Monday, 2 May 2016
It is that time of the electoral season—a time where, as we seem to understand, in a few weeks we will face the people with our parties and our respective policies. I feel it is my duty, though, to give this government a report card when it comes to education. Unfortunately, there is no choice but to give this government an F—a big fail for their education. They have had 2½ years to innovate, be agile and come up with ideas, when it comes to education, about how we can improve our education system, all the way from early childhood education right through to tertiary study. We have seen either complete inaction from this government in many of these areas or, unfortunately, in the areas where they have tried to take action, it has actually been to the detriment of many students and to the future of this country.
We hear the Prime Minister talking a lot about education—well, we do not hear him talking much about education when it comes to the future of this country. What we do hear from this Prime Minister are some thought bubbles—thought bubbles that are incredibly damaging. Not only has he absolutely stayed committed to the previous incarnation of the Liberal government and the Abbott government's cuts to our schools, but also he has gone further than the former Prime Minister by saying that there is no role for the Commonwealth in funding our public schools. This is a very, very concerning statement. For those people out there for whom education is a really important issue, we must recognise that funding for all of our schools, whether they are in the public system or the independent system, is vitally important. It is important because every child in this country deserves to get a good education.
Therefore, it was very damaging of the Prime Minister to reinvigorate the debates of the past—debates which the Gonski funding agreements put an end to—on the independent system versus the public system and on who should get funded and who should not. We have moved on from those debates through the Gonski agreements. With the Gonski model, we had looked at implementing a needs based funding model. Not content with not funding that model, the Prime Minister recently went one step further and actually said, 'No, there is no role for the Commonwealth government in public schools.' That is very disappointing. Certainly the feedback I have had from a lot of constituents was anger and disbelief but not surprise, because this government absolutely has a record of not wanting to invest in education.
I am very pleased that at this election there is going to be a debate on education. Education will be front and centre. I am very pleased that Labor has put up a very strong policy. 'Your Child. Our Future' is a very strong policy that invests in the future. Only Labor knows just how important the future of education is in this country. We often hear people talk down what our teachers are doing in the classroom, saying that resources and money do not matter. I honestly feel that those on the other side are being set up with the talking points that are given to them. If they went out and actually visited their schools and spoke to teachers on the ground, like I have, it might be different. I have visited many, many electorates. In fact, recently I have been to Moreton, Longman, Petrie, Oxley, Capricornia, Flynn, the seat of Perth, Swan and Cowan. I have visited and spoken with teachers and parents on the ground, and they are quite offended by the comments that come from those opposite, that resources do not make a difference and it is not about money. In fact, they get quite upset, because those teachers, those governing councils and those parents and friends committees work hard to deliver the best possible education. But they need support and they need support from their federal government.
I am very pleased that our policy does commit to years five and six of the Gonski agreement. Importantly, what that means is that there will be an injection of $4.5 billion over the 2018-19 school years. This is a really important investment. Of course it is not just about throwing money at schools, and that is why our plan has been very clear about what we want to see that money invested in. What that money will invest in is a stronger focus on every single child's needs. It means more individual attention for students and it of course means better trained teachers. In this debate, teacher quality is incredibly important. But you cannot improve teacher quality if teachers are not able to be released from the classrooms, if you cannot have mentoring for new teachers coming through and if you do not have resources to ensure evidence based practice is being introduced into the classrooms. This all requires resources. You cannot separate teacher quality from resources; they go hand in hand. So it is a false debate when the government says, 'Teacher quality is the most important thing, but we do not want to allocate any resources to it. We do not want to ensure that classes and schools have the money they need to actually release teachers from the classroom so that they can learn and get up to speed with best practice and they can be mentored or be mentors.' That is so critically important, and, of course, more targeted resources and better equipped classrooms are also critically important.
I have visited a number of schools. In fact, I visited a school in the seat of Bendigo where I asked them, 'What programs would you bring in if you had more resources?' They said, 'We would like to start a drama program, because that really engages students. That improves year 12 retention because you can get students passionate and interested.' They wanted to introduce things like a music program or a media program into the school. They knew that it would engage students, but, at that point, students were having to buy their own equipment and bring their own resources to schools. That is what they said would make a big difference in ensuring there was great, exciting learning happening at school but, importantly, would motivate students to stay in school until year 12. That is critically important.
Our plan also gives more support to students with special learning needs. It is really important to look at previous models of school funding. Certainly the school funding model that dates back to the 1970s has absolutely failed students with a disability. I talk to parents and students who want education to be undertaken in mainstream schools, but they know that their schools do not have the resources to ensure that kids reach their potential and learn in different ways with different supports—not treating them as separate and different and moving them out of the classroom and putting them in the corner, but saying to parents 'With the right resources, with the right support, your child is equally valued and can reach their potential'.
These are the focuses that our education policy will focus on. This is money well spent because it is money that has shown evidence that it will improve school outcomes. Allowing school communities to work out what is best for them is really important. This is not school autonomy that leads to cutting budgets and then saying to schools, 'Deal with it as best you can'. It is about investing more resources and allowing schools to work out what works for them. School communities do know what actually works for them, and this is really important. At this election there is going to be a big debate about education. I welcome that debate because at any point I am happy to put forward Labor's policy—a policy that has been supported by all school sectors. It is a very difficult challenge but we see in school communities right around the country that parents and students are measuring our policy up against the Liberal Party's policy, which really leaves students behind, which does not invest in education and which, indeed, breaks a fundamental promise that was made at the last election that the Liberal Party would match dollar for dollar Labor's funding plan.