Gaps between NSW regional and inner-city students “unlikely to close”, says new report

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

A new report has found the “significant gaps” between the wellbeing and education outcomes of NSW’s regional and inner-city students are unlikely to close.   

The scathing report handed down by the state’s auditor-general, Margaret Crawford, examined the effectiveness of the former government’s four-year initiative to improve education access for students in regional NSW. 

The Rural and Remote Education Strategy promised to tackle the state’s teacher crisis, supply state-of-the-art technology and partner with higher education.

Only two years after its announcement, Ms Crawford found the strategy was “unlikely to achieve its vision” due to shortcomings in its own strategy’s design and implementation.

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“The department is not addressing the complexities of delivering regional, rural and remote early childhood, school education and skills pathways,” the auditor found.

“Key enabling factors, such as resourcing a dedicated team, setting performance measures, and establishing suitable governance arrangements were not put in place to support effective implementation of the 2021 strategy.”

These failings included a lack of timelines for implementing actions or monitoring progress.

“The strategy has an overall time frame of 2021–2024 but does not clarify when it expects the vision, goals, or aims to be achieved, or actions to be implemented,” the report stated.

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In 2023, 44 per cent of the state’s government schools sit in regional or remote areas.

Schools are suffering from a teacher shortage

The report also found ongoing challenges with attracting and retaining staff were “compromising quality education” in regional and rural communities.

“This can mean students have fewer subject choices, inconsistent learning experiences, and lower educational outcomes,” she wrote.

Staff shortages have forced teachers into subjects they were not trained in and were not given the chance to undertake professional development.

The report also found that students in regional and remote communities had worse attendance, numeracy, literacy and educational outcomes than their city counterparts.

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Read more: Will study hubs address university access issues? 

Ms Crawford acknowledged the development of specific programs to deliver services in regional and remote communities but said their effectiveness had not been properly assessed.

“The department does not monitor data to determine whether these programs are sufficient to close the persistent gaps in access and outcomes for regional, rural and remote students,” she wrote.

The deputy premier and education minister, Prue Car, said the report’s findings proved the previous government policy was “nothing but spin”.

She said she was in discussions with the Department of Education secretary Murat Dizdar about changes that could be implemented immediately.

“One way we can make sure our children are achieving the best of their potential is making sure they’ve got a teacher in front of them,” she said.

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Ms Car added that extra accountability would be implemented, with responsibility for the strategy allocated to deputy education secretaries.

The report made seven recommendations, including developing a new long-term strategy, public reporting on the existing strategy and reviewing financial resources for regional and rural schools.

The Department of Education accepted six of the seven recommendations and “partially committed” to new research for informing directions.

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.