AN ACS GENERAL STATEMENT TO ACCOMPANY THE ACS RESPONSE TO THE 2021 ALP NATIONAL PLATFORMApril 14, 2021
Education is a key driver in securing Australia’s future in the global market and in shaping the future nation of Australia. Members of Associated Christian Schools are partners in the education of Australians, based on their long-espoused ethics and values.
Associated Christian Schools have distinguishing features that are influenced by their spiritual traditions as well as the policies and processes used to employ staff and enrol students. Whatever the affiliation, parents choose a Christian school to give their children a clear moral and ethical educational framework for life as responsible citizens.
Associated Christian Schools acknowledges the support Federal and State Governments provide to its 41 member schools representing 25 270 students (2020 figures). ACS seek continued support from all major political parties for faith-based schools to be autonomous and independent with the ability to teach within their own educational and faith-based interpretation, while remaining compliant with accountability requirements.
All ACS schools are members of Independent Schools Queensland, so this ACS statement should be read in conjunction with any statement provided by ISQ.
Public support for ACS’s promotion of Christian education for the common good
More Australians believe a contemporary school education should equip students with the skills and aspiration to meaningfully contribute to society rather than simply turning out successful individuals, according to new research released in June 2020.
Australians are also more likely to hold the view that a Christian-based education has a positive influence on society and the development of its youngest citizens. This positive influence had been particularly evident during the pandemic when school communities worked together, reinforcing the value of education and the importance of parent/teacher partnerships.
These are among the key findings of a recent report by leading Australian social research firm McCrindle Research, commissioned by Associated Christian Schools (ACS).
The report, Exploring exemplary education and the positive impact of Christian education in society, was commissioned by ACS to understand national attitudes towards ‘the common good’ on an individual and social level and to determine the value Australians place on education and its role in society.
The report is based on in-depth interviews with educational professionals and a nationally representative survey of 1000 Australians. ACS Executive Director Dr Lynne Doneley said the report ‘shone light on why the Christian schooling sector had been attracting enrolment growth’, based on the report ‘having examined the views of Australians on the role and impact Christian education plays in school education’.
Associated Christian Schools recognises five key priority areas
- Public and political recognition and support for Independent faith-based school communities, this recognition and support to include continuing provisions for religious freedom to preserve the founding doctrines and tenets for each Christian school and the right to appoint Christian staff.
- Recurrent funding to be increased in line with real costs.
- Increase support for Disadvantaged Students; removing onerous or unnecessary bureaucratisation in identifying such students; capital assistance and infrastructure planning.
- Capital funding assistance for schools; equitable funding for professional development across sectors.
- Ongoing discussion around the core business of education.
1. Public and political recognition and support for Independent faith-based school communities
Associated Christian Schools seeks the support of political parties to acknowledge and guarantee continued support for Independent faith-based schools, based on the following principles:
- In accord with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the “right to freedom
of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
- Political parties to respect the unique contribution to education in Australia, by Independent faith-based education, and will continue to make, to the development of values systems in Australian society, as demonstrated by the research findings in the ACS/McCrindle report.
- Recurrent funding to be increased in line with real costs and State department funding
Members of Associated Christian Schools currently receive funding for everyday operating costs, from the Australian Government, the Queensland Government, and parents of enrolled students. Associated Christian Schools is seeking appropriate funding, for their members, to help close the gap in resourcing levels between the level of funding received by government schools and that received by independent faith-based schools. This funding relieves pressure on school fees and also assists more families to choose faith-based schools, therefore saving government money as recognised by the Productivity Commission.
Associated Christian Schools is seeking to work with political parties to achieve:
- Consistent financial outcomes that will help keep pace with increased costs of managing schools, including teacher salaries, technological developments and physical resources that will support our schools in being innovative and achieving outstanding student outcomes.
- We also seek a guarantee that the gap in resourcing between member schools and government schools, particularly those located in regional and remote areas, does not widen.
- Increased support for disadvantaged students; removing onerous or unnecessary bureaucratisation in identifying such students
- Students with Disabilities
In accordance with Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Given all educational bodies are obliged to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (and equivalent State Anti- Discrimination Acts) with regards to the education of disabled students, appropriate levels of government funding need to be provided to individual schools to assist them in properly assessing students, with additional ongoing funding provided to schools to ensure appropriate standards of education are delivered to disabled students during the course of their enrolment.
Students with disabilities and their families are entitled to the same freedom of choice for education that supports and reflect their religious beliefs and values. In addition, students with disabilities are entitled to equal access to specialised services and resources, irrespective of the school sector, with funding
portability. Accordingly, Associated Christian Schools seeks adequate funding to support the needs of students with identified learning difficulties, with priority given to early intervention locations, such as kindergartens and early childhood centres.
- Indigenous Students
Associated Christian Schools respects and values Indigenous people as original custodians and acknowledges their contribution to Australia’s past, present and future heritage. Indigenous students need to feel safe and secure in their school community and know that they are respected and loved as God’s children.
Associated Christian Schools seeks adequate funding of member schools to support the needs of Indigenous students within their school communities, to achieve identified educational targets.
We also seek the support of political parties to support member schools with enrolled indigenous students so that opportunities can be created for these students through quality education, founded on Christian values and cultural heritage in partnership with staff, parents and the community.
Associated Christian Schools seeks the support of political parties for their members seek to work in partnership with local Indigenous communities and elders to:
- Increase the literacy and numeracy standards across the teaching in areas of concern.
- Ensure all students are engaged in regular learning by increasing attendance especially before and after holidays.
- Ensure that the learning outcomes of Indigenous students improve in line with other students.
- Support member schools as we seek to improve outcomes for Indigenous students in the following priorities:
- Readiness for school
- Engagement and connection
- Attendance and retention
- Literacy and numeracy
- Leadership, quality teaching and workforce development
- Pathways to meaningful post-school options.
- Disengaged Students
Associated Christian Schools has member schools that specifically cater for students disengaged from mainstream schooling, as well as a growing number of disengaged students enrolled in mainstream member schools. Current recurrent government funding levels are inadequate to support the programs, specialist services and resources required in educating these students.
Associated Christian Schools therefore seeks a significant increase in levels of funding and support, for member schools educating disengaged students. This would enable the focus and resources to remain on educating these disengaged youth, rather than introducing projects needed to attract grants for extra funding.
- Rural and Remote Students
Associated Christian Schools has 41 of its member schools in Queensland, of which many are located in regional or remote locations in Queensland. Tyranny of distance and other problems faced by these schools create the following issues:
- Difficulty in attracting and retaining quality teachers.
- Limited access to services provided by non-government school authorities.
- Difficulty in accessing quality professional development due to distance and travel costs.
- High costs associated with the development, application delivery and management of information technology.
- High costs of obtaining specialist services and programs such as languages, music programs and vocational education due to costs and, difficulty in attracting appropriately qualified staff and relatively small numbers of students.
Associated Christian Schools seeks a significant increase in all levels of support through the recognition of distance and isolation challenges experienced by these schools. Further, we seek an increase in the resources and support provided to rural and remote schools, through existing and future programs, in order for them to address the problems they face in the delivery of quality education.
- Capital funding assistance for schools; equitable funding for professional development across sectors
The Queensland population is projected to grown from to 7.1 million in 2036 and 10.0 million in 2061. Over the next fifty years, Queensland population is projected to increase by an average rate of 1.6%. The largest contributor to Queensland population growth is projected to be net overseas migration between 2011 and 2061 (46%), followed by natural increase (births less deaths) (40%) and net interstate migration (14%)
(Queensland Government population projections – 2013 edition).
The projected impact of this growth on Queensland schools is that enrolments in all Queensland schools are projected to increase by 303,000 students between 2011 – 2031. (Queensland Schools Planning Commission – School infrastructure demand maps, 2013 edition).
Member schools of Associated Christian Schools have been established by local churches or parent communities. In establishing these schools, their governing bodies have had to overcome local and government restrictions to establish their schools, as well as injecting significant financial capital, sometimes from members’ own personal expense.
Associated Christian Schools therefore requests political parties to work with state governments to consult with local councils to review and improve regulatory processes and procedures, land use, building certification requirements and organisational health safety requirements, to support schools undertaking of building programs, and continue progress in red tape reduction. Furthermore, we seek support of local communities who want to establish new schools, by offering incentives and securities regarding relevant finance with loans and grant assistance.
In addition, we seek the support of political parties in ensuring equitable funding and access is provided across all sectors, for professional development, especially in rural and remote areas of the state.
- Ongoing discussion around the core business of education
The question of the primary purposes of education has become much more important in recent years. One of the most important questions to be asked in this discussion is: –
should it be more than merely utilitarian, serving employment and economic interests?
The research outcomes in the ACS/McCrindle report clearly indicate the Australian community think so.
Discussion in the media as well as policy and public statements from a wide range of government sources have moved increasingly to the position where it seems that it has become a given that the main reason to go to school is to be able to find a good job upon graduation. ACS acknowledges this is an important outcome – nothing in this comment should be allowed to suggest otherwise – but our argument is that it ought not be the only, or even the most important outcome.
Mere utilitarianism will ultimately see the demise of the study of literature, of history and of all kinds of learning for its own sake. Even the learning of languages other than English is currently being promoted on economic grounds. Mutual human understanding and the development of community are surely at least as important as manufacturing and trade.
The development of character traits and human virtues such as compassion, courage, self-control, integrity and justice are often not only sidelined by a focus on utilitarian employment and economic thinking, but often actively discouraged. If anything was to be learned from the global financial crisis, the need to place human interests before profits, to place general welfare above personal gain became painfully apparent.
Clearly, the potential depth and breadth of this discussion has only been slightly hinted at in these few comments.
It is our view, based on credible research, that the community would welcome a debate of this nature, and would welcome politicians who were prepared to engage in it.