Providing a quality education to all learners is widely acknowledged as being a key way of developing a strong and inclusive society and economy. People are likely to achieve better life outcomes if they can access a high quality education throughout their early childhood, their school years and potentially on through further education and training. However, too many children, young people and adult learners experiencing disadvantage are missing out on the opportunities that a quality education can provide. They face a range of barriers that prevent them from accessing the same level of quality education as their peers, and contribute to them being unable to fully participate or stay engaged in the education system.
Inequality is growing within Australia’s School System. The Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling (Gonski Review) found a strong link between low levels of educational achievement and disadvantage, particularly among students from low socioeconomic and Aboriginal backgrounds, as well as children with disabilities, those with low English proficiency and children living in remote areas.  A school system that fails to support disadvantaged children and young people has profound impacts on individual students and their families, as well as the broader community. If schools lack the resources required to support disadvantaged students, these children and young people are more at risk of poor educational outcomes, which can affect their ability to complete school and successfully participate in the labour market, thus entrenching poverty and disadvantage.
VCOSS believes that all Victorian children, young people and adult learners have the right to access a high quality education system. Socioeconomic factors, or other forms of disadvantage, should not determine how well a child can do at school, or the educational outcomes they are able to achieve. It is imperative that our education system be structured and resourced to operate in a way that ensures people facing disadvantage are supported to fully participate and achieve strong educational outcomes.
VCOSS’ submissions to the Education State and the Schools Funding Review include recommendations on how Victoria can build a high quality and equitable schooling system for all Victorians. In developing this submission VCOSS has drawn on both a wide evidence base and our member organisations’ frontline experience in supporting children, young people and their families, along with adult learners, to overcome disadvantage and maximise their educational potential.
Education State Submission
The VCOSS submission to the Education State raises a broad range of issues, potential models, approaches and a set of recommendations aimed to help Victoria deliver a quality, accessible education system. This include opportunities for the government, education and community sectors to work together on integrated and holistic approaches that improve the wellbeing, educational and life outcomes of vulnerable learners.
This submission reinforces the fundamental importance of developing a universally accessible, high quality education system from early childhood, through school years and at the vocational education and training level. It explores the importance of supporting students through critical developmental and transition periods. It discusses the unique issues facing vulnerable learners and explores how these can be addressed; proposing models that further target support to these learners.
Key approaches include drawing on successful integrated service and place-based models, where community groups, education providers and governments work together to provide service models that target individual communities’ specific strengths and challenges. Integrated service models facilitate prevention and early intervention of issues, as they help children, young people and their families’ access appropriate support when they first need it rather than later when the problem has escalated or become entrenched.
This submission also outlines the importance of parental engagement throughout the education continuum.
Strategies to better support students at risk of disengaging from the education and training system are highlighted, including developing and expanding alternative education settings across Victoria and providing young people with intensive, case management support.
The submission advocates for funding approaches to arrest the increasing inequality of access and outcomes occurring in the Victorian education system, as well as the rising costs of education. The importance of data collection and tracking of student outcomes, particularly outcomes for students facing disadvantage, is also discussed.
Schools Funding Review Submission
The VCOSS submission to the Schools Funding Review examines the role of school funding arrangements to support children and young people who face barriers to participation and makes a number of recommendations for improving the funding system. It considers the recommendations of the 2011 Gonski Review along with Victoria’s current school funding system, the Student Resource Package. Broader issues are also considered around the costs of education, which are restricting children and young people experiencing disadvantage from fully participating in schooling.
The submission advocates that a greater proportion of school funding is allocated towards the equity-based funding component to help remove the discrepancies that exist between advantaged and disadvantaged students. It highlights the importance of targeting equity funding towards the most disadvantaged students and schools where it will have the most benefit. This includes better recognising the impacts of concentrated disadvantage within a school and factoring this into the funding model.
The submission discusses a number of improvements to the school funding model to better support students experiencing disadvantage. This includes ensuring that funding follows students regardless of where they are located within the education system; recognising alternative education as a legitimate education pathway for young people and funding it equitably; providing greater support and stronger accountability mechanisms for schools to encourage the retention of students and help prevent early school leaving; and increasing the transparency and accountability of how school funding is distributed and used, in particular how equity funding is used to support disadvantaged students.
VCOSS and its members are also increasingly concerned about the rising costs of education and the adverse effects it has on life outcomes for students facing disadvantage. The submission advocates that no student should be educationally disadvantaged due to the cost of education. Key approaches to achieving this include requiring the Department of Education and Training (DET) to monitor and track the actual costs associated with providing ‘free instruction’ and provide greater support to disadvantaged families to meet these costs; provide schools with greater guidance and support about how to assist disadvantaged families; and monitor and enforce that every government school has a financial hardship policy and a parent payment policy that complies with DET’s requirements.
Together these submissions highlight the importance of ensuring all children, young people and adult learners have equal opportunities through education to maximise their life chances. They also demonstrate how stronger collaboration between the education and community sectors can help Victoria’s vulnerable children, young people and adult learners access the holistic support they need to fulfil their potential.
 T Bentley and C Cazaly, The shared work of learning: Lifting educational achievement through collaboration, Mitchell Institute research report No. 01/2015, Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy and the Centre for Strategic Education, Melbourne, 2015,
 D Gonski, K Boston, K Greiner, C Lawrence, B Scales and P Tannock, Review of Funding for Schooling: Final Report, Canberra, December 2011, p. 111.