by external partners, mentors and consultants would be hard to sustain over the longer term.

We know the size of the total "funding pie" might change over time but we hope that the way the educational pie is divided will give certainty to schools like ours in planning their educational programs.

If school funding continues to be based on need and the funding model is well understood I believe that all of us in a position to do so will make a commitment as taxpayers, parents and community members to "closing the gap" for those children who have the greatest need. When I explain this to people I meet as I go around the country they sometimes seem surprised that we have not already agreed to fund based on need.

As my "footy" friends say, "Equalisation works in football to lift the game as a whole. You should do it in education". I must say I agree.

Regards Chris Cawsey