School scheme gets ‘F’ despite millions spent

There is no evidence that money has lifted students’ scores … Auditor-General Ian McPhee.A $540 MILLION government scheme to lift numeracy and literacy rates has made no discernible difference to the performance of schools taking part, an audit of the program found.

The Australian National Audit Office said yesterday the success of the scheme, which has so far delivered $322 million in rewards payments to the states and territories, had been ”mixed”.

When the Rudd government introduced Literacy and Numeracy National Partnerships in 2008, it was one of the first times the government had tied performance targets to financial incentives. But the Auditor-General, Ian McPhee, said in his report yesterday it was far from clear the money had been well spent and there was no evidence the money had lifted students’ scores in National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy testing.

An audit office analysis of NAPLAN data from 2008 to 2011 indicates that the literacy and numeracy partnerships were ”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”, Mr McPhee wrote.

States had also been paid their bonuses before demonstrating that student performances had improved, he said.

”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,” Mr McPhee said.

While ”explicit records” were not kept of the process to approve spending proposals, Mr McPhee found payments made were soundly based.

Across Australia, about 10 per cent of government and non-government schools – 1050 in total – took part in the scheme.

The Education Minister, Peter Garrett, defended the programs yesterday, insisting they had brought positive effects to the schools involved. His spokeswoman said it could take several years for the effects to be felt.

”Overall, there have been positive signs that the LNNP is making a difference for students falling behind in participating schools,” she said. ”For example, between 2008 and 2011, schools participating in the national partnership had a higher proportion of students above the national minimum standards for NAPLAN in both year 3 reading and year 5 numeracy.”

She pointed to a COAG Reform Council report released in April that found the LNNP had lifted overall reading and numeracy results of participating schools.

However, that report showed that, in NSW, reading and writing scores for year 3 and year 5 students had dropped and NSW missed out in $35 million in funding for literacy and numeracy programs after failing to meet its targets under the partnership. Victoria met its targets to lift performances and took its bonus.

Mr McPhee said the Education Department was ”not in a position to be able to verify the accuracy of the performance results against reform targets” because of inconsistencies in data collection between the states.

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

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