Sustainable rural communities are vital to Australia’s wider viability in terms of food production and provision of other basic resources, but if rural schools are not properly supported the survival of such communities is at risk, according to Flinders University’s Professor John Halsey.
In a submission to the Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling, Professor Halsey, Sidney Myer Chair of Rural Education and Communities (pictured), argues that schools constitute vital institutional capital in rural towns, and require specific funding to meet their needs and ensure their survival.
“Being able to access quality human services in rural areas without a sense of struggle is ‘a must’ for ensuring there are people in sufficient numbers with the required skills and knowledge to produce the food and develop the other resources for a growing national population,” Professor Halsey said.
“This in turn requires approaches to funding education which recognises that sustaining rural communities is an essential component of rural schooling funding.”
Maintaining local access to essential human services in rural communities is fundamental to them being vibrant and productive, Professor Halsey said.
Without innovative approaches to ensuring that critical institutional capital like schooling is available, affordable and accessible in rural communities, he said that sustainability as both a national goal and a national outcome will be jeopardised and a “downward spiral of decline and dysfunction will occur”.
“At the risk of over-simplifying the rural community sustainability challenge: no school equals no community, and no community equals no contribution to national sustainability.”
Professor Halsey conducted a national survey of rural school leaders in 2010 that identified the most difficult aspects of their work. These included
• securing services for students with disabilities
• lack of funding to do all they believe needs to be done for students
• professional development of staff
• curriculum diversity challenges
• maintaining the viability of the school
• maintaining facilities to required standards
• attracting staff
• managing staff absences.
”All of these have funding implications for rural education,” Professor Halsey said.
“It is essential that we stopped pretending funding formulae for urban and rural schools can be, or should be, a level playing-field. They operate on different scales, creating a special set of circumstances and challenges for rural school leaders and staff.
“The Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling is a unique opportunity for allocating a community sustainability component into the funding formula for our country schools.
“Failure to respond adequately will mean that rural schools, their communities and ultimately the future of the nation are placed at risk.”