Monday, 3 June 2013
Australian Education Bill 2012; Second Reading
My old man has only ever done one job, and that is being a welder. He has done that since he arrived here in 1966. His schooling was to the equivalent of our year 10. Mum was the same. In our family, you could pretty much count on one hand the number of people who went on to university. Even though my parents had not been through university, through formal education, in our household the thing that was valued the most was getting a good education. It was drummed into us every time we had to hand in our school reports, wondering what type of reaction we would get round the kitchen table. It did not matter that my parents had not been to university; they just knew. In dad's case, being a welder and being in the manufacturing industry, he always got hit by the booms and busts. So, for my parents, getting long-term secure employment was pretty much the priority.
I was the beneficiary of public education. If you have been in public education, you will always feel very strongly about it—as you will with whatever system you go through. There will be people on all sides of the chamber who have been through public education or through private education and feel that that system is the best way to go. Since having the honour of being elected as a member of parliament, I have been particularly strident in promoting public education. I feel very strongly about it. But one of the great things about being a member of parliament is that you get to see all aspects of your community. I have been able to see all schools, government and non-government, in my area. I have seen the great work being done at Evans High School and Doonside Technology High School, particularly with their trade training centres. I have seen some fantastic stuff at Good Shepherd Primary School, Plumpton, and at Loyola Senior High School, where they also have a trade training centre. I have visited Richard Johnson Anglican School. The schools in our area have fostered in me a determination that, regardless of the system, they all need support, particularly when it comes to helping and recognising need in our area—and certainly in our area there are neighbourhoods of great need. As Mark Burnard, the principal of the Bidwill campus of Chifley College, said publicly, it is not about the system; it is about the student. That is why I am a big supporter of what we are doing in these reforms.
For many years now, we have debated as a nation how best to fund the education of our children but also allow choice for parents as to what schooling system they think fits their needs. Different formulae have existed over those years to distribute funding to the public, Catholic and independent school systems, not without some degree of disagreement about the equity of these arrangements. Many of the changes in the past have been merely tinkering around the edges of a funding model whose time, frankly, has well and truly passed.
Recognising the shortcomings of the current model, this government undertook a once-in-a-generation review of funding for schooling, chaired by businessman and philanthropist David Gonski. I would like the record to reflect my personal appreciation—and, I have no doubt, the appreciation of the entire nation—for the work undertaken by Mr Gonski and his colleagues Ken Boston, Kathryn Greiner, Carmen Lawrence, Bill Scales and Peter Tannock. The report they handed down helped lay out the recommendations underpinning our National Plan for School Improvement, a plan that will establish a framework to ensure that by 2025 Australia's schooling system will be in the top five international performers in the key areas of reading, science and mathematics. Do not get me wrong; we have got great schools in Australia, but we can always do better, especially when it comes to making sure every student in every classroom gets the best education possible and reaches their full potential.
The results from NAPLAN reveal the challenges before us and underscore the motivation for our National Plan for School Improvement. In recent years, results have shown that one in 12 of our kids are not meeting minimum standards in reading, writing and maths. These kids are in danger of leaving school without the skills they need to hold down good long-term jobs and function effectively in society. It genuinely troubles me that about 150,000 young Australians aged between 15 and 24 have not attained year 12 or certificate III or above and are not in the labour force and/or studying in full-time education. That is about five per cent of all 15- to 24-year-olds.
The schools in the Chifley electorate, as I indicated earlier, for many years have been among the most disadvantaged in New South Wales. High school completion rates over the past decade—and this troubles me—have remained stubbornly lower than the national average, despite trends elsewhere in the state for kids to stay on at school longer. When we crunch those numbers on past NAPLAN results, we uncover the real case for implementing our National Plan for School Improvement.
For instance, the national gap in literacy between disadvantaged and advantaged students is equivalent to almost three years of schooling, and 89 per cent of disadvantaged year 3 students are below average in reading by year 9, compared to 13 per cent of advantaged students. Just as troubling, if not more so, is how Australian students' performance has slipped in international rankings. For example, in the OECD PISA tests, Australia has slipped from equal second to equal seventh in reading, from equal fifth to equal 13th in maths and from equal fourth to equal seventh in science. In our first Progress in International Reading Literacy Study test, Australian year 4 students were significantly outperformed by 21 of the 45 other countries taking part. There is a massive challenge there.
This bill not only articulates our aspiration for lifting students' performance but outlines five core reform directions of the national plan: first, to deliver better schools that will give every child the individual help they need to reach their potential; second, to lift teaching standards so the best and brightest are in charge of our schools and classrooms; third, to provide more information about schools to parents and the community; fourth, to deliver fair funding to help schools pay for the things they need, like specialist staff and modern resources; and, fifth, to help Australia remain strong and prosperous by equipping kids to get great jobs. Over the past two years, I have quite enjoyed talking with the schools in Chifley about what they were hoping for from this review, hearing from them their enthusiasm to see a response to the Gonski report and hearing what they wanted from the government's response. I have long supported in our education system the work that our local schools do in order to support and develop students. I have seen the difference that is made to the culture of schools through the quality of the senior leadership of those schools. I have seen with my own eyes at schools overseas, for instance, how a focus on teacher training and mentoring can have an impact on education outcomes.
It was certainly eye-opening to learn of the different challenges faced by different school systems in our area, as well as the common challenges that unite them. For instance, last month I met with David Fyfe, CEO of Christian Education Ministries, which operates the Australian Christian College at Marsden Park as well as in other locations around Australia. A number of the Australian Christian College campuses offer distance education as a delivery option to students in remote areas. David was keen to illustrate for me the disparity in funding provided for non-government distance education compared with other forms of education delivery. He put forward a very strong argument that students in non-government distance education were the least resourced students in Australia. Among the impacts that he highlighted to me were significantly fewer teachers than regular schools, the highest teacher-to-student ratios in the country, minimal teacher-student contact, minimal education resourcing including access to ICT, increased workload for teachers, minimal curriculum development opportunities and limited opportunities for career advancement. If our plan is to have the desired outcomes of achieving equity and meeting the needs of every student, there will need to be further discussion with this sector in order to address their needs, and I hope to pursue that further.
I am heartened that in my home state of New South Wales agreement has been reached that will deliver our national reforms. New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell has signed up to the National Plan for School Improvement, meaning schools in my state will benefit from an additional $5 billion over the next six years. Two weeks ago, I attended a ceremony at Chifley College Mount Druitt Campus which celebrated the reaching of that agreement. The fact that federal Labor and New South Wales Liberals have embraced vision beyond politics to deliver something concrete for school reform is exactly what brought teachers together at Mount Druitt. This bipartisan agreement between our governments will deliver an average of $1.6 million for every school and $4,400 for every student across the state. We have committed that for every dollar that the New South Wales government is prepared to invest, the federal government will pay two.
But, if we are to avoid having further generations of haves and have-nots, we need all the states and territories to get on board for this once-in-a-generation opportunity to lift resourcing and standards and to put money where it is needed instead of having the situation at the moment where we are being white-anted under our own eyes by the federal coalition. Just in the past week, the member for Sturt has been engaged in a very public stoush with his New South Wales LNP counterpart, Adrian Piccoli, over Mr O'Farrell's agreement with the Commonwealth. The coalition has confirmed it will tear up the agreement with the New South Wales government if it forms government in September. So on the one hand, if it is to protect the minerals of the states, the federal coalition is all for states' rights, but on the other hand, if it comes to maintaining and honouring agreements that will improve the chance of future generations of Australians to progress, it says it will basically tear up those agreements with state governments. Unbelievable!