Rural students to benefit from Federal schooling agreement
Author: Justine Ferrari
The Australian, Page 6 (Thu 9 Sep 2010)
RURAL schools will get the first bite of spending on education initiatives under the minority Gillard government, with one-third of funding quarantined to be spent in the bush.
Rural education experts yesterday warned against simply rolling out the same programs across the nation, saying measures that work in the big cities will not necessarily be effective in small communities.
In its agreement with the two rural independents, Labor reprioritised spending of two key policies announced during the election campaign, allocating about a third of the money to paying rewards to schools and for school autonomy in regional Australia.
The agreement notes that one of out of every three Australians lives in a regional community, appearing to justify the allocation.
Education Minister Simon Crean yesterday confirmed similar arrangements would apply to specific education programs, rather than base school funding.
''As the agreement document states, under a Labor minority government, regional Australia will be the first to receive funding for key education initiatives and the funding will be distributed proportionally,'' he said.
Rural education experts welcomed the influence on policy of Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott as ''an opportunity to redress some of the imbalance'' in services and resources between rural and urban communities.
The challenge facing the government is to reverse the trend that the further away a school is from a large population centre, the worst its student results.
Sidney Myer Chair of Rural Education and Communities at Flinders University, John Halsey, called on the government to develop policies specifically for rural schools, saying the market forces in urban communities did not exist in small towns with one or at most a couple of schools.
''We need to find cleverer ways to provide access to local schools, we need to become better at thinking what really works in rural and remote communities. It's not simply a matter of scaling down or rolling out things that work in large population centres,'' he said.
Professor Halsey said it was time to rethink the models for schools and consider forming clusters or groups of small schools that might cover a vast area, but can share resources to ensure they are able to offer a full curriculum.
''Not everybody has to teach physics but we have to make sure every kid has access to physics,'' he said.
Rural Education Forum of Australia chief executive Gary Allen said the biggest issue was the lack of breadth in the curriculum.
''Providing music is taken for granted in urban schools but the issue of how you provide music in rural and remote schools is difficult. There's now some exciting opportunities with the internet and we'd like to see some funding in those areas,'' he said.
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