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What price an education?

By Sara Hudson - posted Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Koori schools in Victoria are a prime example of how simply throwing money at a problem is ineffective. According to The Age, the Victorian government is wasting millions of dollars on schools with tiny enrolments, abysmal attendance rates, and poor academic performance.

Initial findings of an independent review of the schools are due to be presented to the Victorian Department of Education on 26 March. However, it shouldn’t take a review to figure out the concept is flawed and does not provide value for money or a decent education.

The four Koori schools in Victoria (in Glenroy, Morwell, Swan Hill and Mildura) receive $3.9 million in funding a year even though they educate less than 1 per cent of Indigenous students in government schools. The total enrolment in all four schools was only 65 students in 2011. Ballerrt Mooroop College was recently closed by the education department: The school was receiving more than $1 million in funding and employed 13 staff despite having only one full-time student!


Funding for each student in these schools was among the highest in Victoria, with one school, Woolum Bellum College in Morwell, receiving more government funding per student than any other school in the state. According to the My School website, the school received $82,277 per student, eight times the state average of $10,946 per student.

At the same time, student attendance rates in the Koori schools languish between 44 per cent and 64 per cent. Two Rivers College, the only Koori school to post its NAPLAN results on My School, performed substantially below the national average in all categories.

Clearly, taxpayer dollars are being wasted on providing separatist schooling for a few Aboriginal children in Victoria rather than giving more resources to help disadvantaged Indigenous students in mainstream schools.

Indeed, Chris Sarra made the same recommendation in 2009 in a report on the Koori education system. Sarra also suggested that the state invest in early learning centres to prepare children for primary schools. But the state education department ignored Sarra’s advice and spent another three years wasting public funds propping up failing Koori schools.

Most Indigenous parents do not send their children to Koori schools as they are seen as a dumping ground for difficult students. If these schools were meeting the needs of Indigenous students, school enrolments would have risen. 

The fact that Koori schools have failed to attract more enrolments or provide quality education should be sufficient to see their demise. Unfortunately, the Victoria Department of Education has continued to take a blinkered approach to Indigenous education and has refused to see the evidence of the Koori schools’ failure even when it is staring them in the face.


The majority of Victorian Indigenous students achieved minimum national standards in all NAPLAN tests. The success of most Indigenous students and the failure of non-Indigenous students in some schools shows that poor educational outcomes is not an Indigenous problem per se.

Overall, NAPLAN results show that student performance is greatly influenced by parents’ levels of education and occupation. In other words, education systems do not transcend socio-economic backgrounds, as they should. Indigenous students are not the only ones for whom schooling must overcome socio-economic disadvantages if equality of opportunity is to be more than a slogan.

The failure of the Koori schools illustrates that creating better opportunities for Indigenous students does not lie with having a separate schooling system for Indigenous students.

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About the Author

Sara Hudson is the Manager of the Indigenous Research Program at the Centre for Independent Studies and author of Awakening the 'Sleeping Giant': the hidden potential of Indigenous businesses.

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