Response to Review into Regional, Rural & Remote Education

Victoria’s leading voice for country education is urging state and federal governments to urgently implement specific measures to improve educational outcomes for rural and remote students.

The Country Education Partnership (CEP) says the release of the National Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education clearly identifies the extent of disparity for country students.

CEP Chief Executive Phil Brown says the report’s admission that country pupils had “lagged behind urban students for decades” was indicative of the depth of work required to deliver fair and equal learning, nationally.

“We know that rural and remote communities in Australia face significant challenges in ensuring that their children and young people gain access to the education they deserve, and this report spells it out in bold font,” Mr Brown says.

“The question now is how we respond and who is actually going to step up the pace and create genuine change?”

As an independent authority on rural and remote education, CEP has begun work on the development of a paper, outlining legitimate programs and support mechanisms that can be implemented to improve learning provision and equity within country areas.

“In particular, we know a targeted effort is needed in areas such as education provision, recruitment and retention of quality teachers, and ways to lift aspirations among our young rural people,” Mr Brown says.

“Access to a broad curriculum is another area of major need – but it’s also one which we believe can be addressed through building on existing schemes, such as incentivising clustering between schools within communities.”

The concept of clustering — which involves sharing resources like teachers, technology and even curriculum — is used successfully in a number of rural Victorian learning communities, such as Nathalia in the Goulburn Valley, and the Pyrenees Cluster, which comprises seven schools from Ampitheatre, Elmhurst, Lansborough, Moonambel, Natte Yallock, Navarre and Trawalla. 

 

CEP Formal Response — “Time to Step Up the Pace”

 

The key challenge for regional, rural and remote education is ensuring, regardless of location or circumstances, that every young person has access to high quality schooling and opportunities.” — Independent Review into Regional, Rural & Remote Education; January, 2018.

 

Rural and Remote education communities across Australia still face significant challenges in ensuring that their children and young people gain access to the education they deserve, and these seem to increase the further you live from the capital cities.

The national statistics show there is a persistent relationship between location and educational outcomes when data for the various measures is aggregated.

  • The achievements of rural and remote students have in the main lagged behind urban students for decades.
  • This is exemplified in the National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results, and two international tests of school students—the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).
  • In terms of successful completion of year 12 or equivalent qualification (at the level of Certificate III or higher) by the age of 19, there is the same pattern of outcomes as those already reported.
  • In relation to transition to university and the proportion of persons aged 25–34 years with a bachelor degree or above, there is also a decreasing trend with increasing remoteness.
  • For vocational education and training (VET) non-metropolitan participation rates are comparable with urban rates and completion rates for Certificate III exceed urban(38 per cent compared to 35 per cent), but at the diploma level the situation is reversed (10 per cent compared to 16 per cent).”

These are some of the key findings detailed within the recently released Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education released by the national government recently, and lead by Emeritus Professor John Halsey (see report).

And sadly, these outcome challenges have not moved significantly since the release of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Report presented in the early 1990s – in fact, some of these outcome gaps have widened.

 “… much remains to be done to bridge the gap between the achievements and opportunities of RRR students and those most commonly associated with their urban counterparts.” — Independent Review into Regional, Rural & Remote Education; January, 2018.

 

Within Victoria, the Auditor General released a separate report in 2014 commenting on education within rural Victoria (see paper):

“Rural students are behind their metropolitan peers on academic achievement, attendance, senior secondary school completion and connectedness to their school. While the gaps in performance are not always large, they have changed little over time and show no signs of improving.”

This most recent national report on rural and remote education re-instates the need for governments and education sectors to explore specific initiatives to ensure that young people within these communities are not disadvantaged into the future.

It highlighted the key challenges that are faced by these communities remain. Access to a broad curriculum that young people need and desire; recruitment, professional development and retention of teachers and education leaders within rural and remote communities; access to quality and reliable communication technology and rural and remote youth aspirations are all highlighted again in this report.

While there are individual states across Australia who have supported specific initiatives to address education outcome gaps, more needs to be done to support these rural and remote communities in providing their young people having access to a high quality learning they need and desire, and therefore reduce the outcome gap detailed within the numerous reports.

Some of these examples include the recruitment incentives operating within Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales; the development of creative rural focused learning approaches such as the Aurora Virtual School in New South Wales; and the development of collaborative approaches across Western Australia and Victoria to provide a broader curriculum provision have provided some impact on addressing these challenges but more needs to be done.

There are a small number of rural and remote education communities within Victoria who have developed approaches aimed at enhancing the learning they provide for their young people with very positive outcomes and impacts. The shared provision of learning in Nathalia and Myrtleford, the Pyrenees cluster of small schools and the exploration of future provision of learning within the Mallee Track are examples of these approaches. However, they have been developed through these local communities taking the initiative with little, or no, support from education sectors and governments.

Within the National Review, the report identified five convictions about the importance of regional, rural and remote communities, learning and ways and means of driving improvements. They are:

  • vibrant and productive rural communities are integral to Australia’s sustainability and prosperity—socially, economically and environmentally 
1 The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008) replaced the National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century (the Adelaide Declaration, agreed in 1999), which superseded the original National Goals for Schooling in Australia (Hobart Declaration, agreed in 1989).
  • focusing on ideas and options for re-thinking and reframing education in regional, rural and remote areas is likely to be more productive than simply concentrating on ‘the problems’
  • student achievements and beyond-school opportunities are shaped by a diverse blend of in-school and community and home factors, as well as interactions between them—context and relationships are always important
  • government and departmental/sector policy settings are very significant in developing possibilities for change together with the work of parents and communities
  • improvement in education is achieved by exploring how existing resources can be used more effectively, not just by allocating more of them.


    “One model does not fit all situations.” — Phil Brown, CEP, 2018

The Country Education Partnership is now calling on governments and education sectors to explore the development of specific initiatives and activities that aim to support rural and remote communities in providing high quality learning for their young people, especially in areas such as education provision, recruitment and retention of quality teachers and education leaders, and enhancing rural young peoples aspirations.

After significant discussions with rural and remote education communities, exploring the outcomes of numerous reports and researches (including the recent released Paper), and considering approaches undertaken in other jurisdictions (across Australia and the globe), Country Education Partnership is developing a paper which highlights the specific initiatives that it believes are required to build on and enhance rural and remote education, while addressing the challenges highlighted in these recent research papers.

Within this paper Country Education Partnership encourages governments and education sectors to ensure their current, and future policies and approaches are “rural friendly” – encouraging them to explore, and resource:

  • a new paradigm that empowers local rural and remote education communities in developing responsive and collaborative approaches to education provision within state education policy frameworks;
  • encouraging entrepreneurial thinking in developing and providing such learning; supporting specific incentives that encourage teachers and education leaders to work within rural and remote communities;
  • supporting initiatives which support rural and remote young people to be inspired to chase their dreams and career choices;
  • building the capacity of rural and remote education communities as to the real potential communication technology provides in enhancing learning as well as ensuring that connectivity is of high quality.