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Published

Actions for Education 2023

Education 2023

Education
Whole of Government
Asset valuation
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Procurement
Project management
Risk

What this report is about

Results of the Education portfolio of agencies’ financial statements audits for the year ended 30 June 2023.

What we found

Unqualified audit opinions were issued for all Education portfolio agencies.

An ‘other matter’ paragraph was included in the TAFE Commission’s independent auditor’s report as it did not have a delegation or sub-delegation from the Minister for Education and Early Learning to incur expenditure on grants from other portfolio agencies.

What the key issues were

Comprehensive valuations of buildings at the Department of Education (the department) and at the TAFE Commission found that certain assumptions applied in previous years needed to be updated, resulting in prior period restatements.

The department prepaid a building contractor for early works on a project and some of the prepayment is in legal dispute.

The department duplicated a claim for project funding from Restart NSW in 2021.

New parental leave legislation increased employee liabilities for portfolio agencies. The department and the NSW Education Standards Authority (the Authority) updated their financial statements to record parental leave liabilities.

A high risk matter was raised for the Authority to improve the quality and timeliness of information to support their financial statement close process.

What we recommended

Portfolio agencies should ensure any changes to employee entitlements are assessed for their potential financial statements impact under the relevant Australian Accounting Standards.

The department should:

  • improve processes to ensure project claims are not duplicated
  • assess the risks associated with providing prepayments to contractors.

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Education portfolio of agencies’ financial statements with the results of our audits, analysis, conclusions and recommendations in the following areas:

  • financial reporting
  • audit observations.

Financial reporting is an important element of good governance. Confidence and transparency in public sector decision-making are enhanced when financial reporting is accurate and timely.

This chapter outlines our audit observations related to the financial reporting of agencies in the Education portfolio (the portfolio) for 2023.

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all the portfolio agencies 2022–23 financial statements.
  • An ‘other matter’ paragraph was included in the independent auditor’s report for the Technical and Further Education Commission (the TAFE Commission) as it did not have a delegation or sub-delegation from the Minister for Education and Early Learning to incur expenditure on grants from other portfolio agencies.
  • Comprehensive valuations of buildings in the current year identified that certain assumptions applied in previous years were incorrect. The effects of these corrections are disclosed as prior period errors in the financial statements of the Department of Education (the department) and the TAFE Commission.
  • The department made corrections to its financial statements to reflect increases to NSW teachers’ wages announced post balance date. This impacted amounts recorded as liabilities for a range of employee benefits and entitlements totalling $225.4 million, of which $147.9 million is accepted by the Crown and $77.5 million is borne by the department.
  • A change to the NSW paid parental leave scheme, effective October 2022, created a new legal obligation that needed to be recognised by impacted government agencies. Of the three affected portfolio agencies, only the department and the NSW Education Standards Authority recognised a liability to account for this change. The aggregated unrecorded liabilities of other agencies in the portfolio totalled $2.4 million. The errors within the individual agencies’ financial statements were not material.
  • The total number of errors (including corrected and uncorrected) in the financial statements increased compared to the prior year.
  • The NSW Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund should prepare financial statements unless NSW Treasury releases a Treasurer’s Direction under section 7.8 of the GSF Act that will exempt the SDA from financial reporting requirements. 

Appropriate financial controls help ensure the efficient and effective use of resources and administration of agency policies. They are essential for quality and timely decision-making.

This chapter outlines our observations and insights from our financial statement audits of agencies in the Education portfolio.

Section highlights

  • The 2022–23 audits identified one high risk and 20 moderate risk issues across the portfolio. Of these, one was a high risk repeat issue and four were moderate risk repeat issues.
  • The total number of findings increased from 29 to 36, which mainly related to deficiencies in financial reporting, information technology, payroll and purchasing controls.
  • The high risk matter relates to the lack of quality and timely information to support the financial statement close process at the NSW Education Standards Authority. 

Appendix one – Early close procedures

Appendix two – Financial data

 

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

Published

Actions for Regional, rural and remote education

Regional, rural and remote education

Education
Management and administration
Project management
Service delivery

What this report is about

Students in rural and remote areas of NSW face greater challenges compared to their metropolitan peers.

This report examined how the NSW Department of Education (the department) is ensuring that rural and remote students have access to the same quality of early childhood, school education, and skills pathways as metropolitan students.

What we found

A decade since the previous (2013) strategy to address educational disadvantage, there remain considerable gaps in access and outcomes between rural and remote students and metropolitan students.

The Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–24) is unlikely to address these longstanding and known issues of educational disadvantage in rural and remote areas.

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.

The department has programs aimed at addressing remoteness challenges, but does not know if these initiatives improve access or outcomes.

The department does not monitor or report on student access or outcomes according to geographic location.

What we recommended

The Department of Education should:

  • develop a new strategy that addresses disadvantage in regional, rural and remote education
  • establish and report publicly on regional, rural and remote key performance indicators
  • improve data collection by using a standard remoteness classification
  • improve governance arrangements for regional, rural and remote education
  • review the resources provided for regional, rural and remote areas that recognises the additional costs
  • develop an approach that ensures all students can access best practice modes of delivery.

In February 2021, the department of Education (the department) released the ‘Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–2024)’. The strategy sets a vision that ‘every child in regional New South Wales has access to the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers’. It recognises that students in rural and remote areas of New South Wales face greater challenges compared to students in metropolitan locations. These challenges contribute to regional, rural and remote students underperforming on major educational indicators compared to their metropolitan peers.

In recent years, regional, rural and remote communities experienced a series of natural disasters as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic and subsequent school closures, the department introduced new initiatives aimed at minimising the disruption to children including online learning and small group tuition.

The department established a regional, rural and remote education policy unit in 2021 to support delivery of the strategy and its vision.

The objective of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of the department’s activities to ensure that regional, rural and remote students have access to the same quality of early childhood, school education, and skills pathways as their metropolitan peers.

In making this assessment, the audit examined whether:

  • The department developed and implemented a strategy that enables regional, rural and remote students to access the same quality of early childhood education, school education, and skills pathways as students in metropolitan New South Wales.
  • The department has been addressing the complexities and needs of regional, rural and remote early childhood education, school education, and skills pathways.
Conclusion

The department's rural and remote education strategy is unlikely to achieve its vision that every child in regional New South Wales has access to the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers. Shortcomings in the design and implementation of the strategy have meant there is little to report on its impact after more than two years since its release.

The department did not take on board lessons learned from the previous strategy. The department did not provide additional resources to meet the strategy aims, establish strong central coordination, set timeframes, set measures of success, or identify new programs to address gaps in regional and remote access and outcomes. Instead, the department relied on matching existing programs and activities across its business areas to meet the stated actions and goals of the strategy.

There was not enough work put in to plan for successful implementation. A changeover in staff responsible for coordinating implementation of the strategy and lack of fit-for-purpose governance arrangements slowed its momentum. The department took one year to recruit a central team and almost two years to set up governance that gives relevant department executives oversight of the strategy. This was not fast enough to support a four-year strategy with an ambitious vision.

The department did not establish a program logic model, set baseline measures or develop an evaluation plan to assess the impact of the strategy. Consequently, it has not adequately monitored changes in access or outcomes for regional, rural and remote students. Two years after its release, there has not been any public reporting against the actions or outcomes of the strategy.

The department is not addressing the complexities of delivering regional, rural and remote early childhood, school education and skills pathways. There are a range of programs targeted to overcoming challenges of remoteness, but 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.

A decade after the Rural and Remote Education Blueprint was launched in 2013, there remain considerable gaps in access and outcomes between metropolitan and regional, rural and remote areas. The department identifies 'equity' as a key value in its strategic plan but does not monitor or report on performance against key indicators according to geographic location. Data produced in response to our requests for this report demonstrate that previously identified gaps in access and outcomes remain.

Different areas of the department recognise the challenges of delivering services in regional, rural and remote locations and have developed specific programs or approaches aimed at addressing these challenges. The department does not know whether these interventions are sufficient to close the gaps in access or outcomes. Schools we spoke with as part of the audit reported significant ongoing challenges with attracting and retaining staff, providing a full curriculum and accessing support services when needed. 

This chapter examines the process to develop the Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–2024). It considers whether there was a comprehensive program of stakeholder consultation, whether relevant research and evidence was incorporated and whether an effective performance monitoring system was established.

The department made genuine efforts to consult with stakeholders on the new strategy

The department had a clear process to engage and obtain feedback from key stakeholders during the development of the new strategy. It developed a range of documents to support the consultation process including a stakeholder engagement plan, communications plan, and presentation. The department used the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Spectrum of Public Participation principles to help ensure that relevant stakeholders were included in the planning and decision-making process.

In late 2019, the department began its first phase of consultations with internal and external stakeholders to get their views on rural and remote education. It consulted internally with department directors, advisory groups, and learning communities, and externally with government agencies, service providers, non-government schools, and universities.

In March 2020, the department developed a stakeholder engagement paper to test the key issues from stakeholder consultations. Four focus areas were identified and included in a consultation paper that went out to key stakeholders for the second round of consultations in May 2020.

In the third consultation phase, the department conducted a workshop with stakeholders to review the earlier feedback, prioritise issues, identify gaps, and provide further input.

This consultation process enabled the department to identify issues and challenges to inform the new strategy. However, it was already aware that the blueprint was having limited success, and had already identified potential focus areas, following the evaluation of the blueprint in 2019.

The department did not consider recent research when developing the new strategy

The department's guidance materials promote the importance of considering research during policymaking. The guidelines describe the need to understand a topic, consult with stakeholders, identify gaps in existing knowledge, and ensure future work is informed by current literature.

In 2013, the department published a literature review on rural and remote education to inform the blueprint. The literature review found that students in rural and remote schools were not performing as well as their metropolitan peers, and that this performance gap was widening. The review attributed this to the higher number of children from low socio-economic backgrounds attending rural and remote schools. The review also identified several other factors that could negatively impact performance outcomes for rural and remote students. The department used the findings of the literature review to develop the key focus areas in the 2013 blueprint.

When the department began developing the new rural and remote education strategy in 2019, it recognised the need to review the literature on recent international initiatives. However, it has not yet released this review. This means that the department could have missed important new developments since it last examined the literature in 2013. Incorporating up-to-date research is important where past strategies have not met all their intended outcomes.

A national review into rural and remote education in 2018 examined Australian and international literature to inform its findings. The review made 11 recommendations to the Australian and state governments. While the NSW Government was not required to formally respond to the review, it could have considered the work done by that review when developing the new strategy. Several review recommendations are addressed in the strategy, while several others are only partly addressed. Gaps between review recommendations and specific strategy actions include improving the availability of quality accommodation, substantially reducing the waiting times for specialist assessments of students with learning difficulties and disabilities and increasing access to high quality distance education.

In 2019, the department commissioned a rural and remote project to contribute a research and evidence base to the new strategy. The main aim of the project was to help the department understand how it could better support rural and remote schools to increase educational outcomes. There was not enough time for this review to be completed prior to the release of the strategy. As of June 2023, the research project had not yet been released.

The strategy did not address all findings and recommendations from a recent evaluation

In 2020, the department's Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) published an evaluation of the blueprint. The evaluation examined how the actions in the blueprint were implemented. It recommended that a new strategy be developed, and made recommendations for things that should be incorporated into the strategy.

The blueprint aimed to ensure students in rural and remote areas could access the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers. The blueprint identified four focus areas to meet that aim:

  • quality early childhood education
  • great teachers and school leaders
  • curriculum access for all
  • effective partnerships and connections.

The department developed several initiatives to help meet the objectives of each of the four focus areas. These initiatives are described in Exhibit 5 below.

Exhibit 5: Key initiatives in the Rural and Remote Education Blueprint (2013)
Key focus area Initiative
Quality early childhood education
  • Funding model to help vulnerable and disadvantaged children access preschool.
Great teachers and school leaders
  • Rental subsidy to help attract and retain teachers.
Curriculum access for all
  • Virtual school to provide a varied curriculum for high potential and gifted students.
Effective partnerships and connections
  • Education networks for teachers and school leaders to access expert advice to support student learning.
  • Networked specialist centres to bring together services to support student health and wellbeing.

Source: Department of Education, Rural and remote education: A blueprint for action 2013.

The evaluation found that initiatives in two of the four focus areas – Quality early childhood education and Curriculum access for all – had performed well. However, the evaluation found that initiatives in the other two focus areas – Great teachers and school leaders and Effective partnerships and connections – did not achieve intended outcomes.

On the whole, the evaluation found that the 'remoteness gap' between rural and remote students and metropolitan students had not reduced since the blueprint was introduced. It recommended that the department continue its focus on rural and remote education by developing a new evidence-based strategy that focused on student outcomes and clear measures of success.

Objectives and actions in the new strategy were similar to those in the blueprint

The 2021 strategy sets an overall vision that 'every child in regional New South Wales has access to the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers'. It also states that the department 'is committed to ensuring all rural and remote students have equitable access to educational opportunities'.

Exhibit 6: Comparison of objectives in the blueprint and the new strategy
Rural and Remote Education Blueprint (2013) Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–24)
Provide more children with access to quality early child education in the year before school. Ensure all students have access to quality preschool in the year before school.
Ensure rural and remote schools have greater capacity to attract and retain quality teachers and leaders. Increase supply of high-quality educators in rural and remote communities.
Build the capacity of teachers and leaders in rural and remote schools. Better develop rural and remote teachers to deliver quality learning opportunities.
Address wellbeing needs through effective partnerships and connections. Address wellbeing needs through connections with local communities.
Develop partnerships so that rural and remote students have access to quality pathways into further education, training, or employment. Build partnerships to increase student access to post-school opportunities.

Source: Audit Office summary of Department of Education information.

Four areas in the blueprint remained a focus in the new strategy – early childhood education, teacher recruitment and retention, curriculum, and student wellbeing support services. Each focus area identifies a goal, as well as the aims and actions that contribute to those goals.

While this shows the department identified that these areas required continued attention, most actions were to 'increase', 'expand' or 'improve' existing programs and resources. The new strategy did not propose any new ideas or solutions, despite the blueprint achieving limited success in improving outcomes for rural and remote students.

There were no baseline or target measures set to monitor progress of the new strategy

The blueprint evaluation recommended that the department develop a new evidence-based strategy which focused on improving student outcomes. It also recommended the department use a program logic methodology to ensure there was a clear definition of success, adequate measures of success, and continual monitoring to ensure success.

Program logic models are a visual representation of the various components of a program. They can be used to illustrate program priorities, inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and assumptions. Logic models are used to explain how a proposed solution will address a specific problem. They are important because they can help test assumptions, build business cases, and identify potential enablers or barriers that could impact the project.

The department did not complete a program logic model during development of the new strategy, nor did it define measures to monitor whether the strategy's overall vision for quality education or the commitment to equitable access was on track to be achieved.

The department has not comprehensively monitored changes in educational outcomes in regional, rural and remote areas since the evaluation of the blueprint in 2020. This evaluation had seven indicators of educational outcomes by remoteness. The measures used in the evaluation could have provided a starting point given the similarity in focus areas between the blueprint and the new strategy. Not addressing past review recommendations increases risks that issues will be repeated.

The policy unit advised it has plans to set up a dashboard to monitor performance across the department's business plan measures by remoteness. This is intended to identify areas where system-wide improvements are required. This is not a comprehensive account of the strategy outcomes because the business plan measures don't capture all the goals of the strategy.

There were no timeframes or resources identified for implementing new strategy actions

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

The department's guidance on policymaking sets out how projects should be transitioned between the policy and implementation teams. This guidance is intended to help ensure the policy intent and scope of the project are not lost during the delivery of the project. The guidance highlights that the policy team should establish clear project implementation timeframes. It is important to have clear timeframes because it enables teams to measure progress, manage resources, and prioritise actions to ensure project outcomes are achieved.

The strategy states that there is a further $1 billion of investment planned over the next three years for rural and remote education but does not identify how this is allocated across its focus areas. It is important to identify the resources required to support the implementation of a program so that program objectives are met in a timely and cost-effective manner. The previous blueprint identified much lower funding of $80 million but more clearly showed how it would be allocated for identified actions across the four focus areas.

In response to our requests, the department separately identified $1.286 billion in expenditure for regional, rural and remote schools referenced in the strategy. Most of this expenditure related to existing department programs and activities rather than new initiatives. The total amount included:

  • $576.9 million for new and upgraded schools
  • $365.8 million for upgraded information technology equipment and resources
  • $120 million for school facility upgrades to be co-funded by schools
  • $60 million to replace school roofs
  • $60 million for the COVID Intensive Learning Support Program
  • $32 million for the Early Action for Success program
  • $29.7 million for staffing incentives
  • $21.7 million for literacy and numeracy interventions
  • $18.8 million in school location allowances
  • $1.45 million for the Rural Learning Exchange Pilot
  • $0.4 million for Rural and Remote Network initiatives.

This chapter examines the arrangements in place to implement the strategy. It considers whether effective governance arrangements are in place and how progress is monitored and reported.

This chapter considers the effectiveness of arrangements to ensure regional, rural and remote students have access to quality early childhood education, school education, and post‑school transitions.

This chapter considers the department's arrangements to monitor educational and wellbeing outcomes of students by remoteness. It reports on differences in outcomes between students in metropolitan areas and those in regional, rural and remote areas.

Those living in regional, rural and remote areas can have greater difficulty in accessing government services, often needing to travel long distances, or facing lower service levels than provided in major cities. This context is important when considering educational and wellbeing outcomes, given the disruptive effects of waiting or missing out on important services.

The rest of this chapter details key measures in the department's outcome and business plan.

Appendix one – Response from agency

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix three – Performance auditing

 

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #385 - released 10 August 2023

In progress

Actions for Supporting students with a disability

Supporting students with a disability

Education

Around one in five New South Wales public school students have a disability (183,000 students in 2022). Eighty-six per cent of students with disability learn in mainstream classes in mainstream schools, 11% learn in support classes in mainstream schools, and 3% in schools for specific purposes (SSPs). The Department of Education’s Disability Strategy (2019) committed to build a more inclusive education system and identified actions across four key reform areas:

  • Strengthen support: investing in teachers and other support staff
  • Increase resources and flexibility: enabling schools to operate with more flexibility
  • Improve the family experience: making experiences better and easier
  • Track outcomes: building an evidence base to measure progress. 

This audit will assess whether the department is effectively supporting students with disability in NSW public schools. 

If you have questions or feedback about individual matters, you can:

  • contact the NSW Department of Education through the website
  • make a complaint to the NSW Ombudsman online or by calling 1800 451 524.
     

Published

Actions for Government advertising 2021–22

Government advertising 2021–22

Finance
Education
Whole of Government
Compliance
Management and administration
Procurement

What the report is about

The Government Advertising Act 2011 requires the Auditor-General to undertake a performance audit on government advertising activities each financial year.

This audit examined whether TAFE NSW's annual advertising campaign in 2021–22:

  1. was carried out effectively, economically, and efficiently
  2. complied with regulatory requirements and the Government Advertising Guidelines.

What we found

TAFE NSW complied with Section 6 of the Act, prohibiting political content.

It also complied with most other advertising requirements.
 
An important exception was that the Managing Director certified that the campaign complied with regulatory requirements and was an efficient and cost-effective means of achieving its public purpose, before a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) was completed.

We have found issues with agencies complying with CBA requirements in previous government advertising audits. This includes the failure to complete them before signing compliance certificates.

The policy owner, the Department of Customer Service (DCS), does not consider oversight of CBAs to be within the scope of their peer review process.  

TAFE NSW evaluated this advertising campaign by surveying a population significantly broader than the target audience. As such, survey results may not accurately reflect the views of the intended audience.

What we recommended

By 30 June 2023, TAFE NSW should:

  1. implement processes that ensure:
    1. CBAs are completed before the launch of campaigns over $1 million
    2. compliance certificates are completed only after all regulatory requirements are met
  2. consider adding to its current evaluation methods by surveying a population which closely reflects the age profile of its intended target audience.

By June 2023, DCS should:

  1. improve whole‑of‑government reporting and monitoring processes to provide the NSW Government with a central view of compliance, including the completion of CBAs by agencies.

The Government Advertising Act 2011 (the Act) sets out requirements that must be followed by a government agency when it carries out a government advertising campaign. The requirements include an explicit prohibition on political advertising, as well as a need to complete a peer review and cost-benefit analysis before the campaign commences. The accompanying Government Advertising Regulation 2018 (the Regulation) and Government Advertising Guidelines (the Guidelines) address further matters of detail.

The Act also requires the Auditor-General to conduct a performance audit on the activities of one or more government agencies in relation to government advertising campaigns in each financial year. The performance audit must assess whether a government agency (or agencies) has carried out activities in relation to government advertising campaigns in an effective, economical and efficient manner. It also assesses compliance with the Act, the Regulation, other laws and the Guidelines.

This audit examined TAFE NSW's advertising campaign for the 2021–22 financial year. TAFE NSW is the NSW Government's public provider of vocational education and training. TAFE NSW carries out an advertising campaign every year. In 2021–22, it spent $15.16 million on developing and implementing advertising. TAFE NSW used channels such as television, radio, internet and social media, press, and out of home advertising in public settings such as bus stops. The advertising aimed to increase the percentage of people considering TAFE NSW for training or education, grow the percentage of people who consider TAFE NSW to be the preferred education provider in NSW, and maintain the proportion of people who are aware of TAFE NSW more generally.

There are a range of private service providers helping to deliver vocational education and training in NSW.

Conclusion

TAFE NSW’s advertising campaign for 2021–22 was for an allowed purpose under the Act and did not include political advertising. TAFE NSW complied with most of the requirements set out in the Act, the Regulation, and the Guidelines, but it failed to complete a cost-benefit analysis for the campaign or provide sufficient support for the compliance certificate signed by TAFE NSW's Managing Director.

TAFE NSW complied with the requirement to complete a peer review of its campaign, but it did not meet the requirement to complete a cost-benefit analysis, either before it launched the campaign or during its implementation throughout 2021–22. Some of TAFE NSW's advertising did not meet the requirement for statements to be clearly supported by evidence.

The Act requires the head of an agency to sign a compliance certificate stating that, among other things, the campaign complies with the Act, the Regulation, and the Guidelines, and that the campaign is an efficient and cost-effective means of achieving the public purpose. TAFE NSW's Managing Director signed a compliance certificate in May 2021. However, TAFE NSW had not prepared a cost-benefit analysis as required under the Act and therefore TAFE NSW's Managing Director could not validly sign the compliance certificate. TAFE NSW did not subsequently complete a cost-benefit analysis during the campaign.

The campaign achieved many of its objectives and other performance measures and is likely to have been impactful. It is also likely that TAFE NSW’s advertising campaign in 2021–22 represented economical, efficient, and effective spend. However, the lack of a cost-benefit analysis meant that this could not be confidently demonstrated by TAFE NSW.

TAFE NSW used internal resources to create its advertising content, such as videos, radio scripts and press advertising, and relied upon a specialist partner to arrange and place its media in the appropriate advertising channel. TAFE NSW also adjusted the advertising campaign in response to performance data and in response to changes in the educational and advertising marketplaces.

TAFE NSW evaluated the impact of its advertising and tracked its brand performance using a survey which reflected the New South Wales general population aged between 16 and 60. However, this evaluation did not match TAFE NSW's advertising spend as TAFE NSW directed significantly more of its campaign budget to influencing younger people in this cohort.

This part of the report sets out key aspects of TAFE NSW's compliance with the government advertising regulatory framework. It considers whether TAFE NSW complied with the:

  • Government Advertising Act 2011
  • Government Advertising Regulation 2018
  • NSW Government Advertising Guidelines 2012 and other relevant policy.

This part of the report considers whether TAFE NSW's advertising program for 2021–22 was carried out in an effective, efficient, and economical manner.

Appendix one – Responses from agencies

Appendix two – About the campaign

Appendix three – About the audit

Appendix four – Performance auditing

 

Copyright notice

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #377 - released 28 February 2023

Published

Actions for Education 2022

Education 2022

Education
Asset valuation
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Procurement
Risk

What the report is about

Result of the Education cluster financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2022.

What we found

Unmodified audit opinions were issued for Education cluster agencies.

An 'other matter' paragraph was included in the TAFE Commission's independent auditor's report as it did not have a delegation or sub-delegation from the Minister for Education and Early Learning to incur expenditure from cluster grants.

What the key issues were

Annual fair value assessments of land and buildings showed material differences in their carrying values. As a result, the Department of Education and the TAFE Commission completed desktop revaluations of land and buildings, collectively increasing the value of these assets by $1.2 billion and $4.7 billion respectively.

The Department of Education and the NSW Education Standards Authority accepted changes to their office leasing arrangements managed by Property NSW. These changes resulted in the collective derecognition of $270.6 million of right-of-use assets and $382.9 million in lease liabilities.

What we recommended

A high-risk matter was reported in the management letter for the TAFE Commission highlighting non-compliance with policies and procedures guiding appropriate use of purchasing cards.

We recommended cluster agencies prioritise and address internal control deficiencies.

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Education cluster’s financial statements with the results of our audits, analysis, conclusions and recommendations in the following areas:

  • financial reporting
  • audit observations.

Financial reporting is an important element of good governance. Confidence and transparency in public sector decision-making are enhanced when financial reporting is accurate and timely.

This chapter outlines our audit observations related to the financial reporting of agencies in the Education cluster (the cluster) for 2022.

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued on the financial statements of cluster agencies.
  • An 'other matter' paragraph was included in the independent auditor's report for the Technical and Further Education Commission (TAFE Commission) as they did not have a delegation or sub-delegation from the Minister for Education and Early Learning to incur expenditure from cluster grants.
  • The Department of Education and the TAFE Commission's land and buildings were revalued upwards by a collective $5.9 billion. These uplifts were the result of managerial fair value assessments showing that the carrying values of land and buildings had materially departed from fair value.
  • Changes to accommodation arrangements managed by Property NSW on behalf of the department and the NSW Education Standards Authority resulted in the collective derecognition of approximately $270.6 million in right-of-use assets and corresponding lease liabilities totalling $382.9 million from the balance sheets of these agencies. 

Appropriate financial controls help ensure the efficient and effective use of resources and administration of agency policies. They are essential for quality and timely decision-making.

This chapter outlines our observations and insights from our financial statement audits of agencies in the Education cluster.

Section highlights

  • The 2021–22 audits identified 18 moderate issues across the cluster. Seven moderate risk issues were repeat issues related to general and application information technology controls and control deficiencies in key transactional systems used in preparing financial statements.
  • Of the 11 newly identified moderate risk issues, five related to information technology controls deficiencies; and five related to internal control deficiencies in key transactional systems used in preparing financial statements.
  • A high-risk matter was raised at the TAFE Commission relating to identified instances of non-compliance with policies and procedures guiding purchasing card use. 

The number of findings reported to management has increased, and 31% were repeat issues

Breakdowns and weaknesses in internal controls increase the risk of fraud and error. Deficiencies in internal controls, matters of governance interest and unresolved issues were reported to management and those charged with governance of agencies. The Audit Office does this through management letters, which include observations, related implications, recommendations and risk ratings.

In 2021–22, there were 29 findings raised across the cluster (28 in 2020–21). Thirty-one per cent of all issues were repeat issues (50% in 2020–21).

The most common new and repeat issues related to internal control deficiencies in agencies’ information technology general controls, application controls, and procurement and payroll practices.

A delay in implementing audit recommendations increases the risk of intentional and accidental errors in processing information, producing management reports and generating financial statements. This can impair decision-making, affect service delivery and expose agencies to fraud, financial loss and reputational damage. Poor controls may also mean agency staff are less likely to follow internal policies, inadvertently causing the agency not to comply with legislation, regulation and central agency policies. 

A high-risk matter was reported at the TAFE Commission highlighting instances of non-compliance with policies and procedures guiding appropriate purchasing card use

As part of our audit of the TAFE Commission, we integrated the use of data analytics into the audit approach. We performed data analytics over aspects of payroll, procurement and accounts payable activities. This helped us to highlight anomalies or risks in those data sets that are relevant to the audit of the TAFE Commission and plan testing procedures to address those risks. Data analytics also assisted us in providing an insight into the internal control environment of the TAFE Commission, highlighting areas where key controls are not in place or are not operating as management intended.

Our analysis over purchasing card data supplied by the TAFE Commission for the period July 2021 to March 2022 found deficiencies in the provisioning, use and cancellation of purchasing cards. This included identified instances of:

  • controls effectively bypassed when a purchasing card surrendered by a former employee had been used by another employee
  • split payments, circumventing delegation / cardholder limits
  • delays in the submission and approval of purchasing card transactions.

The table below describes the common issues identified across the cluster by category and risk rating:

Risk rating Issue
Information technology

High: 0 new, 0 repeat 1

Moderate: 5 new, 3 repeat 2

Low: 2 new, 1 repeat 3

The financial audits identified areas for agencies to improve information technology processes and controls that support the integrity of financial data used to prepare agencies' financial statements. Of note were deficiencies identified in:

  • agencies' user access administration and change management procedures, notably in the timing and frequency of managerial reviews over the granting and revocation of access to key systems relevant to financial reporting
  • the level of cyber security maturity
  • the monitoring of privileged user activities.
Internal control deficiencies or improvements

High: 1 new, 0 repeat 1

Moderate: 5 new, 3 repeat 2

Low: 4 new, 1 repeat 3

The financial audits identified internal control weaknesses across key business processes relevant to financial reporting. Of note were deficiencies identified in:

  • the adequacy of monitoring and oversight activities over the use of multiple financial delegation configurations in finance systems for specific users
  • the timely recording and approval of overtime claims and higher duties allowances
  • the timely finalisation of policies and procedures
  • the management of excessive annual leave balances
  • formalisation of service-provider arrangements between government agencies
  • non-compliance with policies and procedures to guide secondary employment and pecuniary interest declarations
  • non-compliance with policies and procedures to guide the appropriate use of purchasing cards.
Financial reporting

High: 0 new, 0 repeat 1

Moderate: 1 new, 1 repeat 2

Low: 2 new, 0 repeat 3

The financial audits identified:

  • opportunities for agencies to strengthen their financial preparation processes to facilitate a timelier and more efficient year-end audit
  • matters in respect of the timely capitalisation of work-in-progress
  • the need for agencies with non-financial assets subject to fair value to reconsider policy settings governing the frequency of revaluations
  • refinements in considering the outcomes of interim fair value assessments to ensure asset carrying values reflect fair value at each balance date.

1 High risk from the consequence and/or likelihood of an event that has had, or may have a negative impact on the entity.
2 Moderate risk from the consequence and/or likelihood of an event that has had, or may have a negative impact on the entity.
3 Low risk from the consequence and/or likelihood of an event that has had, or may have a negative impact on the entity.
Note: Management letter findings are based either on final management letters issued to agencies, or draft letters where findings have been agreed with management.

 

Recommendation

We recommend cluster agencies prioritise and action recommendations to address the internal control deficiencies outlined above. 

Published

Actions for Student attendance

Student attendance

Education
Management and administration
Service delivery

What the report is about

Poor attendance at school is related to poor student outcomes, particularly once patterns of non-attendance have been established.

This report examined how the NSW Department of Education (the department) is managing student attendance in NSW government schools.

What we found

Around a third of students in Years 1–10 attended school less than 90% of the time in semester one, 2021. Missing more than 10% of school may put a student's educational outcomes at risk.

Since 2018, the department has improved the quality of student attendance data, analysis and reporting. However, there are still gaps in understanding the reasons for absence at a system level.

The department set state-wide and school-level targets to increase the proportion of students attending school at least 90% of the time. This emphasis risks diverting attention away from students with very low attendance rates.

There are gaps in central programs to support schools in lifting student attendance. Schools are taking a variety of approaches to this work.

There is a large gap in attendance between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, which has increased since 2018.

What we recommended

The Department of Education should:

  • set new state-wide and school level attendance targets
  • evaluate its attendance support programs
  • update its attendance strategies and programs
  • publish the attendance level for each school in their annual reports
  • improve internal analysis and reporting of attendance data
  • finalise the review of the attendance policy, procedure and codes
  • review programs supporting Aboriginal student attendance and address any gaps
  • review the approach to enforcing compulsory school attendance.

Fast facts

  • 90% - attending school less than 90% of the time can put a student's educational outcomes at risk
  • 67.9% of Year 1–10 students in NSW government schools attended at least 90% of the time in semester one, 2021
  • 42.7% of Aboriginal Year 1–10 students in NSW government schools attended school at least 90% of the time in semester one, 2021.

Regular attendance at school is important for academic and other long-term outcomes. Students who do not attend regularly are less likely to complete school and more likely to experience poorer long-term health and social outcomes. A range of factors influence student attendance including student engagement and wellbeing, family and community factors and the school environment.

The NSW Department of Education's (the department's) Strategic Plan for 2018–2022 identifies improving student attendance as a priority. It has identified 95% as its expected level of attendance. It set targets to increase the proportion of students attending school at least 90% of the time, from 79.4% to 82% in primary schools and 64.5% to 70% for secondary schools.

This report focuses on attendance data for semester one of 2018, 2019 and 2021. Unless otherwise noted, attendance data refers to Years 1–10 in alignment with national reporting conventions. Changes in recording systems and definitions mean attendance data prior to 2018 is not comparable. Attendance data for semester one of 2020 and 2022 was significantly affected by COVID-related disruptions, which prevented many students across the State from attending school. Data for semester one of 2021 is considered relatively less affected by COVID-related disruptions.

The Education Act 1990 (the Act) sets out the responsibilities of students, parents and the department for ensuring students receive compulsory schooling. The department has developed policies, procedures and guidance to assist schools in managing their responsibilities to promote regular attendance. In this report, we define 'regular' attendance as at least 90% of the time. This is equivalent to missing one day of school each fortnight or four weeks of school across a school year.

The objective of this audit was to assess whether student attendance is effectively managed in NSW government schools for students from kindergarten to Year 10. In making this assessment, the audit examined whether:

  • there are effective systems and policies for managing student attendance
  • the department effectively supports schools to manage student attendance
  • schools are effectively managing student attendance.

Conclusion

There are too many students in NSW Government schools who regularly miss school. In semester one of 2021, around a third of students in Years 1–10 attended school less than 90% of the time — a level that puts their educational outcomes at risk. Attendance problems are widespread. 775 of 2,200 schools in NSW had an average attendance rate below 90% in 2021. Aboriginal student attendance is significantly below non-Aboriginal students and there is no specific strategy to address this gap. The department needs to place greater attention on supporting schools to lift student attendance.

Good quality data on attendance patterns is critical to developing strategies to address the underlying reasons for absence. The quality of the department's data on student attendance has improved from 2018. This has allowed it to monitor attendance more closely throughout the year, rather than relying on a yearly collection. However, there are still gaps in capturing and analysing the reasons for absence.

The improved data collection allowed the department to begin reporting on the 'attendance level' for the first time in 2018. This measures the proportion of students attending more than 90% of the time. The department has set state-wide and school-level targets to improve the attendance level. The new targets have influenced the focus of strategies to lift attendance. There is now a greater focus on lifting students above the reportable benchmark of 90% rather than addressing more serious attendance concerns.

The School Success Model formalises the focus on achieving school-level targets. When introduced, the department stated that schools would receive targeted support as part of the rollout of the model. Targeted support for attendance was initially planned to be delivered in late 2021 but was delayed due to the impact of COVID. The two main attendance support programs do not cater to schools with fewer than 100 students and there are gaps in support due to two different methodologies being used to select schools.

The Home School Liaison Program is a longstanding program to support students with low attendance. Requests for support are rationed pending availability of case officers, which leads to younger students being prioritised. Older students are not supported because there is a lower chance of prosecution in the legal system if attendance is not restored by the program. There is insufficient monitoring of the adequacy of resources, activities and long-term outcomes of this program.

The department's Aboriginal Education Policy aims to have Aboriginal students matching or exceeding outcomes of non-Aboriginal students. In semester one, 2021 42.7% of Aboriginal students attended school regularly (at least 90% of the time) compared with 70.3% of non-Aboriginal students. The gap in attendance between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students has grown since 2018. There are relatively new programs supporting Aboriginal students in secondary school to attain their Higher School Certificate, but greater attention should be placed on supporting attendance for Aboriginal students in primary schools.

Schools are using a wide range of strategies to improve student attendance depending on their local contexts. Schools we spoke with told us of allocating responsibility to key staff members, closer monitoring of data, community engagement, rewards and incentives, before school sporting and breakfast programs, and partnerships with external agencies. The school planning and annual reporting process prompts schools to evaluate the impact of their strategies on progress towards their targets. The department could do more to promote evidence-based programs, showcase better practice examples from schools in NSW and identify the circumstances where these approaches are most effective. 

This chapter considers the effectiveness of systems to accurately collect, analyse and report student attendance data. It also considers the effectiveness of policies and procedures to support attendance and central oversight of attendance issues.

This chapter considers the effectiveness of the department's strategies to improve student attendance and the support it provides to schools to achieve this. It also considers the effectiveness of school-level strategies and actions for students with low attendance.

Appendix one – Response from agency

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix three – Performance auditing

 

Copyright notice

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #368 - released 27 September 2022

Planned

Actions for Student behaviour management

Student behaviour management

Education

Behaviour support is critical to promoting engaging and effective classrooms and lifting student performance. The department is implementing a new behaviour management strategy and policy in 2022. The new policy settings aim to strengthen the engagement and participation of all students, including those with disability, complex and challenging behaviours, and additional needs.

An audit in this area could consider implementation of this strategy and policy once they have formally commenced.

Published

Actions for Audit Insights 2018-2022

Audit Insights 2018-2022

Community Services
Education
Environment
Finance
Health
Industry
Justice
Local Government
Premier and Cabinet
Planning
Transport
Treasury
Universities
Whole of Government
Asset valuation
Cross-agency collaboration
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Fraud
Information technology
Infrastructure
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Procurement
Project management
Regulation
Risk
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration
Workforce and capability

What the report is about

In this report, we have analysed the key findings and recommendations from our audit reports over the past four years.

This analysis includes financial audits, performance audits, and compliance audits of state and local government entities that were tabled in NSW Parliament between July 2018 and February 2022.

The report is framed by recognition that the past four years have seen significant challenges and emergency events.

The scale of government responses to these events has been wide-ranging, involving emergency response coordination, service delivery, governance and policy.

The report is a resource to support public sector agencies and local government to improve future programs and activities.

What we found

Our analysis of findings and recommendations is structured around six key themes:

  • Integrity and transparency
  • Performance and monitoring
  • Governance and oversight
  • Cyber security and data
  • System planning for disruption
  • Resource management.

The report draws from this analysis to present recommendations for elements of good practice that government agencies should consider in relation to these themes. It also includes relevant examples from recent audit reports.

In this report we particularly call out threats to the integrity of government systems, processes and governance arrangements.

The report highlights the need for balanced advice to government on options and risks, for transparent documentation and reporting of directions and decisions, and for early and open sharing of information with integrity bodies and audit.

A number of the matters highlighted in this report are similar to those described in our previous Insights Report, (Performance Audit Insights: key findings from 2014–2018) specifically in relation to cyber and information security, to performance measurement, reporting and evaluation, and system and workforce planning and capability.

Fast facts

  • 72 audits included in the Audit Insights 2018–2022 analysis
  • 4 years of audits tabled by the Auditor-General for New South Wales
  • 6 key themes for Audit Insights 2018–2022.

picture of Margaret Crawford Auditor-General for New South Wales in black dress with city skyline as backgroundI am pleased to present the Audit Insights 2018–2022 report. This report describes key findings, trends and lessons learned from the last four years of audit. It seeks to inform the New South Wales Parliament of key risks identified and to provide insights and suggestions to the agencies we audit to improve performance across the public sector.

The report is framed by a very clear recognition that governments have been responding to significant events, in number, character and scale, over recent years. Further, it acknowledges that public servants at both state and council levels generally bring their best selves to work and diligently strive to deliver great outcomes for citizens and communities. The role of audit in this context is to provide necessary assurance over government spending, programs and services, and make suggestions for continuous improvement.

A number of the matters highlighted in this report are similar to those described in our previous Insights Report, (Performance Audit Insights: key findings from 2014–2018) specifically in relation to cyber and information security, to performance measurement, reporting and evaluation, and system and workforce planning and capability.

However, in this report we particularly call out threats to the integrity of government systems, processes and governance arrangements. We highlight the need for balanced advice to government on options and risks, for transparent documentation and reporting of directions and decisions, and for early and open sharing of information with integrity bodies and audit. Arguably, these considerations are never more important than in an increasingly complex environment and in the face of significant emergency events and they will be key areas of focus in our future audit program.

While we have acknowledged the challenges of the last few years have required rapid responses to address the short-term impacts of emergency events, there is much to be learned to improve future programs. I trust that the insights developed in this report provide a helpful resource to public sector agencies and local government across New South Wales. I would be pleased to receive any feedback you may wish to offer.

Margaret Crawford
Auditor-General for New South Wales

Integrity and transparency Performance and monitoring Governance and oversight Cyber security and data System planning Resource management
Insufficient documentation of decisions reduces the ability to identify, or rule out, misconduct or corruption. Failure to apply lessons learned risks mistakes being repeated and undermines future decisions on the use of public funds. The control environment should be risk-based and keep pace with changes in the quantum and diversity of agency work. Building effective cyber resilience requires leadership and committed executive management, along with dedicated resourcing to build improvements in cyber security and culture. Priorities to meet forecast demand should incorporate regular assessment of need and any emerging risks or trends. Absence of an overarching strategy to guide decision-making results in project-by-project decisions lacking coordination. Governments must weigh up the cost of reliance on consultants at the expense of internal capability, and actively manage contracts and conflicts of interest.
Government entities should report to the public at both system and project level for transparency and accountability. Government activities benefit from a clear statement of objectives and associated performance measures to support systematic monitoring and reporting on outcomes and impact. Management of risk should include mechanisms to escalate risks, and action plans to mitigate risks with effective controls. In implementing strategies to mitigate cyber risk, agencies must set target cyber maturity levels, and document their acceptance of cyber risks consistent with their risk appetite. Service planning should establish future service offerings and service levels relative to current capacity, address risks to avoid or mitigate disruption of business and service delivery, and coordinate across other relevant plans and stakeholders. Negotiations on outsourced services and major transactions must maintain focus on integrity and seeking value for public funds.
Entities must provide balanced advice to decision-makers on the benefits and risks of investments. Benefits realisation should identify responsibility for benefits management, set baselines and targets for benefits, review during delivery, and evaluate costs and benefits post-delivery. Active review of policies and procedures in line with current business activities supports more effective risk management. Governments hold repositories of valuable data and data capabilities that should be leveraged and shared across government and non-government entities to improve strategic planning and forecasting. Formal structures and systems to facilitate coordination between agencies is critical to more efficient allocation of resources and to facilitate a timely response to unexpected events. Transformation programs can be improved by resourcing a program management office.
Clear guidelines and transparency of decisions are critical in distributing grant funding. Quality assurance should underpin key inputs that support performance monitoring and accounting judgements. Governance arrangements can enable input into key decisions from both government and non-government partners, and those with direct experience of complex issues.     Workforce planning should consider service continuity and ensure that specialist and targeted roles can be resourced and allocated to meet community need.
Governments must ensure timely and complete provision of information to support governance, integrity and audit processes.          
Read more Read more Read more Read more Read more Read more

 

This report brings together a summary of key findings arising from NSW Audit Office reports tabled in the New South Wales Parliament between July 2018 and February 2022. This includes analysis of financial audits, performance audits, and compliance audits tabled over this period.

  • Financial audits provide an independent opinion on the financial statements of NSW Government entities, universities and councils and identify whether they comply with accounting standards, relevant laws, regulations, and government directions.
  • Performance audits determine whether government entities carry out their activities effectively, are doing so economically and efficiently, and in accordance with relevant laws. The activities examined by a performance audit may include a selected program or service, all or part of an entity, or more than one government entity. Performance audits can consider issues which affect the whole state and/or the local government sectors.
  • Compliance audits and other assurance reviews are audits that assess whether specific legislation, directions, and regulations have been adhered to.

This report follows our earlier edition titled 'Performance Audit Insights: key findings from 2014–2018'. That report sought to highlight issues and themes emerging from performance audit findings, and to share lessons common across government. In this report, we have analysed the key findings and recommendations from our reports over the past four years. The full list of reports is included in Appendix 1. The analysis included findings and recommendations from 58 performance audits, as well as selected financial and compliance reports tabled between July 2018 and February 2022. The number of recommendations and key findings made across different areas of activity and the top issues are summarised at Exhibit 1.

The past four years have seen unprecedented challenges and several emergency events, and the scale of government responses to these events has been wide-ranging involving emergency response coordination, service delivery, governance and policy. While these emergencies are having a significant impact today, they are also likely to continue to have an impact into the future. There is much to learn from the response to those events that will help the government sector to prepare for and respond to future disruption. The following chapters bring together our recommendations for core elements of good practice across a number of areas of government activity, along with relevant examples from recent audit reports.

This 'Audit Insights 2018–2022' report does not make comparative analysis of trends in public sector performance since our 2018 Insights report, but instead highlights areas where government continues to face challenges, as well as new issues that our audits have identified since our 2018 report. We will continue to use the findings of our Insights analysis to shape our future audit priorities, in line with our purpose to help Parliament hold government accountable for its use of public resources in New South Wales.

Appendix one – Included reports, 2018–2022

Appendix two – About this report

 

Copyright notice

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

Published

Actions for COVID-19: response, recovery and impact

COVID-19: response, recovery and impact

Community Services
Education
Health
Justice
Premier and Cabinet
Transport
Treasury
Whole of Government
Cross-agency collaboration
Financial reporting
Management and administration
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration

What the report is about

This report draws together the financial impact of COVID-19 on the agencies integral to responses across the state government sector of New South Wales.

What we found

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit NSW in January 2020, and until 30 June 2021, $7.5 billion was spent by state government agencies for health and economic stimulus. The response was largely funded by borrowings.

The key areas of spending since the start of COVID-19 in NSW to 30 June 2021 were:

  • direct health response measures – $2.2 billion
  • personal protective equipment – $1.4 billion
  • small business grants – $795 million
  • quarantine costs – $613 million
  • increases in employee expenses and cleaning costs across most agencies
  • vaccine distribution, including vaccination hubs – $71 million.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the financial performance and position of state government agencies.

Decreases in revenue from providing goods and services were offset by increases in appropriations, grants and contributions, for health and economic stimulus funding in response to the pandemic.

Most agencies had expense growth, due to additional operating requirements to manage and respond to the pandemic along with implementing new or expanded stimulus programs and initiatives.

Response measures for COVID-19 have meant the NSW Government is unlikely to meet targets in the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2012 being:

  • annual expense growth kept below long-term average revenue growth
  • elimination of State’s unfunded superannuation liability by 2030.

 Fast facts

  • First COVID-19 case in NSW on 25 January 2020
  • COVID-19 vaccinations commenced on 21 February 2021
  • By 31 December 2021, 25.2 million PCR tests had been performed in NSW and 13.6 million vaccines administered, with 93.6% of the 16 and over population receiving two doses
  • During 2020–21, NSW Health employed an extra 4,893 full-time staff and incurred $28 million in overtime mainly in response to COVID-19
  • During 2020–21, $1.2 billion was spent on direct health COVID-19 response measures and $532 million was spent on quarantine for incoming international travellers

Section highlights

  • Up to 30 June 2021, $7.5 billion has been spent by state government agencies for health and economic stimulus.
  • Revenue increased for most agencies as falling revenue from providing goods and services was offset by additional funding from appropriations, grants and contributions.
  • Expenses increased as most agencies incurred additional costs to manage and respond to the pandemic along with delivering stimulus and support programs.
  • Borrowings of $7.5 billion over the last two years helped to fund the response to COVID-19.

Section highlights

  • NSW Government unlikely to meet targets in Fiscal Responsibility Act 2012.

Published

Actions for COVID Intensive Learning Support Program

COVID Intensive Learning Support Program

Education
Management and administration
Project management
Service delivery
Workforce and capability

What the report is about

This audit examined a state-wide program to provide small-group tuition to students disadvantaged by the move to learning from home during 2020.

The audit assessed the design and implementation of the program.

What we found

The program design was based on research and data showing learning loss during 2020. 

The department rapidly planned and developed the policy design and guidelines for schools. 

Governance arrangements matured during program delivery.

The department changed the models for funding schools but did not clearly explain the reasons for doing so.

Government schools with over 900 students were disadvantaged by the funding model compared to smaller schools. 

Guidelines, resources and professional learning helped schools implement the program.

Staff eligibility for the program was expanded after reported difficulties in recruiting qualified teachers in some areas. 

Online tuition and third-party provider options were developed throughout the program.

There were issues with the quality and timeliness of data used to monitor school progress. 

Evaluation arrangements were developed early in the program.

Data limitations mean the evaluation will not be able to fully assess all program objectives.

What we recommended

  1. Distributing funds between schools more equitably and improving communication of the funding methods. 
  2. Clearer communication about the intended targeted group of students.
  3. Reviewing the time needed to administer the program.
  4. Improve support for educators other than qualified teachers.
  5. Offer the online tuition program to more schools.
  6. Analysis of the effects of learning from home during 2021 across equity groups and geographic areas.
  7. Working with universities to increase use of pre-service teachers in the program.

The report also identifies lessons learned for future programs.
 

Fast facts

  • $337m in total program funding. $289 million for government schools and $31 million for non government schools
  • 12 days to develop the policy and provide costings to Treasury 
  • 290,000 targeted students in government schools and 31,000 in non government schools
  • 80% of schools were providing small group tuition by the target start date of Week 6, Term 1
  • 2–4 months was the estimated student learning loss from the move to learning from home during 2020
  • 7,600 tutors engaged in the program as at September 2021.

The NSW Government announced the COVID Intensive Learning Support Program on 10 November 2020, as part of the 2020–21 NSW Budget. The primary goal of the $337 million program was to deliver intensive small group tuition for students who were disadvantaged by the move to remote and/or flexible learning, helping to close the equity gap. It included:

  • $306 million to provide small-group tuition for eligible students across every NSW Government primary, secondary and special purpose school
  • $31.0 million for around 400 non-government schools to provide small-group tuition to students with the greatest levels of need.

The objective of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of the design and implementation of the COVID Intensive Learning Support Program (the program). To address this objective, the audit assessed whether the Department of Education (the department):

  • effectively designed the program and supporting governance arrangements
  • is effectively implementing the program.

This audit focuses on activities between October 2020 and August 2021, which aimed to address the first session of learning from home in New South Wales. From August to October 2021, students in many areas of New South Wales were learning from home again, but this second period has not been a focus of this audit. On 18 October 2021, the NSW Government announced the program would be extended into 2022.

Conclusion

The COVID Intensive Learning Support Program was effectively designed to help students catch up on learning loss due to the interruptions to schooling caused by COVID-19. The department rapidly stood up a taskforce to implement the program and then developed supporting governance arrangements during implementation.

Most students in New South Wales were required to learn from home for at least seven weeks during 2020 due to the impact of the Novel-Coronavirus (COVID-19). The department researched, analysed and advised government on several options to address the learning loss that resulted. It recommended small group tuition as the preferred option as it was supported by available evidence and could be rolled out at scale with speed. It identified risks of ensuring an adequate supply of educators and options to address those risks. Consistent with its analysis of where the impact of the learning loss was most severe, the department proposed to direct funding to schools with higher concentrations of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

The department established a cross-functional taskforce to conduct detailed planning and support program implementation. Short timeframes meant the taskforce initially sought approval for key decisions from the program sponsor and existing oversight bodies on an as-needed basis before dedicated program governance arrangements were formalised. Once established, the governance body met regularly to oversee program delivery.

The COVID Intensive Learning Support Program is being effectively implemented. The department has refined the program during rollout to respond to risks, issues and feedback from schools. Issues with how schools enter data into department systems have affected the timeliness and accuracy of program monitoring information.

The department provided schools with guidelines, example models of delivery, systems to record student progress and professional learning. Around 80 per cent of schools had begun delivering tuition under the program by the target date. Schools reported issues with sourcing qualified teachers as a key reason they were unable to start the program by the expected date. In response, the department expanded the type of staff schools could employ, developed an online tuition program, and allowed schools to engage third-party providers to help schools that had difficulty finding qualified teachers for the program.

The department used existing systems to monitor school progress in implementing the program. This reduced the administrative burden on schools, but there were several issues with data quality and timeliness. The program included a mid-year review point to check whether schools were on track to spend their funding. This helped focus schools on ensuring funding would be spent and allowed for redistribution between schools.

The department considered program evaluation early in policy design and planning. It embedded an evaluator on the taskforce and expanded a key assessment program to help provide evidence of impact. A process and outcome evaluation is underway which will help inform future delivery. The evaluation will examine educational impacts for students participating in the program but it has not established methods to reliably assess the extent to which the program has met a goal to help 'close the equity gap' for students.

This chapter considers how effectively the COVID Intensive Learning Support Program (the program) was designed and planned for implementation.

This chapter considers how effectively the COVID Intensive Learning Support Program was implemented over our period of review (Terms 1 and 2, 2021).

Appendix one – Response from agency

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix three – Performance auditing

Copyright notice

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #358 - released (15 December 2021).