Rural and Regional education

The dark secrets of Australian education will be revealed for families moving to the country

Sean Barrett / 05 August 2021

The post-pandemic world is full of unknowns. However, one emerging trend is a move to the country.  In 2020,  233,000 people moved to regional Australia. A record according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  ABS data released this week shows the trend is continuing with 66,000 fleeing the cities in the March quarter. Research by the Regional Australia Institute found that one in five capital city dwellers were thinking of moving to the country. 

With NSW and now also Queensland struggling in lockdown, and Victorians scarred from their experiences, there is growing realisation that city living can be cramped and uncomfortable, and expensive. 

We have learned that many people can work from just about anywhere. 

Of course, for families with children there is the prospect of healthy lifestyles. 

There is also the prospect of their children entering the rural and regional school system.  And this is where the secret is revealed to city dwellers. 

“The achievements of rural regional and remote students have in the main lagged behind urban students for decades,” according to a little-known Independent Review into Regional Rural and Remote Education commissioned by the Federal Government and conducted by Prof John Halsey.

This under achievement is evidenced in literacy and numeracy results, and Year 12 completion rates.  The consequences are stunted opportunities post school.  

According to the Melbourne Declaration, which set national education goals, every young Australian should have access to high quality schooling and opportunities.   

Unless, it seems to me, they live in rural, regional, or remote Australia. 

This is not to suggest that there are not good schools and teachers in rural and regional Australia. In 10 years of doing this work I am yet to meet a teacher not wanting the best for their pupils. 

Strategies to solve this injustice are known:  Attracting rural students into teaching; specifically preparing teachers for rural schools; embedding curriculum in local contexts; using the internet to bridge the physical distances and bring learning opportunities to rural and regional schools and students.   

Organisations like the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, and the Country Education Foundation of Australia have been tackling the issue for years. NSW now has a 2021-2024 rural and remote education strategy. Victoria last year committed $82 million to bridging the education gap between country and city and is looking at an interesting initiative to use the specialist National Exceptional Teachers for Disadvantaged Schools model to prepare teachers for working in rural and regional schools. 

Prof Halsey’s independent report said: “Making major changes in education in Australia has historically been slow and typically highly contested.  It is now time to step up the pace.”  That was in 2018. Little has changed for the better since. 

We can’t waste the opportunity of this new-found interest in country Australia by the city. We must mobilise around getting a fair education deal for all. If moving to the country, take your high expectations of education with you. For the rest of us, support those who are supporting our rural school students such as the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, and the Country Education Foundation of Australia. The Community Council of Australia, the peak body for charities, has a campaign called It Takes a Village with suggestions on supporting students and educators. Go online to Schools Plus and give financial support to country public schools pursuing improved outcomes. 


This article first appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald.


Sean Barrett is Head of the Origin Energy Foundation whose philanthropic focus is education. 53% of our grants in the last 10 years have gone to education initiatives supporting country students. Meet some of the young people we are proud to support at

Sean Barrett is the Head of the philanthropic Origin Energy Foundation.

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