Gonski: Gillard Announces New School Funding Arrangements

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced new school funding arrangments in response to the Gonski report.

Julia Gillard

The funding changes will start in 2014, after the next election. Major changes will be phased in over the years to 2020.

Gillard announced the changes in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra.

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Text of email from Prime Minister Julia Gillard to Labor members and supporters.

Today, in response to the Gonski review into school funding, I’m announcing major improvements to the way we fund schools to make sure that every child has access to a world class education.

As you’ve no doubt heard me say before, I believe in the power of education to change lives. It changed mine. Because my parents were passionate about education, they wanted their daughter to enjoy all its benefits.

So as a young girl, I was painstakingly taught to read by my mother before I went to school. As luck would have it, the public schools I was zoned to attend were great schools.

I liked school and succeeded at it, but even in great schools like Unley High, I was conscious of the kids who struggled and got left behind.

That’s why it’s so important for me to make sure every child has the opportunity to get the education they deserve, regardless of where they live or what their family background is.

Currently the gap in reading, maths and science between disadvantaged and advantaged students is more than two years of schooling. That’s not good enough.

That’s why there’ll be extra money for the schools and students who need it most: students from lower income families, indigenous students, students with a disability, those with limited English skills and kids in regional and remote areas.

We’re also:

  • Giving new teachers more time to plan their classes and mentoring with more experienced teachers
  • Setting a benchmark funding amount for each student, based on the costs in schools which are already achieving great results
  • Introducing higher entry requirements for teaching
  • Giving teachers annual performance reviews and giving feedback on how they can improve
  • Giving school principals more power to run their schools the way they want, including hiring staff and controlling their budgets

These are just some of the changes we need to build an education system that gives every child every opportunity. By 2025, I want Australia to be in the top five countries for reading, science and maths.

However, to make this a reality we’re going to need co-operation from the State Governments – and we know that Tony Abbott doesn’t support these reforms. It won’t be easy to get this over the line, and over the coming weeks and months we’re going to have fight hard together to make this happen.

Your voice is important. Please let your friends and family know about how we want to improve our schools so that they can speak up too, because this is a fight we can’t afford to lose. We owe it to every Australian child to make sure our schools don’t leave anyone behind anymore.


Kevin Rudd: Building An Asia-Literate Australia

Queensland Labor backbencher Kevin Rudd says Australia is failing to do enough to become China-literate and Asia-literate in the 21st century.

Kevin RuddLaunching a paper, “Finding a Place on the Asia Stage”, by Carillo Gantner and Allison Carol, at the University of Melbourne’s ASIALINK centre, Rudd said there has been a decline in the teaching of the four principal languages of Asia: Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Korean.

As “an outpost of the Occidental world”, Rudd said Australia needs to “do more work in understanding the minds..of Asia”. Despite a belief that English is now the universal language, Rudd said the truth is “the bulk of the intellectual discourse, political and policy debate as well as economic exchange within Asia occurs in languages other than English.”

Rudd posed the question: “How much is literally being ‘lost in translation’ in straightforward transactions between individuals, corporations and governments, not to mention the media, everyday around China, Asia and the world.” [Read more…]

A Flurry of Activity – and it’s only January 7

The federal government and opposition have been busy today, even though it is only the first week of January.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been in Western Australia where she held a press conference about the education tax rebate and other issues. Click the PLAY button to listen to Gillard’s press conference:

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Back on the east coast, the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and the shadow Finance spokesman, Andrew Robb, held a press conference to explain the coalition’s policy on investigating the construction of new dams. Abbott claimed that with two Sydney Harbours worth of water flowing past Rockhampton each day it’s time for a re-think on water management policy. Click the PLAY button to listen to Abbott and Robb.

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The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, also held a press conference to announce the government’s response to the November 11 High Court decision on judicial review of asylum seeker applications. Click the PLAY button to listen to Bowen:

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Back in Western Australia, Gillard and the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, announced the government’s National Ports Strategy at Kwinana. Click PLAY to listen to the press conference:

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It is unusual for so many political announcements to occur at this time of year. This reflects the government’s minority status in Parliament and the desire of the Opposition to maintain political pressure on the government.

Pyne and Gillard Debate Waste in the BER Program

Christopher Pyne and Julia Gillard have clashed over alleged waste and mismanagement in the Building the Education Revolution program.

The Opposition’s Shadow Minister for Education proposed a Matter of Public Importance in the House of Representatives this afternoon.

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The Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, responded to Pyne.

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Mr PYNE (Sturt) (3:56 PM) —We have in front of us a Minister for Education who has presided over waste and mismanagement on a grand scale. For months, the opposition; principals like Henry Grossek at Berwick Lodge Primary School and Ian McCluggage at Berridale Public School, whom we mentioned today in question time; chairs of Parents and Citizens Associations like Robert Vella, who was on the television last night and in the papers this morning, whose issues have been raised by us and by himself through the press; the media, most notably the Australian but also the other tabloid press; and building and construction experts like Reed Construction Data—all these people—have been raising concerns about the so-called Building the Education Revolution program, otherwise known as the Julia Gillard memorial school hall program or the school stimulus debacle. However you like to describe this program, it has been a debacle, a fiasco, a shemozzle, and we have a minister who absolutely insists that she will not be held to account for her failure to perform as a Minister for Education.

We have raised issues that cover many subjects, including profiteering. Many months ago, we raised issues about Cleve Area School, in the electorate of my colleague the member for Grey, where classrooms were disappearing. In March they were promised eight classrooms for $2 million. In April they were promised six classrooms. In May they were promised four classrooms. In fact, in May they were offered a collection of transportables which included decking. In three months, they had halved the buy of $2 million, halved what it would actually mean on the ground for them at Cleve Area School. We have other examples, like Cattai Public School, where they built a COLA, a covered outdoor learning area, last year for $90,000 under the Investing in Our Schools Program. They have just been told that they will be able to build another covered outdoor learning area, of probably the same size, for $200,000—a 120 per cent increase in 12 months. So we have uncovered profiteering.

We have uncovered state skimming. The South Australian government has reduced its infrastructure spend in state schools by 12 per cent, when every other year, as you would expect, it has increased its spending on infrastructure in schools. South Australia is not alone. The Victorian government, the Queensland government and the New South Wales government, at least, are using money from the federal school stimulus debacle to prop up their own infrastructure programs, removing promises that they had made—most particularly promises made in Victoria before the Victorian state election which disappeared off the table when the federal government came along with all their cash.

We have uncovered inflated payments to project managers. In Queensland, some project managers are being paid $565,000 for six months work, a king’s ransom. We have uncovered waste, like the $3.8 million being spent on display signs, 2.8 by 1.8 metres, to praise the dear leader and Madam Dear Leader for their greatness. These display signs are so large that I hear that when they are transported to country schools they are being used for barbecue grills because they cannot find any other use for them, and the poles are being used for point markers in AFL football because they simply refuse to waste their time erecting them in schools of 10 or fewer students, where hardly anybody is going to see them and they do not see it as a good use of taxpayers’ money—and why not? We have seen $3.5 million wasted on plaques so that the Deputy Prime Minister can have her plaque on every single Julia Gillard memorial school hall across Australia as part of Building the Education Revolution.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke) —The member will refer to members by their appropriate title.

Mr PYNE —I will, Madam Deputy Speaker. This money could have been spent on so many other, better priorities. There are at least 140 science and language laboratories throughout Australia which have missed out on funding as money has been ripped away from secondary schools—in country electorates particularly. The member for Kalgoorlie has examples in his own electorate of language laboratories which have had money ripped away from them. Even Nambour State School, in the Prime Minister’s own electorate, had promises made before the last election that science and language laboratories would be built there, only to see them disappear because the government and the minister would rather spend money on self-promotion. That is self-promotion that the Australian Electoral Commission has identified as electoral advertisements and for which it has required an authorisation because it is so blatantly, transparently and cynically designed to help this government win the next federal election. Everything this government does is for a political strategy, not for an economic strategy.

We have uncovered mismanagement where schools that are closing have been given money under the National School Pride program, like Smithfield primary school; where one-child schools have been given $250,000 for new libraries, as at the Evesham State School in Queensland; and where projects that are not wanted are being foisted on schools. Unless those schools courageously stand up to the government, they are insisting that schools accept four new classrooms to replace four existing classrooms, rather than using the wit and imagination that should come with being in government to provide the kinds of projects that schools want—like withdrawing asbestos from school ovals, building covered outdoor learning areas that schools actually need or refurbishing schools that already have existing classrooms but need air conditioning, for example. But the government do not do any of those things; they simply insist that it is their way or the highway.

We have seen examples like the one today in Strathalbyn, where local builders were not even given the opportunity—they were denied the opportunity—to tender for work locally, in their own communities, because instead of supporting local contractors, subcontractors or builders the government would rather support major multinational construction giants, whether it is Baulderstone, Abigroup or Hansen Yuncken. Maybe it is because they can unionise their workforces or insist on that as part of their contracts, whereas they cannot keep the control over the small businessman, the local builder, that they can keep over the big players in the construction industry.

We have seen differing treatment for public and private schools, where private schools are given the opportunity to make the decisions locally about what they need and therefore spend taxpayers’ money wisely, whereas public schools are forced to take it or leave it by the department of education and training. In fact, Ian McCluggage, the principal of Berridale Public School, has written:

Our colleagues in the private education sector are able to utilise every cent of their BER allocation while we are being given more and more spurious reasons why the funding available for our projects is being siphoned off. “Descoping” was the term I was given last week …

The growing list of concerns is echoed by a growing list of people who want someone to take control of the education portfolio and run with it full time. They want someone to take control of this hopeless situation, to accept responsibility and to stop playing the blame game. These are people like the Auditor-General, who is inquiring into this program; the South Australian Primary Principals Association; the Australian Education Union; the Australian secondary and primary principals associations; the Australian Council of State School Organisations; the Victorian Principals Association; the New South Wales Teachers Federation; the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of New South Wales; and the New South Wales secondary and primary principals councils. These are not organisations, groups or associations that have always typically been associated with the coalition side of politics, yet the government refuses to listen to even the Australian Education Union, who did so much to help this government get elected in 2007.

In question time today, and all week, the minister has demonstrated that she is simply not across the detail. The minister did not even realise today that it was the changes to Building the Education Revolution that required local councils and state governments to suspend their development rules to allow the buildings to go on in schools as quickly as possible. She tried to pretend that that was a decision that state governments had made or that local councils had made—that it had nothing to do with her. In fact, state governments and local councils would not have made that decision unless the guidelines for Building the Education Revolution required it. The ACT held out against it, only to find that the federal government insisted that if they were to get one dollar they were required to suspend their rules for development in order to allow these buildings to go up as quickly as they could. The minister is simply not across the detail. She insists that these problems are all somebody else’s problems, playing the blame game, seeking to push the blame to others—to other ministers, to state ministers. But, unfortunately, when you are spending $16.2 billion of taxpayers’ money, the taxpayers expect the minister who is responsible, the federal Minister for Education, to actually take responsibility and to be accountable. This is apparently the biggest spending program in Building the Education Revolution, in the stimulus package, yet the minister says: ‘It’s not my problem; it’s all somebody else’s problem. I’ll push it off to the states. I’ll play the blame game.’

This is a minister who, rather than answering questions and rather than seriously dealing with the issues, denigrates her opposition, attacks her critics, accuses them of all sorts of gross calumnies and stands at the dispatch box and says, ‘Provide me with the detail and I am more than happy to talk to you.’ She has been told the principal’s name, the name of the school and the amount of money, yet she asks for more detail. She said that she was happy to visit schools. She has made those hollow promises before. We know they are not real. It is all about spin. It is all about a political strategy to win the next federal election rather than an economic strategy. Today, she was given the opportunity to answer questions about giving parents and citizens councils what they want, keeping track of the money like at Evesham, the cost blow-outs like at Berridale, the development rules being suspended like at Walford School, after school hours care centres being closed like at Alveston, commitments to fix problems not been followed up like at Langwarrin, retendering for cost blow-outs like at Newmerella school and display signs being a higher priority than value for money; yet this minister simply avoided answering any of these questions.

It would be bad if this was the only problem in the minister’s portfolio. But, unfortunately, this minister cannot get anything right in education. She is a sloppy minister who keeps spilling the drinks. There is the $1.7 billion blow-out in the primary schools stimulus debacle, the $1.2 billion blow-out in the Computers in Schools program, parents now being charged for laptops in the Computers in Schools program and the youth allowance debacle of the last few months which has led to a minor backflip of a couple of weeks ago. There are a lot more backflips to happen before the opposition will be satisfied that this government is even close to looking after the needs of rural and regional students.

One trade training centre was promised for every secondary school. They are now being found in one in every 10 secondary schools. There was the international students debacle where she failed to act early enough in spite of knowing about the danger signs and where, rather than resettling international students in new tertiary education, she is simply paying them out and sending them back home and, as a consequence, blowing out the insurance scheme that was put in place by the previous government. There are the Building the Education Revolution roadside signs where 10 days ago she said, ‘I am confident there is no breach of the Electoral Act,’ dismissing yet again any criticism or opposition, only to find that the Australian Electoral Commission humiliatingly required the government to put an authorisation on the sign and to ensure they were not within six metres of a polling booth because they were electoral advertisements.

The Building the Education Revolution itself is under investigation by the Auditor-General. It is under investigation by the Auditor-General for good reason. It is because it has been botched by this minister. It is time for the Prime Minister to put education at the centrepiece of his government, as he promised before the election. It used to be the No. 1 priority on the Prime Minister’s website. It has now slipped off the website altogether. Education was supposed to be the hallmark of this government. The minister is trying to handle workplace relations—not well. We understand that. Employment—not well. We understand that, as we do social inclusion. But the most important portfolio she has, from my point of view as the shadow minister for education, is education and she needs to start getting it right. There have been too many serial offences, failures by her and pushing of problems off to other people. The Prime Minister has to step in and, at the next reshuffle, appoint a full-time education minister who does not spill the drinks.

Ms GILLARD (Lalor) (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (4:11 PM) —Here we end a week watching the continued political humiliation of the Liberal Party. They spent all weekend talking up an unprecedented attack on me as minister. This was going to be the week where they really delivered and here we have seen, limping around four days later, the biggest shot in their armoury having been whether or not I have got back to the member for Bradfield about a diary matter—and, as it transpires, we did get back to the member for Bradfield and I have just supplied to him our email from June where we are awaiting a reply. Something that started with so much fizz has gone so flat. Why is that? If you are actually going to come into this parliament and traverse the important public policy issues of our time and certainly education, the development of human capital, its intersection with the nation’s economic future, its intersection with the nation’s future equity—if you are going to traverse issues like that—you need to do some work.

Unfortunately for the opposition, the shadow minister for education likes to strut in parliament but he does not like to work. That is why here we are after almost two years of the Rudd Labor government, almost two years of the Liberal Party in opposition, with not one policy idea and not one substantial contribution to the education debate. After I chided him about his website only having one speech on it outside parliament for this year, he has clamoured around and managed to add a second, but not one substantial idea is the Liberal Party bringing to the most crucial debate facing this nation.

Let us just very quickly go through those crucial debates and the lack of ideas. With early childhood learning, we moved into government and inherited Australia at the back of the OECD class. We are moving in a range of areas to make a profound difference in early learning. What are the opposition policies on that? On school education and transparency, we have got a position articulated by the New South Wales Leader of the Opposition—he is opposed to it. Where does the Liberal Party truly stand on that? On the issue of more resources for disadvantaged schools, our national partnership that will make a difference for those kids that need it the most and for whom education is the crucial difference between a life spent at society’s margins or in its mainstream, what is the Liberal Party’s attitude to those profound equity issues as they confront our nation? What is the Liberal Party’s attitude to the future of teaching? We are a government that has already delivered a program that is bringing the best teachers to the most disadvantaged schools that need them the most and paying the more to do so. This is a government that is already delivering a new cohort through Teach for Australia, the best and brightest graduates preparing to teach in the most disadvantaged schools in this country. What does the Liberal Party say on those profound issues about the future of teaching and getting the best in front of the classrooms where they are needed the most?

What do they say about the future of literacy and numeracy development, knowing that, if you do not get that foundation stone of learning, education may be locked away from you for the rest of your life? What do they say about those future programs? What should be done to make sure that, in international testing, we do not see disadvantaged kids left behind? Silence—absolute silence. What do they say to our programs to change vocational education and training? What do they say to the most profound set of reforms in universities since the Dawkins reforms of the 1980s? On all of these things we hear an amazing silence.

I notice that Matthew Franklin, from the Australian, is in the gallery. I have had an occasional thing to say about the Australian. The good thing about the Australian is that they love a good debate—and I frequently give them one. I refer the shadow minister to the editorial of the Australian, which is not necessarily known for giving me the best assessments. It recorded that there have been more reforms delivered in education by me, as minister, and this government in two years than in the 12 years of the Liberal alternative. That is the conclusion of a broadsheet newspaper that proudly defines itself as Centre Right. Never, I suspect, has a more damning criticism been made of a conservative party in opposition than that a Centre Right broadsheet could come to that conclusion so quickly.

Let us go to the Building the Education Revolution program, because I want to have this debate. At the program’s very heart is a debate about jobs and the future of our schools—jobs today and modernising schools for the future. The quality of learning facilities matters, but it is not the only thing that matters in quality of education. Great teaching matters, resources for disadvantaged kids matter, literacy and numeracy matter and getting the best graduates in there matters—it all matters. But doing it in good learning spaces and libraries matters. Learning to read and write, having good libraries, having good classrooms and having areas where the whole school can assemble make a difference to learning outcomes.

Of course, this program is at the same time making a difference to jobs. On all of this—whether it is the education revolution reforms for disadvantaged kids, transparency, quality teaching, early childhood, VET, universities or Building the Education Revolution—what do we hear from the opposition? We hear no profound truths about the policy direction of this nation. The opposition can criticise, it can complain and it can carry on, but it cannot be constructive. And, by not being constructive, time after time it comes into this parliament and distorts the facts. So let us go through some of the facts that the opposition does not want acknowledged. Fact No. 1: the opposition has pointed to the reallocations within the government stimulus package and claimed that this is something to do with a blow-out in costs in Building the Education Revolution, particularly Primary Schools for the 21st Century. They have tried to create the imagery that somehow builders are inflating prices and the government has had to tip in more money. That is simply not true. More money is going into this program because it is going gangbusters, because more schools want to be in this program.

The shadow minister was profoundly embarrassed earlier this week. He had made much of this reallocation in the public media. He was out there publicly saying, ‘What sort of minister would factor in a take-up rate of 90 per cent for a program like this?’ only to find that, when they were in government, with Investing in Our Schools they factored in a take-up rate of 80 per cent and did not reallocate within an announced program and had to go back to the budget for more money. There was a cost blow-out by them in government, and the shadow minister was profoundly embarrassed when he found out about it. We have put more money into this program within the $42 billion cap for our economic stimulus plan because it is going gangbusters, because schools want to be in it.

Then in the lead-up to this week—and I note that this has not even made a starting appearance in question time, because it is so absurd—they were out there saying that the funding for the science and language centres has been politically rorted. The statistics in terms of the seats and all of that were running in the newspapers. They never even asked about it in the parliament. Why not? Because we had an independent assessment panel deal with this matter. We acted on the recommendations of that panel—and 53 per cent of the money for the science and language centres went to Labor electorates, whereas we hold 55 per cent of the seats. So there they are, trying to create this imagery of rorting, and of course all of that falls away when they are confronted with the facts. They were smart enough to realise that and not even ask about it this week. They smear us outside and do not even bring it into the parliament.

Then they have tried to create the imagery that there is no flexibility in this program. I have been to schools where people have purpose-designed the facility they want, and they are delighted with it. So I would challenge the opposition to get out there and talk to some principals and teachers—they are delighted with their purpose-designed facilities. Then they come into this parliament and make individual claims about individual schools. They ignore the vast bulk of the program, which is rolling out well with delighted school communities, and look for the one thing where they can make a criticism. I say this to the parliament: prior to the start of this parliamentary week I did a reconciliation of the individual examples that had been raised with me to that date and, when they were looked at, two-thirds of them had no foundation in fact. They come in here and make allegations with no facts behind them. It is business as usual for the opposition—never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The shadow minister does not like these truths—I understand that—but I have got a few more. This is a program that is supporting jobs. The shadow minister went on Radio National with Fran Kelly at the start of the week talking up the attack on me: it was going to be fast and furious, it was going to be interesting, they had all this new material—and they are down to whether or not I got back to the member for Bradfield about visiting one of his schools. There he was in his interview on Monday. He has missed the global financial crisis, missed it entirely, and consequently does not understand that there is a need to support jobs. Out there in the real economy, according to the shadow minister for education, he says that it stood out as obvious that if you are going to spend $14 billion there would be an immediate impact on inflation because there would not be enough workers, there would not be enough resources. So the shadow ministry has got this imagery that out there in the real economy: no global recession, every construction worker is wholly employed and we were going to put $14 billion on top of that.

Let us to see what the rest of the world is saying: global recession, employment in construction has gone down every month for 17 months and the construction industry and economists around the country are telling us that it is only the government’s economic stimulus that is keeping the industry turning over—including the Building the Education Revolution program. Local workers know it, local workers are saying it, builders are saying it: it is vital to support local jobs.

Then those opposite come into to this parliament and they make all sorts of claims about the cost of the recognition requirements in relation to Building the Education Revolution.

Dr Kelly —Talk about hypocrisy.

Ms GILLARD —I thank the parliamentary secretary at the table. Talk about hypocrisy. Do we remember the days of the flagpoles? It was compulsory to have a Howard government supplied flagpole and every flagpole had to have a plaque—every flagpole had to have a plaque under the Liberal program, at a cost of seven per cent of the program. The estimate that we have generated is that seven per cent of the program went towards the cost of plaques. Imagine that: a plaque on every flagpole. In contrast, under our program we are seeing 0.02 per cent of the expenditure on recognition requirements. So let us not have any more of this hypocrisy.

Of course we understand in rolling out a program this big this quickly that there will be times when people want to raise issues of concern. That is why we have set up a complaints mechanism for doing that. As of yesterday we had had 49 complaints from the 9,500 schools around the country. Given how this is being rolled out quickly and the size and the scale of it, 49 complaints, with 9,500 schools and more than 24,000 projects, can hardly be characterised as the opposition would characterise it, as a list of major difficulties.

I conclude by saying this. There is one person sitting on the opposition benches who has at least announced that, because he voted against Building the Education Revolution, he will not associate himself with the projects in the electorate. That is the shadow Treasurer. What I think we should be seeing in this debate, and I hope that the next speaker on behalf of the Liberal Party or the National Party says this, is that they are going to follow Joe Hockey’s example. All they have ever done is voted against this program. All they have ever done is talked it down. Let us see whether they are hypocritical enough to keep associating themselves with this program in their electorates. In the meantime, we will get on with the job of supporting Australians in work today whilst modernising schools for tomorrow.

Education Minister Bishop Calls For Higher Standards In Schools

The Education Minister, Julie Bishop, has attacked education standards in Australia, calling for performance-based pay for teachers and improved standards of literacy.

Quoting Margaret Thatcher, Bishop argued that increased funding over recent decades had not led to increased standards.

In an address to the National Press Club, Bishop reiterated the federal government’s policy of literacy and numeracy tests and attacked the States for not being accountable.

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This is the text of the Address to the National Press Club by the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Julie Bishop.

Preparing children to succeed – Standards in our schools

Julie Bishop, Minister for Education, Science and TrainingToday I will talk about preparing children to succeed by raising standards in our schools.

I am yet to meet a parent who does not want their child to succeed in school to the very best of their ability, so they can succeed in life.

Parents are concerned about standards in our schools.

They don’t want a revolution.

They want their children to have access to a quality education.

They want to be assured that the school education their child receives will give them fundamental skills to get a job, undertake further training or go to university, and to provide the skills they will need for life – such as financial literacy.

Are our schools providing an education of the highest standard that will give students the skills and knowledge for the jobs and careers of the 21st century?

Or are they out of step with the aspirations of students and parents, and the needs of employers?

Has the education sector grown complacent about academic standards in schools?

Generally, in fact invariably, whenever the issue of quality in education is raised, the finger is pointed at funding.

So let’s look at funding.

The majority of students in this country are in public schools.

State Governments own, operate, manage and provide most of the funding for State Government schools, with supplementary funding from the Commonwealth.

Federal funding for State schools is calculated on a percentage of the State’s investment – and has been for decades.

If State Governments increase their investment the Federal investment increases automatically.

Contrary to the claims of Labor and the unions, the Howard Government has provided record funding to State Government schools every year since 1996.

Funding has increased by almost 120% since 1996 while enrolments in State Government schools increased by 1.1% over that time.

When the unions say there is inadequate Federal funding, it is really a criticism that State Governments are not investing sufficiently in their schools.

State Governments accredit and regulate non-government schools, while the Federal Government provides the majority of taxpayer funding.

Enrolments have increased by more than 20% since 1996.

State Governments have primary responsibility for Vocational and Technical Education, including TAFE colleges, while the Federal Government significantly supplements funding, and is funding the establishment of the Australian Technical Colleges network.

State Governments own and regulate public universities, while the Federal Government provides virtually all taxpayer funding – (I should point out that the States are in fact a drain on university finances by taking almost $150 million more in payroll tax each year than they provide in support.)

Education is a shared responsibility in this country between State Governments and the Federal Government.

When Labor tries, for example, to isolate the Federal funding component from total public funding for government schools it is trying to disguise the fact that more taxpayer funding is provided per student to State Government schools than non-Government schools.

67% of students are in State Government schools that receive 75% of total public funding.

In terms of funding for education, it is not just a matter of quantity, it is a matter of quality. It is how the funding is spent.

Increases in public spending have to lead to higher standards.

The Howard Government is investing a record $33 billion in school education during the current four-year funding agreement.

However, governments cannot simply increase the level of investment year after year, cross their fingers and hope that it will inevitably lead to higher standards.

In her memoirs, Margaret Thatcher noted that although there had been increases in public spending for UK schools it had not led to higher standards. She cited the case of the Inner London Education Authority, which spent more per child than any other authority in the country yet achieved some of the worst examination results.

Tony Blair, in what he has termed his “Education Revolution” has focussed on improving the quality of teachers and schools to lift standards.

Notwithstanding the billions of dollars invested in schools in Australia, there is evidence that standards have declined, particularly in the teaching of the fundamental areas of literacy and numeracy.

As the landmark Teaching Reading report from the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy said:

“Reading competence is foundational, not only for school-based learning, but also for children’s behavioural and psychosocial wellbeing, further education and training, occupational success, productive and fulfilling participation in social and economic activity, as well as for the nation’s social and economic future.”

The same can be said for numeracy.

Employers complain of young people lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Universities admit they are offering remedial classes in English and mathematics, to bring first-year students up to an acceptable level.

The Australian Defence Force Academy says that many Year 12 school leavers are not ready for university mathematics despite achieving good results in Year 12 maths and finishing in the nation’s top 15%.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) assessed the literacy and numeracy skills of 15 year olds in 41 countries in 2003.

The PISA testing revealed that 30% of Australian students failed to achieve a reading ability necessary to meet the demands for further learning in our rapidly-changing world. 12% did not meet the lowest benchmark.

The equivalent international test for mathematics revealed in 2003 that 36 % of Year 4 students and 35% of Year 8 students achieved only the lowest benchmark or did not even reach the lowest benchmark. We are talking very basic maths here.

All State and Territory Governments gave a commitment in 1998 that every child commencing school from that year would achieve the minimum acceptable literacy and numeracy standard within four years. Every child.

This has not yet been achieved.

Currently, States and Territories have their own assessment programs and tests to determine minimum acceptable literacy and numeracy standards.

Data from each test is then subject to a lengthy, and I mean lengthy, equating process so that it can be reported at a national level.

Consequently the latest results available are from 2004.

These tests only assess minimum standards below which a child would have difficulty progressing at school – that used to mean they would fail.

There was very little change in the failure rates in the same grade between 2001 and 2004.

But the number of students failing increased the longer they were at school.

In 2004 the percentage of students failing was 6.3% in Year 38.8% in Year 517.9% in Year 7.

Student’s results were getting worse, not better.

Statistics can tell one story.

The personal anecdotes are also concerning.

Last Friday I received an email from a parent in Queensland. I phoned him. He teaches at a Queensland university.

His 13-year-old daughter cannot spell. He has raised his concerns with the school and was told to buy her a computer so she can use a spell-checker.

A teacher in Queensland wrote to me recently:

“I am a member of the Australian Education Union but do not feel that they speak for me on many issues. I have spent many years as a primary school teacher frustrated by what I feel are diminishing expectations of students and also by the vague curriculum guidelines that we have to work with.”

From New South Wales:

“As someone who has run very large and small businesses, I can speak with some experience and frustration at the poor literacy and numeracy skills of those coming through the education system.”

I have received hundreds of such letters from across the country.

The Australian Government’s view is that we must introduce higher standards to lift performance, particularly in literacy and numeracy.

The Australian Government is insisting on national literacy and numeracy tests, which will be administered for the first time for all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and Year 9.

For the first time students in different states will sit the same tests so that there will be increased accuracy of results, increased efficiency through reduced duplication and increased timeliness of national results and increased comparability State by State..

For the first time, there will be a national assessment of language conventions including grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Parents will be able to track their children’s progress against national standards between Years, 3, 5, 7 and for the first time in Year 9.

This is particularly critical.

Research from the Australian Government’s Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth shows that the strongest influence on tertiary entrance performance is literacy and numeracy achievement in Year 9.

While the Australian Government will continue to take a leadership role and insist on higher standards through greater national consistency, I am constantly reminded by State Labor Education Ministers and education unions that the Australian Government does not own or operate any schools or employ any teachers.

They expect to receive increased Commonwealth funding, but they don’t expect to be accountable for it, and I am told, not so politely, to butt out.

Education is a national priority and it is too important to be left at the mercy of State parochialism and union self-interest.

Last week, in support of my push for greater national consistency in curriculum, I released a report of the Australian Council for Educational Research, which compared curriculum in key subjects across the 8 State and Territory education systems.

It revealed substantial duplication in some subjects, and wild inconsistency in others.

The report makes a compelling case for national consistency in our curriculum, assessment and reporting.

I support its recommendations and will take a proposal to the education ministers’ meeting in April, seeking their cooperation.

However, the immediate response from State Labor Governments was illuminating.

Premier Iemma says New South Wales does not want the “dumbed down” curriculum of other States. Apparently if you don’t live in New South Wales you are being “dumbed down”.

The Victorian Education Minister does not want the “dumbed down” curriculum from other States, (presumably including from NSW.)

The Queensland Minister argued that we didn’t need nationally consistent curriculum because the States are continually “leapfrogging” each other. (That’s the point! They are always out of step with each other.)

And my memory of leapfrog was that you were meant to leap in a forward direction.

Not one of them answered the fundamental question – In a country of 20 million people, why do we need to develop 8 curricula in 8 jurisdictions?

And with an increasingly mobile workforce, why should students and teachers be disadvantaged when they move interstate from one education system into another? We will work with the States to achieve what the public believes must be achieved.

Our goal should be that every child reaches the highest standard possible for that child.

The aim should not be to just meet minimum standards.

Some of the greatest gains in literacy and numeracy are to be made in our most disadvantaged school communities, including our indigenous communities.

Raising academic standards and improving educational outcomes for Australian students involves making some hard choices.

It means making decisions that State Labor Governments, education unions and other vested interests will not like.

For we must open up our education systems to greater public scrutiny.

This will be resisted because it will highlight something that has been obvious to students, parents and principals – there are good teachers and schools, and there teachers and schools that need to improve their performance.

And that is why Federal Labor will not be able to deliver on promises to reform school education.

They will not take on State Labor governments nor the all-powerful teachers unions.

There is resistance to reform at every level.

As a report released this week from the Centre for Independent Studies, entitled Teachers and the Waiting Game states: “If public schools are to thrive and flourish into the future, the power nexus between teacher unions and state governments must be broken.”

The Federal Opposition spokesman on education has already confessed that he “doesn’t support imposing anything on the States in the education area”.

The Australian Education Union recently threatened to withhold campaign funds unless Federal Labor backed down on calling for greater teacher accountability.

What more will the Howard Government do to achieve higher standards in our schools?

Principals must be given greater autonomy over their schools.

In particular, principals must have power over staffing.

How can we expect a principal to guarantee the quality of education in their school without some control over who is employed at that school?

The Australian Government already requires the State Governments to provide principals with some responsibility for budgets and at least a say over staff appointments.

These were relatively modest measures.

Many school principals across Australia cite as their biggest frustration the fact that centralised education bureaucracies parachute teachers into schools or summarily remove valued teachers, against the wishes of the school community and the teacher.

Just when they have secured an excellent teacher, who brings special skills and extra commitment to that school, State education bureaucracies transfer them out.

I propose to work with the States to move even further in the direction of principal autonomy and ensure they have the power to hire and fire teachers based on their performance, just as the head of any organisation or enterprise is able to do.

As the CIS study observed “Centralised staffing systems are the bastion of teacher unions, which fiercely protect regulations that shelter poor teachers and privilege longevity over performance”, noting that “poor teachers are more likely to be shuffled between schools than disciplined or dismissed, with serious repercussions for the teaching profession as well as students.”

Giving the power to principals will fix the problem of State Governments, captives of the unions, unable to deal with under-performing teachers.

International studies show that one of the characteristics of effective schools is the autonomy to make important decisions that impact on the quality of education they offer.

There must also be greater accountability to parents at the individual school level.

The States have a wealth of data about individual schools, yet they refuse to make it public.

Otherwise it would expose the truth that not all teachers are equal, not all schools are equal, and there are vast variations in how schools are resourced and how they perform.

The community has a right to know how individual schools are performing.

Parents would be in a better position to decide which school is the right one for their child if they were able to compare schools in relation to:

  • staff qualifications and turnover
  • suspension and expulsion statistics
  • attendance and retention rates
  • raw academic scores and improvements in scores demonstrating progress over time
  • post-school first destinations; and
  • feedback data on parent, student and teacher satisfaction levels
  • Making this type of information public gives parents informed choice when deciding which school their child will attend, and also creates an incentive for the school to continuously improve.

    We cannot hope to raise standards in our schools if we continue with the fallacy perpetuated by State Governments and unions that teachers do not deserve incentives and rewards for better performance.

    Teachers are a precious national resource. After parents, teachers are the single most important factor in a child’s educational outcomes.
    Like other professions, teachers should be recognised and rewarded on merit.

    We must move beyond the low salaries and artificial salary caps that are imposed on the profession, and supported by education unions in their one-size-fits-all, lowest common denominator mentality.

    I will put to State Governments a proposal for the inclusion of a performance element in teacher salaries, focusing particularly on teachers in disadvantaged schools who are making a significant difference to their students’ achievements, and work with the States to improve the status of the teaching profession.

    Let me tell you about a school in Victoria – Bellfield Primary – that exemplifies much of what I am talking about.

    It is in one of the lowest socio-economic areas in the State and was among the lowest achieving schools in literacy and numeracy.

    In 1998, only 33% of Year One students could read with 100% accuracy – the Victorian average was 67.4%. Likewise for other years in the school.

    By 2003, the number of Year One students reading with 100% accuracy had improved from 33% to 97.4%. Similar results were achieved throughout the school.

    It went from being one of the lowest performing to one of the highest achieving schools in the State in literacy and numeracy.

    The principal John Fleming, who drove these outstanding results, is now employed in a private school.

    There are other dedicated teachers who are striving to make a difference in some of our most challenging and disadvantaged schools.

    I want to see teachers of the ilk of John Fleming and schools like Bellfield rewarded for the difference they make to the lives of young Australians.

    And I point out that the successful teaching methods employed by John Fleming are in line with the findings of the Teaching Reading report, to the effect that the focus in teaching literacy should be on phonics instruction.

    I urge the Deans of Education at our universities to adopt the recommendations of that report in relation to the way university students are instructed to teach reading in our schools.

    In addition to performance-based pay for teachers, I believe there must also be rewards for schools that are able to improve student performance in the fundamental skills of literacy and numeracy.

    With the start of national testing and assessments in 2008, we have an opportunity to identify the schools across the country which are adding value to the lives of their students, by significantly improving their literacy and numeracy skills.

    These schools will be rewarded.

    The 2008 tests provide another opportunity. The Australian Government already provides reading assistance vouchers to students who fail to meet minimum State literacy standards in Year 3.

    As we are testing Year 9 students for the first time in 2008, we must once again step in to raise the bar.

    Given the importance of literacy attainment in Year 9, those students who fail to meet minimum standards will also be supported.

    To ensure a continuous supply of specialist knowledge in schools, the Australian Government will also explore alternative pathways into the teaching profession.

    There are people with valuable knowledge, experience and expertise, who don’t have a Bachelor of Education, but who are keen to bring their talent to our schools.

    I am asking Teaching Australia, the body established by the Federal Government to raise the status, quality and professional standing of teachers, to provide advice to the government on alternative pathways for teacher registration.

    We need a teacher training and registration process that is nationally consistent, not only for the benefit of the current teaching workforce, but also to make it easier for potential teachers to enter the profession, including as adjunct teachers.

    This will increase the diversity and skill base of the profession, and help address issues such as teacher qualifications in science and maths, and specialist subjects – particularly in conjunction with performance pay and more flexible working conditions.

    Building on our existing reform agenda, these measures will go a long way to achieving higher standards in our schools.

    We need to ensure our students leave school with at least the fundamental skills to ensure they can get a job, directly from school or after further education and training.
    How will young Australians judge the quality of their education?
    By the opportunities and options available to them – entry to university, vocational training, a job, a career, and the life skills they acquire.

    Our schools must have stronger links to employers and the business community.

    Business leaders must engage in the future of our nation’s children and our education system to ensure that students leave school with strong literacy and numeracy skills and are ready for further education and the workforce

    I am already supporting our universities to build links with business.

    We are ensuring the VET sector is in constant dialogue with business and industry.

    This is an issue of national importance to our long-term economic prosperity and I will shortly establish a Schools-Business Dialogue, bringing together in Canberra this year business leaders, parents, teachers, educators and State Education representatives, for the purpose of determining better ways for business and schools to engage and exchange ideas.

    This will be a forum that focuses on the quality of education – and the most efficient use of existing resources.

    We must build a bridge between business and schools, so there is a greater connection between what students learn at school and what employers believe are the necessary skills for the workplaces of the future.

    That bridge will ensure the goals of educators are aligned with the expectations of employers.

    Parents and the community can then have more confidence that the nation’s children are being prepared for success.

    World Trade Talks Collapse; Australian Farmers Lose Out

    Australian farmers have suffered a setback following the collapse of the World Trade Organisation negotiations over the weekend.

    According to the Financial Review agricultural exports are worth $25 billion to the Australian economy. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics has predicted that a 36% reduction in all forms of global farm assistance would see Australian exports of rice grow by 54%, wheat 15%, meat 16% and sugar by 12%.

    The collapse of the talks in Seattle, and the likely delay of another couple of years, most benefits French and Japanese farmers.

    Queensland sugar growers, currently experiencing the lowest world prices in 30 years, will be hardest hit by further delays in global trade liberalisation.

    What Is the World Trade Organisation?

    The World Trade Organisation was established on 1st January 1995, arising out of the so-called Uruguay round of negotiations. It replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and consists of 135 countries, has a staff of 500 and a budget of 122 million Swiss francs.

    The WTO styles itself as “the only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible”.

    The WTO has a consensus-style one-country, one-vote structure and this appears to have been part of the problem in Seattle. Developing countries now comprise 3 in 4 of WTO members and are demanding a greater say than they have had in the past. This is partly because these poorer nations have what the richer nations need most: a market for their products.

    All Politics Is Local

    A report in today’s Financial Review, (“No trade-offs in a sleepless Seattle”, page 14) provides an interesting account of how the United States pulled the plug on the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle.

    It is even argued by some that the talks were deliberately sabotaged by President Clinton in an interview he gave to a newspaper on his way to Seattle. Clinton said he favoured the eventual imposition of punitive sanctions on countries that failed to meet core labour standards. The US Trade Representative, Charlene Barshefsky, is quoted as saying “my god, he’s blown it” when told of the comments.

    Poorer countries see demands for labour and environmental safeguards as a ploy by richer nations to advance their own economic interests in the guise of freer trade.

    Some see the Clinton remarks as part of an attempt to win the support of labour and environmental groups in the lead-up to the 2000 presidential and congressional elections.

    At a broader level, the impact of local politics can be seen in the huge protests that took place outside the WTO conference last week. Furthermore, the recent New Zealand election can be seen as part of an electoral reaction against globalisation. The protestors, ironically, took advantage of the globalisation of communications by conducting a large part of their campaign via the Internet.