NSW public schools spend $7 million on consultants
NSW education bureaucrats spent more than $7 million of taxpayers' money on consultants last year including $100,000 to PricewaterhouseCoopers for a "cultural health check".
They also spent big on a series of niche research projects including $500,000 to "demonstrate the benefits of integrating … renewable energy across NSW schools" and $45,000 on modelling and analysis of solar and battery storage.
Another $35,000 of taxpayer money was spent on a "waste audit", which involved students from Erskine Park High School emptying rubbish bins onto a large plastic tarpaulin, donning plastic gloves and sorting it into different categories of waste.
The financial details, contained in The Department of Education's latest annual report for 2019, also showed the number of back office bureaucrats ballooned by one third from 996 in 2016 to 1,660 "corporate services" staff last year.
While the number of mandarins increased, the academic performance of the state's poorest students declined last year.
"In NSW public schools, the percentage of low-socio-economic-status students in the top two NAPLAN bands remains substantially lower than for high-socio-economic-status students, with gaps ranging from 35 to 45 percentage points," the report said.
"For reading, the gap widened between 2018 and 2019 for all cohorts, with increases ranging from 0.6 percentage points to 2.4 percentage points."
A Department of Education spokesman said the "cultural health check" was done to identify "existing strengths, opportunities for improvement" within the Department's Health and Safety directorate.
The $100,000 was spent on individual and group consultations with staff which resulted in a series of recommendations aimed at improving the "cultural environment, staff satisfaction levels and operational efficiency", Education Minister Sarah Mitchell told NSW parliament last year.
Shooters and Fishers MP Mark Banasiak said he was concerned about the millions spent on consultants.
"I believe it highlights the fact (there is a) large disconnect between senior members of the department and school experience," he said.
Opposition education spokeswoman Prue Car said the money could be better spent helping children in the classroom.
"Particularly given the additional disruption caused by COVID-19, the NSW Government must focus on more classroom support for students to help improve results which have worsened under the Liberals' watch," she said.
She also criticised the sharp increase in demountable spending, which ballooned from $25 million $36 million last year for "transport, site installation and removal of demountables".
This was in addition to $45 million spent on the refurbishment and construction of new demountables in the 2018-19 financial year.
A Department of Education spokesman said the funding was "in addition" to the $45 million capital funding for 2018-19 financial year, which was spent on refurbishment and construction of new demountables.
"This funding allows the department to respond to natural disasters like bushfires and provides temporary accommodation during this historic capital works program."
He also said the $500,000 spent on studying energy use would allow every school to "maximise energy efficiency opportunities" while $35,000 spent on a "waste audit" conducted at Erskine Park High would help reduce landfill.
"Lessons learnt from the pilot program, known as the Waste Management Advisory Program at Erskine Park High School, have been used to inform the design of a statewide approach to minimising waste to landfill," he said.
Originally published as NSW public schools spend $7 million on consultants