The Australian Federal Budget 2024-25: VicSRC's Analsysis

The 2024-25 Federal Budget was largely 'business-as-usual' at a time when students across the country are increasingly feeling the impacts of an under-resourced education system.

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This year’s budget did not deliver any major new initiatives for Victoria's one million school-aged students, or the additional three million across the rest of Australia.

We were pleased to see, however, the budget did deliver some much needed funding to continue key initiatives which take a special focus on accelerating our progress towards closing the gap in educational outcomes for Aboriginal students.

Students have been clear about the impacts of a strained education system. Outcomes fall for both students and teachers as a result of overworked and under-resourced teachers. Student wellbeing also suffers as they struggle to access the additional mental health and wellbeing supports they need. Engagement continues to fall as students find fewer opportunities to get excited about school when experiences like camps and excursions are increasingly shelved.

This budget presented a key opportunity for the Australian Government to respond to these challenges by lifting their investment in students according to the School Resourcing Standard (SRS), and finally meeting the benchmark for school funding set out more than a decade ago. Once again though, the opportunity was missed, with no signal from the government that it has moved any nearer to achieving full funding for students as outlined in the SRS. VicSRC's focus now turns to the National Schools Reform Agreement, which is under consideration ahead of its planned expiry at the end of this year. This will provide another key opportunity to finally deliver relief to students in Victoria and across the country, and we hope that the Federal Government will deliver a new deal on school funding by then, because students have waited long enough. 

Key budget measures

Mental health and wellbeing

Students have maintained for many years that improving their mental health and wellbeing is one of their top priorities. VicSRC has worked hard to advocate for schools and teachers to be properly equipped with the knowledge, tools, and resources they need to adequately support students when they need it most. Measures in this year's federal budget fall short of this important goal.

There is no doubt that more students than ever are facing mental health and wellbeing challenges, and this situation calls for significant intervention that puts student voice at the heart of the government's response. This is important because students have been clear that mental health and wellbeing support must be tailored to suit their needs, which vary from classroom to classroom, and school to school.

Whilst we are pleased to see an investment of $4.2 million over four years from 2024–25 for the Australian Schools Anti-Bullying Collective to deliver national bullying prevention initiatives, the government must do more to ensure educators are properly supported to meaningfully engage with students about their mental health and wellbeing needs.

Accessible and inclusive education

Equity in education is a fundamental priority of VicSRC because it reflects each student's right to receive high-quality education regardless of their circumstances, background, or lived experience. We are encouraged to see the Federal Government invest $110 million over four years from 2024–25 (and $11 million per year ongoing) to accelerate action in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap Priority Reforms in the education portfolio, to continue programs that support education outcomes for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students. This includes:

·       $32.8 million over two years from 2024–25 for the Clontarf Foundation to continue its existing program for the 2025 school year. The program supports First Nations young men in wellbeing, life skills, self-esteem, further education, and employment prospects.

·       $29.1 million over four years from 2024–25 (and $8.7 million per year ongoing) to support national First Nations peak organisations National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Corporation and SNAICC – National Voice for our Children, to partner with Government on matters affecting First Nations education.

·       $27.5 million over three years from 2024–25 to continue the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation Scholarship Program, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s Indigenous Cultural Responsiveness Initiative, and English Language Learning for Indigenous Children (including a trial expansion of the scheme, from 20 schools to up to 100 schools nationally in remote and very remote locations) which all aim to improve educational outcomes of First Nations students.

·       $18.2 million over four years from 2024–25 (and $2.2 million per year ongoing) to develop a new First Nations education policy and engage with First Nations stakeholders.

·       $2.4 million over three years from 2024–25 to finalise and implement the First Nations Teacher Strategy to improve attraction and retention of First Nations teachers.

Whilst this investment is critical to support learning outcomes for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students, more must be done to address students' serious concerns about the social inclusivity and the accessibility of education in Victoria and around the country.

Students have told VicSRC that teachers and schools are not properly equipped to take the necessary steps to ensure that classrooms and schools are safe and inclusive places, whether that be on the basis of a student’s cultural background, their gender identity or sexual orientation, or because of their disability. The governments’ continued investment of $4 million over two years from 2024–25 for Together for Humanity to deliver initiatives aimed at building culturally safe schools does not go far enough towards supporting meaningful reform to school ensure all our schools are inclusive and accessible of every student, regardless of their background or lived experience.

Greater investments for students, teachers, and schools

While students have raised serious concerns about the strains of the education system, and the impacts these have on their outcomes and wellbeing, the Federal Government did not meet the scale of this challenge through this year's federal budget.

Students and educators have been waiting more than a decade for the government to take serious steps to address the underfunding of students across the country and we’re disappointed to see that this year's budget did not deliver any such progress. Instead, the budget included ongoing funding for various existing initiatives, and small investments in additional pilot programs, which will not address these underlying issues. Funding included:

·       $34.6 million over four years from 2024–25 for the Digital Technologies Hub, Mathematics Hub, Literacy Hub, Civics and Citizenship Hub, Student Wellbeing Hub, Massive Open Online Courses and Number Check, and Early Learning Languages Australia initiative. This aims to make evidence-based curriculum support and professional development materials for all teachers and school leaders.

·       $5.3 million over two years from 2024–25 for the Good to Great Schools Australia English, Maths and Science pilot program to deliver targeted supports to students.

·       $12.7 million over three years from 2024–25 to continue support for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority to manage the collection, quality assurance and reporting of school information.

·       $7.9 million over two years from 2024–25 to continue the federal government’s support for NAPLAN.