Monday, 3 June 2013
Australian Education Bill 2012; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Australian Education Bill 2012. I have lost count of the number of bills from this government that I have spoken on which outline its hopes and dreams for the future, yet again today we are contributing to the debate on the future of Australian education. This bill, in just 1,400 words and nine pages, purports to revolutionise Australian schools. Packed within this document the Prime Minister outlines three goals, which are: for Australian schooling to provide an excellent education for all students; for Australian schooling to be highly equitable; and for Australia to be placed in the top five countries in reading, science and mathematics, with quality and equity recognised by international testing by 2025.
One would be right to ask whether in just 1,400 words all has been revealed. Right? No. This bill is devoid of any detail and must be updated with new information to reflect the actual outcomes. We have seen that again today, with comments by the minister that further amendments will need to be made to introduce the funding model. I thought the funding model formula would have been the key to this whole bill, but it is not in the bill currently before the House.
This is the height of arrogance, with a 'take-it-or-leave-it' attitude. The question is: did the government learn nothing from the debate on the media laws? Without this detail and the proposed further amendments, I am unable to see how the funding formula in particular will have a positive impact on the schools in Forde. There are some very serious pieces of the puzzle missing here. The federal budget handed down last month reveals that the government will be spending $325 million less on schools over the forward estimates than was forecast in the 2012-13 budget. Add to this the money that has been ripped out of higher education and vocational education and training and we see this government will give a grand total of $4.7 billion less in the four years to 2016 than was budgeted for last year.
After making these cuts, the government promised new money to the tune of $9.8 billion for schools, but almost all of this money falls beyond the forward estimates. This means there will not be any of the promised school funding in my electorate or anywhere else around the country until at least 2017. The Prime Minister must be very confident of being around in two elections time to give the money to these schools.
Furthermore, anyone who believes that this promised funding will be delivered in 2017 must be living under a rock because, for the most part, what we have seen from this government is a lot of promises that have been broken. How could you trust the government to deliver on something two elections away when we were promised there would be no carbon tax, no changes to private health insurance rebates and, on more than 500 occasions, that there would be a surplus? We were promised that Labor would be conservative economic managers, and ended up with record debt costing us over $7.8 billion a year in interest alone. Families were promised that they would get an increase to family tax benefit part A. Labor promised 500,000 new jobs within two years, but we have unemployment growth falling to its slowest pace in over 15 years. The Prime Minister promised an automatic tax deduction of 1,000 for workers. We were promised our borders would be protected, yet we see that 35,000 people or more have turned up since the election. We were promised that superannuation would not be touched; instead there has been $8 billion in new Labor super taxes or changes. We were promised 2,650 trades training centres in schools, but only got 241. This is a short list of 10 broken promises from this government, and there are many more. Given that we are looking at results and not just at aspirations or goals, how could anyone believe that our schools would be better off under a Labor government?
Under this government school performance has gone backwards. Historically, Australia's education system has performed relatively well and, according to the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment 2009 results, of the 65 assessed school systems Australia was ranked 9th in reading, 10th in science and 15th in mathematics. These results were significantly above the OECD average on all three measures, and ranked us clearly above nations like the US, the UK, Germany and France. It is sad to say that between 2000 and 2009 Australia was one of only four countries to record a statistically significant decline in student reading performance. Yet this decline occurred despite education spending over that period increasing in real terms by some 44 per cent.
For the last five years, we have heard the constant refrain from this current federal government about the education revolution. But instead of a revolution, we have seen a master class in wasteful spending and appalling mismanagement, all without any tangible impact on what actually matters: improving how and what teachers are teaching so student outcomes can be improved. Suffice to say this has not been the thriving revolution that was promised by the Prime Minister and this government. The plans to improve basic literacy and numeracy have failed despite some $540 million being spent in this area over the past five years. The independent performance audit concluded that the literacy and numeracy program was yet to make a statistically significant improvement to literacy and numeracy in any state.
Sometimes it is instructive to get a reflection from people outside this place. Greg Sheridan, foreign editor for The Australian, wrote on 18 April:
Education more generally demonstrates our almost complete divorce from our Asian neighbours.
He was writing this in the context of the Asian white paper.
We are about to waste a colossal amount of money on this Gonski madness. This money will have no measurable effect on our educational quality.
One thing we certainly won't do is learn from our successful Asian neighbours. I have spent a lot of time in schoolrooms in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Almost without exception, these schoolrooms are physically less well endowed than their Australian counterparts. The class sizes are bigger, the grounds smaller, the buildings tackier. But the instruction is traditional, the teacher is boss, the school day and year are much longer, kids have to learn and remember a huge amount of content.
The result? The outcomes are vastly better than Australia's. This is a lesson official Australia never wants to learn. Asian migrants are now bringing this wisdom to Australia, which is why Asian kids do so disproportionately well in our schools. Our society is well engaged with Asia, but at most policy levels our government hasn't a clue.
The key to better schools is better teachers, better teaching, higher academic standards, more community engagement and more principal autonomy. That is what we will work with the states to deliver.
On the topic of school improvement and more principal autonomy, I would like to share an article from the Weekend Australian regarding two schools in Innisfail that were considered as some of Australia's most disadvantaged schools. The article states that at Innisfail East State School it was not unusual for students to refuse to take their feet off the desks, and that most parents sent their kids to school to get them off the streets rather than to learn. Nowadays the school, along with the neighbouring Goondi State School, is one of a handful of Australia's most disadvantaged schools whose students are scoring in the top half of the nation's results in numeracy and literacy.
I think a good question to ask is: what changed? The principal of Goondi State School has spent two decades overseeing the school where the academic results are high despite hardships faced by its students and families. The reason? The principal set the bar high for his students and teachers and refused to accept excuses. The article said that one of the secrets of the school's success comes from encouraging passionate teachers not to waste a moment of classroom time on needless 'busy work'. They have set schedules that they must adhere to and they have shifted the focus of their teaching back to the basics of literacy and numeracy. The school is now recognised as a benchmark for excellence in this area.
Whilst the coalition does not oppose this bill in its current form, we would like to make a point of highlighting our own set of principles that outline our values for schooling. We believe that families must have the right to choose a school that meets their needs, values and beliefs. All children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education. Student funding needs to be based on fair, objective and transparent criteria distributed according to socioeconomic need. Students with similar needs must be treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling. As many decisions as possible should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools and school systems. Schools, school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their communities, families and students. Every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government. Schools and principals must have a high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for the future. Parents who wish to make a private contribution to the cost of their child's education should not be penalised, nor should schools in their efforts to fundraise and encourage private investment. Finally, funding arrangements must be simple, so schools are able to direct funding towards educational outcomes, minimise administration costs and increase productivity and quality.
Overall, there are four main areas at the top of our school agenda for school education. I wish to finish on these points. We will relentlessly focus on reforms to improve teacher quality. That is not to say that our teachers are doing a bad job but, as always, all of us can improve or do things differently to get better outcomes. We will work with the states to introduce real principal and school autonomy to the government school system. We will encourage more parental and community engagement, and will continue implementing a robust national curriculum.
One of the choices Australians will have on 14 September is a choice between two different systems to achieve an educational outcome for their children. We would say to the Australian people that the coalition has a positive plan for the Australian school education system. It will not just be full of hot air, or full of promises and aspirations. It will be designed to deliver true, practical and beneficial outcomes for all involved.