Monday, 21 October 2019
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(1) recognises that after more than twelve years at school, year 12 students will soon complete their final examinations and transition to the next phase of their lives—this may include pursuing higher education, engaging with vocational education and training (VET) or entering the workforce;
(2) acknowledges the valuable contribution hard working teachers have made in our communities in educating, nurturing, encouraging and motivating our 2019 school leavers;
(3) notes the Government's record investment in education funding including:
(a) a record $21.3 billion for state schools, catholic schools and independent schools for the 2020 school year, an increase in funding of $8.5 billion since 2013;
(b) a record $8.6 billion for child care and $17.7 billion for the university sector in the 2019-20 budget;
(c) $30.2 million in 2019-20 to establish the Local School Community Fund to support priority projects in local schools that benefit students and their communities;
(d) $71.6 million to improve outcomes for very remote students by encouraging teachers to teach and stay longer in their schools through remitting the HELP debt; and
(e) a commitment to support the VET sector through a $525.3 million Skills Package; and
(4) congratulates the Government on its continued commitment and investment in education from early learning through to higher education and VET to ensure our young people have the opportunity to succeed, gain employment and live their best lives.
For many year 12 students in our electorates, the school year is now drawing to a close, with final exams either underway or due to begin shortly. These students, the majority of them born in 2001 and 2002, are post-millennial, sometimes known as the iGen or gen Z. For the majority of young people growing up across Australia, they have never known a world without Pixar movies, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Twilight, the internet, Google, social media or selfies. They have engaged with the old Marvel vs DC debate and the new Minecraft phenomenon and lived the Fortnite phase—the less said about that, the better! Just like Harry, Hermione and Ron in the Harry Potter series and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, our year 12s across the country are about to leave a stage of their life which, whether they've enjoyed it or not, has become very familiar to them. They are about to embark on their own adventures. They may not be battling Voldemort or having to return a ring on Middle Earth, but the exam period can be extremely stressful and daunting for them and their loved ones. The endless 'What are you going to do with the rest of your life?' questions can be overwhelming. It's understandable that our year 12s across the country will be feeling adrenaline and a mix of emotions—enthusiasm, excitement, anxiety and some trepidation.
To all the school leavers across the country, but particularly the 2,500 or so in my electorate of Curtin, I say the following: these exams are important, but you owe it to yourself, your family and your school to do your best. But also remember, just as Harry Potter thought the Sorting Hat was the be-all and end-all of the world when he first went to Hogwarts, he soon realised that it didn't determine his life for all time. So too are these exams important, but they do not determine who you are, your worth or your dignity. All of you have a special purpose, special gifts and talents. You may not know what your path in life is at this particular moment, and there may be a number of times that you change that path, but always remember that you have a purpose. Learn from the past and prepare for the future, but make sure you live in the present.
More broadly, as someone who is passionate about education and with a personal investment in this year's final year 12 exams through my eldest son, I note the following: we have an excellent education system in Australia. We have passionate and dedicated teachers, we have excellent facilities and we have a shared understanding across all levels of government, across all political parties that education is vitally important at an individual and at a societal level both for the here and now and for the future of our country. As excellent as it is and as shared as we may all be in understanding the importance of education, we can always do better. It is the role of government to continue to look at ways of improving the system and improving outcomes. On particular strategies we may disagree in this chamber but, to me, that is a sign that our educational system is working and that our country is healthy and vital. We have the capacity and the knowledge to review, innovate, assess and implement, and we have the freedom to debate and disagree.
Our government is demonstrating its commitment to excellence in education through this year's budget, a record $21.3 billion investment in funding for state schools, Catholic schools and independent schools for the 2020 school year and a record $17.7 billion investment in the university sector in 2019. A number of new strategies include a $525 million investment to strengthen the VET sector through a skills package and a revamp of the VET sector to ensure our VET sector is accessible, of high quality and responsive to what industry needs. The $30.2 million Local Schools Community Fund to assist schools to undertake small, identified and prioritised projects will be of benefit to the local school community. There are more but I will stop there.
By way of finishing, I congratulate our government for backing our students by ensuring we have the best options and resources available to them. I acknowledge and thank our dedicated school leaders and teachers, who support, motivate and guide our students throughout their years at school. My particular thanks go to the teachers in my electorate of Curtin. Finally, to the school leavers in my electorate: I wish you all the best over the coming months. In the words of Dumbledore: it matters not what someone is born but what they grow to be. (Time expired)
I begin by thanking the member for Curtin for moving this motion in the House today—well, at least the first part of the motion. I completely and utterly support the opportunity to wish year 12 students across the country, across the great state of Victoria and those year 12 students in my electorate, those in the VCAL program who have already finished their final year of school and are out in the world as we speak, planning and seeking their future, and those undergoing the VCE exams over the next few weeks luck. We all know in this place the importance of education. We know on this side of the House the transformative power of education. I'm fortunate to have taught for 27 years in state schools in Victoria, and have had Labor governments that understood the importance of kids finishing school, of people going the whole road for 13 years of education in Victoria and the fact that that final year of school can make the difference in someone's future.
In completing that final year of school, we have changed the state of Victoria. It has meant that we have now surpassed the 80 per cent target set many, many years ago and are close to reaching 90 per cent retention rates in Victoria. I want to say to all of the students going into exam period: I wish you well, I wish you luck. I would say to you the key to examination performance is to stay calm and to remember that, ultimately, we're not testing you; we're testing the system. I want say to the teachers who have taught year 12s this year: thank you for raising your hands to be the people who do that ultimate year in education. Having taught VCE English myself for many, many years, it is a big year. There is an enormous amount of work. I want to thank you for the corrections, I want to thank you for the feedback and I want to thank you for creating an environment where the school-assessed tasks are done in a relaxed way. I want to thank you for every time you took the time out to get a student back on track, to give that little bit of conversation that might motivate a student. I want to thank you, in particular, for the referrals you made to the welfare teams in your schools, when you thought something was awry with a student, this year and every other year.
As well, students completing year 12 is a culmination of all of their teachers' work across the 13 years of formal school education—and, might I say, the work of preschool and early-education educators as well. It is a test of our system, and I want to thank everyone who works in that system, from the school support people to the teachers to the administrators in schools, and particularly the principal class in schools, as well as what we in Victoria call our senior teams—people who spend their lives managing a group of students in the senior years of school to ensure that they are supported to make the most of the opportunities that are before them.
I also want to speak to the second part of this motion, where it goes to the great work of this government, and I just want to say to those opposite, particularly those who have joined us in recent times: when we came here after the 2013 election, there was a $30 billion cut carried in the 2014 budget. So, whenever you say 'record spending', you need to remember that cut. You need to remember wholeheartedly that most of the VCE students in this country, most of the year 12 students in this country, attend state schools, and you need to be very clear on the fact that the government, for six years, have undermined the best opportunity we, as a Commonwealth, have had to ensure quality education for all students in all schools. Those opposite have actively undermined that.
I was reminded this morning, when I walked past a television set to see Christopher Pyne, the former member for Sturt, on the television, who was responsible for that cut. I know who the minister was at the time who undermined the incredible work done by the previous parliament in the Gonski review. I remind members opposite that the Gonski review, in its original form, determined that state schools required the most funding from the Commonwealth, and those in this government have done nothing but undercut that. In fact, they've capped the contribution from the Commonwealth to the Schooling Resource Standard at 20 per cent. This is an absolute outrage. It undermines years and years of work in this place, to see us wound back to the happy Howard years where state schools became marginalised as private schools flourished in our suburbs. That's the legacy that this government should consider itself responsible for—the undermining of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver great, quality education for every student in Australia. (Time expired)
I rise to speak about the importance of education and the efforts this government has taken to support and encourage students in their final weeks of year 12. It goes without saying that education is the key for fulfilling and successful careers. It provides individuals with the skills and expertise to become everything from teachers and surgeons to plumbers and astronauts. The diverse variety of jobs and careers in a modern economy like Australia's requires a diversity of education and training opportunities. It is important that the government supports all varieties of education, from traditional universities to vocational education and training such as TAFE, or even on-the-job training, and I'm proud to say that this government has done this.
If we consider the $17.7 billion allocated to the university sector in the 2019-20 budget, as well as the $525.3 million skills package committed to the VET sector, we see that this government makes substantial investments in our nation's higher education capacity.
But tertiary and further education can only work effectively if individuals have a strong start in primary and high school. As any economist could tell you, the strongest impact of education is made in the early years of schooling, when students are developing the core critical thinking and reasoning skills necessary for any profession. It is vital that this part of our education pipeline is as effective as possible. Over the 13 years of schooling from kindergarten to grade 12, young Australians all around the country gain a world-class education in a variety of subjects, spanning languages, maths, English, technology, sport and countless extracurricular activities. However, the quality of this system should not be taken for granted. It requires commitment, hard work and extensive funding for it to be possible.
I'm proud that this government has stepped up to the challenge of making Australia's education system the best it possibly can be. This government has invested a record $21.3 billion for state schools, Catholic schools and independent schools for the 2020 school year, an increase in funding of $8.5 billion since 2013. In addition, we have funded $30.2 million in the 2019-20 years to establish the Local School Community Fund, which is to support priority projects in local schools that will benefit schools and their communities.
I would also like to highlight some of the local work I've been doing in my electorate to foster and encourage education for our children. As Australia's economy becomes more complex we will rely more and more on sectors that use science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM skills, as they are more commonly known. It is therefore essential that we foster STEM skills in our community, not simply through traditional classroom learning but also through applied problem solving and real-life scenarios. In 2016 I began the Bennelong STEM Challenge in order to provide students in the electorate with another opportunity to develop their STEM teamwork and interpersonal skills. Each year the STEM challenge sets up a complex STEM related problem and asks students to solve it. Last year it was designing a medical station for the surface of Mars, using 3D modelling software. It was hosted by Medtronic and led by the exceptional Dr Michael Myers from Re-Engineering Australia. Dozens of students created complex and ingenious designs, then came together for competition day, when they presented their designs using virtual reality software. It was a tremendous success. This year, the STEM challenge is back and I'm very excited to see what our students will develop this time.
In addition to the STEM challenge, I'm currently in the process of designing a Bennelong chess challenge with our local schools. Chess is a wonderful sport. It develops critical and strategic thinking—both are assets that are used in many different aspects of school and the workforce. It is not just an enjoyable pastime but also has great educational benefits. We are hoping to provide chess resources to every school in Bennelong, along with a single competition day for students to learn from each other and to test their abilities. I greatly look forward to seeing this project get underway next year. It is interesting to note that this came about as a result of our multicultural community. Learning chess is a mandatory extracurricular activity in Armenia, and Armenians are the great champions. This is another real example of multiculturalism at its best.
I thank the member for Curtin for her speech. As a former vice-chancellor, she knows well the importance of education in this country and I concur with her in wishing our students the very, very best of luck and in congratulating the teachers, whose fine work has got them to this stage. As an Independent, I see it as my role to be an honest and fair voice on the issues that matter to my electorate, to recognise good work where it's done and to call on the government where more work is needed, particularly for Australians in regional areas. People living in remote, rural and regional Australia have much lower education outcomes than our city cousins. This is nothing to do with our capacity to learn, and everything to do with our opportunity to do so. It is completely unacceptable that this is so in a modern Australia with a projected federal budget surplus.
Rural Australians are less likely to complete year 12, less likely to gain a certificate IV, or above, qualification, more likely to have to leave home for an education, and less likely to apply for and accept a university offer. As someone who grew up on a farm in rural Victoria, let me say that I know what impact drought has on a young person's expectations as to how high they can aim. Whether there is money around to leave home and go to university or whether we should leave school and try to get a job—never underestimate the message young kids in the country subliminally receive when their parents are struggling to manage the ravages of prolonged drought on the family income. The government's recent strategy in rural and regional education, the Napthine report, identifies clear barriers that hold country people back. We should move swiftly, for instance, on the first three recommendations of that report: uncap places at regional universities; develop new, innovative VET offerings focused on practical learning and technical skills; and expand the Regional Study Hubs program to give all students, VET and university, access to high-quality learning spaces with world-class internet. In short we need to do more to introduce our young people to opportunities for education, provide them with pathways to succeed and connect them to jobs that our regions are thirsty for.
Mansfield Secondary College in my electorate of Indi is doing precisely this kind of innovation. Commencing in 2009, Mansfield Secondary developed an agriculture and horticulture training program for year 9 students, integrated into the school's curriculum. The program addressed the need for a sustainable agricultural workforce by recruiting year 9 students into agricultural careers by organising field trips to farms and offering enrolment in VET cert II courses offered by a local TAFE provider. What is now known as the Mansfield model was a huge success: 98 per cent of participants completed that certificate II; of those, 27 per cent successfully transitioned into completing a cert III or IV, some of which led to university courses in agriculture via school based apprenticeships and traineeships. In fact it was such a success that it has spawned the workforce development project which is expanding the Mansfield model to 24 locations across the Ovens-Murray region in the coming years. It has also been expanded to address another critical skills shortage in health care and social assistance.
This project is supported by wonderful local organisations like the Northeast Tracks Local Learning and Employment Network, which supports young people and works with schools to achieve higher rates of education attainment in Benalla, Wangaratta and Mansfield. This program came to pass not because the government or the private sector made it happen but because of local creativity and hard work. Julie Aldous, a local secondary teacher, instigated the Mansfield model in 2009. She is now leading an industry and government backed push to expand the original agriculture focus of the model into health and horticulture. Lucy Wallace, a committee member with the Albury Wodonga Health Community Advisory Committee, has joined this push into the health sector to address our immediate and urgent needs for healthcare workers in the north-east. Sue Brunskill, from the National Industry Reference Committee for horticulture and conservation, has been actively engaging local and national horticultural businesses as they consider the model's employment and study success.
Increasing the life chances for kids in the country means we need to elevate and expand on these brilliant initiatives that are already taking place. A place to start would be to implement the recommendations of the government's own regional education strategy. The government committed in this election campaign to develop a study hub in Wangaratta, and I will be pushing for this to be delivered, along with the rest of the regional education strategy, to ensure that all regional Australians get an equal shot at opportunities that education offers.
I rise in support of this motion. As you know, the coalition government was at the forefront of the increased funding to all schools across the Australian states and territories. In the time of Menzies in the 1960s the Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn closed the school because of the requirements to upgrade their toilet blocks and the facilities for the students. As he marched the schoolchildren up the main street, people all of a sudden had a lightbulb moment and thought, 'Gee, if all these non-government schools close, the government schools will be flooded with children.' Hence at the time there was federal coalition government support for Catholic and other non-government schools in the form of science blocks, and it has gone on from then. For decades, state governments have funded and run free public education. From the 1850s and 1860s, when government schools exploded around the then colonies, Australia has had an exemplary record in funding things.
But the coalition government, in the recent so-called funding wars, have really stumped up and increased funding to all levels of school. The most formative period of one's education is that very first part. We have a situation now where there is guaranteed funding for 15 hours of preschool, including support for child care. And we are putting pressure on the states to make sure that the funding results in the children actually attending that preschool and early school preparation work, because if they're not ready for school when they get into kindergarten or their first year at school, they don't thrive as well. We've put enormous amounts of extra money into child care. We've made it much more efficient; the funding goes straight to the day care or the childcare centre.
In the school space, all of the schools in the Lyne electorate have received extra funding. There were no problems in my part of Australia. All the government schools got a better deal out of the federal coalition government, and so did all the non-government schools. But, as the member for Indi pointed out, regarding achievement at the tertiary level, whether in trade skills development or in higher education at universities, regional Australia hasn't done nearly as well. Many of the views she referred to, I thoroughly agree with. The inhibition to achieving a tertiary or a vocational qualification in regional Australia is different. The challenges are different. The tyranny of distance really plays into it, just as much as the low general income, because it's the barrier to travelling away for either apprenticeship training or for a university degree. It's the costs involved; it's not the actual education fees. People can't really aspire if it means relocating to a regional or major metropolitan centre. If your children are relocating to a major metropolitan centre, you are up for about $25,000 when you put together housing, travel and relocation, even for distances as small as 50 or 100 kilometres. It means they don't aspire to it, because it's not in their area. That's why these regional university centres that the minister is rolling out, the next round, are so important.
In my electorate, there are pockets where there is low achievement in the tertiary education space: in the Manning and down into the Upper Hunter regions. We had 42 new apprentices delivered into the marketplace courtesy of our subsidy trial program. In the second round, we had another 30. That's roughly 70 new apprentices in the Lyne electorate alone that are there because of the support that we in the coalition government have given them. These regional university centres are a great initiative, and I'm looking forward to support from the government in any application that comes out of the Manning Valley region, which I've spoken about in this House already. It is a really critical thing because it brings tertiary education into the here and now, into the financially possible space if it's delivered locally in a mixed modality fashion. (Time expired)
I am pleased to have the opportunity today to talk about the government's record on education. Education is something I am passionate about for many reasons, but largely because of the many wonderful students I have spent time with over the years. I want to start by also acknowledging the hard work that all year 12 students on the New South Wales South Coast have put in over their years of schooling. I wish them the very best of luck in their exams and in whatever path they may choose to take next.
I recently had the pleasure of attending graduation ceremonies at Kiama High School, Nowra Anglican College and TAFE's IPROWD students. I went along to the Clontarf Foundation academy's opening at Vincentia High School. This week I am very excited to welcome school students from Callala and Moruya public schools to Parliament House. I look forward to seeing them later in the week.
I always love talking with students about their hopes and dreams for the future. I would also agree wholeheartedly with this motion that the work of teachers is invaluable. Teachers are invested in their students. They live the highs and the lows with them. They want to see them succeed and they push themselves hard to help their students reach their full potential. That is why I am so passionate on this topic. I used to be a TAFE teacher. I was invested in the students in my outreach classes. I was invested in my students in my pre-apprenticeship courses. I was invested in them all, and I still am. That is why I can talk passionately about the government's record on education but not the record the member for Curtin wants us to believe.
The Liberals have cut $14 billion from schools. They have cut $3 billion from TAFE and training. Teachers are being asked to do more with less because of this government's record on education. Students are falling behind in reading, writing and maths because of this government's record on education. Schools are turning to GoFundMe pages to help them. Minnamurra Public School made an amazing video asking people to help them raise $14,000 for their new STEM lab. They wanted a STEMshare robotics kit, an iPad and a 3D printer—equipment to help them prepare for the jobs of the future. I think it is fantastic that the kids, their teachers and their parents put such great effort into this, but why should they have to?
At the last election, I committed an additional $400,000 to this school under Labor's schools plan. Under Labor, schools across my electorate would have been $21 million better off. But this government is not serious about properly funding education. The government is not serious about making sure children can reach their full potential. Students need the right equipment to gain the skills for 21st century jobs otherwise they will be left behind. We need to have targeted investment in schools, but this government has starved our education system through its cruel cuts.
Instead, what do young people in my electorate have to look forward to when they finish school? The highest youth unemployment rate in New South Wales, the lowest workforce participation rate in Australia, a 30 per cent drop in apprentice numbers from when this government was elected in 2013 until March 2018. That's not surprising. This is what happens when you cut all the pre-apprenticeship courses in our local TAFE campuses. When you remove the support for young people wanting to take up a trade and put your faith in celebrities rather than in funding, you cause a skills crisis, you end up with more apprentices dropping out of apprenticeships than finishing them.
Year 12 students graduating this year have the world at their feet. They are full of potential and full of hope for the future. I want to see them succeed. I want to see them go to TAFE and university and get a good job. I want to see them follow their dreams. This government needs to start investing in their future now. They need to reverse the successive cuts that have ripped the guts out of our education system. They need to fix the mess they made of TAFE and apprenticeship courses. They need to re-establish pre-apprenticeship programs. They need to properly fund our schools so that no child has to turn to GoFundMe just to get the basic equipment they need. Our young people need the government to invest in them, and I will continue calling out the government on their record in education so that our kids can get the start in life they deserve.
I'd like to thank and acknowledge my friend the member for Curtin, the distinguished former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Notre Dame, for moving this motion today. Let me also acknowledge the year 12 students in the Berowra electorate, who are preparing for life beyond the school gate—some are preparing for university and others for vocational education, while some are moving into the workforce. I want to congratulate our HSC students on completing school and wish them well for their exams, and I want to say to all of them that we look forward to the many ways in which they'll contribute to the great future of this country.
The Morrison government is investing more money in schools than any federal government in our history. We're doing this because we recognise that one of the most important differences any government can make to the future of our young people, no matter what their background, is to ensure they have a chance to learn and are equipped with the skills, knowledge and capacity to keep learning in the years ahead. But we also know that money alone does not create a great education system. No matter how much money we put into education, we can't change the fact that one of the most important factors in the quality of the education a child receives is the teacher a child learns from. Great teachers bring deep subject matter expertise combined with a passion for educating students and for the subjects they teach as well as the skills to manage the classroom and pass on their knowledge.
Today I want to talk about an amazing organisation which has been funded by the Morrison government and its predecessors on both sides of the House and which is doing so much to bring outstanding people into the teaching profession, where they're improving student performance and changing lives. For the past 10 years this organisation has been quietly working to ensure more children can have the best possible teachers and to raise the status and quality of the teaching profession in Australia. Teach for Australia takes top graduates from a range of disciplines and puts them through a tailored masters of education while working in the classroom, where they are coached, mentored and supported by highly experienced teachers. It was an honour to serve on their board prior to my election to this place.
Over the past decade, 800 highly talented Australians who are at the top of their field have chosen to teach because of Teach for Australia. Teach for Australia has shown some of the things we assume about the teaching profession are not necessarily true. Firstly, we assume top graduates don't become teachers because the pay is low, the work is hard and the status isn't high. That's not the case. Eleven thousand people have applied for the roughly 800 places Teach for Australia has filled. Teach for Australia has been ranked among the top 100 graduate employers in Australia. One Teach for Australia participant, Surajeev Santhirasegaram, left his burgeoning career in finance to move to Western Australia and teach high school maths and physics. He says he was motivated by work with a purpose. He loves being on the ground with students and wants to be creative and self-driven in his work. It seems that, for many people, teaching is an attractive pathway but investing the time and money in further education for a career you can't try before making that investment is a difficult obstacle to overcome. Teach for Australia provides a different pathway.
Secondly, we too easily assume that the best way to prepare a great teacher is to teach educational theory in lecture halls. The Teach for Australia model shows that learning in the classroom with high-quality professional development happening alongside can produce great results. In 2015, a survey of principals who had a Teach for Australia teacher in their school found that 80 per cent of principals said that Teach for Australia teachers were more or much more effective than typical graduates with the same level of experience.
Thirdly, we assume that if someone can become a management consultant or investment banker, they will choose that over teaching. But the Teach for Australia retention stats show a different picture. Fifty per cent of Teach for Australia graduates remain in teaching three years on. This compares to about only one in four students who start an educational degree through traditional pathways who are still in teaching five years of graduation. The Morrison government is investing in Teach for Australia because it is game-changing for the teaching profession and for the whole education system in Australia.
Teach for Australia provides an avenue for some of our top students to pass their knowledge on to the next generation and it's building the status of the teaching profession. It allows us to think creatively and freshly about how we build educational quality in Australia. Each dollar we spend on Teach for Australia is a wise investment in the future of our nation. Teach for Australia graduates bring a growth mindset to our education system. They realise that, as the PISA results indicate, our education system isn't performing as it should be and we need to attract people into the teaching profession to achieve real change on the ground. That's what Teach for Australia graduates are doing every single day. I want to commend the outstanding Melodie Potts Rosevear, founding CEO of Teach for Australia, who has led it since its inception, and her team for their dedication to young people and I want to thank the government for their continued support of TFA.
I'm pleased to speak on the motion moved by the member for Curtin recognising that, across the country, year 12 students will be completing their final exams and their last days as school students. I especially mention my godson, Alexander Crocker, who I know is listening, and wish him well in his exams and in his football career in the United Kingdom. The end of 13 long years of school is an exciting time for students and their parents. It can also be an anxious time. To the Year 12 students in Moreton, and everywhere but especially in Moreton, students graduating from Yeronga State High School, Macgregor State High, Runcorn State High School, St Thomas More College, St Aidan's Anglican Girls' School, Corinda State High School, Brisbane Christian College, Sunnybank, Our Lady's College at Annerley, Milperra, the Murri School, Carinity Education and maybe some of those schools right on the border such as Holland Park State High and the Islamic College: I encourage all of you to enjoy your last few days of school and, whatever your results, remember they alone won't define your journey through life. Whatever your next chapter holds be it higher education, vocational education and training or entering the workforce, I wish you well. I would also ask you to take a moment, before you leave the school grounds for the last time, to thank staff and teachers. This can be a stressful time for them and teachers, remember, have to go through this every single year; you only have to do it once. If there are one or two special teachers who have inspired you or supported you or held you up, please especially take a moment to let those teachers know. We have some exceptional teachers in our schools, and they don't always get the accolades or reward that they deserve. A kind word of gratitude from you will mean the world to that teacher. And also: buy them a gift.
It's funny how, even when it's many years since you walked from the school grounds for the last time, you remember those teachers who managed to make that connection—the teachers who made the puzzle fit. I had many. One I will particularly mention was Lorna Locke, my grade 6 teacher. Lorna had also taught my very wild and unruly older brother Mark. Lorna actually took the time to teach me that learning is always a good use of my time, and that lesson has stuck with me my whole life. I bet most of us can't recall too many single lessons from our school days but we can remember those teachers who left a lasting impression. Likewise, from my 11 years of teaching high school English, there aren't many actual classes that I recall, but I do remember the faces of the students, especially the ones who left me feeling that our future would be in good hands.
Teachers today have far more pressures than when I was in front of a blackboard. Households are under far greater financial stress, which can flow on to students. The internet makes teaching, and parenting, much more complicated—and, sometimes, even dangerous. The students are under pressure to find a pathway in a world where the job market is changing rapidly, with the gig economy and so many other pressures. Most students who decide to go into higher education will be signing up for debt, and, thanks to the Morrison government, that debt now has to be repaid much sooner, making their chances of affording a home an unattainable dream for many.
Education is transformation, but education costs money—money so schools can hire more teachers and teacher aides; money so struggling students can have the one-on-one attention they need to succeed. We need every child to be learning every day. We need children who are struggling to be identified early so they can obtain the help they need to catch up. We need children who are gifted and talented to have the opportunity to stretch themselves, because they will create the jobs of the future.
Two-thirds of students in Australia—2½ million children—are educated at public schools. Under the Morrison government's funding regime, all private schools will reach or exceed their fair funding level. Good luck to them. But 90 per cent of public schools never, never will.
This government is in its seventh year of presiding over Australia's education system. How are they doing? Well, let's prepare their report card—because, sadly, I need to report that they're failing. They're failing to reverse the alarming declines in reading, writing and maths—the core business of education. In every state and territory, kids are going backwards in some of these critical areas of education. This is not just a tragedy for each of those students; it's a tragedy for the Australian economy. A good education is the ticket to a lifetime of opportunity, opening doors to rewarding and well-paid jobs, and an educated workforce is critical to a strong economy. Malcolm Turnbull abandoned proper, fair school funding. Tony Abbott dumped reforms designed to lift standards in the basics—reading, writing and maths. Now, sadly, our kids and our economy, under Prime Minister Morrison's stewardship, are paying the price.
For a week or two earlier this month, my Sunshine Coast office was the site of a production line that even BlueScope Steel would be proud of. Volunteers from all over my community came together to create my Fisher school leavers' guide. With only a hand-cranked binding machine and lots of community spirit, Fishers' volunteers put together 2,000 booklets to go out to all of our year 12s. My guide gives local students a great starting point to find out how to get information on further education, find somewhere to live, get a job and set up a life in the real world. I would encourage all of the students who received a copy this month to read it carefully, and to come back to it often in the critical months to come. Thank you to my dedicated volunteers, Julie Craig, John Pozzey, Helen Burke, Charmaine Roberts and Lyn Carden, who came in to help them get ready. My mission as a parliamentarian is to help make Fisher the place to be for education, employment and retirement.
Education is the foundation of that vision, and that is why I am so pleased that this coalition government has delivered unprecedented support to my electorate for learning at every stage. For schools in Fisher, the government has delivered an additional $266 million to ensure every student has the resources necessary to flourish. Critically, we have combined that additional funding with a program of reform in teaching standards and approaches because we understand that money alone will never deliver the results that we need. However, the government acknowledges that a better built environment can support students learning, and with millions of dollars through the government's Capital Grants Program I've had the privilege of opening fantastic new facilities at schools all over Fisher.
In June, I opened new classrooms, a recording studio, a drama and dance studio, new sports courts and a gym at Glasshouse Christian College. Supported by a grant of $1 million from the Capital Grants Program, these new facilities feature the cutting-edge technology and learning design so important for success in today's world. Recently, I visited Caloundra Christian College to view the results of the government's $880,000 investment in the school's new primary precinct. We helped deliver six new classrooms, places for art and play, and the functional facilities the precinct requires. Last year at Caloundra City Private School, I opened a new multipurpose hall, a music classroom, a drama classroom, practice rooms, a stage and more, following a grant of $900,000 from the coalition government. In the weeks to come, I'm looking forward to joining Mr Peter Hovey and Bishop Paul Smith in opening Pacific Lutheran College's new administration buildings and classrooms, following their receipt of $600,000 from this education-focused government.
Many of Fisher's year 12s will be going on to study at the University of Sunshine Coast. Alongside funding for research into epilepsy, airport runway materials and mental health, this government has provided millions to USC in additional funding for our university students. Our funding for teaching and learning at USC increased from $165 million in 2017 to $172 million last year. This government is also providing USC with an additional $69.4 million over four years for their Moreton Bay campus and an additional $30.2 million to increase the number of bachelor students at their Caboolture and Fraser Coast campuses.
Sadly, too few of our year 12s will be on their way to an apprenticeship or other vocational education. I have spoken often about this in this place—that is, the importance of our tradies, and for young people to take on trades and to have a fulfilling and lucrative career. First-year rates of full-time employment for VET and university graduates, and their median salaries, are almost identical. Apprentices generate an income from day one, do not finish with a big burden of debt and, in the longer term, have the chance to start a business and work for themselves. The government understand that we need more skilled tradies, and we are investing to make it happen with an expanded Australian apprentice wage subsidy trial, with $156.3 million for a new additional identified skills shortage payment and $525 million in a new skills package. To all the students out there: do yourselves a favour and get a trade.