In a tiny remote school, about 350 kilometres out of Darwin, with an estimated 200 students - 95 per cent of which identify as Indigenous have reaped the benefits of needs based funding, but many are saying NT schools need to see more help.
Laura Morelli

23 Sep 2016 - 3:37 PM  UPDATED 23 Sep 2016 - 3:51 PM

Esther Djayhgurrnga is the Indigenous Principal of Gunbalanya School, and she says there’s been a positive response after needs based funding was implemented but that more remote schools need help.

“Needs based funding has helped us a long way in terms of infrastructure and it also gave us extra support in getting positions filled. Another beauty of it would also be that it’s helping us redo our whole school yard, to make it look better, like a proper school, with fences keep the children safe.”

It comes after heated controversy over the Gonski funding model, with still no agreement reached.

The Coalition wants its new model to be needs-based and nationally consistent, but is also offering much less money than the Gonski model, and wants to attach a range of new conditions to how the money can be spent.

This approach is a difficult pitch, and states and territories are ready for a fight – especially powerful states such as New South Wales that remain ardent supporters of the Gonski model.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has recently attacked the Gonski funding model, which expires at the end of the next school year, saying it had been "corrupted" by a patchwork of individual deals with state governments.

Changes to the funding model involve altering federal legislation, and it is anticipated that the Commonwealth can make the changes without the agreement of the states.

The Education Minister on Friday said he wants to see a fair distribution amongst states.

“We can work within that budget one way or another but I want it to be a way that best reflects need into the future and best supports students with the assistance they need to succeed at schools.”

Director of partnerships and communications at the Stronger Smarter Institute, John Bray feels very strongly that needs based funding should be an essential model for funding in Australia.  

“I support the Northern Territory Education minister’s decision. Eva lawler, who is a long time Territorian resident and past education worker, has selected a sensible approach to show the Federal Government that many schools require more funds to do greater things. This means needs based funding is the most appropriate way to do this,” he said.

“Needs based funding means those schools with greater needs, i.e. students in rural areas who predominately come from low socio-economic families, or remote areas where a lot of students identify as Indigenous. There are more challenges to deliver a first class education system, which requires needs based funding system.”

“It’s quite clear that any student, no matter where they live in Australia, should be entitled to, and, deserves the best quality of education possible.”

Despite the lack of funding for disadvantaged schools Mr Bray says there are some great innovations happening in remote communities.

“This makes me come to the conclusion that with needs based funding; more schools that have the greatest number of students with the greatest need will be able to respond to these students needs in requiring a world class education,” he said.

“I believe Australia has the best educators in the world, and with these great educators we know they need the upmost support, and this can only be achieved with needs based funding because it allows principals, teachers and locals to decide what is best for their communities with a holistic approach.”

Mr Bray says the NT is in the best position to move ahead and that he doesn’t want to see a decrease of funding.

“We don’t want to see a drop when we know they have over 50 per cent of schools in remote locations, and with a higher amount of remote locations we know that the total enrolments for NT in Term One this year alone, was just over 34000 students. Of that, there are an estimated 15000 indigenous students, and 13000 of these students are in remote locations.”

Ms Djayhgurrnga says being a remote school with a high number of Indigenous student’s means the school needs as much assistance as it can possibly get to benefit the children’s education.

“We do require more than other schools and we need extra help especially if we want to go ahead with programs that are relevant to the needs for the kid’s development,” she said.

“One of the key things we want to focus on teaching them is about their country. In our school it is a need for our kids to learn about country and previous generations’ connection with the land. They need to know about what happened to the ancestors, what they did for them and their country, so they can teach the future generations about history.”

“We want to equip our students with a great tool set so they can continue learning and build a brighter future.”

Mr Bray, a former College Director of Gunbalanya says he’s seen needs based funding work successfully in the Kimberly, cape of Queensland, and especially at his former school.

“It’s a community driven school and as of January 2017 it will be the first independent public school in the NT which means the school will  be provided funding and they’ll be able to make the decisions through a school board where they can decipher where the funding needs to go to most,” he said.

“At the school, we value Indigenous culture and both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous principal’s work together to ensure the community values all types of peoples and they’re beliefs and also works together to making it a holistic needs based funded school.”

For the principal, a key element will be the inclusion of parents in meetings and a holistic community approach to paving the foundation to the student’s education.

“This means majority of the students’ parents will be able to be more involved, they can discuss topics the kids need to learn about … just to have that parents voice be heard is extremely important because we need to work together to empower the children and make big decisions about their education. The parents are really looking forward to being included. “

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