$540m schools scheme fails to boost literacy, numeracy

A $540million government scheme to to lift numeracy and literacy rates has made little difference, an audit of the program has found.A $540 million government scheme to lift numeracy and literacy rates made no discernible difference to the results of the schools taking part, an audit of the program has found.
Nanjing Night Net

The Australian National Audit Office said the effectiveness of the program, which has so far delivered $322 million to the states and territories in facilitation, reward and research payments, had been ‘‘mixed’’.

Across Australia, about 10 per cent of government and non-government schools – about 1050 in total – took part in the literacy and numeracy national partnership (LNNP).

It was one of the first times the government tried tying performance targets to financial incentives. But, the audit office said today, it was far from clear the money had been well spent.

”ANAO analysis of NAPLAN data from 2008 to 2011 indicates that the LNNP is yet to make a statistically significant improvement, in any state, on the average NAPLAN results of schools that received LNNP funding, when compared to schools that did not receive funding,” it said.

The audit also found that states were paid before they had lifted the results of students in targeted schools.

”The first tranche of facilitation payments occurred prior to the signing of the bilateral agreements,” the audit, by Auditor-General Ian McPhee, found.

”DEEWR [the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations] advised that payments were made at this time so the implementation of the LNNP was not further delayed.”

Nor were ”explicit records” kept of the process undertaken to approve spending proposals, as required.

”Nonetheless,” Mr McPhee found, ”payments made under the LNNP were soundly based.”

He said the education department did not take a structured approach to its negotiations with the states and territories, which were required to implement the program to qualify for funding bonuses.

Because of this, Mr McPhee said, ”there was significant variability at a state level in the coverage of the LNNP and performance indicators used, and reward targets were not necessarily demanding”.

In April a Council of Australian Governments report said that despite flaws in the program, the LNNP had lifted literacy and numeracy rates.

But in NSW, reading and writing scores for year 3 and year 5 students dropped, and the state missed out in $35 million in funding for literacy and numeracy programs after it failed to meet its targets under the partnership.

A spokeswoman for education minister Peter Garrett said today’s report found there were significant strengths in the department’s administration of the program.

“The report acknowledges that this was one of the first National Partnerships ever implemented, so there were few guidelines and processes in place at the time.

“DEEWR has gained valuable experience from the implementation of the LNNP which helped develop formal guidance for other departments when subsequent national partnerships were developed.

The spokeswoman said the government would take the report’s recommendations on board.

However, opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said continuing to fund a program for years that failed to produce results was “a terrible indictment on Labor’s education credentials”.

”The report says the process of ensuring the co-investment required from the states under the partnership is highly contentious with some states receiving payments, approved by the federal minister, without meeting their co-investment obligations.

“Put simply this means that the Auditor has found evidence of cost-shifting between the Commonwealth and some states with respect to investment in literacy and numeracy programs.”

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