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Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee
EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS PORTFOLIO
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership
- Committee Name
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee
Mason, Sen Brett
McKenzie, Sen Bridget
Back, Sen Chris
Wright, Sen Penny
Nash, Sen Fiona
Scullion, Sen Nigel
Carr, Sen Kim
Collins, Sen Jacinta
- Sub program
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Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee
(Senate-Thursday, 14 February 2013)
EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS PORTFOLIO
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
Mr De Silva
Senator Kim Carr
CHAIR (Senator Marshall)
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority
Senator Kim Carr
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership
Senator Jacinta Collins
Senator Kim Carr
- Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
- EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS PORTFOLIO
Content WindowEducation, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee - 14/02/2013 - Estimates - EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS PORTFOLIO - Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership
CHAIR: I welcome Ms Evans and Mr Misson. Do you have any opening remarks that you would like to make to the committee before we commence with questions?
Ms Evans : No, thank you.
CHAIR: All right. We will kick straight off. I think we are going to Senator Mason.
Senator MASON: Welcome. I refer you to MYEFO, the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, for 2012-13, page 76.
CHAIR: You have not brought it, have you?
Senator MASON: I thought everyone had a MYEFO in their back pocket. I will just read it out and we will see how we go. It states:
The re-profiling of funding into 2013-14 under the National Partnership on improving teacher quality, due to a delay in consideration of reward payment funding of up to $175.0 million for 2012-13, as a result of performance milestones for 2012-13 being renegotiated with the States. This negotiation process is likely to impact on the COAG Reform Council's ability to complete its assessment before May 2013 and subsequently delay the Commonwealth making payment until 2013-14.
I am assuming this relates to Rewards for Great Teachers; is that correct?
Ms Evans : That is my understanding, yes.
Senator MASON: So, that is what it is referring to. I could not follow it. Not that I enjoy reading MYEFO, of course.
Ms Paul : This may be ours.
Senator MASON: Is it? Mr Cook, can you help?
Ms Paul : Keep going and we will see.
Senator MASON: Can you inform the committee of the reasons for the delay in negotiations referred to in MYEFO? What happened?
Ms Paul : That will be for us.
Senator MASON: That is for the department.
Ms Gordon : The CRC COAG Reform Council report on the Teacher Quality National Partnership made a series of recommendations; one of which was to relook at the milestones under the TQNP and to look at the level of ambition of those milestones. As a result, the government has been in negotiation with states and territories to renegotiate those milestones under the national partnership. We have gone through an independent assessment process using an independent expert that has worked with states and territories in looking at those milestones. They have been submitted to the Australian government. They are in the process of being considered, and hence that has delayed effectively the finalisation of the national partnership. So, those final payments have been moved into next year to allow the CRC to then review those milestones and the reports against those.
Senator MASON: That is handy from a budgetary point of view—very cunning. The 'level of ambition of the milestones'. That is a nice phrase. What does that mean? Does that mean that you are upping what, in fact, is required as performance indicators for the partnership?
Ms Gordon : Unfortunately I do not have the report here, so I will talk more in principle rather than specifics. The report talked about the fact that the milestones as expressed did not actually reflect the full extent of the work that states and territories were doing under the national partnership. While the initial milestones that were set had largely been met, the CRC was concerned that they did not really reflect the extent of the work that was underway. We were looking at renegotiating those milestones to reflect the full extent and ambition of the work that they were doing.
Senator MASON: Is it because of what the states and territories were doing that the milestones are being changed or is it to reflect what the Commonwealth wanted the states and territories to do?
Ms Gordon : Under the implementation plans, under the national partnership each state and territory listed a number of activities that they would be doing around the different reform areas. As those were implemented, effectively, there were a number of areas where the states and territories went beyond the scope of the initial agreements and initial plans. We have been working collaboratively with them to relook at their milestones to ensure that they really do reflect the full extent of the work that they have committed to do.
Senator MASON: Who asked for this rephasing?
Ms Gordon : The COAG Reform Council's independent review of the national partnership made a series of recommendations and on the basis of those recommendations we have sought to reopen the milestones under the agreements with the states and territories.
Senator MASON: The Commonwealth did it?
Ms Gordon : The Commonwealth has done that in response to the recommendations from the COAG Reform Council.
Senator MASON: Did the states and territories ask for it to be reopened?
Ms Gordon : No, they did not, but it was the CRC's recommendations that were made that went to a number of different areas and also proposed the independent process as well, which we followed.
Senator MASON: A very cunning plan. I did not think the states and territories would have wanted that, but I am becoming very sceptical, is my problem. What progress has been made since MYEFO? Is that still for the department?
Ms Gordon : Yes. We have gone through a process initially where we sought the services of an independent contractor to work with the states and territories in looking at their milestones and reworking them. The states and territories then submitted those milestones to the Australian government. Those milestones have been under consideration and have been accepted by the Australian government. The states and territories will then need to report on those milestones to the Australian government, and the CRC will then review those milestones before any payments are made.
Senator MASON: Has the rephasing had an impact on Commonwealth expenditure in relevant financial years?
Ms Gordon : The reward payments under the national partnership that would have been made towards the end of the financial year will now be made early in the next financial year.
Senator MASON: I thought so. So, no reward payments will be made in the 2012-13 financial year?
Ms Gordon : No reward payments will be made this financial year. That is right.
Senator MASON: That is right, is it not?
Ms Gordon : That is correct.
Senator McKENZIE: Just on that point, have any of the states voiced any concerns about the change in the payment timing and the potential implications that might have for them on the ground?
Ms Febey : We have had discussions with the states. They noted the change, but none have particularly expressed concerns. It is going to be a relatively small timeframe change for the payment.
Senator MASON: None of them was disgruntled?
Ms Paul : It does not sound like it.
Senator MASON: We do not know.
Ms Paul : I think that is what the officer has just said.
Senator MASON: There are no concerns, Ms Febey?
Ms Febey : I think the point was that the states actually agreed with the independent contractor in terms of the work that they did on the milestones, so they saw that as a better way of expressing the work they had done. They have been relatively comfortable with the process and the change.
Senator MASON: So, they did not express a concern with the fact that no payments would be made this financial year and that they would have to wait until next financial year?
Ms Febey : They commented, but they did not express any particular concerns.
Senator MASON: What do you mean by 'they commented'? What do you mean by that?
Ms Febey : They noted that it had gone over the financial year, but in terms of the timing it will be early in the financial year so it is not a great change in terms of timing for them.
Senator McKENZIE: Did it have any implications for their own budgets for this financial year?
Ms Febey : Not that they reported to us.
Senator MASON: Not that they reported to you. They might tell you that, Senator, but they might not tell the department that. I would like to ask about implementation of the Teacher Performance and Development Framework. Last estimates I was told that the public consultation stage of the Teacher Performance and Development Framework would conclude at the end of October last year. How have things progressed since we were last here? Has all of the consultation with the public and sector bodies finished?
Ms Evans : It has finished and we have received the report on that consultation. That has concluded, yes.
Senator MASON: So, you received a report. It was planned that the framework would be implemented in schools when they returned this year? Is that in this year, 2013?
Ms Evans : Correct, yes.
Senator MASON: The schools have been running now for a couple of weeks. Has implementation begun?
Ms Evans : As far as we understand it, it has and states and territories, under their agreements, will need to report to DEEWR on that in April. So we should have a clearer picture of the level and uptake of implementation at that time.
Senator MASON: So, at budget estimates you will be able to tell the committee in a fulsome reply about what is going on—is that right?
Ms Evans : I hope so.
Senator MASON: You seem to be uncertain as to whether it has been taken up—is that right?
Ms Evans : We understand that in the first two weeks people are paying greater attention to performance and development. We know that because of the increased interest in people ringing our office and the amount of invitations that we have had to talk to different organisations. But we have no explicit data on that given that it is so early in the school year.
Senator MASON: It is still too early. Were all teachers across relevant schools briefed about the process?
Ms Evans : One of the processes that we put in place as part of that consultation arrangement is that we provided all peak bodies, including employers, professional associations, principal associations, unions, et cetera, with the opportunity for a grant that would make sure that they had contact with 10 per cent of their constituency. So we would assess that between 20,000 and 25,000 teachers and principals, primarily principals, have been provided with direct information about the performance and development framework, in addition to the more general messages that go out.
Senator MASON: I understand. Any problems encountered?
Ms Evans : No.
Senator MASON: Not yet?
Ms Evans : No.
Senator MASON: Not that you know of, anyway, but we will find out in April.
Ms Evans : We will, but our view is that this has been well received. Again, the report of the consultation awareness raising campaign we engaged in would suggest that there have been no major criticism or concerns registered by states and territories.
Senator MASON: You will be able to brief the committee more fully at the next budget estimates?
Ms Evans : Indeed.
Senator MASON: The 2012-13 budget revealed that AITSL was given $1.25 million under the Empowering Local Schools program, and let me just quote from it:
… to support research, communities of practice and professional development for principals and school leaders participating in Phase One of the initiative.
That is not a particularly detailed description of the role you play within the program. Can you be any more specific than that? That is very general.
Ms Evans : I can. As a result of the money that came forward to us, we entered into an agreement with DEEWR detailing exactly what we would do. It is a professional development program that attempts to skill leaders to manage and lead in autonomous situations. Practically what that involves is a face-to-face conference for three days at the beginning of the program and then quite extensive communities of practice. The participants are divided into groups, they have a learning broker with them, they work on a whole range of projects in their school and a whole range of inputs online including opportunities to have both national and international experience, and the third phase is a follow-up with a showcase.
In the next couple of weeks we are about to conduct our first showcase. This will be done in three lots. The first conference and the first set of communities of practice have been held. The first showcase is about to be held and then the second conference is about to begin. All of that will happen in early March.
Senator MASON: Is this a one-off $1.25 million?
Ms Evans : It is a one-off in the sense that the money is about kick-starting that project. Therefore, while there are three sets of conferences communities of practice showcase, they will be held three times in that sense. It is a one-off. But one of the things we have deliberately attempted to do through the communities of practice is have a mechanism for sustained interaction between leaders of autonomous schools.
Senator MASON: I will just pick up the question that Senator McKenzie was asking before about concerns expressed by the states. Many people, as you know, Ms Paul, listen to these estimates. They are always admiring of the minister's performance, never mind, but I do receive a lot of things during the course of the day and many not very flattering. However, I have just been sent the Assembly proof from the Victorian state parliament Hansard of Wednesday, 24 October 2012, page 42, where Mr Dixon, the Minister for Education states:
Labor in Canberra is very good at talking about teacher quality. Victoria was due to receive $44.5 million in reward payments. Where has that gone? It has gone. It has been put on the never-never for another year.
Now I would call that concern. What do you think? That was the issue that Senator McKenzie raised before with Ms Febey.
CHAIR: He did not mention TAFE cuts while he was in that speech, did he?
Senator MASON: I do not know. The reason I raise it is that the temper of Senator McKenzie's question was that I would have assumed there would have been some concern; I think that there is evidence of it there.
Ms Evans : I think that concern relates to the rewards for teachers, and perhaps we would refer that to the department.
Senator MASON: Is that different?
Ms Paul : You are on something else, yes.
Senator MASON: I get sent so much stuff—that is my problem. I am never quite sure what is good and what should be edited out. I cannot see anything about TAFEs, Mr Chairman.
CHAIR: No, I am not surprised.
Senator MASON: That is all the questions I have for AITSL.
CHAIR: I suspect that is all the questions that the committee has, unless Senator Back has a question.
Senator BACK: I do, if I may. With respect to the amount spent on developing professional development for teachers, can I ask whether all schools—government, independent and Catholic—have equal access to that funding?
Ms Evans : The answer to that question is, yes, in the sense that AITSL is not necessarily—apart from specific programs like the one referred to by Senator Mason—a professional development provider. We provide a whole range of resources that are available on the web, and one of the things that we are particularly conscious of is not only making those available across all three sectors and relevant to all three sectors, but making them available whether you live in the middle of the country or in the heart of the city.
Senator BACK: In your annual report do you report on the relevant spending into each of those three sectors?
Ms Evans : No, we do not. It would be difficult to calculate that. We certainly have the statistics on how many people come onto our website and use our resources and how long they stay on the website, but we do not collect those analyses by government, independent and Catholic.
Senator BACK: So, it would not be an added specific cost to you, anyway. If it is largely an online program then the actual marginal cost per teacher accessing it is not going to be greater or lesser, is it?
Ms Evans : No, it is not. The independent and Catholic sectors are very active in seeking our services in quite specific ways. One of the things that we are keen to do is to make sure that all sectors are well aware of the programs and know how to access the resources. We fairly evenly spread our time across government, independent and Catholic sectors in terms of promoting the resource available.
Senator BACK: Does the institute have any oversight with regard to teacher registration?
Ms Evans : The responsibility for teacher registration is that of the states and territories. However, AITSL plays an important brokering and cooperative quality assurance role in making sure that, for example, registration processes are applied consistently and that issues are discussed and worked through. For example, we participate in the regulatory authorities' meetings. That is our role, but the responsibility for regulation and registration sits with the states and territories.
Senator BACK: Is there any move towards recognition of registration across state and territory boundaries?
Ms Evans : I am not quite sure what the—
Mr Misson : You will forgive me if I am not right up on the legalities here, but teacher registration or teaching is a profession that is covered by the Mutual Recognition Act. So effectively, that operates. To oversimplify it, if you are registered in one place you can turn up with your ticket and become registered in the state where you want to teach.
Senator BACK: I ask this in the context of a constituent whom we have been working with for some period. She was a permanent teacher in Queensland. Her husband is in the military. They transferred to Western Australia and she has had an inordinate amount of difficulty, particularly with paperwork, in having her registration transferred to WA. I was just asking in that context; she has not been able to actually confirm a job in the education system over there for that reason. I am wondering whether your organisation may have been able to assist in removing those impediments?
Ms Evans : Our role, again, is at a policy level. It would be the interaction between Queensland and Western Australia where she would have to seek resolution as to the particular details of her issue.
Ms Paul : Ultimately it would be a matter for harmonisation through COAG. It is a Federation matter.
Senator BACK: Yes, it is. As you say, yours is policy based. It is not practically based in that sense. Thank you, Chairman.
CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Evans and Mr Misson. That concludes our questions for the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.
CHAIR: We will now proceed to Outcome 2, schools and youth. We will go to Senator Wright for a little while.
Senator WRIGHT: Thank you, Chair. I have questions in relation to accountability for government and nongovernment schools funding. Firstly, what obligations apply to nongovernment schools in receipt of federal government funding to provide annual audited financial statements to the department?
Mr Hehir : There is an obligation as part of the financial questionnaire process for the audited financial statements to be provided.
Senator WRIGHT: How does the department keep track and monitor the expenditure and use of federal government funds by nongovernment schools?
Ms Smith : The federal government monitors the expenditure of nongovernment schools through a number of annual processes. These include the annual census of nongovernment schools undertaken in August to collect the statement of enrolments for the number of students who are eligible for funding. As Mr Hehir has indicated, we also collect financial information in relation to the schools as to the use of the funds and then we have acquittal processes and audited statements processes attached to that. That is the broad pattern of our standard monitoring arrangements.
Senator WRIGHT: I will take you to a little bit more detail, because they are broad sorts of approaches that you have described there. What does the financial questionnaire encompass? Is it possible to obtain a copy of that? What questions are asked in relation to that, and is it a standard document that is required of all nongovernment schools receiving Commonwealth funding?
Ms Smith : Yes, certainly. I do not have it to hand. It is done electronically. I do have an officer here with me who may be able to obtain some further details for you. Essentially, the schools are required to provide us with audited financial statements annually as to their expenditure and to acquit the funds that they were given under general recurrent grants and all of the other grants that are paid under the Schools Assistance Act.
Senator WRIGHT: So, it would be possible to have a look at the questionnaire?
Ms Smith : Yes, certainly.
Mr Hehir : We will provide that on notice.
Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. Are there any other accountability mechanisms that apply to nongovernment schools in receipt of Commonwealth funding to keep track of how moneys are spent and how schools are tracking financially?
Ms Smith : Yes. The broad approach that is taken is quite a well-established one related to the verification of ensuring that the funds that were paid were used for the purpose that they were paid through the audited statements, and through the verification of the numbers of students, as I mentioned. There are a number of processes. Firstly, there is the collection and reconciliation of the numbers of students who are eligible for funding at set amounts, which are identified in the legislation. Then we undertake processes post the census, which is undertaken annually. We do a census post-enumeration exercise where we verify those enrolment figures reported by a sample of schools. This is done with auditors and it is a fairly well-established process that is done annually.
Senator WRIGHT: Do the same rules apply to all nongovernment schools in receipt of federal government funding or do different nongovernment schools report differently depending on whether they are a not-for-profit public company limited by guarantee or an incorporated association?
Ms Smith : All of the schools that receive funding are required to be operating as not-for-profit entities. The schools' approved authorities may be systems or they may be individual schools and they all have the same requirements. They all have an agreement with the Commonwealth which sets out the obligations of the school in respect of use of funds, operating not-for-profit and reporting on the use of funds and acquitting them appropriately.
Senator WRIGHT: Is there any mechanism by which the Commonwealth government or the federal government in providing funds to schools would have a capacity to monitor the financial viability of nongovernment schools? There have been a few recent examples of schools that have spectacularly failed quickly, or apparently quickly. Perhaps there was a history there that no-one knew about. So to what extent would the federal government be able to obtain that information or monitor it before the event?
Ms Smith : We currently obtain the financial statements, which obviously have a lag—they are of the previous year. When we obtain financial information there is a backwards look towards what the school's financial position is. However we do some monitoring and have an approach where we are aware of schools that may be less viable than others or may be experiencing some financial difficulty. We have an assurance approach to working through how we can actively manage those cases as they may occur from time to time.
Senator WRIGHT: So, the same rules apply. Is there consistent financial reporting to the federal government across the nongovernment schools sector?
Mr Hehir : I think the answer is broadly, yes. There is a pro forma they are required to fill out, which we can take on notice for you. The requirement is that the audited financial statements which form part of that collection of information are signed off by an auditor or an accountant, and we go through a process of checking a random sample of those accountants' qualifications as well to make sure that they are being appropriately signed off. Broadly, if they comply with the provision of the information within the template then, yes.
Senator WRIGHT: I guess those audited financial statements may vary somewhat, but the requirement is that they are audited?
Mr Hehir : That is right, and they should have an audit opinion attached to them of course.
Ms Smith : In addition, depending often on the size of the school, some schools do cash accounting and others do accrual accounting. There is some technical variation as to the reporting, but they are all required to participate in the annual collection about their income, their expenditure, loans, assets and liabilities. All of that is completed online. We will do that financial questionnaire verification exercise where we take a random sample and ask a qualified accountant to look at that. If we find irregularities, we have a scale of more intensive activities that we undertake to look at those matters.
Senator WRIGHT: If I understand you correctly, you do not verify every school, you take a random sample?
Ms Smith : Yes.
Senator WRIGHT: What is the size of the sample?
Ms Smith : The sample is around 150 schools per year. We have had this process looked at. The administration of the recurrent grants program, because it is such a large outlay, is regularly looked at by the Australian National Audit Office, and it meets all of the requirements. But we aim to continually improve processes particularly as we use technology to streamline processes. In that context, we have recently asked an independent accounting company to give us views on whether we can strengthen the assurance processes in any way, and we are currently considering aspects of that report.
Senator WRIGHT: What percentage is that 150 schools per year?
Ms Smith : I will just ask my colleagues.
Mr Hehir : There are actually 2,600 nongovernment schools. It would be five to six per cent of that, roughly.
Ms Smith : Yes, that is right.
Mr Hehir : It is six or maybe seven per cent.
Ms Smith : In fact, in the advice we receive from the company that we asked they said that we should keep a benchmark of that order.
Senator WRIGHT: I am sorry, I did not catch that figure and I have not done the maths in my head.
Mr Hehir : Off the top of my head, I would say that it is six to seven per cent, but we will check that.
Senator WRIGHT: Yes, and I will do the maths on my calculator. So, how do reporting requirements differ for government schools in receipt of Commonwealth funding as opposed to non-government schools in receipt of Commonwealth funding?
Ms Smith : The payments to government schools are made under the auspices of Federal Financial Relations. The payments are through Treasuries. The details of school-level expenditure, assets and liabilities, are not required by the Commonwealth.
Senator WRIGHT: Of government schools?
Ms Smith : Of government schools.
Senator WRIGHT: Have any schools been investigated or been the subject of compliance audits over the past three years and, if so, how many per year?
Ms Smith : Yes. As I explained, we are always doing desktop compliance arrangements of the types that I have outlined—checking copies of the state registration, checking aspects of the constitution in relation to wind-up clauses, the submission of the financial questionnaire, the census, participation in reporting and acquittal of financial grants and the submission of an auditor's opinion. All of that comprises our regular compliance arrangements. But as I said, where there are irregularities or where we believe there may be concerns to look at further, we will be doing other activities to look at additional checking and compliance. Then we have some standard investigation steps that we would undertake where there are concerns about specific behaviour in relation to the use of funds.
Senator WRIGHT: I guess that is what I am interested in—those where you have the random sample of the audit and then there may be concerns and further investigation required. Can you give me some sense of the numbers where that may be found for that six or seven per cent?
Mr Hehir : I could take that on notice. Some of these investigations or processes actually run for some time, because we pay attention to the schools that we investigate for some period. I would like to just make sure that we have it on a per-year basis rather than trying to provide you with a figure.
Senator WRIGHT: That would be acceptable to me, thank you. Also, I understand there would probably be a range of concerns. Of the numbers that have been taken further from just the basic compliance checks that you talked about, those where perhaps the investigation has been dealt with very simply by responding within a short period with one or two queries to those which are of more concern and more serious, could you indicate the level of the investigation that is undertaken?
Ms Smith : Certainly.
Mr Hehir : We can certainly look at that.
Ms Paul : Correct me if I do not get this right, but my feeling is that when we come back to you it will be more in the tens and fewer, rather than in the hundreds, just to give you a sense of an order of magnitude.
Senator WRIGHT: Yes. Thank you for that.
Ms Paul : The issues would normally range, as you would imagine, from viability to appropriate use of funds.
Senator WRIGHT: Yes, so perhaps some indication of the particular issues of concern—
Ms Paul : It is fairly straight financial, as in whether they are correct in their reporting. If they are incorrect in their reporting, does it appear to be a systemic issue, or a systematic issue which might lead you, of course, into the harder areas of potential fraud and so on.
Senator WRIGHT: Yes.
Ms Paul : We look at the full range from systemic error through to systematic, which is getting down the pretty hard end.
Senator WRIGHT: As opposed to technical breaches or minor errors?
Ms Paul : Yes, innocent errors or whatever, of course. Then there are the viability issues, which sometimes we touch on as well. We can give a sense of that.
Senator WRIGHT: That would be good. I would be interested to know.
Ms Paul : As there is not very many I do not know that we could give it to you in really sophisticated categories. There are too few to really establish trends. It is very case based. Nonetheless, we can give you a sense.
Senator WRIGHT: Perhaps even if it was only a small number, a sense of each case.
Ms Paul : Yes, without identifying them, obviously.
Senator WRIGHT: Yes. I was not expecting you to do that.
Ms Smith : It would be a limited number of cases where we vary the annual payments. Payments are made three times a year to schools. We may have to vary the payments to reduce risk—
Senator WRIGHT: So perhaps make them more frequently and in smaller amounts?
Ms Smith : That is right. We often do that. Those are some of the steps that we take in relation to some cases.
Senator WRIGHT: Do you know, without taking this on notice, whether any of the investigations uncovered inappropriate use of funds or financial mismanagement by schools?
Ms Smith : Some of the more complex cases have ranged over these types of behaviours. There may have been allegations of possible misuse of Commonwealth funds via payments to third parties, for example. There might have been possible breaches of the not-for-profit criteria under state legislation, and that would require us to have a look at that. In relation to our legislation, there might be allegations of irregularities of use of particular grants, such as capital grants, there may be overreporting of student enrolment numbers or there may be other matters such as just the general management by the school of the funds.
Senator WRIGHT: Perhaps I can ask you, in terms of that previous answer that you are going to provide to me, if you could give details of those? I am particularly interested in the more serious end of those sorts of concerns. Thank you, Chair.
Senator NASH: With regard to Gonski, I know Senator Mason has several questions on this, but I just had a couple of particularly regional aspects that I wanted to ask you about. I have previously asked you about the Your School, Our Future forums and the National Plan for School Improvement forums, and I will have another crack. The former website—Your School, Our Future—had the only possible regional forums listed as Wollongong and Ballarat. At that point the closest thing that I think fits into a regional visit by the Gonski panel was Camden. In response to a question on notice, which was, just to assist, EW0713_13, I asked again: 'Within all of this consultation, which regional communities had been visited?' And you answered with regard to Your School, Our Future, six held in regional areas; National Plan for School Improvement fora, seven held in regional areas. I do not know if I can be any clearer than to say: could you give me the names of the towns? I do not think that is really complicated. I do not think that is difficult. I do not think there is anything missing in the translation there, but when I ask you for the names of the towns I get 'six held in regional areas, seven held in regional areas'. Have we got the names, by any chance, of the towns?
Mr Cook : I do not have them with me. I might be able to hunt them down and see if we can get them before the end of the hearing tonight, because it would be quite easy to do. The other point I will make around this is that a number of the consultations and forums that are held are also held online. In fact, while we may not physically be in a regional location—and I did one myself—
Senator NASH: I will make it really simple for you. There are two things. Can you give me a list of where you were not physically in a regional location?
Mr Cook : Yes.
Senator NASH: And when you were physically there, on the ground, in the regional town, that is, a town with a signpost that you see when you drive into it. Can you give me a list of the names of the towns that you physically visited?
Mr Cook : I can do that.
Senator NASH: That would be very useful. Thank you. Just on that, with the forums online there were about 1,500 people. In that first part of the question that I asked you, if you could give me an indication of how many regional people there were? Out of the 1,500, how many were regional? But I suspect that will come out with the first part of the answer that you have taken on notice, anyway?
Mr Cook : I will see what data is available about that. We can certainly look into that.
Senator NASH: I think that would marry in with the question you have taken on notice to look at how many regional towns are online. Perhaps there is the opportunity to get the actual number of people. Just on the funding model specifically for regional, rural and remote schools—and I know we have had some discussion about this earlier—I understand that last time we had this discussion there was no available information because it was under discussion. I understand the minister for education recently met with the state and territory ministers. I think it was at the start of this month, if I am correct. Were there any more details resulting from those discussions that you can share with us about the loadings for small, remote and regional schools?
Mr Cook : The discussion is continuing in relation to settling the final loadings. At this point in time there is no further detail in relation to those loadings.
Senator NASH: Is it that you do not know or you are not in a position to share that with us? I am happy either way, but I ask in the context of: how can you have discussions and deliberations around the whole Gonski if you do not know what these loadings are? If you have all of that and it is part of the conversation, but you simply cannot share it with us at this point, I understand that, but if you do not have it at all I am at a loss to understand how you can actually progress to get to any kind of determination of how this is going to work.
Mr Cook : As with a range of loadings, we have been talking very closely with all states, territories and non-government authorities, and they all have quite different views around how some of these loadings may apply. If you look at the issue around rural and remote, for example, there are different classifications of what would be the best classification to apply. So, do you apply—I think we might have mentioned at the last hearing—the agreed ministerial council geolocation loadings which had been agreed and used by ministerial council in the past and what impact that would have in relation to the loadings for rural and remote schools, or do you look at the accessibility remoteness index of Australia, the ARIA, loading? We certainly have proposals that we are discussing, but we do not have a final position because we are still considering, and states and territories are still engaged with us about what they think would be the best way to get the funding model working for a range of schools, including rural and remote as well.
Senator NASH: Thank you. That is really helpful. So, there is a range of potential mechanisms for the loadings or a way they could apply?
Mr Cook : That is correct.
Senator NASH: So, it is the discussion around the possibilities that are currently under consideration at the moment?
Mr Cook : That is right.
Senator NASH: Thank you. That is extremely useful. We look forward to finding out exactly what they are going to be, perhaps by next estimates or the estimates after that. With regard to the National Plan for School Improvement forum, which I understand was early November last year, where questions could be submitted online—
Ms Paul : There have been a number of them.
Senator NASH: How many of them have there been?
Mr Cook : We would have to take that on notice between the last estimates and this estimates.
Senator NASH: If you could do that.
Mr Cook : In our last answer to you we said that there were 21 National Plan for School Improvement forums held between 1 September and 14 November. We will have to provide you with updated information since that time.
Senator NASH: All right. I understand there were a number of questions submitted to that particular one from the ICPA. I do not expect that you would be able to have an answer now, but if I could put them on notice so that perhaps we could get an answer. What specific funding provisions will be made for distance education students who are not physically located at the administrative hub of the distance education school? What will the definition of a 'small' school be? Will the loads for rural and remote students and students from small schools be based on the ASGC classifications? If so, are only schools from the remote and very remote areas in the ASGC classifications going to be funded as rural and remote and, if so, what provisions will be made for small schools in outer regional and inner regional areas? If you could take those on notice for me.
Mr Cook : Can you tell me the date of that particular forum?
Senator NASH: Yes, I can. That particular forum was 1 November. Those questions were not answered at the forum and I can understand that you cannot do everything through the forums—that would be impossible. The ICPA has apparently emailed them to the department—and you may well not be aware of this—in early December to seek a response to those, which I think is a fair and appropriate thing to do. That is two months ago and they still have not received a response. I completely understand that it could not be done through the forum, but I think two months for a simple set of questions; I understand Christmas and Santa, but there is a bit of time around Santa. I just think it would have been more appropriate if they could have had a more timely response.
Mr Cook : We will certainly look into that. I am actually not aware of the questions. They have not come to the joint task force, but certainly we will look into those questions and get back to the association as soon as we can.
Senator NASH: If you could have a hunt around.
Ms Paul : If we cannot find it then we might just get on to your office and perhaps they can email Mr Cook or me again, just to make sure.
Senator NASH: We can do that, absolutely. I suspect Hansard will pick it up, but we can get it to you more quickly than Hansard will. Perhaps without waiting for the process of questions on notice to come back, if in the meantime as well you could respond to ICPA directly as well as responding to the committee.
Mr Cook : Sure.
Senator NASH: That would be very much appreciated. We are obviously in the stage at the moment with the deliberations around Gonski and the regional schools that it is difficult to provide information. Insofar as you can, when we have not got the modelling or the details, what are you saying to schools at the moment about Gonski, about where it is at? What information are they getting at the moment about where the process is, what is happening and what is likely to happen? There is a lot of concern out there and uncertainty about how all of this is going to work. I am accepting that you cannot give them a direct answer, but I am very interested in what message you are giving them and what information they are getting at the moment about where the process is, what is happening and what is likely to happen.
Mr Cook : The main point of contact for schools would be the Better Schools website. In terms of the Commonwealth department, we are obviously having discussions with state and territory governments and also the non-government national authorities, and they are providing that information to their schools. From the Commonwealth's perspective, the Better Schools website provides information around the basis of, as you know, what Gonski proposed in terms of the needs based funding. We are certainly making it clear that a needs based funding model is something that the Commonwealth government is interested in forwarding in the discussions that we are having with the states and territories.
The other information that would be provided would be the fact sheets around that, but also the facts sheets around the National Plan for School Improvement, which talk about the sorts of things that we want to see around teacher quality, quality learning, empowering school leadership and those particular aspects. The Prime Minister, of course, has been quite public around some of her aspirations this year and also in relation to the aim to settle the information around schools funding by COAG in April this year as well.
Ms Paul : There have been the forums, too, which we have just been talking about, particularly because they were live streamed.
Mr Cook : Having said that—and I am sorry to interrupt you—I have spoken to people at many conferences and to principals' associations about where we are up to in the process. I spend a lot of time talking with our school stakeholders around this as well.
Senator NASH: For the purposes of the understanding of our committee, the information that is publicly available now that is packaged in the way that you are talking about to go to schools and there is no other avenue of discussion? What we can see is what they are getting? There is nothing extra?
Mr Cook : To a large degree, that is right.
Ms Paul : Except for what you would not see such as the professional forums that Mr Cook just referred to. He has spoken at principals' forums and so on. Most of the others are public, but some of those forums are professional forums.
Mr Cook : I was the keynote speaker for the Australian Primary Principals Conference with 2000 or so primary principals in Australia and New Zealand speaking about where we are up to around reform of schools funding. It is those sorts of dealings as well.
Senator NASH: With those types of things where you are obviously speaking and providing the information in that forum, is what you then say then posted somewhere on the website or is that just done—
Mr Cook : Often it is posted on the association's website. It is public information in that sense, so often what they would do is they would take my presentation and put it on their own professional association site.
Senator NASH: I am sure it was an excellent presentation as well.
Mr Cook : I have not received much feedback, to be honest. I have been invited again so that is kind of nice.
Senator NASH: That has to be a good thing. As I was saying earlier, obviously all of the questions that are submitted cannot be dealt with at the forum, so what is the process for selecting which ones are?
Mr Cook : I think that would actually be through the communications area rather than my area. They would manage those forums. I would have to take that on notice.
Senator NASH: Can you take a couple of things on notice for me. Obviously out of the great plethora that you get you have to figure out which ones are appropriate. If you could perhaps take on notice for us how the questions to be answered at the forums are selected and who determines which questions are appropriate?
Ms Paul : Perhaps I can help there, having MCed some of them. In terms of questions coming from the audience, that is a free-for-all. That is open.
Senator NASH: I am specifically talking about the ones that have been submitted online.
Ms Paul : As Mr Cook took on notice, we can take that on notice. Obviously were they discourteous or inappropriate they would not be put up.
Senator NASH: Questions of the ICPA were neither discourteous nor inappropriate.
Ms Paul : I am sure they were not. It has been quite popular. On the whole it has been first in best dressed. Were they concerned that theirs did not get asked at the forum of 1 November?
Senator NASH: They were certainly a little perplexed as to the process of why perhaps theirs had not been—
Ms Paul : So, they did submit it online?
Senator NASH: They did it online. Then having submitted them online, having not had them answered at the forum, to then not get an answer—
Ms Paul : Not get an answer from us.
Senator NASH: They are a little disappointed.
Ms Paul : I can understand that. We will make sure we answer their letter to us. As I said, it might speed things up to ask them just to re-email Mr Cook or me, but we will try to track it down straightaway as well.
Senator NASH: I would hope they would be there somewhere.
Ms Paul : That is all right.
Senator NASH: That would be very useful. Do you have a target timeframe? If these have fallen through the cracks then they have fallen through the cracks, but is there a target timeframe in which you attempt to respond to those questions that have been put online?
Mr Cook : Certainly. It is easy to say that it would be as soon as possible. Part of that is about receiving the questions that have come through the communications area and sometimes there are up to 300 to 400 questions per forum. We would have to work through those questions. To be fair, the ones that are quicker to respond to are questions that we have received in the past and therefore it is an easier response.
Senator NASH: Cut and paste?
Mr Cook : Of course not cut and paste, but at least consider what our previous response might have been. But some are much more complex and so we just need a bit more time. Some will be a response about the fact that this time we are unable to provide a direct response because we are still in discussions in relation to some of those matters. Certainly my team is aware of this, as is the communications team, and our aim is always to try and respond to that correspondence as soon as we can. We will follow up with what is happening with the correspondence that you are raising.
Senator NASH: Perhaps an eye could be cast over the process to ensure that nobody else is in the same position of having to wait so long.
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator NASH: This is my last question. What are you saying to schools, parents and families about the uncertainty? Obviously we are at this period through the process where there are not a lot of answers about modelling and about how the loadings are going to work, so how are you addressing the very real uncertainty that is out there as to how exactly is this going to impact on people and their children?
Mr Cook : What has been very public from the government is that in terms of budgets no school will lose a dollar in 2014 as a result of the review of funding.
Senator NASH: There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead? I am sorry, that was a cheap shot.
Mr Cook : In relation to that, schools do know what their budget is in 2013 and they know that no school will lose a dollar in relation to that. We are aware of timelines and we are working very hard to meet the timelines, which is what the Prime Minister has indicated in her speech around COAG.
Senator NASH: What is your best guess on the done and dusted time? When do you think there will be an announcement that says, 'This is how this is going to work'?
Mr Cook : We are working in relation to a very public timeline around COAG in April this year.
Ms Paul : We are still working to the timeline that the Prime Minister said in her speech.
Senator NASH: Minister, have you got an indication for us?
Senator Kim Carr: I think the officers have indicated to you on about three separate occasions that they are still working to the timetable that was previously announced.
Senator NASH: That is all right. It takes me a little while to catch on to these things.
Senator Kim Carr: I know. For the National Party that is obviously the case.
Senator NASH: Sledging, Minister!
Senator MASON: I am in the LNP. It is half National Party now, as you know.
Senator Kim Carr: That is true and I have noted the decline in your performance since that amalgamation.
Senator NASH: I recollect, Minister, you referring to Nationals as Neanderthals in the chamber itself.
Senator Kim Carr: I have. I have called them knuckle draggers and various other things as well.
Senator NASH: Knuckle draggers. That was it. I almost took a point of order that my arms are not quite that long. Thank you, Mr Cook and Ms Paul.
CHAIR: Senator Mason, you should continue, on that note.
Senator MASON: Thank you. Ms Paul, earlier this morning in cross-portfolio I was going to ask questions about performance in international testing results, and you said that was Outcome 2. Is it appropriate now?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: If I do this now then we can go on to Gonski.
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: I do not hold out much hope for Gonski, but I will ask some questions.
Ms Paul : That is fine.
Senator MASON: I will do my bit, Ms Paul.
Ms Paul : No problem.
Senator MASON: On 11 December 2012 the Australian Council for Educational Research released the results of the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study—PIRLS is the acronym—for year 4 students and the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, TIMSS, for students in year 4 and year 8. According to ACER the PIRLS results indicate, that 'many Australian year 4 students have substantial literacy problems with around one quarter of students not meeting the intermediate benchmark—the standard generally considered in international achievement studies to be the minimally acceptable standard of proficiency'. That is a quote from the report.
TIMSS, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, results indicate that with the exception of an improvement in the performance of year 4 mathematics students between 1995 and 2011 maths and science achievement has stagnated over the past 16 years while a number of other countries have either dramatically or indeed steadily improved their performances. According to ACER, between 29 per cent and 37 per cent of year 4 and year 8 students in Australia performed below the intermediate benchmark in maths and science. How do we explain at least the declining relative performance of Australian school students reflected in these test results? Who wants to have a go at that? Any hands? No-one is jumping around to this one.
Ms Paul : Just give us a chance.
Senator MASON: Believe it or not, Ms Paul, I am not gleeful about this. This is not something that makes me happy.
Ms Paul : No-one is.
Senator MASON: It is a very difficult issue.
Ms Paul : Yes, so just to give you the most comprehensive response.
Mr Cook : As you pointed out, in some areas there has been some growth and in other areas there has not been as much growth as we would certainly like there to be. This is about an assessment that was done in 2010, which was then reported in 2011. There is a differential across Australia as well, which is the other challenge for us as well. With states and territories in relation to their own performance there is quite a differential. As you know, ACT actually performs as high as many of the high-performing countries, and so there is a differential across the country.
Senator MASON: The ACT is a rather unusual place in many ways, but anyway I know what you are saying.
Mr Cook : Being now a resident of the ACT I can appreciate that, even though it is a wonderful place to live, obviously. From the government's perspective, in moving towards something like a National Plan for School Improvement, it is about recognising that there is more work to be done. The Prime Minister has said this, particularly in relation to international assessments such as PISA.
We are in the process of analysing the data in relation to the particular cohorts of students that are not performing as well as we hoped they would. That would look at the various categories that actually exist across the actual assessments as well. So, there is intermediate, high performing and things like that. One of the things we are particularly interested in is what has happened to the growth of Australian students at the higher end? That is one of our questions. In fact, Patrick Griffin, who is a researcher at the University of Melbourne, released an article earlier in the year that actually talks about the work that has been happening in Australia around the lower performing students and how that is progressing quite well, but we cannot forget that we have to also focus on the higher performing students.
In terms of the range of data that was available through the ACER report, I guess the task for us is to continue to analyse that to look at why this growth has happened in certain year levels, but perhaps not happened in other year levels, and what we need to do in response to that in terms of the target of teaching to actually address some of those issues.
Ms Paul : I might add to that, too.
Senator MASON: Thank you, but that does not quite answer the question.
Ms Paul : It says we are still looking at it and so on. One of the things that we are looking at, for example—and I recall this in discussing PISA results in the past—
Senator MASON: Yes, which we have discussed.
Ms Paul : That is right. In particular, I think I talking—favourite topic—the fact that Australia had declined and then bounced up. Australia declined between 2003 and 2006 and then climbed back up in 2009. When you talk to some of the experts in this country who are worldwide experts, they will say things like, 'You have to look at what is happening inside Australia and you have to look at what the other countries are doing' because it is relativities.
Senator MASON: I understand that.
Ms Paul : So, they point to the things that we have spoken about here before, for example, national curriculum. When these tests were done for TIMSS and PIRLS in 2010 the national curriculum was not in place yet in Australia, whereas some other countries have been very focused on national curriculum and so on. One of the areas that, if the ACARA people were here, they would talk about the decline in PISA in, as Mr Cook said, the gifted end of Australian students. There has actually been a decline in performance amongst the highest achievers, which is interesting, as well as the long tail of disadvantage, which we have talked about before.
When you look at other countries the countries that are in front of us now and what they are doing, you see immediate things like a big focus on teacher quality—no surprise there—professional development, preservice, the nature of preservice and so on. The National Plan for School Improvement, for example, goes to five areas, which are basically the evidence of what is going to be required, particularly to meet the aim of being in the top five countries for reading, maths and science by 2025 in PISA, and that is teacher quality, leadership quality, learner outcomes, transparency and so on.
When we talk to the experts about this—and we are still doing that because it has just come in, so naturally everyone who is interested in this in Australia, not just us, but the ACARA and ACER and so on are looking at this, and those are the type of things that come to mind. It reinforces what we have spoken about before, which is that the evidence points to needing to lift in all those areas, which are now part of the National Plan for School Improvement.
Senator MASON: I have quoted, Ms Paul, Professor Masters and so forth. I have too many things to get through this afternoon. Have you ever looked at the comparative tables in the OECD about education expenditure and education outcomes?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: They are not at all correlative. That is quite interesting.
Ms Paul : Yes. For example, though, when you look at expenditure you find it is not apples to apples.
Senator MASON: Not always.
Ms Paul : In particular, if you look at the higher ed comparisons the whole HECS, the fees, et cetera, are not dealt with in a comparable way in other countries. When you look at schooling, vocational education at schooling level is not accounted for in similar ways across countries. It has been looked at and it is actually quite hard to draw those comparisons.
Senator MASON: I do not think there is any doubt that Australia spends a lot per student, governments or parents, yet the correlation between that and outcome is nowhere near what you expect.
Senator Kim Carr: The arguments are somewhat inconclusive on that question of the statistics that you have quoted. I think officers have pointed out the state of the reform process with the time those statistics are produced, and the international comparisons are not equalled to the task because they are measuring different things. The point I have made in the Senate before—and I would be interested in your response to it—is that if there is no correlation between investment and attainment—
Senator MASON: No, not no correlation. The correlation is not direct and instrumental.
Senator Kim Carr: If the investment has not worked, which is the inference that is made in this debate, why do parents spend so much money sending their kids to such expensive schools? Why do they do that?
Senator MASON: Let me answer by quoting the Gonski report. How is that for a reply? The Gonski report noted, 'While the allocation of resources to areas of greatest need is a necessary condition for achieving improvements in performance across the school system, it is not a sufficient condition for doing so.' Professor Wiltshire recently stated, 'Money is only a small part of the answer. A cultural shift is necessary. Organisational culture is influenced by leadership, recognition, discipline, role modelling and continuous feedback.' My point is: does the government recognise that the increased funding alone will not reverse the decline? Is that understood?
Senator Kim Carr: That is not argued. The reforms that have been introduced are about changing the culture of education and are about transparency. They are about accountability. They are about improving the curriculum. They are about teaching method. All of those things are very much at the centre of the reforms the government has pursued, but I come back to this proposition: if it is not about money or if money is such a small part of it, why do people spend so much at Geelong Grammar?
Senator MASON: That is actually not the question. Most people do not go to Geelong Grammar, they go to systemic Catholic schools.
Senator Kim Carr: I know; very few do.
Senator MASON: They go to systemic Catholic schools. They leave the government system to go to systemic Catholic schools and pay very low fees. That is the question that you ought to be thinking about. That is the question the government should be thinking about.
Ms Paul : To go to your point, you are absolutely right. The Gonski review and the funding system that will flow from it is the 'how' that schools get funded. It goes to one extremely important point, which is that it targets disadvantage, so if those reforms are adopted it directs more resources towards disadvantage. But then what does that fund? What it funds is in the National Plan for School Improvement and it is exactly what we have been talking about; that is, great teacher quality, good professional development, to get great principals, to be transparent and so on. There are two sides to the same coin. How you fund is incredibly important, but what you fund inside schools, inside classrooms and so on is also incredibly important. You cannot have one without the other.
Senator MASON: Let me ask some specifics about that. In December last year the Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood endorsed the National Plan for School Improvement tool. You are aware of that. Does the standing council's endorsement of the tool purport to implement the government's pledge to require schools to produce school improvement plans which will 'Outline the steps that each school will take to improve student results'? Is that right, Mr Cook?
Ms Paul : I imagine they would say that they have not completely signed up to what has now been articulated in the National Plan for School Improvement, but it is potentially a foundation stone towards that. Of course, many schools have them now and many of them are linked through the My School website. If you would like us to talk a bit more about what was signed up to, which is a particular tool, we can do that.
Senator MASON: I would love to be here all day, all night and all of tomorrow, but I have so much to get through.
Ms Paul : That is fine. That has been underway for some time. It is a particular tool which helps, and the nice thing about that tool is that it represents an agreement on what those items might be which actually allow you to measure school improvement. I think that is the power of it. My colleagues might want to expand or correct.
Senator MASON: There is a part of that that I could not follow. You may have an explanation, Ms Paul. In its original development of the tool ACER intended, as I understand it, that trained auditors would provide schools with ratings with respect to their teaching and learning practices, as originally cast. That is right. 'During the audit, trained auditors provided judgment or rating of a school.' However, in its endorsement of the tool the standing council did not make any reference to audited assessments. So there has been a shift indicating, instead, that the tool could be self-administered by schools. Does this not undermine the utility of the tool as a quality assurance mechanism? Are you with me, Mr Cook? Do you see where I am going?
Mr Cook : Yes. As you picked up, the standing council endorsed the tool, but they also endorsed that implementation of the tool as a matter for jurisdictions, so jurisdictions will make decisions as to those issues around the independent auditing. In Queensland, your state, my understanding is that they do have independent auditing because they have actually been utilising this tool. I think Professor Masters developed a large majority of this tool, initially, in Queensland and we have used some of that knowledge to further the tool nationally. They have retired principals or people like that that actually come in after schools have done a self-audit—that is my understanding—and then independently audit some of the school progress. They have found that to be a very useful and very valuable activity in the work that they are doing.
Senator MASON: Can the Commonwealth government be assured that there will be this audit process? I am not casting aspersions at any particular school here, but self-assessment is not always necessarily frank. Even with Gonski, noting that the Gonski review itself—and you would be aware of this, Mr Cook—recommended the formation of an independent external quality assurance authority to ensure public accountability for the expenditure of funds in schools. Clearly, as the minister has mentioned, if we are going to spend—state and federal governments and the community in the end, the taxpayer—a lot more money on education, then you really need accountability to make sure that we are getting value for money. Is it not being undermined by this?
Mr Cook : I do not believe so. As you know, one of the five components of the National Plan for School Improvement is transparency and accountability.
Senator MASON: So why do we not have external auditors everywhere?
Mr Cook : Again, in terms of implementation of school matters like this, that is what state governments and school authorities are responsible for. What the Commonwealth will ask is how they are demonstrating that these schools are actually achieving their outcomes. State education ministers agreed several weeks ago to work collaboratively to develop targets in relation to meeting the national goals for 2025 and how we will actually progress or chart our progress in relation to those targets. Education ministers have absolutely agreed that we need to be quite clear and quite public about what we want to achieve, particularly around student outcomes, and we have to report against that regularly in relation to those national targets which are now part of it.
Senator MASON: Unless I am mistaken, according to the standing council, schools will have the option of whether to use the tool at all, won't they?
Mr Cook : What the standing council endorsed was the tool and they also endorsed the implementation of the tool as something that will be overseen by jurisdictions at that particular point.
Senator MASON: That is right. So it is not compulsory for schools, is it?
Mr Cook : It is not compulsory for schools at this particular point in relation to the work that is being done. What is interesting to note, of course, because I spoke to Professor Masters just last week, is that he is completely run off his feet at the moment in relation to the number of schools all around Australia that actually want to learn about this tool and utilise this tool in the work that they are doing.
Senator MASON: I am not suggesting that some of them do not. That is not my point. You used the word 'transparency', Ms Paul and Mr Cook. The point is that if you are going to spend a lot of money—and I am not going to go into any partisan rant here, but it is not that hard to spend money. I have been in parliament 13 years and it is not hard to spend money. It is hard to spend it well. If you are going to spend a lot of money you want to make damned sure that we are getting good outcomes and that people are accountable for the expenditure of that money. It worries me when we start to get very loose accountability arrangements, Ms Paul. You see where I am going?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: In the end, jurisdictions make their own decisions, but it is worrying. I am very worried now.
Mr Cook : I would guess that if all education ministers have now agreed to work together on setting public targets in terms of student outcomes, how we will actually measure the progress in relation to those targets, I think they have been quite clear in the last couple of weeks that the intention is to actually be very accountable as to how students are progressing in relation to what is happening in schools and the money that is being spent.
Senator MASON: Sure, but why not just adopt the tool?
Mr Cook : The tool is not just about students; the tool is about a range of things.
Senator MASON: If that was adopted across the board it would make it so much easier. This is just talk.
Mr Cook : State and territories have a range of improvement frameworks, and of course they are building this into the work that they are doing around their school improvement frameworks. They also have other measures as well.
Senator MASON: Minister, what do you think? I want to hear the minister's evidence because we may agree for once. Do you want to see accountability mechanisms that are sharp and appropriate to pull these states into order?
Ms Paul : It sounds like they will be adopted broadly.
Senator MASON: I hope so.
Ms Paul : If they are run off their feet, it will be adopted.
Senator MASON: It is a lot of money.
Senator Kim Carr: It is a perennial question of this great federation: how you actually translate policy objectives at one level of government to another. There has to be certain flexibility in the approaches taken if you want to get this stuff through COAG. I think the officers have made it clear that the Commonwealth is taking a rigorous approach, but you have got to get school administrators to accept that. That is the core of the issue.
Senator MASON: I am not blaming the Commonwealth. I am just expressing concern, minister.
Senator Kim Carr: I have expressed the same concerns when I sat on the other side of the table about making some effort. There is always going to be this discussion in this country about the relationship between the Commonwealth and the states when it comes to measuring outcomes.
Senator BACK: It is accountability for the delivery of the programs. That is what it comes down to. It is the accountability for the delivery of programs to the community.
Senator Kim Carr: There is no disagreement. The officers are saying to the committee that they are taking a rigorous approach and they are trying to get the states to agree to an approach.
Ms Paul : That is right.
Senator Kim Carr: Progress is being made and you criticise the pace of the process. Invariably that conversation will proceed.
Senator MASON: I am even less concerned about the pace. A lot of Australians would agree that we have to raise our relative educational performance. I accept that. You and I would agree on that, but it is a lot of money being looked at. I just want to put on the table now that I hope the Commonwealth is looking at this very closely and we have to do as much as we can to ensure the federation moves forward under uniform and transparent measures, Mr Cook, you see. It worries me, Ms Paul.
Ms Paul : That is precisely one of the five main planks in the National Plan for School Improvement. Of course, accountability and transparency will go well beyond the use of a particular tool. The tool is a positive thing. My view on the tool is that it is a very positive thing. It is the first time ever in Australia that there has actually been national agreement on a way of measuring—
Senator MASON: I am not against the tool.
Ms Paul : You just want it to be more mandatory. That is fair enough. That is a debate to be had, but the measures of transparency and accountability will also go well beyond that, as they already do on the My School website, for example.
Senator MASON: Will the tool be used to guide future school funding or bonuses? That might make them focus their minds, Ms Paul. Why not do that, Mr Cook?
Mr Cook : The tool is actually a school improvement tool. It talks about the sort of things, the eight general areas, the eight domains if you call them that or the nine domains, that are important for the operations of a school. It is not just those nine, by the way; there are other things as well. It obviously talks about the important things around having quality teaching, the things that you have heard us talk about before, the things that you know make a difference in the classroom. Out of that, however, they are like the preconditions of a school to enable the student outcomes to be the things that we want them to be because you would be looking particularly at the student outcomes. I do not want to sound like a cracked record, but back to the fact that education ministers have now agreed that we will be setting these national targets, that is the accountability that we will be looking at across all governments—everyone. How are we reaching those targets? What is our progress? What are we looking at? What do we need to do more in, whether it be the early years of schooling or the later years of schooling to get there?
Senator MASON: The target is critical.
Ms Paul : We are beyond the tool now, just to be clear.
Senator MASON: I understand that. What worries me is that the targets will not be the sorts of targets where real accountability can be ensured. You want to enforce accountability. As I have discovered in politics, you have to base it on relative measures. Believe me, if you start saying that we have to move up relative educational scores, that will really focus the mind, but no-one will do that. I bet you no-one does that. They will not do it.
Ms Paul : In what terms?
Senator MASON: You might say, whether it is the PISA outcomes or other testing outcomes, Australia must move up. We have spent billions of dollars and will that increase our relative performance internationally? No-one will make that commitment, Ms Paul, no-one. I am not blaming the Commonwealth, but no state government, no Commonwealth government; they will just sit there. We spend billions of dollars and no-one will be able to look at you or me or anyone else and say, 'The expenditure of that money will improve Australia's performance internationally, relatively.' No-one will say that.
Ms Paul : Actually what Mr Cook has just said is that ministers recently have signed up to the notion of making transparent targets on the way to being one of the top five countries in reading, maths, science and PISA by 2025, so what is the pathway to get there? We know the pathway has to be in those five domains that we have talked about, which are the core of the National Plan for School Improvement, but then you need to work out what your pathway is. That is really hard because all the other countries are moving all the time as well.
Senator MASON: I am not convinced, Ms Paul. I am very sceptical.
Ms Paul : The plan is not only to have a clear pathway, as clear as you can get it reviewed at least annually, but also to make it transparent.
CHAIR: Senator Mason, we are going to the break at 3.30, so I just thought you might like to finish a block of questions.
Senator MASON: When I finish this area. I would hate to be repeating myself, Chair. You mentioned the government's commitment to give more power to principals like hiring staff and controlling the budget. That is still fairly vague. What other powers outside of hiring staff and controlling budgets will be given to principals and how, again, will this improve the performance of school children? I think it is a good idea. Is there anything else?
Mr Cook : These are obviously continuing conversations that we are having with states and territories and, as you know, some are very different. For senators from Victoria, the Victorian Education Department would be very proud of the fact that they believe that they are one of the most devolved systems. Certainly learnings are coming from places like the Independent Public Schools program in WA. They have some really interesting work that they have been doing. It is actually about setting the strategic direction of the school with more freedom in that school in terms of empowerment.
Senator MASON: I do not oppose it, but when you have flexibility you also need accountability.
Mr Cook : Absolutely.
Senator MASON: That is my point.
Mr Cook : Absolutely. Again, I am looking at some of the examples. I have certainly been talking to some of my state and territory colleagues previously where those schools that have perhaps been given the authority to be more autonomous than others schools in the system, what the system still does is that it has a large degree of accountability in terms of their results and if they find that their results are not progressing as well as they would hope, the questions go back to that school and the board of that school. 'What are you doing? Why are your results looking like this? Give us your school improvement plan as to how you are going to improve those things.'
Senator MASON: Let me move on because I will try to finish this section by half past 3. In addition to the uncertainty in government policy, as I see it, the government—to my mind, at least—has failed to adequately address several key non-funding measures that are outlined within the Gonski report, itself. Can I ask this: what will be done to develop community attitudes that value teachers and the teaching profession? Again, the minister and I would agree on this. This is critical. It is about teacher quality, Ms Paul, while teachers have to feel valued. What are we going to do about that?
Mr Cook : There is a range of actual proposals that are up for discussion. If you look at one of the things in terms of certainly an area that all states and territories are working with, as well as the Commonwealth, is this notion about the teacher performance framework, for example. That is about teachers in the classroom having the conversations and being able to work with their peers about the things that they need to do to make a difference. I appreciate you are probably coming from a community perspective.
Senator MASON: I am.
Mr Cook : That is also quite important.
Senator MASON: Gonski says 'community attitudes', Ms Paul, as you know. What are we going to do about that?
Mr Cook : The other part of that within the National Plan for School Improvement around the empowering school leadership component is actually about the very strong link between the school community and the schools, so what are schools doing around not just their board but also their local community generally. How are they making their facilities open to enable the community to utilise those things? There are some really good examples that are happening in some of the states and territories.
Senator MASON: That is a bit boring to me, Mr Cook. My late afternoon scepticism is setting in.
Ms Paul : In terms of what you can control in school policy, I guess I would draw on two things. One is exactly what Mr Cook has just said, which is about community engagement and encouraging schools into their communities with the use of their facilities and how they engage with their parents. There is a lot of research that says that when schools engage really well with the parent body and the community even more broadly, the results of the kids are actually better. It is a kind of virtuous relationship.
Senator MASON: Quite right.
Ms Paul : The other thing that I would draw on is the status of the profession. I think it is really important. I think the status of the profession is very important and you see that in those other countries that are now doing better than us. In Finland, for example, you have to have a master's degree and so on. So the whole question of preservice, what you do to get the highest status possible in your teacher body and the highest calibre—the quality of teaching. It is one of those five planks in the national plan.
Senator MASON: What are we going to do about it? I am not saying it is easy.
Ms Paul : There is a lot.
Senator MASON: I am not suggesting it is easy.
Ms Paul : No. There is a lot already underway. Some of the things underway are actually really profound. For example, what you were talking to AITSL about this morning is actually very profound. It is the first time you have had a performance framework for teachers nationally. It is very important. There is an aspiration that ministers are signed up to that teacher graduates are in the top 30 per cent of literacy and numeracy in the population. That is a comfort, but the first time that has been signed up to. There are the teacher standards for preservice education and so on. When you think about the thing, in Australia, because we are in a federation, you have tended to have eight different ways of doing things and then the non-government systems.
Senator MASON: I accept that. I know that they should be in the top 30 per cent of literacy and numeracy in the general population. You are right, thank God for that. I think we would all agree it should be, but even then you have this tension at the moment. I do not want to go back to higher education again, but there are the low ATAR scores.
Ms Paul : Yes, that is right.
Senator MASON: This is a difficult debate because ATAR scores are falling, not in every university, but many universities for teaching. They are rising in some, that is true.
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: Again, you have press coverage about teachers, who are effectively failing, becoming teachers. It is a very difficult national conversation.
Ms Paul : It is very important. I would not say, by the way, that ATARs are necessarily falling but they are variable, which I think is your point. It is very important that there is a policy focus on preservice, so the moves like AITSL to accredit preservice education provision is very important.
Senator MASON: With the time left I would like to just ask about one other area of what we call non-funding aspects that Gonski relates to. There are several of them. He talks about a whole-of-school culture that embraces innovation and change, but we do not have the time. I will just focus on one in the time that we have left. He says, 'Facilitate greater parental engagement with the learning of their children.' Clearly, that is a big factor. What are we doing there? That is a huge factor, isn't it?
Mr Cook : Absolutely.
Senator MASON: I think everyone would accept that.
Mr Cook : As you know, and you have probably been to some schools that actually do an incredible amount of work in relation to this, whether it is actually about conducting programs—in fact, in the old days, when I was young, I used to conduct programs in schools for parents in relation to reading and writing. They would come after school and engage in those sorts of things. There is also a range of material that has been developed on websites around parental education for things like reading. So, again, we are engaging with states and territories around what that would look like and how we take some of the best from states and territories and engage that in a national approach. A lot of this is to do with school leadership. You know that. A lot of this is actually about the school principal and what the school principal is actually doing.
Senator MASON: I agree. That is why I think it is not just about money. Sure, money is a large factor, but it is all these other factors that even Gonski talks about himself. I just do not want any government to drop the ball on it, because all it will mean is the expenditure of all of this money and our results will not improve.
Ms Paul : I would make the point—
Senator MASON: I am not saying that the government did. I am just saying I do not want any government to do that.
Ms Paul : That is right, and I would make the point that I made before. You have to have both sides of the coin. You have to have the how you make the funding, targeting disadvantage and so on, and then the what you are funding, which is all the stuff that we are talking about now.
Mr Cook : Some of this information is public under the National Plan for School Improvement. There is information there about providing parents with additional information about how they can help their child with reading at home, which is on one of the fact sheets here at the moment, around what we will be doing to support parents in relation to the National Plan for School Improvements. Schools will be working on some of those things, as they do now, as you know.
Senator MASON: This will be one of the nation's signal challenges over the next five or 10 years. We are all going to be watching the results of Australian students. I hope we get it right because there is a lot of money at stake. Chair, that is all. When we return I will go into Gonski, for what it is worth.
CHAIR: All right. You have got five minutes, Senator Scullion, otherwise we might go to the break early.
Senator SCULLION: Yes, that will be fine.
CHAIR: We will deal with you first.
Senator SCULLION: Unsurprisingly, Ms Paul, my questions go to Garrthalala and the Warlpiri Triangle, Yuendumu and wherever you like. I wonder if someone would be able to provide me with an update on the circumstances of the boarding facility in Garrthalala in respect to its construction and habitation?
Mr Hehir : The Northern Territory government has recently written identifying that they do not intend to meet the in-principle commitments of the previous government around Garrthalala. They have put a proposal to the minister identifying a different site, but still seeking some commitment at Garrthalala. At the moment the minister is considering that correspondence.
Senator SCULLION: How much has been expended out of the budget on the Garrthalala site?
Mr Goodwin : The amount invested in the Garrthalala site to date is just over $600,000.
Senator SCULLION: So what is the level of amenity that is there? Are the buildings up and the sort of thing that you can point to and say that is an investment, or is it all partially done, sticks in the ground? Where are we up to?
Mr Goodwin : No. We are still in the planning phase. There is no sod turned at this stage. That money has been expended on the lease application with the Northern Land Council, feasibility studies around the site itself, a technical feasibility study to ensure that the land on which we are proposing to build is suitable to build on and then some water, power and sewerage feasibility studies.
Senator SCULLION: How much did it cost for the leasing arrangements from the Northern Land Council?
Mr Goodwin : I do not have that figure with me at the moment.
Senator SCULLION: Perhaps you can take that on notice.
Mr Goodwin : I am happy to take it on notice.
Senator SCULLION: It does not sound like it is going to go in Garrthalala, so there is a fairly changed set of circumstances. Perhaps, just on notice, would you be able to provide the committee with a brief of all the steps you have to go through, what you have to secure now and if you able, talk about the site or the options? I would appreciate that on notice.
Ms Paul : We can do that on notice. We can give you a personal briefing, if you wish.
Senator SCULLION: I am sure the other members of the committee will be interested as well, so if you can just do that on notice and perhaps I can request a brief if that is not sufficient.
Ms Paul : Of course.
Senator SCULLION: Thank you very much, Ms Paul. In Wadeye, with the $15 million, 40-bed hostel, the school year has now started so how many students do we have staying at the hostel?
Mr Goodwin : I just got off the phone this morning with the manager of the facility to provide you with the latest information. We have 35 students enrolled at the facility and those students will be moving into the facility, starting tomorrow morning.
Senator SCULLION: So as at today there is zero. Is that correct as an assumption?
Mr Goodwin : Yes.
Senator SCULLION: So 34 students are moving in tomorrow. Out of those 34 students, are you able to tell me where they normally live? Is it outside of Wadeye, in the outstations or are they, in fact, from the township itself?
Mr Goodwin : Yes, I can give you that breakdown. At the moment the breakdown is one student from Palumpa and the rest of the students are coming from the local Wadeye community.
Senator SCULLION: Is there any reason why the facility is opening up now, yet the school has been open since the start of the school year?
Mr Goodwin : The main reason for the slight delay in taking students in has been around the fact that the staff of the facility were off during the school break and they came back at the same time as the school staff came back. They have mobilised very quickly to follow up on the orientation sessions that were run before Christmas to follow up with the families and secure their interest through formal enrolments. As a bit of an example, in talking to the staff up there, the staff have invested two to three days each per family to make sure that the families understand what they are engaging with. As you can imagine, this is a huge leap of faith for many families up there.
Senator SCULLION: Is it a reasonable assumption to make that because this is a start that that is why it has taken the extra time and we could expect it to crack on at the same time as the school does next year because we will not have those sorts of issues?
Mr Goodwin : That would have been a much easier answer, wouldn't it?
Senator SCULLION: Indeed.
Mr Goodwin : An appropriate answer.
Senator SCULLION: Can we go to Yuendumu and Warlpiri Triangle. What is the update? I can advise against telling me that the Warlpiri is still war-like. It has been a long since before Cook got here that that was the case.
Mr Goodwin : Certainly. The position at the moment is that the government has made a decision not to try to build the facility in the Warlpiri Triangle at this point in time. The minister has made the call that we will examine, as quickly as possible, the possible extension of an existing facility in Tennant Creek and make that a priority facility for Warlpiri people. DEEWR staff—
Senator SCULLION: Are you able to tell me the name of that facility?
Mr Goodwin : It is called the Wangkana Kari Hostel. It is an AHL secondary school hostel that feeds students into Tennant Creek High School. It is an existing, well-supported facility.
Senator SCULLION: What additional level of amenity are you providing there? You are providing an additional 40 beds, so basically you are sticking exactly the same program on there so it will cater for the same number of beds that were originally intended in the Warlpiri arrangement?
Mr Goodwin : The intention is to be able to provide the same level of access as would have been provided in a facility onsite in the Warlpiri Triangle, but we have a bit of negotiation and a bit of consultation to do with stakeholders around that. Yes, certainly, the intention is to ensure that Warlpiri students have access to the same level of amenity as they would have had had the facility been built in the triangle.
Senator SCULLION: Can you remind me so I do not have to go back through my notes? What was the original number of beds intended for the Warlpiri Triangle?
Mr Goodwin : Forty beds.
Senator SCULLION: So the people of Tennant Creek can now assume that they will have an additional 40 beds at that facility?
Mr Goodwin : As I said, I would not want to be leading the people of Tennant Creek or the people of the Warlpiri Triangle astray by saying yes, there will definitely be an additional 40 beds there. As I said, I think there is a little bit of water to flow under the bridge yet in terms of working with AHL ensuring that there is the capacity to extend the facility in the way that we want to and ensuring that we have the support from the four communities to send their kids there.
Senator SCULLION: Perhaps I can put the question a different way. How much was the original allocation, in dollars, for the Warlpiri Triangle to provide for those 40 beds?
Mr Goodwin : There was never a set allocation per site, but I am sure you would be aware that the overall allocation was $28.9 million from the Australian government and $15 million in capital funds from the Indigenous Land Corporation. That funding was to be used as needed to set up the three facilities. You would recall, and I think we have advised previously, that the capital cost of the Wadeye facility was just over $14 million, so that kind of correlates to the amount of money that we have, but there are clearly challenges in each site that need to be met in relation to capital works. It would not be helpful for me to postulate that we would spend a third, a third, a third across the three sites.
Senator SCULLION: Obviously, because you have only got enough for two sites on the basis of what you spent in Wadeye, so you are a site out already. People will be asking what is the level of amenity and you said, give or take, about 40 beds. So it is the intention to provide the same level of amenity as is currently in Wadeye and no doubt those discussions in terms of Garrthalala will be ongoing?
Mr Hehir : In relation to your saying that there are only sufficient funds for two facilities, my recollection is that it is approximately $16 million in total for the Wadeye facility, against the index, the Australian government commitment, of $31 million and $15 million contribution from the ILC—
Senator SCULLION: In addition to, yes, my apologies.
Mr Hehir : That leaves approximately $30 million. So certainly the scale issue will need to be managed and the expense will need to be managed, but on my view there is still sufficient funding there.
Senator SCULLION: Excellent. I have a question about Nyangatjatjara College. Who would know where and who you ask? If I can perhaps ask the question and somebody can say, 'No, we can't answer it because we don't have the people here.'
Mr Goodwin : Yes.
Senator SCULLION: I would like some historic details about Nyangatjatjara College. How long has it been funded by the Commonwealth? What facilities were built under the BER. I certainly have some questions on notice regarding whether you can provide me with how many people have actually graduated with year 10 qualifications and how many with year 12 qualifications? I do not expect that to be available now, but I am not sure if you could perhaps ask towards the end of the day if people have it, if not, we can take it on notice. How many students are currently attending the school? How many students can the residential facility accommodate? How many students are currently accommodated at that facility? Are Commonwealth funds used to fund a manager for the residential village? How many principals have been employed at the college since it opened? Those questions can relate to this day and date. If you have any of those answers now, that would be great, but if not I am more than happy to take them later in the day or on notice.
Mr Goodwin : We will take them on notice.
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Scullion. We will now take a break.
Proceedings suspended from 15:37 to 15:56
CHAIR: We will resume these estimates proceedings. I inform senators that we have now used up all of the contingency time that we had factored in, so I encourage people to be as concise and as direct as possible. Senator Mason, over to you.
Senator MASON: I thought we might go to what I would call Gonski but what I know now as the National Plan for School Improvement. Before we commence, I should thank the minister, Minister Garrett, and you, Ms Paul, and Mr Cook, for giving me a briefing. I think it is fair to say that briefing was as enlightening as it could be.
Senator Kim Carr: Damned with faint praise!
Senator MASON: It was not meant to be rude, given the contingencies, Minister.
Ms Paul : I appreciate it.
Senator MASON: If we go back to October, our discussion there was that clearly there were negotiations going on with the states, and the model and all the contingencies for disadvantages, disabled students and so on were being negotiated, and that at some time there would be data received, I think early this year, that you could—I think in the departmental documents the word is—'populate'. I do not know why they use that word; the press uses it, too. So the funding model could be populated with this new data. Ms Paul, I am assuming that the department has received that data now, the 2011 ACARA data; is that right?
Ms Paul : I think we spoke about that a little the other day.
Senator MASON: Yes, you did.
Ms Paul : Would you like us to fill you in on where that is up to?
Senator MASON: Yes. Is that all right?
Ms Paul : Of course.
Mr Cook : All jurisdictions receive the data from ACARA. It is not necessarily a data exchange from the department to other jurisdictions as is normal practice. It is on an ACARA secure website.
Senator MASON: Government to government?
Mr Cook : That is exactly right. They log into that and their data people can download it. We have provided assistance where need be in relation to data, but effectively they can download their own data from ACARA.
Senator MASON: So it has gone to the states, territories, non-government and Catholic schools. Have you heard any concerns yet about the model from the sector now that the new data has been fed in? What has been the response?
Mr Cook : It is fair to say that jurisdictions are still working through the data, because it is relatively fresh; it is literally just a few weeks old, in relation to that. But, as you would be aware from the briefing, we indicated to you as well that there is still one last set of data, which is the updated SES scores for non-government schools, that jurisdictions are waiting on. We are working very hard to finalise that as quickly as we can.
Senator MASON: When will that be released? What is the timetable for that? To be fair, you mentioned that would not be before estimates.
Mr Cook : That is correct.
Senator MASON: That is fair enough. What is the time line for that?
Mr Cook : The information we have provided certainly to the non-government sector in terms of information going publicly to schools is actually March. Information in relation to some high-level conversations we can have with the non-government sector will be before that, but the information that is public that will go to schools will actually be March.
Senator MASON: So there has not been much feedback, even preliminary angst, from any of the parties—state government, state school, Catholic or non-government sectors? No comments, no angst or no concerns?
Mr Cook : There is obviously very strong interest.
Senator MASON: I am sure.
Mr Cook : We have had meetings with the non-government sector where they have shared some of their views in relation to that initial set of data, but as they would also appreciate, because it is not the full set of data at this particular point, there is still the final picture to look at.
Senator MASON: What have they said to you?
Mr Cook : As we have said before, some of our conversations remain in COAG in confidence. There has been an interest around where there have been shifts in relation to some of the financial data that is about the NRIPS. That is the actual income data that comes out of the My School website, the NRIPS. Some of that is about what actually happened between 2010 and 2011, particularly at the state government level, around additionality that might have gone to the non-government sector or the government sector in terms of their education budgets. We have been exploring that or will be exploring that with systems as to what might have been the different changes between 2010 and 2011 in relation to the actual income that is documented on the My School website.
Senator MASON: What concerns, if any, have state governments expressed to you?
Mr Cook : At this point there has been no direct concern from state governments. I think that is because they are actually still processing the data.
Senator MASON: What about Catholic systemic schools?
Mr Cook : As I mentioned, in terms of the non-government sector—
Senator MASON: So it includes them as well.
Mr Cook : No. We have had conversations with the Catholic systemic authority, the NCEC, and also ISCA, and that is about an interest around the data and the changes of the data in relation to 2010 and 2011. Part of that is about, well, why do we think it has gone one particular way. We are exploring that. It is about unpacking things. It is about reporting the data to ACARA, because schools report the data and systems to ACARA, about the increases or decreases in terms of funding between 2010 and 2011. As you are aware, with National Partnerships, for example, 2010 and 2011 are really quite high years in relation to National Partnerships and so they have asked us to unpack some of that data and talk to them about where we think some of those shifts might have come from.
Senator MASON: Does anyone express specific concern about those shifts?
Mr Cook : I am not sure whether 'concern' is the right way to portray it.
Senator MASON: What word would you use, Mr Cook?
Mr Cook : An interest as to why there have been shifts either up or down is probably fairer. They would certainly express, whether it is a concern or not, a request to us to work with them around why there have been particular increases or decreases around funding sources and things like that, which we are doing at the moment.
Senator MASON: Thus far you would suggest that none of the educational authorities—how many are there?
Ms Paul : Twenty-two.
Senator MASON: None of the 22 educational authorities have expressed concerns thus far, having populated the funding model with the new data?
Mr Cook : Just to clarify a few things. Notwithstanding there are 22 educational authorities, in terms of the non-government sector we are working with two—ISCA and NCEC. We are not working with every single—
Senator MASON: Mr Cook, slow down.
Mr Cook : We are not working with every single Catholic education authority—
Ms Paul : I am sorry, I said that.
Senator MASON: No, that is true. I understand why because we have been there before. I follow that. Let us restrict it to the ones that you are working with.
Mr Cook : In terms of non-government authorities, we certainly have had conversations about the data and what that most recent data has said. We have agreed to work with them about understanding why there have been shifts, as I have indicated, in some of the data between 2010 and 2011, noting that there is still the final data set which will complete the picture in terms of what the total data is.
Senator MASON: That sounds terribly amicable.
Mr Cook : As you would imagine, we have very productive conversations with all the authorities. Everyone has a very strong interest around how the data will impact on the outcomes of some of the discussions that we are having around things like rural and remote schools and those areas.
Senator MASON: That is why I am surprised that there has not been at least some preliminary angst.
Ms Paul : They are certainly very interested not only in the outcome of the 2011 data, which is what Mr Cook has talked about, but also in the potential interplay with the SES data, which was the second data set that we spoke about when we met with you, and that has not landed fully yet, either. Naturally, there is a heightened sense of wanting to see what impact that will have.
Senator MASON: I am sure that is right. Has the Commonwealth put a specific proposal to the states?
Mr Cook : In the sense of?
Senator MASON: The funding.
Ms Paul : The formal offer?
Senator MASON: Yes.
Ms Paul : The formal offer has not yet been made.
Senator MASON: It has not yet been made?
Ms Paul : That is correct. It has the same status as when we spoke to you the other day.
Senator MASON: I accept Senator Nash has touched on some of this before in her questioning. The Prime Minister has said that there will be no school worse off. She made that commitment. How do we know that is the case?
Ms Paul : We have to work that through with the states, the NCEC and the independent sector once all this data has landed, including the potential financials; of course, a financial offer has yet to be made for those things. You need the data to see how that is going to play out.
Senator MASON: You have the data. Assuming we have all the data and it is run through the funding model, both the original model proposed by the Gonski committee and then also all the allowances made for disadvantaged and disabled students and so forth, and some schools are worse off. Let us assume that happens. We heard the evidence last year from a large part of the non-government sector; they said many schools were worse off. Without getting into that debate—that does not matter now—what happens if some schools are worse off? What will happen then?
Ms Paul : It is not so much a case of schools being worse off. It is a case of them being above the schools resourcing standard. What needs to be determined then is the treatment for those schools that are above the schools resourcing standard. That has not been settled yet, because that requires both the data and the form of a funding offer.
Senator MASON: When I say 'worse off' I mean that they will not be doing as well as they are at the moment, and some are claiming they would not be doing as well as they are under the current system.
Ms Paul : All schools are on a growth pattern because of indexation and other matters, and that will continue. It is just that if you change the formula—and I do not mean to split hairs—the result is some may be above this new thing called the schools resourcing standard. This, of course, has happened in the past. It is what the non-government sector is used to in terms of the SES. Every time a new set of what we call SES comes out, which is a kind of technical term, then that effect occurs.
Senator MASON: Perhaps I am not expressing myself well. Last year we had a large portion of non-government schools that said they would be worse off after the first round or the trial round. If that happens again, what will the government do?
Ms Paul : The government's commitment is quite clear. I am not sure what you are referring to there and I probably cannot go too much further than what I have said.
Senator MASON: They said they were worse off.
Ms Paul : But, of course, they do not have the data. The SES data has not come out. The system has not been—
Senator MASON: You would be aware of this last year, and this is not secret—
Senator Kim Carr: But it was a hypothetical.
Ms Paul : It was hypothetical.
Senator MASON: You are right, Minister, but that was the best they had and the best I saw.
Senator Kim Carr: Since that time I think you will find the government has made commitments. The minister and the Prime Minister have made statements. As I understood what the officers were saying, until such time as you actually get a model put on the table and then the implementation arrangements are agreed, there is not much more that can be said.
Senator MASON: Is it that the formula, the model, will necessitate every school being no worse off? That is one question. Or is it that the government has said no school will be worse off? That is a different question. Are you with me, Mr Cook?
Mr Cook : Yes.
Senator MASON: Which is it?
Mr Cook : Part of ensuring that we have a model is ensuring that we have met the range of commitments that have been made. One of those is that no school will lose a single dollar as a result of this review. In terms of the work that we are doing regarding the settings, data and those particular aspects, that is obviously an important consideration as to what a final model will look like in relation to that commitment.
Senator MASON: So the model would have sufficient flexibility to pick up individual schools if they happen to fall—
Ms Paul : Potentially.
Senator MASON: I think I understand now. It would not just be a matter of pressing the computer to see what happens. If someone falls through the cracks, colloquially, the government would have the capacity to deal with that school on an ad hoc basis?
Ms Paul : All we are saying is that the government's commitment is clear, and so whichever way that plays out—
Senator MASON: Yes, Mr Cook said that.
Ms Paul : It could be on that basis or it could be on a formulaic basis, but that is still slightly ahead of us.
Senator MASON: Yes. The commitment is more important than simply a formulaic outcome. I understand that.
Ms Paul : The commitment is absolutely clear; that is right.
Senator MASON: I could ask a million questions on this, as you know, but I am not sure how far I would get. I will just ask a couple of preliminary ones and we will see how we go. Has the government made any contribution to the I Give a Gonski campaign?
Mr Cook : None that I am aware of.
Senator MASON: So when I walk around the halls of Parliament House and see those—have you seen them? They are posters.
Senator NASH: If only I knew what it was.
Senator MASON: So, that has nothing to do with the government?
Ms Paul : No.
Senator MASON: I just thought I would ask. Has the department provided any funding to the AEU since December 2011?
Mr Cook : Not that I am aware of. I am happy to take that on notice, but certainly not in the work that we have been doing.
Senator MASON: Is the government in consultation with the AEU about the Gonski reforms?
Mr Cook : The AEU is a member of the broader reference group that the minister has met with a number of times, as he has with principal groups, parent groups and the independent union. That is the level of consultation that is certainly happening with the AEU.
Senator MASON: In recent days there has been a dispute of sorts between Minister Garrett and Minister Piccoli in New South Wales. Minister Piccoli said the states are being asked to, in effect, make an offer of funding. He says the Commonwealth should be making an offer of funding first because it is a Commonwealth or a national initiative. What is the story? Has Minister Piccoli got it wrong?
Ms Paul : We will just look that up.
Senator MASON: I am going off the press coverage.
Ms Paul : Could you just repeat what you were saying on behalf of Minister Piccoli?
Senator MASON: Let me quote him from the newspaper. It is from the newspaper, but this is the quote:
This is not a reform of state funding of schools, this is a reform of Commonwealth funding of schools. Therefore it is obviously up to the Commonwealth to make their position known.
His argument is that the Commonwealth should be putting a proposal to the states and not the states putting a proposal to the Commonwealth. 'Show me yours. I'll show you mine.' What is happening?
Ms Paul : The Gonski review itself went through all public funding and noted that the Commonwealth's current share of public funding for all schools is 30 per cent. That is the nature of the review. The Prime Minister's speech on 3 September flagged that an offer would be made by the Commonwealth to the states in the context of COAG and that that would be negotiated—we have talked about this—with the states. The Prime Minister put an aim of settling that by the first COAG of 2013. That is basically the story.
If I were to interpret what Minister Piccoli is saying, it is that they are waiting for an offer to be made, and that is true. We have said to you that a financial offer has not yet been made, and that is a matter for the Prime Minister, the minister and the government.
Senator MASON: I accept that. The nature of the offer, of course, is a matter for the executive.
Senator Kim Carr: I think the broader question here is that this reform program involves additional expenditure. The Commonwealth's view is that this is additional expenditure that has to be borne by the whole system, not just by the Commonwealth, and that in light of significant budgetary reductions in the states there is obviously quite a serious level of tension around that.
New South Wales has taken $1.7 billion out of its education budget. That is not consistent with the approach that states and territories are saying they are committed to, and that is the increase of expenditure. They just cannot expect the Commonwealth to meet all the additional expenditure, particularly at a time when the states are actually cutting back.
Ms Paul : It is probably worth adding, just for completeness, that the states—at least at the officials level and indeed at the ministerial level, at the recent ministerial council—are all involved with the Commonwealth on the National Plan for School Improvement. The content of that is also to be negotiated, which is the five planks of reform—teacher quality, leadership quality, transparency, accountability, et cetera. That discussion started in September and continues and that is part of it, too, but in terms of the financial offer, which is probably what you are drawing on from the press reports, that is yet to be made.
Senator MASON: Will that be a process where the Commonwealth will make an offer to the states?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: Some time between now and COAG?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: Ms Paul, at the October estimates you said it had yet to be determined whether the agreement between the Commonwealth and the states was to be multilateral, presumably through COAG, or bilateral, involving individual states. At the moment is it likely that it will be all states in a multilateral agreement with COAG?
Mr Cook : The aim has always been—and the Prime Minister has been quite clear—that we would like all states and territories to sign an agreement at COAG in April. However, I think the Prime Minister also indicated in her speech in September that she was not prepared to just wait. She was prepared to actually work with those states that were willing to move quicker. We have certainly had many multilateral conversations and I have also had many bilateral conversations as well. So, it is still a mixture of both, but our absolute aim, from the Commonwealth perspective, is to have everyone signing up to what we think are important reforms in education at COAG.
Ms Paul : That is, of course, similar to the current architecture where you have a national education agreement, under, say, a national partnership. You have a national partnership signed by everybody, but then you have bilateral state implementation plans or whatever. It will come down to the architecture at the end of the day.
Senator MASON: Ms Paul, I think I asked you this at the briefing that you were kind enough to offer me, but I will still put it on the record. Is it the view of the government that if all states were not to sign up to the new reforms the government would persist with it?
Ms Paul : That is a matter for government.
Senator MASON: That is a matter for government?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: We spoke before about binding parties to performance measures and accountability. I think we have had that discussion.
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: Occasionally, we have very sensible public policy discussions in this committee. Is that not right, Chair?
Senator MASON: Just briefly on teacher quality, you have spoken a lot about this over several estimates, Ms Paul, as being one of the integral parts of trying to improve educational outcomes. The Better Schools website contains a statement, 'There will be higher entry requirements for the teaching profession to ensure students are being taught by our best and our brightest.' You mentioned briefly before that part of this was the 30 per cent. Do you have anything else to add to that?
Ms Paul : That is part of what we are working through with the states and territories in the National Plan for School Improvement. We have sought their views, because they are the employing authorities, as well as the NCEC and the independent schools, as to what would work best for them by way of getting the highest quality teachers? We seek advice from AITSL in particular as well.
Senator MASON: The website also states, 'Student teachers will have more practical classroom experience before they graduate.' Again, I assume there are procedures in place to secure that?
Mr Cook : That is part of the preservice standards that have already been agreed by ministers as components of that—the additional 80 hours and things like that, or that it will increase to 80 hours. That covers off some of that, but also, as Ms Paul said, we continue to talk to educational authorities about what other areas might be in that space that they think are important.
Senator MASON: The website also says, 'New teachers will have extra time to plan their lessons and receive mentoring by more experienced teachers during their first two years in the job,' which again goes to teacher quality. Is that on its way?
Mr Cook : That is right. Some states are ahead of the game in some of this space. They have programs in place where more experienced teachers in their school mentor their first- or second-year teachers. They sit in the classrooms and observe them in lessons. For the national plan, it is about how we escalate that in terms of what would be consistent across all schools in terms of this particularly important area as well.
Senator MASON: The website also says, 'Teachers will get extra training in managing disruptive behaviour and bullying, so bad behaviour is dealt with and every child in the classroom has a chance to learn.' Again, that is very important. Who will provide the extra training?
Mr Cook : Again, that is something about which we are having conversations with states and territories. There is a range of bodies that may be able to deliver that.
Senator MASON: Would there be a cost associated with it?
Mr Cook : Absolutely. There may be costs, noting that all schools get professional development budgets in their school budget, anyway. What some states and territories may choose to do is make this a particular focus area for schools in relation to their professional development budgets.
Senator MASON: In terms of the administration funding after 2012, with current funding arrangements for non-government schools ending in December, are there any contingencies in case a COAG agreement is not reached?
Ms Paul : In what area?
Senator MASON: If, for example, some states refuse to sign on, is there a contingency plan?
Ms Paul : What do you mean, 'In terms of administration'?
Senator MASON: For non-government schools. If an agreement is not reached, what will the government do with respect to non-government schools?
Ms Paul : Do I understand you correctly that you mean in terms of those aspects where some of the Commonwealth's funding is supporting the administration of non-government schools—is that what you are getting to?
Senator MASON: The funding.
Ms Paul : Perhaps I am not understanding what your question is.
Senator MASON: Mr Cook, maybe I am being inarticulate. It is too late in the day.
Mr Cook : I think you are talking about the administration of Commonwealth funding to schools.
Senator MASON: Yes, correct.
Mr Cook : The Schools Assistance Act, as you have rightly pointed out, ends at the end of 2013. It is up to the government to make decisions in relation to this. Naturally, for any program you would always put in place contingencies around that. Naturally, we would have to be considering what would happen, even though we are obviously aiming for everyone to sign up. Ultimately, it will be a government decision rather than anything that I could share with you today about what may happen.
Senator MASON: I appreciate that.
Mr Cook : People are giving thought to every possible scenario that could happen for schools funding.
Senator MASON: You are always prepared, Ms Paul. I am assuming you have contingency plans no matter what happens.
Ms Paul : Clearly, the whole system would have to keep going and to the extent that non-government schools would require certainty I am sure it would be delivered to them one way or another.
Senator MASON: I will not go on about that, but I just wanted to raise the issue. I am just determining whether I should ask you about capacity to pay, and how far I would get with that discussion. My best guess is, not very far. Is that right? So I will not bother.
Ms Paul : Similarly, that is part of the overall package.
Senator Carr : A commendable attitude.
Senator MASON: I listened to your answers to Senator Wright's questions earlier on, and that has put me off asking any further questions. We touched on the low SES loadings. Just briefly, Ms Paul—otherwise we will be here all night—has a definition now been agreed upon about the loadings for the purpose of low SES students?
Ms Paul : A couple of approaches have been discussed over the course of the last several months. It has not been agreed yet. It is part of the overall settlement. Mr Cook has led these discussions. I think we are a lot clearer about what state, Catholic and independent schools think would make a difference. We have a good sense of what makes a policy difference. We are at that point where it will be part of a final settlement once an offer has been made and negotiated.
Senator MASON: Anything to add, Mr Cook? Basically—and this is the answer I always get with respect to that—it is still being negotiated; is that right?
Mr Cook : As Ms Paul said, there are common views about the importance of low SES. As you would appreciate, and as Gonski was very clear on, the question has been: what is the data and the measure that you use for that? That is what we continue to work through in finalising that particular setting.
Senator MASON: Still being negotiated; is that right?
Mr Cook : We are having discussions, as I said.
Senator MASON: Discussions and negotiations. It has taken a long time to get a definition; not as long as disabilities, but anyway. So, that is still being discussed. Indigenous loadings as well?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: Still being discussed?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: I am not getting very far, am I? I can hardly wait until budget estimates. Won't that be exciting! I think Senator Nash touched on loadings for remote schools and small schools.
Mr Cook : That is right.
Senator MASON: Again, no decision has been made?
Ms Paul : That is right.
Senator MASON: What are doing with remote schools?
Mr Cook : As I indicated before to Senator Nash, I think we might have shared through some of the questions on notice that we were looking at a range of ways to collect that data. As you know, there is a geolocation report that was done in 2004 for the ministerial council. There is also the Accessibility and Remoteness Index of Australia, the ARIA. There is ARIA, ARIA Plus and there is ARIA Plus Plus. Please do not ask me to describe all three.
Senator MASON: I will not.
Mr Cook : Basically, the differential between the two is that the ministerial council definitions were really based on four areas—metropolitan, provincial, remote and very remote—whereas the ARIA is based on a scale of 15. It is a much more granular scale and it is actually about the distance from major centres. The discussions with states and territories and the non-government sector is, of those two measures in particular, what would be the most suitable to use in a national funding model? That is where we continue to have those discussions at the moment.
Senator MASON: Discussions are ongoing?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Mr Cook : That is correct.
Senator MASON: I should have known that. What can you tell about loadings for students with a disability? I am doing my job, Mr Cook.
Mr Cook : Absolutely. As was recognised in the Gonski report initially, the challenge around loadings for students with disability is having no national data set to use. We now have agreed national definitions. That was agreed by ministers—and my colleague Mr Hehir might be able to help me—last year if not the year before. We did a trial last year of collecting data against those, and at the last ministerial council meeting I believe ministers agreed to begin the implementation of that national data collection over the next three years. We are examining what approach we will take for students with disability in relation to perhaps the first year of the model while we collect the data that needs to be collected nationally.
Senator MASON: That makes sense. With respect to funding arrangements, if in April we have a COAG meeting and the new formula is adopted, how long will it be before it is implemented and will there be transitional arrangements?
Mr Cook : I think the Prime Minister indicated in her 3 September speech that the implementation would be 2014; that is, 1 January 2014 has always been the goal of implementing Gonski, with a transition period over six years.
Senator MASON: Over those six years, have the transitional arrangements been decided upon?
Mr Cook : That is something that will continue to be part of the discussions that we have with states and territories.
Senator MASON: That has not been determined, either? In other words, with the current funding model, the current resource standard, it has not been determined when the last school would come off that?
Mr Cook : That is correct. The aim is full implementation would be 2019, which would be the sixth year of the implementation period. The Prime Minister was quite clear that we would progressively implement the model in relation to the budgetary impacts of that model over that six-year period. And so there will be full implementation for all schools by 2019.
Senator MASON: What could I usefully ask you about Gonski and get an answer?
Ms Paul : I think you have had a lot of answers and you have certainly had the best answers that we can give.
Senator MASON: Do you think that in the budget estimates we will have a standard formula and an agreement by then that I could usefully examine?
Ms Paul : As we said, we are still working towards the first COAG.
Senator MASON: I have to thank you. I thought this would happen. I am not surprised. I am not even disappointed. I have finished on Gonski already, believe it not.
CHAIR: You may as well go on to your next subject.
Senator MASON: I have school support, maths and science participation.
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: I am sure the answers will be far more fulsome than Gonski. I would like to ask about maths and science participation. Perhaps the department may need to take these on notice, but I understand that $16.9 million was committed in the 2012-13 budget over four years in relation to maths and science participation. What programs will be funded pursuant to that?
Mr Cook : You are happy if I go through each program in the budget allocation for them to make up that $16.9 million?
Senator MASON: Yes.
Mr Cook : The Scientists in Schools and the Mathematicians in Schools subprogram, funded from 2012 to 2016, will be $6.5 million. The Science Connections Program, again for 2012 to 2016, is $5 million. National Support and Advice for Teachers of Science and School Laboratory Technicians is $1.7 million. Advice for teachers of mathematics is $0.5 million. Illustrations of Practice for mathematics and science is $0.8 million, and the science and mathematics olympiads from 2012 to 2016 is $2.4 million.
Senator MASON: Who is administering those programs?
Mr Cook : There is a range of organisations. For example, the scientists and mathematicians in schools programs—
Senator MASON: Could you inform the committee who is administering?
Mr Cook : We could take it on notice. We will have all this detail for you.
Senator MASON: If you take it on notice it might save time.
Mr Cook : Yes.
Senator MASON: I understand that is part of the government's response to Professor Chubb's report Mathematics, engineering and science in the national interest?
Mr Cook : That is correct.
Senator MASON: There is nothing about law in the national interest, I note. We are waiting for that.
Mr Cook : It is a very important area, of course.
Senator MASON: Yes. I understand the One Laptop Per Child program received $11.7 million in 2011-12, according to the revised budget for 2012-13 DEEWR PBS. Do you have that?
Mr Cook : Yes.
Senator MASON: I understand this program was implemented to provide children in remote areas with laptops. I think the aim was to provide half a million laptops to primary school students by 2020. Can you tell me how many have been provided to date?
Ms Bloor : The commitment was to roll out 50,000 computers.
Senator MASON: Fifty thousand laptops to primary school students?
Ms Bloor : To 2,500 classrooms, targeting low-SES in particular.
Senator MASON: And rural?
Ms Bloor : Low-SES and rural and remote.
Senator MASON: How was it decided where the laptops went?
Ms Bloor : As I understand it, the first point of reference was schools in the low-SES national partnerships, but the One Laptop Per Child Australia corporation has also been doing consultations with education authorities to further refine the schools that they are targeting.
Senator MASON: Is that still ongoing?
Ms Bloor : Yes, it is.
Senator MASON: So, it is 50,000 laptops that will distributed?
Ms Bloor : Yes, it is.
Senator MASON: How long will that take?
Ms Bloor : The project is scheduled to be completed by June 2014.
Senator MASON: How many have been distributed thus far?
Ms Bloor : I would have to take that on notice. As I understand it, it is still very much in the planning phase.
Senator MASON: It was $11.7 million for 2011-12?
Ms Bloor : Yes, as a one-off contribution to the program.
Senator MASON: I am told—and correct me if I am wrong because I have already been wrong with respect to how many laptops are going to be delivered, so if I make a mistake then pull me up—from a quick look at the Social Inclusion website that this allocation fund was included in their list of social inclusion related initiatives. Is that right? Were you aware of that?
Ms Bloor : I was not, no. I am not aware of that website.
Senator MASON: It is on the DEEWR website and it is the One Laptop Per Child Australia Project. I do not want to claim too much, but that is what I am informed. Is the $11.7 million a one-off grant?
Ms Bloor : Yes, it is.
Senator MASON: On the DEEWR website there is a document that lists all grants provided. At the period ending 30 June 2012—and documents such as this were uploaded late last November—I came across grant reference No. GRM22973. This particular grant was for $12.8 million and was given to One Laptop Per Child Australia Limited, the company that administers this program. Is that right?
Ms Bloor : It is. One Laptop Per Child Australia administers the program. There is obviously a discrepancy between the figure that I cited earlier, which is $11.7 million, and that amount.
Senator MASON: How does that work? What is the difference? It is about a million dollars.
Ms Bloor : I would have to take that on notice.
Senator MASON: Can you take that on notice?
Ms Bloor : Yes. Given that I am not familiar with the webpage that you are talking about, I would have to do that.
Senator MASON: You will understand it better than I do. PBSs are not my strength. It seems—and I could be mistaken—that the grant was listed under 2.3 Schools Support program, subprogram Grants and Awards. My understanding is that One Laptop Per Child and Grants and Awards are two individual programs within 2.3, Schools Support. Is that right? Why does one seem to fund the other?
Ms Bloor : The Schools Support in the PBS is an overarching allocation, and there are suballocations under that. I assume that is what is causing the confusion.
Senator MASON: I am relying on you, Ms Bloor, to explain this to the committee. In the 2012-13 DEEWR PBS, under Grants and Awards, grants and awards were allocated somewhere in the vicinity of $4 million in 2012-13. Where is that money coming from? I do not quite understand.
Ms Paul : It is a budget appropriation.
Senator MASON: I do not understand how it works for the subprograms.
Ms Paul : It is just representing a subprogram of that particular program. It is one element.
Senator MASON: I have done my best and you have been good enough to take this on notice. I will be very interested to see it and perhaps I will explore it more fully with your assistance.
Ms Paul : My understanding would be that there is nothing unusual about the program structure. What sounds unusual is an apparent discrepancy in figures, which we have taken on notice.
Senator MASON: It does seem to be that.
Ms Paul : I think the structure is anomalous.
Mr Cook : Under the program 2.3, as is listed in the hearings, there is a range of subprograms such as Grants and Awards but also One Laptop Per Child and Maths and Science Participation. They are all subprograms under the program of Schools Support.
Senator MASON: I will move on to Quality Outcomes. Quality outcomes has appropriated more than a quarter of all the money provided under program 2.3, Schools Support, in the 2012-13 budget. I think that is right. The PBS state:
… provides funding for strategic projects that support the Government's key objective of improved student learning outcomes in schools and its national leadership role in school education.
Again, the department may need to take this on notice—and forgive me—but that is a pretty broad description. Could you please provide a breakdown and description of all money allocated under this program from 2010-11 to the present?
Ms Paul : Yes. I think it is probably best to take it on notice.
Mr Cook : We will certainly take it on notice. It includes things like the Parliament and Civics Education Rebate, PACER, and as you know, the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program. The funding for AITSL comes under the quality programs as well.
Senator MASON: AITSL as well?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Mr Cook : I have a breakdown, but it might go on for a bit if I read every single program that you wanted me to read out.
Senator MASON: I am happy for you to take it on notice.
Mr Cook : We will take it on notice.
Senator MASON: If I could move on to the National Secondary School Computer Fund. Looking through the grants register, for the purpose of the National Secondary School Computer Fund it fell under both 2.5 Digital Education Revolution and 2.3 Schools Support Quality Outcomes. Why is that? There must be a reason for that.
Mr Hehir : There are four elements to the Schools Support Fund. I will need to check this, but the major component of the funding actually went to infrastructure. The other streams that this fund focused on were teaching capability, leadership and digital resources. I will need to check this, but I think that might be the quality side of it.
Senator MASON: Is that right?
Mr Hehir : That is on a first glance.
Senator MASON: I think you need to be a bit of a boffin to understand all of this. It is not quite my thing.
Ms Paul : We could have taken you to all of those elements of the previous one.
Senator MASON: No. I am happy to go with it on notice. I do not think I can quite cope with a recitation of everything you know about this. Are these grants provided under Quality Outcomes outside the amount budgeted for the National Secondary School Computer Fund—under the Digital Education Revolution?
Ms Bloor : I think the funds under Quality Outcomes are quite separate from the $1.8 billion that has so far been expended under the computer fund.
Senator MASON: It is separate?
Ms Bloor : I believe that it is separate, yes.
Mr Cook : It is separate.
Ms Paul : We might just show it in a table.
Ms Bloor : Yes.
Ms Paul : That might be the easiest.
Senator MASON: I would be delighted with that. I will now turn the department's attention to the NBN-Enabled Education and Skills Services program. I noticed the NBN-Enabled Education and Skills Services program had a number of grants allocated under Quality Outcomes, and I did not realise that this program fell under 2.3, Schools Support, and specifically Quality Outcomes; is that right?
Mr Cook : That is correct.
Senator MASON: You are doing very well. I cannot always follow this. Given this program is a fairly sizeable $27.2 million over four years—that is right, is it not?
Ms Bloor : It is, yes.
Senator MASON: Why does it not appear directly in the portfolio budget statements?
Ms Paul : I think it is a subcomponent of the Quality Outcomes line. As I said, we will set all of this out in a table. Presumably we would adhere to whatever requirements there are in the PBS to go down to a certain level, but then this line has a bunch of subelements, of which this is one. We will set that out with the amount of funding and so on. There is no secret about it.
Senator MASON: There is no lack of transparency?
Ms Paul : I am sorry?
Senator MASON: There is no deliberate—
Ms Paul : No.
Senator MASON: Of course there would be no deliberate—
Ms Paul : No, it will just be the template.
Senator MASON: You can provide a breakdown of the budget?
Ms Paul : We can do that.
Senator MASON: How is that program progressing?
Ms Bloor : The implementation plans for all of the projects have been accepted. Progress reports have also been received indicating all of the projects that were accepted as deployment trials, which meant that they were ready to go—essentially, where they did not need to do a business case. There were two types of applications the proponents could make. They could either put in an application for a deployment trial or for a business case with a deployment trial to follow. Seven of the 12 were deployment trial ready. Their implementation plans have been accepted by the three departments that have an interest in the program, and the analysis of their progress reports suggests that many of them will have first initial services up and running probably in the early stages from the end of March this year.
Senator MASON: Can you tell me how much money has been spent thus far on this program?
Ms Bloor : The funding is scheduled over three years. I can take that on notice, but I think around $10 million.
Ms Paul : Being late in the day, as it is, Mr Cook, I have just grasped the fact that the document that we are referring to, trying to list all of these subcomponents and so on, is actually a question on notice we have answered before.
Senator MASON: How embarrassing for me. I take so much pride in reading all the things you send me, Ms Paul.
Ms Paul : It is kind of embarrassing for us, too, given that we were staring at it before, realising it was a question on notice. I do not know when we lodged it, so let us say that we are kind of even on this score. It is EW0518_13. It goes through Quality Outcomes and it actually answers what we have just been talking about.
Senator MASON: The minister is never going to let me forget this.
Senator Kim Carr: We will get around to it.
Ms Paul : I think I would refer you to that.
Senator MASON: Thank you.
Ms Paul : I do not know when we lodged it with the committee, so let us take the rap for that.
Senator MASON: No. I do not mind being embarrassed about that. That is all right. I do not have it in my notes. I just have the portfolio budget statements, but thank you.
I would like to go to Rewards for School Improvement. A couple of things stood out to me in DEEWR's grant register. I noticed there are a couple of grants awarded under the program 2.3, Schools Support, with the subprogram of Rewards for School Improvement. The relevant grants are GRN22980 and GRN22981. Does that sound correct?
Ms Bloor : Yes.
Dr Day : I believe that they refer to a funding agreement that we have with ACER to develop the National Plan for School Improvement tool, which we spoke about earlier.
Senator MASON: I am sorry, I just did not hear that?
Ms Paul : With the Australian Council for Educational Research, ACER.
Senator MASON: Yes.
Dr Day : I believe that they are funding agreements that we have with the Australian Council for Educational Research for the development of the National Plan for School Improvement tool.
Senator MASON: Which we were discussing before?
Mr Cook : That is correct.
Dr Day : I can take that on notice and come back to you.
Senator MASON: This is where I am a bit confused. If I embarrass myself, Dr Day, then we will carry on anyway. I am confused. Rewards for School Improvement has its own program, namely 2.15. Adding to this confusion is the purpose of the two grants. One is for a Rock the Schools tour and the other is for Life Education Australia's national office. Are you with me, Dr Day?
Dr Day : I am not with you. That is not under the Rewards for School Improvement initiative.
Ms Paul : It sounds different. We will need to take that on notice.
Dr Day : We will need to take it on notice.
Ms Paul : Certainly those two things that you named are familiar, but not associated with the Rewards for School Improvement program.
Mr Cook : I think that is under 2.3, Schools Support, Student Resilience and Wellbeing.
Senator MASON: I do not want to detain the department on it for too long, although I do like the idea of this Rock for Schools. You did not go there, did you, Mr Cook?
Mr Cook : Rock Eisteddfod I know about, but not Rock for Schools.
Senator MASON: I do not know what that is about.
Mr Cook : It might be an Indigenous program?
Ms Paul : It is the community festivals.
Senator MASON: With your forbearance, Ms Paul, I might put some further questions on notice there.
Ms Paul : In regard to those two, I presume you want to know what they are for?
Senator MASON: Yes, I do.
Ms Paul : That is fine.
Senator MASON: I will go now to online diagnostic tools. I am making great progress. Online diagnostic tools was an election commitment from the government in 2010. At the last estimates we spoke about online diagnostic tools, and I received an answer to a question on notice—I generally read them, Ms Paul. It indicated that there were about 7,600 teachers and 57,000 students registered on the Improve tool. Does that sound familiar?
Mr Cook : That is correct.
Senator MASON: Is that about right?
Mr Cook : Yes.
Senator MASON: I am informed from the website of the Australian Bureau of Statistics that as at 2011 there were about 290,000 teachers in Australia. Does that sound about right?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: This means that of about 290,000 teachers only about 7,600 are registered users of Improve and that is about two per cent. Are you satisfied with that number?
Ms Bloor : The Improve tool was launched in December 2011. It has been growing steadily in its usage, but it is very much a tool in development by Education Services Australia.
Senator MASON: That is 14 months ago or so and two per cent of teachers or thereabouts who are registered users of Improve. It does not sound like a marvellous success.
Ms Paul : We may have to take on notice what the rate of progress is and why that might be. I think that is the best thing to do.
Senator MASON: I have to say that it does not look very promising.
Ms Paul : It depends on what it was targeted at. We have not really put it into context, so we should take it on notice and do that.
Senator MASON: Again, the ABS indicates that in 2011 there were about 2½ million school students, and 57,000 of them are registered on Improve. Again, that is about two per cent. Is that what you would have anticipated to be using this diagnostic tool?
Ms Bloor : As I understand it, Education Services Australia has not aggressively advertised Improve into schools and also, along with some of the other services that it offers, it is for education authorities to direct their teachers in some circumstances to their own formative assessment tools. This is an offering that is made nationally, but it complements other services and tools online that states and territories offer.
Senator MASON: That is not very convincing. Two per cent registered after 14 months. Is that what you would have anticipated? Is that what the government would have anticipated would have been the sign-up?
Ms Bloor : Without an aggressive marketing campaign, quite probably. I think that Education Services Australia is adopting the same approach for the Improve tool that it has for its digital resources portal, which is called Scootle, and that has a significantly larger uptake.
Mr Cook : ESA is working with state and territory authorities because some of the larger state and territory authorities have had existing online portals as well. Queensland has OneSchool and Victoria has Ultranet. I know that ESA is working—and this is the word I love—on the interoperability of those particular state based electronic platforms with their platform as well, which would, to some degree, open up to a very large number of students that already have individual student identities through their own state based programs.
To come back to the National Plan for School Improvement, part of the quality teaching work around the National Plan for School Improvement would also look at, from a national perspective, how can we share and open up all the state based resources they have in some of these spaces, which would then be able to integrate the Improve platform with some of the platforms in other states and territories as well.
Senator MASON: You are an eternal optimist. I take your point but I am not quite convinced. This program has been allocated $46.9 million over five years and only two per cent of teachers and students are using it. I am not convinced that it is money well spent
Ms Bloor : The Improve tool was addressing only one element of online diagnostic tools, which was to make available resources for teachers. The election commitment was that resources would be made available from the end of 2011, and that is what Improve was addressing. The other aspects of the commitment were to investigate a move to put the national assessment program online, and ministers have since agreed to progress work on NAPLAN online in that context and also resources for parents. There were three elements to the overarching program.
Senator MASON: That has not really assisted with people signing up, has it? Given the nearly $47 million allocated, there was a technical survey cost benefit analysis commissioned last year; is that right?
Ms Bloor : There was preliminary work done to establish a business case that went to standing council at the end of last year at its December 7 meeting to put forward a case for progressing towards NAPLAN online.
Senator MASON: This technical survey and cost-benefit analysis was commissioned—let me get the facts right—in the middle of last year?
Ms Bloor : It resulted in a joint paper that was prepared by DEEWR and also ACARA that was put to the standing council.
Senator MASON: It resulted in that, I understand that, but why was it commissioned?
Ms Bloor : It was commissioned to inform the joint paper, which was arguing the case for the benefits of an online move for NAPLAN.
Senator MASON: It was not in response to a slow take-up?
Ms Bloor : No. That was in relation to the second element of the online diagnostic tools commitment, which was about a move for the national assessment program online.
Ms Paul : Just to be clear. The overall appropriation covers a whole range of things, only one of which is the Improve tool. It covers the things that you were talking to ACARA about this morning. Putting the civics test online and doing the whole national online assessment program for NAPLAN, as Ms Bloor has just said, et cetera. It is quite big. It is quite a big deal all round. One element is the Improve tool, as you have said.
Senator MASON: It does not seem like much of a take-up to me, but maybe I am overly sceptical and I expect too much. The last issue—and I know I am jumping around and you have been very accommodating as I do this—is Teach Next. Can the department tell the committee how many people participated in Teach Next in 2011 and 2012?
Ms Gordon : Teach Next has now had two intakes. The first intake commenced their program towards the end of last year, 2012, and the second intake commenced in schools early in 2013.
Senator MASON: Could you say that again? My concentration is waning.
Ms Gordon : There have been two intakes. The first one started in the final term of last year, 2012. It was the midyear intake, which was to get the program up and running, and then the second intake started in schools this year—first term this year.
Senator MASON: First term of 2013?
Ms Gordon : Yes. They are both quite small intakes. We ended up having six participants in the first intake and eight in the second intake—a total of 14.
Senator MASON: This is a career change into the teaching profession?
Ms Gordon : That is right. Teach Next was established to attract potential career changes essentially to look at trying to staff hard-to-staff schools in areas of teacher shortage like maths, science and languages other than English. It is an employment based program, similar to Teach for Australia, that essentially sets up a new program to attract those kinds of career changes.
Senator MASON: How many people participated in the intakes in the final terms of 2012 and the first term of 2013?
Ms Gordon : There were six in the first intake and then eight in the second.
Senator MASON: That is not very many, is it?
Ms Gordon : They are very disappointing numbers.
Senator MASON: That is a very frank answer.
Mr Cook : As Ms Gordon will say, we need to work with states and territories in relation to this. In terms of interest, with the latest intake 521 applications were received.
Senator MASON: Ever the optimist.
Mr Cook : These are the facts. There were 521 applications received. Of course some of those people were not suitable in terms of their background and so we have to work very closely with states and territories who place these applicants to ensure that there are positions available to them but also that they meet the teacher registration qualifications in some states and territories. As you may be aware, you would have read no doubt in the press this morning, that we had a number of states signed up to be involved in this program who after—
Senator MASON: I did not see that, but I should have.
Mr Cook : New South Wales and South Australia, as I expected, were part of the program. However, after discussions with their teacher registration bodies they realised that they would not be able to participate in some aspects of the program. As Ms Gordon said, the numbers were small. There is still strong interest. It is interesting to note that we have had 30 emails today from applicants who were interested in it after they have read it in the press.
Senator MASON: What is the problem with it? To me, on the face of it—and I am no expert—it sounds like an interesting and valuable program. Is it called Teach for America?
Ms Paul : That is right.
Mr Cook : And Teach for Australia is popular.
Ms Paul : Teach for Australia was modelled in part on Teach for America. This is kind of a complement to that; that is exactly right.
Senator MASON: What is the problem or am I missing something?
Ms Gordon : There are a number of challenges. Both programs rely on placements being offered by states and territories or teacher employers. The Catholic system has also been participating in Teach for Australia, although not Teach Next. One issue that is often raised with us is having to commit to placements upfront, which does not necessarily align with their normal recruitment processes. Also, there are a number of challenges around the matching of participants. They are making a commitment to have teachers in the classrooms for two years while they are undertaking the course. As Mr Cook highlighted, there are a number of issues as well. Even though we are getting great interest in it, there is the process of actually matching them to particular vacancies—placements where there are particular requirements for teaching expertise—and then having to go through the requirements to obtain permission to teach has meant that there are fewer numbers of people actually being matched into places than we would have liked.
Ms Paul : So, for example, their state regulatory barriers. The registration authorities have particular requirements, which might, in some cases as we have discovered in this context, go to having to have had certain subjects in your degree. One of the things that we are going to have to look at is how you deal with that when you have someone who did their degree a long time ago.
Senator MASON: A long time ago.
Ms Paul : That is the point of it. That has been quite an interesting feature. The registration authorities and the states' regulatory barriers have been really quite significant in this context.
Senator MASON: Six and eight—I cannot get over those figures. That is just terrible. No offence, but that is very disappointing. I would have expected hundreds.
Ms Paul : As with the level of interest. The level of interest has been there and yet once they go through all these funnels you come out with so few.
Senator MASON: Senator McKenzie, did you want to say something?
Senator McKENZIE: In terms of the mathematics qualifications, can you outline the groups that you are targeting to have the career change?
Ms Gordon : It was very much open to where the areas of need were from the education authorities. We sought their views around the areas they were looking for. The targets in the end were around maths and science and languages other than English.
Senator McKENZIE: I recognise it is around maths and science. So which sorts of professions? I am assuming we targeted professions to suggest that they might be interested in a career change?
Ms Gordon : That is right.
Senator McKENZIE: I want to understand the professions you targeted for maths and science.
Ms Gordon : My colleague, Ms Febey, might be able to give you further information. We certainly talked to a number of the different professional associations and put the word out through their networks, through emails, newsletters and so on. We spoke to some of the engineering associations, mathematicians, scientists, accounting firms and things like that.
Senator McKENZIE: On the six and eight applications, on notice can you break those down into the mathematics stream and the science stream in terms of which association they came from?
Ms Gordon : There will be more than just maths and science because it is not limited to those. We can certainly give you those.
Senator McKENZIE: Given that program was targeting maths and science, I am interested in how many of those applicants were from the maths and science stream. You might need to take on notice how much has been expended in attracting the 14 participants.
Ms Gordon : We are currently undertaking a consultation process broadly around alternative pathways into teaching to try to get to the bottom of some of these conundrums and challenges that we are facing with both this program and also Teach for Australia, which has faced similar challenges in meeting the numbers in its intakes. It is now in its fourth cohort and this is the first year that it has managed to fill the 50 places that it is able to.
We are undertaking a consultation process to talk to various stakeholders to better understand where the barriers are to programs like this. Everyone agrees with the objective of the programs, the need to attract a broader range of people into teaching and to provide those more flexible pathways in, but there are a number of issues that we need to overcome.
Senator McKENZIE: Just on accountants and mathematics, I know they are good at arithmetic, which is one component of mathematics—
Ms Gordon : That comes back to the issue around permission to teach. It requires people to have the right subject expertise to be able to teach in those areas.
Senator McKENZIE: Who made the decision to approach them? Where did the whole bankers and accountants as mathematicians come from as an idea?
Ms Gordon : We were looking at different ways of getting the word out about the program. We were looking at different associations which were essentially low-cost ways of promoting the program. In addition to some mainstream media advertisements we put things out through some of the associations. We essentially looked at a list of professions that may have the sorts of skills and expertise in the areas that we were looking at.
As I said before, it is not just maths and science that were targeted. It was broader than that. The languages other than English one is probably a more difficult one to find and to target associations that would necessarily have members with those sorts of language skills.
Senator McKENZIE: Thank you.
Senator MASON: Can we move from the program into the funding arrangements?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: I understand that MYEFO resulted in a restructuring of this program and associated funding; is that right?
Ms Gordon : That is correct.
Senator MASON: What happened?
Ms Gordon : Because of the experience we were having with the low numbers there was additional funding that was not expected to be expended, and so the decision was made to funnel some of that funding into another cohort of Teach for Australia—a similar program that did not have funding for the next cohort. So, $6.4 million was redirected from the Teach Next program, because we were not expecting to be able to use those funds, and put into a further cohort for Teach for Australia.
Senator MASON: There has been quite a large underspend, I understand.
Ms Gordon : That is right.
Senator MASON: A more than $2 million underspend?
Ms Gordon : Some $6.4 million was redirected to Teach for Australia, because we were not expecting to use those funds due to the numbers.
Senator MASON: That is over the forward estimates?
Ms Gordon : Yes, that is over the forward estimates.
Senator MASON: I understand that. For what it is worth, it is such a disappointment. I understand similar programs have worked quite well in the United States and I just do not understand what the problem is here. I am missing something. Ms Paul, this may take your powers of persuasion to find out what is going on and do something about it.
Ms Paul : They are the barriers that we described before, in particular the regulatory barriers.
Senator MASON: Do you think it is disappointing?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Ms Gordon : It is a different program in the US. They do not have the same requirements for people to go in and teach in the classroom. It is a quality issue. I would not want to detract from the fact that we have standards here that are actually ensuring that the people we put in front of our children have the appropriate qualifications and skills to teach our kids.
Senator MASON: You are not suggesting the Americans do not, Ms Gordon, are you? You would not be suggesting that?
Ms Gordon : The Teach for America program has different requirements for their participants.
Senator MASON: Mr Chairman, I have finished all questions in relation to School Support—that miscellany of issues. My next questions relate to the Digital Education Revolution.
CHAIR: I think Senator Nash has questions.
Senator NASH: I do. Obviously the program is aimed at giving years 9 and 10 students hands-on experience in science. You know what it is about. By 2007, 15,500 students from more than 550 schools participated in the challenge. Funding was apparently under the Scope program and the challenge was given $1 million over 2010-2011. The funding agreement ended on June 2011. No specific funding was made available to the challenge. The program only cost $600,000 to fund in 2010-11. Why was there no more funding?
Ms Paul : We have drawn a blank here. Is it tertiary level or school level?
Senator NASH: I thought it was tertiary level, but it must be just at school level.
Ms Paul : That is what we think, and tertiary level is not us anymore.
Mr Cook : We have not heard of the program.
Senator NASH: I will go with the answer to the question; we are at one-all. I will move on. Do things like bullying at school, cyberbullying and that type of thing fall within this?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator NASH: My understanding is that there was a bullying forum in mid-2012. How much was expended for that forum and what was the outcome?
Mr Davies : That is correct. In July 2012 we convened an antibullying forum, and $14,400 was the cost for that forum. It was on 31 July. Since then, following the forum, we have initiated a number of activities to support further production of resources and materials for schools and for communities. I am just looking for the date. To support the take-up of the National Safe Schools framework, which is the primary resource material available to all schools in Australia, it was endorsed by ministers, and to support that we have funded Education Services Australia to produce a set of materials and resources for schools and communities. That work is underway.
We have a safe and supportive schools toolkit that is being prepared and we have a parent and family resources kit. We have resources for students and an online professional learning module being developed. That is mainly for the specialist staff like school counsellors, chaplains and welfare workers, and an online professional development module for teachers and principals. The last one is a preservice teachers module. There were recommendations from that forum, and this set of materials—resources and online supports—has been released by the minister and we are working on producing all of those.
The other thing that has happened as a follow-up to the forum was again trying to promote good practice amongst schools. The minister launched a Safe Schools Are Smart Schools competition in November, which is being held in the lead-up to this year's National Antibullying Day in March.
Senator NASH: Is there any particular focus with the forum on children from rural, regional and remote areas?
Mr Davies : I do not remember that specifically.
Senator NASH: I only ask because I understand there has been some analysis done of the Kids Helpline and there is a higher proportion of rural and regional young people accessing the helpline. Given the data that is available, there was no consideration given to specifically addressing rural and regional through the bullying forum?
Mr Davies : I do not have a copy of the report from the forum with me. I cannot recall so I would need to go back and check in the report, if that is okay.
Senator NASH: Are you doing more of them or is that a one-off?
Mr Davies : Other forums?
Senator NASH: Yes.
Mr Davies : At this stage we do not have a plan to hold another one. We are moving into the action arising from it, and within the National Plan for School Improvement we are also looking at how schools are being supported to do the safe and supportive school practices that have already been identified as essential.
Senator NASH: Is there an online toolkit?
Mr Davies : Yes, several.
Senator NASH: How much funding has gone into that?
Mr Davies : We have provided to Education Services Australia $3.92 million. I should say all the state and territory education authorities are working with us on that as well. We have a collaborative group that is oversighting that work.
Senator NASH: Is there any specific part of the online toolset that refers specifically or is specifically useful to rural and regional young people?
Mr Davies : That is a good question and I do not know. Can I take that on notice to find out how that is being addressed?
Senator NASH: Yes, you can. What consideration has been given to rural and regional students where they are less likely to be able to access the internet or not have the internet speeds or ability to get to the online toolkit? What sort of deliberation has there been around that issue?
Mr Davies : Our contribution at the moment is primarily through online and the internet.
Senator NASH: Yes, I get that. I am talking about getting it at the other end.
Mr Davies : The education authorities have the responsibility on the ground, in the schools—in the real terra firma location.
Senator NASH: So you put it up and it is up to them to deliver it?
Mr Davies : No. It is recognising which part of the space you are involved in. They are doing it on the ground.
Senator NASH: Is there a hardcopy version of the toolkit in any way, shape or form to go to students who do not have access online?
Mr Davies : I do not think so, but can I take that on notice?
Senator NASH: You can. Can I ask you to take on notice as well: if not, why not?
Mr Davies : Yes.
Senator NASH: It just seems that it would be appropriate given that the rural and regional young people, from what we can see from the data, have a higher prevalence and in some of those areas they do not have access to the online toolkit. I think we forget not all of us live in cities.
Ms Houston : The primary resources under the Education Services Australia that are being developed are more targeted at resources for teachers, parents and school support workers. There will be some student resources, but the primary resource for student resources is the Bullying. No Way! Website, which is a jointly owned website by all states, territories and the Commonwealth. That is primarily where a lot of the resources are—downloadable stuff for students—and obviously it is on an internet platform.
Senator NASH: Please do not get me wrong. There is a lot of good work here. I am just trying to make sure that we are getting it targeted to where it needs to be. With the Bullying. No Way! website, how are young people made aware that it exists and that they can access it?
Ms Houston : There is a range of marketing material that goes out via the school systems in relation to that. They are quite aggressive about the way they market that website.
Senator NASH: So, primarily through the school?
Ms Houston : Yes, through school lessons.
Senator NASH: How do you measure the success of this? With the funding that has gone in and everything that has gone out there—and it is a hugely important issue—how do you measure whether the funding expenditure for these types of programs has been successful?
Mr Davies : We will be relying primarily on the feedback from the education authorities, the schools and our stakeholder associations. For a relatively small amount of money in the investment, the evaluation of that has to be consistent with that. We will be relying primarily on the views of the user representatives.
Senator NASH: In general, feedback of whether or not it has been appropriate and useful?
Mr Davies : Yes. We will be able to get the hits, views and times spent on pages and all of that sort of stuff.
Senator NASH: I think Senator McKenzie has some questions.
Senator McKENZIE: Thank you. Just on cyberbullying and Education Services Australia, was there a competitive process for the awarding of that contract?
Ms Houston : No. It was directly granted to Education Services Australia.
Senator McKENZIE: Why?
Mr Davies : They were, for this role, deemed the most appropriate, pre-eminent body with expertise. They have the access to the systems with educational authorities across the country and their role is to—
Mr Cook : They are owned by education ministers.
Senator McKENZIE: I am sorry, I missed that.
Mr Cook : They are owned by education ministers. Education Services Australia has the explicit role to actually provide education support and services to Australian schools. In this case we have gone to a company effectively that education ministers own to do the work for us.
Senator McKENZIE: Just on notice, could I have an update on the department's response to the cybersafety initiatives, and the government's response?
Mr Cook : Yes. I assure you I have the listing of the regional communities where there were forums, so you will get that as promised in terms of the question on notice very quickly.
Senator NASH: Outstanding. Thank you very much indeed.
Ms Paul : Towns.
Mr Cook : It is towns.
Senator NASH: Thank you for accommodating my request. Do you have any oversight in the area of language skills at schools and speech pathologists?
Ms Paul : No. That is state government or health.
Senator NASH: Has my good colleague Senator Mason raised the issue of laptops?
Ms Paul : Yes, although I think he has some more. It depends on which aspect you are on.
Senator NASH: Senator McKenzie will ask the question.
Senator McKENZIE: It was around the National Secondary School Computer program. I am sure you are aware of the newspaper article I am referring to. My understanding is that there was a $1,000 component of the program and then a $1,500 installation and maintenance component for each computer. There are some concerned principals and parents out there in the community around the cutting of the $1,500 component of that program. I am wondering whether you can clarify where it all stands.
Ms Bloor : Yes. At the outset of the National Secondary Computer Fund program the government allocated a notional $1,000 cost per device that it used to inform the appropriation. As a result of consultations and feedback from states, territories and educational authorities, going back to 2008 in the lead-up to the move of the program from being a standard program to a national partnership, states and territories said that there were additional legitimate oncosts, and at that time $807 million was allocated as a one-off payment to education authorities, which amounted to an additional $1,500 per device that could be used for all manner of support for putting the devices into classrooms. That could be wireless networks, power points—all of that sort of thing. That was intended at the time as a one-off payment to cover those computers that were put into schools. That has not been affected at all. It was paid in 2008-09.
Senator McKENZIE: Is the federal government putting forward any funds for the ongoing oncosts for the computers installed?
Ms Bloor : No, because once those additional things that needed to be put in place to make the computers useable were available the rationale was that the ongoing cost of the computers would not be as high.
Senator McKENZIE: Obviously not $1,500 year in and year out or three years in and three years out or what have you? No modelling of any figures of what the ongoing cost might be to inform school principals and so on, on the effect on their budgets?
Ms Bloor : Not beyond the life of the national partnership.
Senator NASH: Chair, I realise we are jumping around. I will move on to trade training centres next, which is next on the list, but through you, Chair, are there officials here that deal with student assistance and assistance for isolated children? I am aware it is later in the program. I do not need them now, but I was just wondering whether they were here.
Ms Paul : We were advised—
Senator NASH: I am sorry. I thought I just indicated that I would go to trade training first.
Ms Paul : We were advised that there were no questions under that subprogram.
Senator NASH: Assistance for isolated children?
Ms Paul : Point 12.
Senator NASH: It is on the list.
Ms Paul : I have an old program. Apparently we do have people.
Senator NASH: I note that it is later in the day, but I just wondered whether they were nearby to accommodate this maybe in the next five or 10 minutes or so? Would they be available then?
Ms Paul : That is fine.
Senator NASH: If we can do trade training centres, I will kick off with the trade cadetships. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think it is about $546,000 that has been budgeted for the good practice work placement case studies into the National Trade Cadetships. How will that work? How will that work? How will that money be spent?
Mr Cook : They are actually two separate programs. So we will have to get another set of staff up.
Senator NASH: I am trying to assist the process and I didn't at all, did I?
Mr Cook : It keeps them fit!
Senator NASH: So how does that work?
Ms Houston : We are giving some money to Group Training Australia to work with their network of group training organisations to look at the variety of work placement practices around the country—how they work, how they operate, what makes a good practice and placement. It is basically to gather information and a range of case studies to inform the work of ACARA in developing the National Trade Cadetship initiative.
Senator NASH: How does the study actually work?
Ms Houston : Basically through a range of case studies with individual group training organisations in a range of settings, so rural, remote, metro and right across the country—
Senator NASH: I am stopping myself from saying, 'Which towns?'
Ms Houston : I could not tell you that off the top of my head right now. We will be going to the group training organisations. They are examining different types of work placements. They are examining types of work placement in terms of year 11 and 12 students doing a VET placement or a simple based apprenticeship type placement. They are also examining more of the work experience placements, down to the lower levels of what happens in 9 and 10 in good practice, kind of hands-on working experience stuff. So it is a range of types of placements and a range of types of industries in a range of areas doing a case study for each of those types of things and then pulling from them what are the good work placement practices and what the things are that you would like to see in a good practice placement. That is from the perspective of what the school would do, but also what an employer would have done in preparing the kid for the workplace and what a good organisation brokering that placement would be involved in doing.
Senator NASH: As and when you can, could you perhaps take on notice to inform the committee where those studies were done? I know you said a range and I appreciate you cannot give us the information now, but could you just take on notice, as and when you can, if you could provide that for us?
Ms Houston : Yes.
Senator NASH: When do you expect the trade training cadetships to commence?
Ms Houston : ACARA is currently developing the curriculum for the year 9 and 10 element of the cadetship. That is due to be completed by the end of this year, the end of 2013, for endorsement by ministers and then, of course, it will be a decision for education authorities when it gets implemented. It will be ready by the end of this year for implementation from 2014. The year 11 and 12 element is due to be completed by the end of 2014 for implementation beyond that.
Senator NASH: Obviously it has not started yet, but is there any data on expenditure to date on things like research, staff hours and those types of thing?
Ms Houston : Not by research and staff hours. We have contracted ACARA for the development of their year 9 and 10 curriculum—if you give me 10 seconds I will find that number for you—and we are about to enter into a contract with them for the year 11 and 12 element. That is the only expenditure to date. At the moment, $3.5 million has been contracted over the three- or four-year period with ACARA.
Senator NASH: How many cadets do we expect when the program kicks off?
Ms Houston : We do not have a target number now.
Senator NASH: Not so much a target number, but do you have any kind of expectation of how many?
Ms Houston : Not exactly. Obviously we would like a lot.
Senator NASH: That is a technical term!
Ms Houston : We imagine take-up will be smaller at the beginning. There will probably be some lighter schools that will probably jump on board, take it forward early and might have larger cohorts of students et cetera, but we have not set a target for the figures to begin with.
Senator NASH: Was it the budget the year before last that this was announced?
Ms Houston : It was originally in the 2011-12 budget. It was an election commitment in 2010.
Senator NASH: So why has it taken so long?
Ms Houston : It was actually delayed in the 2011-12 budget.
Senator NASH: So it was pushed into the 2012-13 budget?
Ms Houston : It was pushed back a year. I am sorry; it was the 2012-13 budget that did defer it.
Senator NASH: Just on the trade training centres in schools, how many trade training centres are currently operational? I think we ask this every time.
Mr Edwards : As of last Friday, there were 695 schools through 241 TTCs that are built and virtually all of those were operational.
Senator NASH: That was last Friday. That is very up to date.
Mr Edwards : Yes.
Senator NASH: You made sure they had the information. That is very impressive. I am happy for you to take this on notice, but could we have a total list of how many across each state?
Mr Edwards : Yes. I will take that on notice.
Senator NASH: How many were funded under the latest funding round?
Mr Edwards : The last funding round, the completed funding round, was round 4, which was $181.3 million and it funded 176 schools through 89 TTCs.
Senator NASH: What is the total funding to date? Where are we at with the running total?
Mr Edwards : We have spent $1.04 billion—that has gone out the door—and $1.2 billion has been announced.
Senator NASH: How much is budgeted for the next round?
Mr Edwards : The round that is currently underway, round 5 phase 1, is $200 million.
Senator NASH: Has that round commenced?
Mr Edwards : Yes, it has. The applications close on 28 March.
Senator NASH: How many students in total are there in all of these trade training centres?
Mr Edwards : That is always a bit of a tricky one because of the lag in gathering our data. It is also because we are in the early operational phase.
Senator NASH: I am happy for you to take it on notice.
Mr Edwards : I can give you an estimate.
Senator NASH: A ballpark figure?
Mr Edwards : As at October last year, when our 2011-12 progress report was published, we estimated there would be at least 18,000 enrolments, by extrapolating from our 2011 data, but in terms of firm data, we had just over 9,100 enrolments for the 2011 school year.
Senator NASH: What sorts of completion rates are there?
Ms Smith : Just to clarify, the numbers that we are quoting are enrolment numbers, not student numbers. Students can often do certificate I or II, so in that context we do not have a set of completion rates. Often students are doing a certificate that leads to another pathway.
Senator NASH: That makes perfect sense.
Mr Edwards : We know that around 80 per cent of students remained engaged in trade training or had completed their course at the end of 2011.
Senator NASH: Is there any breakdown between how many students are from regional areas and how many are from the cities? I do not expect you to have that off the top of your head, but is that data that you have?
Mr Edwards : I will take it on notice, but to give you an idea, it is roughly 60 per cent in regional areas and 40 per cent in the cities.
Senator NASH: That would be interesting. Do you have any idea what the average number of students at a school who study VET qualification is at a trade training centre facility?
Mr Edwards : No.
Senator NASH: Could you take that on notice and have a look? I do not know if it is possible to extrapolate that for me.
Mr Edwards : I will see if I can find something on that.
Senator NASH: That would be very useful. With the indulgence of the chair and the department, I would like to move to the Assistance for Isolated Children. Regarding the AIC payment, can you define a geographically isolated and appropriate state school? Obviously the students are eligible for the payments if their family home is geographically isolated from an appropriate state school. Can you define those for me?
Mr Davies : For a student to be regarded as geographically isolated from an appropriate school, one of the following rules must apply—not all, but one of. The distance between the principal family home and the nearest appropriate state school is at least 56 kilometres by the shortest practical route; or distance between the principal family home and the nearest appropriate state school by the shortest practical route is at least 16 kilometres and the distance between the principal family home and the nearest available transport service to that school is at least 4.5 kilometres by the shortest practical route; or the student does not have reasonable access to an appropriate state school for at least 20 school days in a year because of adverse travel conditions, for example, impassable roads or other circumstances beyond the family's control.
Senator NASH: When you say an appropriate state school in the definition, what is a state school that is not appropriate?
Mr Davies : An appropriate government school is one that offers to the student's level of study or, if the student has special educational or health related needs, one that provides access to the facilities, programs or environment required to meet those needs. That is in the guidelines.
Senator NASH: To start with, to get the allowance, is a student required to attend the nearest local state school? I will come back to what you just said, but in general, are they required to attend the nearest local state school?
Ms Houston : If they get the allowance?
Senator NASH: Yes. To qualify for the allowance do they have to go to the nearest state school?
Ms Houston : Once they have received their allowance they can choose the school which they wish to study at. The determination is based on whether or not the nearest school is appropriate. If it is deemed inappropriate for their needs then they qualify for the allowance and then they can choose which school to attend.
Senator NASH: What if you have a situation where the principal home might be say 200 kilometres from the nearest state school, but that state school is not appropriate for that child? They might not have the music curriculum on offer; a child might be particularly gifted in a certain area and the school that provides that is another 1,000 kilometres further on; does the allowance increase because that nearest school is inappropriate for the child?
Ms Houston : The allowance is a set allowance, so it does not increase based on distance or where the student ends up going. The determination is about whether or not the school that is the nearest and within acceptable criteria is actually not appropriate for that young person. So if the school is within all these distance requirements and okay, but for the student it is deemed to be a school that is not acceptable, then they qualify for the allowance and it does not matter where they go, but the allowance is the same amount no matter where they go.
Senator NASH: Why is that? If you have a school that is 100 kilometres up the road or your nearest appropriate school is 1,200 kilometres away, why has there not been consideration of a flexible allowance? What is the allowance rate?
Ms Houston : There are a couple of allowances. The basic boarding allowance is $7,487 in 2013. There is an additional boarding allowance available for families whose annual boarding costs are greater than the $7,237 and the additional boarding allowance is a maximum of $1,432. That is means-tested.
Senator NASH: So the way it is structured is to take into account the costs of actually being at the school for the family or for the student?
Ms Houston : No. It is a contribution towards the costs. The majority of students who—
Senator NASH: That is my point. The costs are going to be much greater for a family that has to travel large distances, so if it is aimed to assist with the cost, why would you not take into account the fluctuation of the costs relating to distance?
Ms Houston : The majority of the students board, so they will go to boarding facilities. Some of them go to boarding facilities out of state.
Senator NASH: I know it is tricky, but you have actually got to get from point A to point B and it costs a lot to do a 3,000-kilometre round trip to get a kid to a boarding school.
Ms Houston : As I said, it is set on a contribution towards; it is not supposed to be, and never has been, expected to be the full contribution.
Senator NASH: I get that, but even at a contribution level, you could contribute an amount to small costs and you could contribute an amount to larger costs. I am not saying that we should pay the whole amount, but I am just intrigued that there is—
Ms Paul : We are now having a policy discussion where the officer cannot go any further because of the current structure of the payment. My recollection is that payments have always been structured this way for many, many years. It is a fair point. I am not saying that it is not a fair point that you are making, but it is just that it is not the way it is.
Senator NASH: We used to have wooden wheels. Just because we had them, does not mean that it is good to keep using them.
Ms Paul : I am acknowledging your point. It is just that we probably cannot take it any further because it currently is not structured that way.
Senator NASH: I understand that.
Ms Paul : We hear your policy views, obviously.
Senator NASH: I will just ask then, has there been any consideration or deliberation around the issue for regional families when it comes to the AIC of the issue of greater distance travelled? Has there been any discussion in the department?
Ms Paul : I do not think that there has been recent consideration of these matters, but we will take it on notice. It is a policy matter, so we probably cannot take it too much further.
Senator NASH: I am not asking for a comment on what might happen in the future; I am asking you to provide for the committee, on notice, if there has been any consideration of this issue?
Ms Paul : We can usually answer the question 'Have we offered advice on this matter?' We can do that. We will take that on notice. I will not go to the content, obviously, but whether we have advised on the general matter of—
Senator NASH: Yes. That is the exact question I am asking. I certainly understand that you may not be able to provide content.
Senator Jacinta Collins: I am interested on this point because I have had a variety of discussions over the years with the Isolated Children's Parents Association, and this is not one of the issues I recall them raising. Now, I have boarded and travelled lengthy distances by bus to get to boarding school, so I am curious, with respect to your point, whether there is any material that you are aware of about the differential costs that families actually face.
Senator NASH: What I will do for you is forward the letter from the ICPA. They have raised this issue with me specifically. It might be just one of those things that did not come up in conversations with you over the time, but it has been raised specifically. In Western Australia it is a particular issue. Perhaps if I could ask you, Minister—I will certainly get information to you on that basis, but if you could undertake to raise it with the minister for us, that would be really useful?
Senator NASH: I am genuinely asking. This is a real issue and while obviously there is the appreciation of the assistance, it is not taking into account the fluctuation in costs for families because of the tyranny of distance in regional areas. So if you could look at that for me that would be very much appreciated.
Senator Jacinta Collins: Sure.
Senator NASH: Thank you very much, Chair. I am completed.
CHAIR: I will confirm that we have finished outcome 2.3.
CHAIR: Senator Mason, do you want to kick on with the Digital Education Revolution?
Senator MASON: In October the department told me that across Australia, in total, only 18 schools were connected to the NBN. We were told that of those 18 schools, there were four secondary schools, five primary schools, six combined schools, two trade training centres and one polytechnic. This was in October of last year. It is four months on; how many schools are now connected to the NBN?
Ms Bloor : We understand that there are 19 schools connected to the NBN plus two trade training centres and one polytechnic.
Senator MASON: Can you break those schools down by level—primary, secondary or mixed?
Ms Bloor : Yes. There are seven primary schools, four secondary and eight combined.
Senator MASON: Throughout 2012 and certainly up to and including the estimates in October, we were told that 201 secondary schools would have the ability to connect to the NBN by year's end. How many of those secondary schools did the NBN rollout reach and how many of those are actually connected to the NBN?
Ms Bloor : We estimate that in the areas where NBN rollout has commenced there are 601 schools in those areas, with 267 being secondary schools.
Senator MASON: So 601 schools are in the shadow of the NBN?
Ms Bloor : In areas where work has commenced.
Senator MASON: And 267 of them are secondary schools?
Ms Bloor : Yes.
Senator MASON: With the projection for rollout for schools in 2013, how many schools do you predict will be connected to the NBN by the end of this year?
Ms Bloor : All that we can really offer is the number of schools that we estimate to be in the areas where the NBN is being rolled out.
Senator MASON: So you cannot be any more specific than that about connections?
Ms Bloor : No.
Senator MASON: It is just what is in the area?
Ms Bloor : Yes.
Senator MASON: After 2013 and into 2014, is it possible to give the committee any information as to how many schools lie in the shadow of the NBN next year? Are there any projections for that?
Ms Bloor : I do not believe that there are new rollout areas, but we can take that on notice.
Senator MASON: Perhaps it might be a bit early, do you think?
Ms Bloor : Yes.
Senator MASON: In October I asked the department to provide a breakdown of connection speeds for secondary schools only across each state. I think I only got that information a couple of days ago. Is there a reason why it was so difficult to compile?
Ms Paul : Can you provide the number?
Senator MASON: I have not done very well with that today.
Ms Bloor : It is 0739.
Ms Paul : There you go, it is 0739.
Senator MASON: Is there a reason why it arrived with me, or the secretariat, two days ago?
Ms Bloor : Not that I am aware of. The figures were derived from a survey that we took in 2010.
Senator MASON: When did the department provide the information to the minister's office?
Ms Paul : Senator—
Senator MASON: It is now starting to seem a bit fishy to me, Ms Paul.
Ms Paul : I doubt it. To be honest, when I looked at the numbers of questions by weeks et cetera, which I always do in preparation for coming here, we were slower this time and it is because of the Christmas break, because people have taken their leave. I do not think that there is any huge mystery to it actually. I think this would not be the only one in that unfortunate situation.
Senator MASON: It just did not seem to me to be that complicated.
Ms Paul : That is possibly true. As I said, not just in this case, there was some slowness in general because people took their leave, which is a good thing. I guess the Christmas one is always a bit hard.
CHAIR: There are a lot of questions and they are not prioritised based on which ones you would like answered first.
Ms Paul : We take a lot of questions.
Senator MASON: My questions are always very important, Chair. I am sure you would agree!
CHAIR: I would prioritise yours.
Senator MASON: I know. Can you take on notice as to why that occurred, Ms Paul?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: It may well be Christmas holidays and I understand that. Whilst noting that the information contained within your answer to question No. EW0426_13 is now a couple of years old—it is an old question—there seems to be a disparity in fast connection speeds between schools of particular states and territories, even in cases where they share similar characteristics. Is there going to be some sort of schools connectivity survey? What is the reason for this?
Ms Bloor : We have undertaken the survey periodically since 2008. We have undertaken it again in 2011 and we are currently analysing those figures, so we should be able to update them. It depends very much on the response rates from schools. It is not a compulsory survey. We ask education authorities to respond to us. In 2010 we did have a 95.2 per cent response rate.
Senator MASON: That is pretty high.
Ms Bloor : I do not have the question on notice that you refer to in front of me.
Senator MASON: No. That is a bit unfair.
Ms Paul : I think it is a previous one.
Senator MASON: It is.
Ms Bloor : There certainly are changes, particularly where states and territories have whole-of-government purchasing arrangements and contracts. Their levels of connectivity would have changed in the period that we have been discussing.
Senator MASON: I remember discussing school connectivity surveys many, many years ago, with Ms Paul and with Dr Arthur, I think.
Ms Paul : I think that might be true.
Senator MASON: I remember all of that. In the interests of accuracy and currency of data, can the department provide me with a breakdown of the 2013 NBN rollout to schools, by state? Would that be possible?
Ms Bloor : Yes. I would have to take that on notice.
Senator MASON: All right. That is all I have on this particular issue, but I do have more on the Digital Education Revolution. This may be a question for the minister, but bear with me. Will the government continue funding the DER program beyond this current financial year?
Ms Paul : That is a matter for the government. I cannot take it further.
Senator MASON: I understand. I understood that there were negotiations for a new funding agreement to commence in January and that there were negotiations going on about this. Is that right?
Ms Paul : It does not ring a bell for me. A funding agreement in—
Senator MASON: In relation to an extension of the DER?
Ms Paul : Not that we are aware of.
Senator MASON: So there are no negotiations going on about a new funding agreement in relation to—
Ms Paul : No. It has been pretty clear.
Senator MASON: There has been a lot of commentary recently in the media, even I might add, in the Age, with articles with such headlines as 'Parents face laptop slug as funds run dry'. What are schools doing now that the government may not renew this program?
Ms Paul : Those articles have been more about cuts to funding within the current financial year and the pace of funding, perhaps we will go there. They have not been about future arrangements and, as I said, we cannot comment on future arrangements. What we can comment on and take you through is what those articles were about, which was the payments to be made in this financial year. I will ask my colleagues to do that.
Senator MASON: I am not sure you are right, because I have read a couple. They are about the fact that after the four-year program—
Ms Paul : I see. I beg your pardon.
Senator MASON: I do not think I am misrepresenting them. There has been quite a lot of media commentary about this.
Mr Hehir : There is media commentary about both this year's program and the future program.
Ms Paul : I misunderstood you.
Mr Hehir : Indeed, some of the media articles are focused on the option of 'bring your own device'.
Senator MASON: That is right.
Mr Hehir : They reference a number of schools that are looking at how they might implement a bring-your-own-device policy within the school context. The commentary varies around the sense, or the benefits, of such an option and what arrangements would need to be in place.
Senator BACK: Who meets the cost of technical backup, infrastructure, the move to wi-fi et cetera? Is that met by the school, by the system or by the Commonwealth?
Ms Bloor : That was met through the on-costs funding agreement under a one-off payment in 2008-09. That was $807 million.
Senator BACK: And that has now concluded?
Ms Bloor : That has now concluded.
Senator BACK: And so any additional maintenance costs now would be on the school. While I am asking, copyright licenses for schools who are putting textbooks online—are there copyright costs associated with that move and who is meeting them?
Mr Hehir : I think the team who deal with copyright issues have just departed. Can I take that on notice?
Senator BACK: By all means. Since I am giving Senator Mason a break for a second—are there any laptops in storage that have not been distributed?
Ms Bloor : Not that we are aware of.
Senator BACK: Finally, do you have any feedback or any control over actions that are taken with regard to libraries that are going digital, particularly any that may have been funded under the BER scheme? Is it purely up to the school to decide how to reallocate the floor space?
Mr Hehir : I might just check with my team, but I do think we have discussed this previously. Just because the library has gone digital, it does not mean that it is not actually a space that the children will occupy and use as a library. A library is not just a place for the storage of books; it is also a place where teaching and reading does occur.
Senator BACK: It becomes more of a general purpose learning area than a traditional library.
Ms Paul : That is right. We have talked before about the notion of a learning centre, and I have read articles where the librarians talk about learning centres where learning is facilitated, whether it is through librarians who help you access particular digital products or books, in this modern day.
Senator MASON: Up until now there was no cohesion or no certainty as to what would happen with this program after four years. As I think we agreed, at the end of four years laptop will have become obsolete. From the brief discussion this afternoon, it seems clear that the government has made a decision not to continue this.
Ms Paul : That is not what we said. That was not our evidence. We said that it is a matter for government, and—
Senator MASON: Sure, but I am asking whether there is a positive commitment, and if there is, Minister, let the committee know, but there has not been one.
Ms Paul : We are saying right now that it is a matter for government and that we cannot take it any further.
Senator Jacinta Collins: There is one aspect of this picture that I do not think has been canvassed, which is that there is a shifting landscape around digital technology. There is a move in many schools that I have observed towards a bring your own device policy, or a personal device policy, and the cost structures, and the arrangements, for those circumstances differ from situations where you have got schools with PCs or moves to laptops or situations where you are looking at schools dealing with copyright arrangements for software on devices as opposed to—I know from my own case—parents meeting the copyright obligation that goes onto devices. We need, also, to evaluate that shift in the landscape as well, which is one of the reasons why it is a matter for government to consider, because we need to respond to the shifts in the technology.
Senator MASON: I accept that, but I suppose, to come to the point again, the uncertainty will remain?
Ms Paul : It is currently a matter for government.
Senator MASON: That is the uncertainty?
Ms Paul : That is our evidence.
Senator MASON: We have not resolved the uncertainty.
Ms Paul : This is an area that a Commonwealth government has never been in before. It funded computers, and we have discussed it at length—
Senator MASON: I remember, Ms Paul.
Ms Paul : And that has been achieved; indeed, it has been over-achieved. The point the senator makes is a really interesting one, because there have been a number of people who have said to me recently that they work—this is not even schoolkids; this is our colleagues—with a smartphone and a tablet and no laptop at all anymore, which is quite interesting.
Senator MASON: They are very trendy people. I cannot cope with that, Ms Paul.
Ms Paul : It is pretty impressive.
Senator BACK: Any capacity for NAPLAN to go online will be dictated by access by children to this technology?
Ms Paul : The unit cost has come way down on devices, even from when this program started, which is really very interesting. In particular, education authorities have had very good deals, but it is interesting to watch how very fast the landscape changes, as the senator was saying.
Senator MASON: So it remains a matter for government and no decision has been made as yet?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: Thank you. There has been a bit of press recently. An article in the Australian newspaper on 2 January this year titled 'States' outcry over delay in school computer payments' spoke of the protracted delay in the payment to state education departments and block grant authorities for the replacement of school computers under the program. The article quoted $100 million as the amount owed to the state and independent schools as at August 2012 by the Commonwealth. Can you tell me if the $100 million owed to the states and the independent school sector as at August has yet been paid and, if not, why not?
Mr Hehir : Agreement has been made to make the payment.
Senator MASON: The whole $100 million?
Mr Hehir : That is correct.
Senator MASON: I salute you, Mr Hehir. Why don't we just waddle through the entrails for a second? Is that all right?
Senator Jacinta Collins: I am not quite sure we will adopt your characterisation—
Ms Paul : Must we before dinner?
Senator BACK: I just wonder about the story I heard this morning that the New South Wales government had to very urgently approach Minister Garrett and received a cheque only yesterday for $51 million.
Ms Paul : The best thing we could do is walk you through the process.
Senator BACK: Not through the entrails though!
Ms Paul : It could be, but I was not going to characterise it like that.
Senator MASON: Perhaps you can be guided by my questioning first. Is that all right? I would hate you to go off on some tangent. Politicians never do that, do they? Let me focus you and then perhaps you can explain more broadly if you think you have not been given a chance to answer more fully. What was the reason given to state education authorities for not meeting those payments originally?
Mr Hehir : The reason was that we were actually continuing to analyse their reports that were provided and we received final reports in September not June or July, as stated. There were a number of questions we had around the reports. I might give some context for that. You would be aware that at the beginning of 2012 we had achieved the one-to-one ratio. In fact, as at September the ratio was significantly overachieved with over 968,000 computers having been purchased compared to the initial target—
Senator MASON: I might go back to my questions. So you say the final reports were not given by the education authorities until when?
Mr Hehir : September.
Senator MASON: Why is that? The Commonwealth did not add or change any conditions, did they?
Mr Hehir : No. We asked for further information.
Senator MASON: So there was no change, either implied or otherwise, to the contractual repayment obligations?
Mr Hehir : Not to my understanding. As I described earlier, there were four elements to this program. The first is the infrastructure, which are largely the computers and the support staff directly around that. That also involved that component of that $807 million that was the initial payment. There was the leadership element, the digital resources elements and the teacher capability elements as well. What we sought after having achieved the one-to-one ratio and significantly overachieved on the one-to-one ratio was further information on what they were doing on those three other significant streams.
Senator MASON: So there was extra information sought?
Mr Hehir : Yes, but within the streams that were agreed within the national partnership.
Senator MASON: So the reporting criteria were no longer just about infrastructure per se; they were expanded—is that right?
Mr Hehir : There was a greater focus on those three others streams given that the one-to-one ratio, which had clearly occupied the education authorities, had been achieved.
Senator MASON: Just remind the committee what those three strands were again?
Mr Hehir : The three other strands were leadership, digital resources and teacher capability.
Senator MASON: Had the Commonwealth ever asked about those issues beforehand?
Ms Bloor : Infrastructure, teacher capability, leadership and digital resources are articulated in the DER strategic plan, and they are also articulated in the national partnership and the funding agreements.
Senator MASON: That is not actually answering my question.
Ms Bloor : The monthly progress reports, which were asked for six monthly, focused mainly on those until the achievement of one to one, but the templates for progress reports were sent out in advance.
Senator MASON: Had the Commonwealth ever asked for—
Ms Bloor : Yes.
Senator MASON: It had?
Ms Bloor : Yes.
Senator MASON: Right. It had asked for it, but it had never had any concern about those issues before, had it?
Ms Bloor : There had been responses to those other strands of change. States and territories had responded on those other strands of change—
Senator MASON: Strands of change?
Ms Bloor : Strands of change is how they are described.
Senator MASON: Strands of change sounds like a chant from the cultural revolution, Ms Bloor. Strands of change—have you heard about the winds of change, Ms Bloor, from Harold Macmillan's speech? This is very interesting. So you are saying that they were there and that the Commonwealth had never before—excuse my non-legal language—arced up about it before. Is that correct?
Ms Paul : I am not saying we arced up about it; I am saying that we paid close attention to it, in particular, because one to one had been achieved, and Mr Hehir was describing that we had had quite a few questions.
Senator MASON: No payment had ever been delayed before to any education authority before on that basis, had it?
Ms Bloor : When the template for the July progress report was sent out, we did—
Senator MASON: Ms Paul?
Ms Paul : Ms Bloor is answering.
Senator MASON: Had any payment before—
Ms Bloor : No, Senator.
Mr Hehir : No.
Senator MASON: Thank you.
Ms Paul : We had, I would imagine, asked questions before. The point we are making here is that there was a shift in interest after one to one was achieved and that we did have questions in this instance.
Mr Hehir : The reports arrived in September as finals. They also identified the amount of funds that the education authorities had retained from previous payments. The quantum for that figure—$243 million—was held by the education authorities, noting that the entire payment for the 2012-13 budget is $200 million. There is also a requirement within the states and territories that they contribute 30 per cent of the overall component here. There were a number of factors that we were looking at in this piece of work. We were also trying to understand where, in terms of the other strands of change, the various jurisdictions were up to. I think it would be fair to say that the focus, or prioritisation against the strands of change, was different between the authorities. Indeed, it was also quite difficult to understand the transparency of how the funding was being applied to those other strands of change.
Senator MASON: This is what I find difficult. As Senator Back mentioned, in New South Wales, the second that Mr Piccoli writes to Mr Garrett and the issue becomes public—and I think it was mentioned this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald—Mr Garrett immediately says, 'We'll pay,' and everyone gets paid. Is that just a coincidence or all of a sudden were the stands of change satisfied?
Mr Hehir : I am not going to comment on whether it was a coincidence. Certainly the analysis had been undertaken and we had been working on providing advice to the minister's office around those strands of change, the reports themselves and whether a payment should be made.
Senator MASON: Why did it take a letter from Mr Piccoli and no doubt the release of that letter—it was in the papers and elsewhere—to force the government's hand on this?
Ms Paul : I think what Mr Hehir is saying is that we are not commenting on whether it did. We do not know that. It has been agreed the payments have been made, but we are not going to comment on the cause of it.
Senator MASON: You can't.
Ms Paul : You can't comment on that.
Senator MASON: I know you can't but I don't think anyone is going to believe it was a coincidence. It is even too much for me.
Senator Jacinta Collins: Senator Mason, what you have asked about is what has occurred subsequent to the report being received in September. What the officers have explained to you is that there were a range of factors including a residual of $243 million sitting with education authorities unspent that the government needed to assure themselves about. I think any suggestion that one letter is the only factor does not stand.
Senator MASON: What worries me is it does sound like a bit of a chant. I am wondering about the concept or intellectual integrity of something like that where, all of a sudden, it can be satisfied by Mr Piccoli's letter. You cannot comment on that, Ms Paul. I understand that but it does not make me any happier that those strands of change had a great intellectual and conceptual integrity in terms of outcomes desired by education authorities. I don't think that is going to satisfy anyone. That is not necessarily the department's fault. Has there been any correspondence between the Commonwealth government and the states other than to New South Wales about this issue?
Mr Hehir : Yes.
Senator Jacinta Collins: Can we nail down what you mean by this issue though because there is the obvious correspondence around?
Senator MASON: About the progress payments not being made.
Ms Paul : From us to them or from them to us?
Senator MASON: From the Commonwealth to the states, in particular.
Ms Paul : About payments not being made?
Senator MASON: Yes, progress payments not being made. Did the letters from the department or the minister to state governments outline concerns about the strands of change?
Ms Paul : In other words, you are asking in what way did we communicate our concerns.
Senator MASON: Yes.
Mr Hehir : Senator, I want to take the exact wording on notice. My recollection is that the advice identified that we were considering the reports but I will need to check that.
Senator MASON: Was there any specificity about Commonwealth concerns?
Mr Hehir : I would need to take that on notice.
Senator MASON: Would there ever have been a letter from the Commonwealth to a state conceding that a state government had in fact met the requirements but that the department in any case did not know when the Commonwealth government would be releasing the money?
Ms Paul : No.
Senator MASON: Are you sure?
Mr Hehir : I would take it on notice but I am certainly not aware of that.
Senator MASON: Are you sure about that, Ms Bloor?
Ms Bloor : I do not believe so.
CHAIR: You are shooting blanks, Senator Mason. You are just not getting anywhere.
Senator MASON: I have a few more questions on this but it could take a bit longer.
CHAIR: We will break for dinner now.
Proceedings suspended from 18 : 24 to 19:30
CHAIR: We will now resume these estimates proceedings. We are still on questions for the department on program 2.5.
Senator MASON: Can I just recap some of the evidence? States have to report by July. Assessment by the Commonwealth takes place between July and August.
Mr Hehir : Normally, yes, Senator, in the past.
Senator MASON: And money, until last year, was paid to the states by the Commonwealth by August.
Mr Hehir : That is my understanding, yes.
Senator MASON: Mr Hehir, before the dinner break you said that the states and the education authorities sent back their amended reports having addressed the strands of change by September last year. In the past, there was a month between the reporting and payment. The states and education authorities complied by September and it has taken til today or yesterday to be paid—5½ months later. Why is that?
Mr Hehir : The analysis this time was far more complex than previously, as Ms Bloor has identified. The major focus of previous reports had been the achievement of the one-to-one ratios and most of the focus was on how they had progressed, or were progressing, toward that target. Prior to sending out the format this time we had identified that, given the achievement of the one-to-one earlier that year, we would be seeking a greater focus on the other strands of change, so it was the analysis and, as I said, it was not an even approach. Different priorities were taken around what they were doing. It was difficult to identify how the funds were being attributed to those other strands of change and we were left with a picture of a substantial amount of money sitting with the education authorities from previous funding rounds and not having a very clear picture of how that money was being applied, or was proposed to be applied, to the other strands of change.
Senator MASON: The evidence before dinner was that in the past—before the middle of last year—in the ordinary course of events the Commonwealth would receive the report—an assessed report—within a month. Why wouldn't the states think that the Commonwealth—because as you say, there is so much money at stake—should have had the capacity to assess and pay within a month, even if you take the September reporting date?
Mr Hehir : As I said, Senator, we had identified prior to that template for the report being sent out that we were interested in the other strands of change. As I said, there was a wide variety of priorities identified against those strands of change. We have had trouble assigning the funding from the DER to those strands of change, so there was not as much transparency there to make the job as simple as it had been previously. When you are matching the dollars we had with the computers purchased and the schools they are in it is a relatively straightforward exercise, particularly when you have a target which is defined, from memory, as 786,000 computers. We are also undertaking analysis around what the money was spent on. So, as Ms Paul referred to earlier, the costs of items has changed quite dramatically. The initial cost allocation was $1,000. Our analysis indicated that New South Wales was getting their laptops for just over $500. We were interested in quite a range of detail in this analysis, particularly given the large sums of money held.
Senator MASON: How long has this fund been going for?
Mr Hehir : I understand that this is its fifth year.
Senator MASON: I thought so. I have a couple of points on that. Ms Bloor, you said before the dinner break that these strands of change were already embedded in the template, so they were already there but not focused upon; is that right?
Ms Bloor : A couple of years ago—and I would have to confirm on notice when, but I believe it was when the DER evaluation strategy was confirmed through the Australian ICT in Education Committee—additional reporting lines were put into the progress reports to address those.
Senator MASON: So you are telling me that already there was some knowledge by the states about requirements of the strands of change?
Ms Bloor : In fact, the states and territories had been involved in identifying them from the outset.
Senator MASON: So the idea of assessing them was not new, was it?
Ms Paul : That is not, however, the point that Mr Hehir has made.
Senator MASON: Hold on. You cannot have it every way. We have got evidence that in fact there were strands of change before. That is the evidence. Isn't that right?
Ms Paul : Yes.
Mr Hehir : Yes, that is correct.
Ms Paul : That is not the point Mr Hehir is making though.
Senator MASON: We know that. After September until today or yesterday—and the states and the education authorities had submitted their reports in September—what communication did the government have with all the education authorities about their reports?
Ms Bloor : A number of education authorities have queried officers in the department by email or by telephone and they have been told that the assessment process was ongoing and that the progress reports had not been accepted as yet.
Senator MASON: Until yesterday or today. Was it today or yesterday? When was it?
Mr Hehir : Yesterday.
Senator MASON: Last night?
Mr Hehir : Sorry, the announcement was yesterday.
Senator MASON: That the government was paying up. So, Ms Bloor, after September did the Commonwealth government ask for any further information from state governments or education authorities and seek any further advice or information from them?
Ms Bloor : I do not believe so.
Senator MASON: Right. So they submitted their reports in September, the Commonwealth did not ask for any more information, the states and education authorities asked for the money and it took 5½ months to assess it. That is fair! I wonder why some of the states might be concerned about the Gonski stuff? You would wonder, wouldn't you? How many payment cycles are there for this funding review?
Ms Bloor : Two.
Senator MASON: So we have one in July. When is the other one?
Ms Bloor : This time the progress reports were due on 15 July and 15 January.
Senator MASON: Hold on.
Ms Bloor : In previous years the progress reports were due on 15 July and 15 January.
Senator MASON: From the states?
Ms Bloor : Yes.
Senator MASON: That was last year. What about this year?
Ms Paul : Obviously, it changed this year, because we did not get them until September.
Senator MASON: Hold on. One was due in July, but further information was sought and the education authorities submitted again in September. We have discussed that. After that, when was the next report due?
Ms Bloor : If the pattern from previous years had been followed, it would have been six months after the July progress payment.
Senator MASON: When did the Commonwealth most recently call for reports?
Ms Bloor : There has not been a template distributed since the template for the July 2012 progress report.
Ms Paul : Because their returns were in September. We analyse, et cetera. That is where we are. We will need to synch another one to consider the second payment.
Senator MASON: Interesting. In the normal course of events what would have been paid in August of 2012 was finally paid yesterday. In the normal course of events, when would the state education authorities have been paid? In February or March?
Ms Bloor : Payments have previously varied.
Senator MASON: But generally when were they paid?
Ms Bloor : Between two and three months after the progress reports had been received.
Senator MASON: Previously the evidence was that the states had to report by July and money was paid to the states by August. That is about one month. Let's allow a month and a half. Surely, it would be the same gap. Why would it somehow be different?
Ms Paul : You might look back over the five years, I suppose.
Senator MASON: The evidence was that states have to report by July. Assessment by the Commonwealth takes place between July and August and, previously, money had been paid to the states by August as set out in the funding agreement. You had a report by July, money was paid by August. Now, Ms Paul, if in the past states had to report by 15 January, surely then you could have expected payment by February.
Ms Paul : We are talking about what actually happened. It is easy for us to go back and look.
Mr Hehir : And check.
Ms Paul : There is four years of history. It is easy to do it.
Senator MASON: Why would the payments have been different if in the past it took—
Ms Paul : We have discussed that at length—Mr Hehir has—because we have moved away from the one-to-one. It has been achieved; we have had a more complex matter—
Senator MASON: Ms Paul, that is not my question.
Senator Jacinta Collins: There was a residual of $243 million to the education authorities.
Senator MASON: Hold on, that was not my question. My question is about the past. Mr Hehir, you say the fund has been going for five years.
Mr Hehir : This is the fifth year.
Ms Paul : So, four years.
Senator MASON: I am not even concerned about that, Ms Paul, if you know where I am going. What we have is: in the past reports from the states in July, payment in August. Ms Paul, if you are telling me that in the past they were due in January—15 January—why then would payment not be made in February in the normal course of events?
Ms Paul : Maybe it was.
Senator MASON: I want to get to the past first before we get to the current situation.
Ms Paul : It is easy to find out. Why don't we just ask? Take it on notice.
Senator MASON: What's that? I can't hear you.
Ms Paul : Why don't we just find out? We can take it on notice and find out.
Senator MASON: I just want to get to the pattern now and I am sure that someone can tell me. In the past, Ms Bloor, when was the money paid out in general?
Ms Bloor : Previously the department has distributed a template of the progress reports prior to the progress reports being due.
Senator MASON: Ms Bloor, I can't hear you.
Ms Bloor : Previously the department has distributed a template for the progress reports prior to the progress reports being due, so that states and territories and the non-government sector have a format in which to report.
Senator MASON: That does not answer my question. Let me ask the question again. In the past, July has been the date of reporting, with payment in August. That is the evidence thus far. We know that the second phase, the other phase, is reporting by 15 January—and, I would assume, payment a month later, let us say the middle of February or thereabouts. That would seem logical. Is that generally what has happened?
Ms Bloor : That has happened in the past but there has not been a template distributed for a January 2013 report.
Senator MASON: That is not my question. I did ask about in the past. So that has been the practice, as I thought.
Ms Paul : Ms Bloor actually said between one and three months about 10 minutes ago.
Senator MASON: Yes, but I want to get the general practice. The general practice is within a month.
Ms Paul : I think that was the answer, and she has just confirmed that.
Senator MASON: We have got the evidence. We now know that it is generally in February. Therefore, the states would have expected not only payment from the July process last year, which was delayed until yesterday; they would have expected payment this month from the reports due in January. When can the states expect that money, which usually would have been paid in February 2013?
Ms Paul : We have been through the fact that they had $243 million in residuals. The first payment is on its way. Ms Bloor said the template would need to go out to consider the next progress report. It has not gone out yet.
Senator MASON: So the template has not even gone out yet for the money that would normally have been paid in February 2013?
Mr Hehir : That is correct.
Senator MASON: When is the earliest the states can expect the money?
Ms Paul : It is a bit hard to tell until we send a template. It depends, in a way, on how fast they report. Given that they had $243 million worth of residuals, and they have achieved one to one and we have just sent out $100 million, we will do it as expeditiously as we can. But I do not know that we could be pinned to a date here.
Senator MASON: Does payment really depend on how quickly states report? Surely, as we have just discussed tonight, it is about how quickly the Commonwealth will assess and pay.
Ms Paul : Of course it relies on that.
Senator MASON: I think that has been established. If the states got it right in September—and they seem to have been vindicated by the payment last night; the Commonwealth did not ask for any more information—I would assume that they get it right yet again and payment will be very quick.
Ms Paul : It might be. We cannot predict that now.
CHAIR: We will now go to outcome 2.7. Senator Mason, you will have to argue the reverse argument now because you used to complain in this outcome that we used to give the states the money too quickly and too easily.
Senator MASON: I am flexible; you know that, Mr Chairman. On 18 October I asked the department to provide a breakdown of uncompleted BER construction projects by round. The government only got back to the committee on Tuesday this week, even though the figures produced were for 31 December 2012. Why is that?
Ms Paul : We had this discussion a couple of hours ago. I said I apologise and some had come in. By the way, would you mind giving the number of that so that I can have a look at that too?
Senator MASON: It is question on notice EW0742_13.
Ms Paul : As I was saying before in response to another question, I looked at the statistics of when we have delivered questions to committee, and it is slower than usual. The reason, of course, is the Christmas break, and people quite correctly taking their leave and so on. I apologised a few hours ago, so I will do that again. I do not think there is any particular mystery; it is just the way it was.
Senator MASON: It is not being held up in the minister's office? Nothing as pernicious as that?
Ms Paul : No. It has affected a whole lot. It is the Christmas shutdown et cetera. You can see the pattern when you look at the numbers.
Senator MASON: Since 31 December 2012, have the remaining 44 Primary Schools for the 21st Century projects been completed?
Ms Smith : The 44 P21 projects have not all been completed; there are 37 remaining.
Senator MASON: Thirty-seven yet to be completed?
Ms Smith : Correct. We have had formal reports from the education authorities as at 31 December. We have checked this last week and they confirmed that a further seven of the 44 have been completed and they will be reporting that. They report at the end of every month.
Senator MASON: Are there any round 1 Primary Schools for the 21st Century construction projects that remain uncompleted?
Ms Smith : Yes, there are six.
Senator MASON: What schools are these remaining projects?
Ms Smith : I can give you them by education authority, by round—
Senator MASON: Can you give me the names of the schools?
Ms Smith : Yes, I can. You will recall that last time we mentioned Minister Shorten and Minister Piccoli agreed to reallocate $80 million to some special schools. There are several projects that are still in the New South Wales government for special schools. There are 19 of those. One of those is a round 1 project at Holman Place School.
Senator MASON: That is one of the six?
Ms Smith : It is.
Senator MASON: Where is that?
Ms Smith : I cannot tell you exactly.
Senator MASON: What are the other five?
Ms Smith : A New South Wales independent school is Bellfield College—there are actually two projects at Bellfield College, both of them round 1. There is a round 1 project at Georges River Grammar Anglican College, a New South Wales independent school. The Victorian government has a round 1 project at Avenel Primary School. We have the reasons they were delayed, as well. There is one further project: it has been completed, which is the informal advice. It is Yesodei Hatorah College, round 1; a Victorian independent school.
Senator MASON: Do we have any dates on estimated times of completion for those schools?
Ms Smith : The round 1 schools?
Senator MASON: Yes, those last six.
Ms Smith : Yes, we do.
Mr Hehir : We have just identified that there were actually five. We had some informal advice that one of the round 1 projects has been completed.
Ms Smith : Holman Place School was an enhancement project. Its forecast completion date is 15 July 2013. Bellfield College, round 1, New South Wales independent—we do not have a completion date. We are awaiting the block grant authority's advice. They are awaiting details. There has been extensive delay as result of planning issues. So we are waiting on the block grant authority's advice on that one. It actually has two projects, which I mentioned before—
Senator MASON: Yes, you did.
Ms Smith : though we think the second project has a completion date of 31 January, and that is one of those ones where we will have confirmation of that in the next report. A round 1 project at Georges River Grammar, again a New South Wales independent school, is expected to be completed in May this year.
Senator MASON: May this year?
Ms Smith : 31 May. Victorian government, round 1, Avenel Primary School—that has an expected completion date of 25 July this year.
Senator MASON: 25 July? That is very specific, isn't it?
Ms Smith : Yes, it is quite specific.
Senator MASON: And that is it?
Ms Smith : Yes, that is it.
Senator MASON: You may need to take this on notice: of the P21 construction projects still outstanding, how many are from round 2 and how many are from round 3?
Ms Smith : Yes, we have that. Fourteen projects remain from round 2 and 24 projects from round 3.
Mr Hehir : Sorry, Senator; that does not remove the seven that have had the informal advice.
Ms Smith : These are formally closed on our system, but we have had the informal advice of the further seven. That reduces that total that I just explained.
Senator MASON: All right. Twenty-four plus six is 30, so that takes it to 44.
Ms Smith : Yes, 44. There were seven that we have been informally advised are actually completed.
Senator MASON: So 44 minus seven is 37.
Ms Smith : Yes, but we were reporting—
Mr Hehir : Yes, so we have not taken the seven off those figures.
Ms Smith : We have not taken them off—
Senator MASON: You haven't taken the seven off that?
Ms Smith : because we have not formally received—
Senator MASON: Advice that they are completed?
Ms Smith : absolute advice on our system that they have been completed. But we have heard—
Senator MASON: Informally?
Ms Smith : in telephone conversations from the education authorities that they have been completed, and they were due to be completed on 31 January. That is the reason.
Senator MASON: On notice—because I do want to take up too much of the committee's time—when do you expect all projects to be completed by?
Ms Smith : The New South Wales projects that I spoke about for those 19 schools are expected to be completed towards the end of this year. They are the latest projects that we expect to be completed.
Senator MASON: July this year—they should be completed by then?
Ms Smith : No. I can give you the dates. I can do that for every project, but they are mostly—
Senator MASON: No, that is all right.
Mr Hehir : December.
Ms Smith : It is 31 December for most.
Senator MASON: Of this year?
Ms Smith : Of this year.
Senator MASON: They will be finished by then—by the end of the year?
Ms Smith : That is right, yes. But some will be completed earlier, depending on the scope of the project.
Senator MASON: Yes, I understand that. Could you provide the committee with a comprehensive list, if it is not too much work—and I rely on you here, Ms Paul, to discern whether this is too much work—
Ms Paul : Sure.
Senator MASON: of all remaining P21 construction projects, with the following detail: (a) which round the project belongs to, and you have already touched on round 1 in particular; (b) the name of the school and education authority; and (c) the project's estimated date of completion. I suspect you have that information on you.
Ms Paul : I think we do.
Ms Smith : We do. That is fine.
Senator MASON: Right. Done. At estimates I regularly ask for an update on financial commitments and spend. This may be the last time I do it—although who knows? Perhaps we will do it once more at budget estimates. At the previous estimates, the committee was told that $15.774 billion, which constituted 99 per cent of the BER funding, had been committed by education authorities. How much of the $15.925 billion has now been committed? Has it all been committed?
Ms Smith : At 7 December 2011, all education authorities had received their project funding allocation in full, totalling $15.9 billion. So that was the payment to them.
Senator MASON: All right. So 100 per cent of that has been paid?
Ms Smith : Yes.
Senator MASON: Righto. What percentage has been committed?
Ms Smith : $15.821 billion—
Senator MASON: So it is over 99 per cent?
Ms Smith : 99 per cent, correct.
Senator MASON: And how much has been spent?
Ms Smith : That is $15.738 million, 98 per cent.
CHAIR: So we have actually paid them the full amount even though they have not completed all the buildings yet?
Ms Smith : That is right. Also, with that last figure on what has been spent, there is some money that is recovered where projects are altered or closed or changed for some reason.
Senator MASON: Would you say that again?
Ms Smith : An element of what has been spent is some money that is recovered from education authorities in certain circumstances.
Senator MASON: Because they have not fulfilled their contractual obligations?
Ms Smith : Or the project is not commencing after all. For example, a school closed after it received an allocation, it moved locations and the money needs to be returned—those sorts of things.
Senator MASON: On 24 January, it was reported in the Daily Telegraph that about 13 per cent of schools with completed BER projects were still yet to hold what are described, apparently, as recognition ceremonies. As of this date, how many schools with a completed BER project have not yet held a recognition ceremony?
Ms Smith : I am sorry, we do not have the numbers of schools that have not held a ceremony. We do not have that data with us.
Senator MASON: Do you have information about the ones that have?
Ms Smith : We have some data. In May 2012, 1,770 schools whose projects were scheduled for completion in that period were asked about the ceremonies. Essentially, we do not have a complete set of data for all of the projects that are completed. Clearly, the data relates to those projects that have completed—you can only hold your ceremony after everything has been done. We do not have that set of data with us today.
Senator MASON: But, given that the vast majority of projects are now completed, what percentage of schools that have had completed projects have held one of these recognition ceremonies?
Ms Smith : I do not have that, sorry.
CHAIR: You may have to take that on notice.
Ms Smith : We will need to take it on notice. We had a subset of schools that were reminded about the opportunities for ceremonies.
Senator MASON: I like that—'reminded of the opportunities for ceremonies'. You have trained your staff very well, Ms Paul.
Senator Jacinta Collins: How many have you been to, Senator Mason?
Senator MASON: I have not been to any. I am never invited anywhere, Minister.
Senator Jacinta Collins: I see so many of your colleagues at these events.
Senator BACK: You are more concerned about where the money went, Senator Mason.
Senator MASON: I like 'reminded of the opportunities'.
Ms Smith : Those same schools were given the choice. If they did not want to hold a ceremony, they would get a plaque to put in the building. They were not required to hold a ceremony.
Senator MASON: They are reminded of the opportunity and, if they do not, is there any sanction?
Ms Smith : There is no sanction. It is part of the guidelines for the operation of the project.
Senator MASON: If I have this wrong, correct me. I would hate to make a mistake. A statement appears on DEEWR's website under the heading 'BER questions'. Let me read out what it says rather than paraphrasing it. I might not be accurate otherwise. It says:
To receive funding under BER—
that is, Building the Education Revolution—
there is a requirement to recognise and acknowledge the Commonwealth's contribution. Schools receiving funding under either SLC or P21 must hold recognition ceremonies as part of their conditions of funding.
That was printed on 24 January 2013. Is that consistent with what you have told me?
Ms Smith : I am saying that those were the guidelines that were part of the program. It was anticipated that schools would hold ceremonies, and nothing has changed with that. That has been the case for the duration of the program.
Senator MASON: I honestly do not understand. I assume the particular phrase I read out is still on the website, where it says it is a condition of funding. That is what it says. You have just told me that it is not.
CHAIR: To recognise the Commonwealth's contribution. It does not mean it has to be a recognition ceremony. I think the evidence is that, if they do not hold a ceremony, there is still a plaque that is put on the wall—
Senator MASON: To acknowledge the Commonwealth's contribution.
CHAIR: that recognises the contribution.
Senator MASON: Hold on. I understand that, Chair, and I appreciate the distinction. Let me read out the second sentence again:
Schools receiving funding under either SLC or P21 must hold recognition ceremonies as part of their conditions of funding.
That is what it says on the website. That is not consistent with what you have told me. What is the rule?
Ms Smith : Under the guidelines, schools that received P21 or SLC projects and funding agreed to hold recognition ceremonies. That is the language of the guidelines.
Senator MASON: They agreed to hold them?
Ms Smith : Yes. But there is no penalty if you do not hold a ceremony.
Senator MASON: It does say 'must'. It says: 'must hold recognition ceremonies as part of their conditions of funding'. That is what it says.
CHAIR: This might be an opportunity to claw back some money!
Senator MASON: This is on your website. We could check.
CHAIR: Senator Mason said, 'Give the money back.'
Senator MASON: I might be onto something here! I did not know it would be quite like this. What is going on?
Ms Paul : My recollection is that with most programs recognition ceremonies are mandatory. It is just my recollection from many years that recognition ceremonies have been required. Perhaps we can clarify on notice. You are getting to whether it is mandatory or not?
Senator MASON: I am not. I do not claim to be a very good lawyer, but I can read. I read it out twice and it is quite clear what it means. It seems to be contrary to what the committee is being told, so I am unhappy about that.
Ms Paul : Which is exactly why I am offering to clarify what the situation is in writing, on notice.
Senator MASON: Where does it say—
Ms Smith : In signing up to the agreements for projects with the education authorities, the guidelines would have been accepted for the rules associated with each project. It was clear that for those two elements there was an expectation of a recognition ceremony.
Senator MASON: Where does it say that, as a condition of funding, schools do not—
Ms Paul : Can I take this—
Senator MASON: This is an important question.
Ms Paul : Sorry—can I just have a minute because I do not want to mislead you have? I am sorry. I think we are right to go now.
Senator MASON: I am a bit scared even to pursue the issue.
Ms Paul : Don't be: I just do not want us to mislead the committee.
Ms Smith : I would like to clarify that the guidelines do say that a recognition ceremonies should be held in relation to a P21 and a Science and Learning Centre Project. However, the department does not insist that it be held. Schools are encouraged to hold the ceremonies, but there are no penalties if they do not.
Senator MASON: The language on the website is 'must'.
Ms Smith : That is correct.
Senator MASON: Do you know what 'must' means legally? Must means must. You are telling me you have not shot anyone who has not done it. Is that right?
Ms Paul : That is one way of putting it.
Senator Jacinta Collins: I think they said something stronger than that. They said there is no penalty.
Senator MASON: Sure, but as you know 'must' is obligatory.
Senator Jacinta Collins: Yes, and combined with the must was the earlier statement that there is no penalty.
Senator MASON: It is a misdemeanour rather than a crime. There is quite a bit on the website about hosting these recognition ceremonies: 19 pages of conditions, checklists, registration forms, event-running sheets, media talking points and the merits of the BER. Who drafted the conditions for these recognition ceremonies?
Ms Smith : I think you are referring to the BER recognition ceremony kit that has been available to schools through the DEEWR website since the BER was implemented in 2009.
Senator MASON: Yes, that is right. Who drafted it?
Ms Smith : The department drafted it.
Senator MASON: On Wednesday, 30 January the Prime Minister announced that the election date was 14 September. A week earlier the Daily Telegraph reported that there were still approximately 1,000 schools to hold one of these BER recognition ceremonies. Does the department or the government expect that these 1,000 recognition ceremonies will be held between now and the election?
Ms Smith : The department issued a letter in May 2012 suggesting to schools that they contact the department to confirm whether they wished to hold a ceremony or would prefer a generic plaque commemorating their project. The recipients were given until 30 June to respond. To date, as of now, about 56 per cent have responded.
Senator MASON: The others haven't responded?
Ms Smith : That is correct.
Senator MASON: The kit advises teachers that they are to make provision in the official proceedings for the minister or his representative to speak at ceremonies that are not to be planned for parliamentary sitting days. Students can only be asked to speak where possible and when time permits. Schools are directed to: 'Acknowledge the government's assistance in all speeches and publicity issued by the school such as newsletters, websites or local media articles.' Is that right? Staff are also told that they that they are to: 'Record the day through photographs or video footage and publish the material on the school website.' They are told to provide parking for guests and that the government plaque be fixed to the building—and the first student to stop clapping gets shot. Is that right?
Ms Paul : I suspect the last part might not be. Are you just testing whether we are awake?
Senator MASON: We are still working in this estimates hearing.
Ms Paul : We're glad to see it.
Senator MASON: Is what I have read out right?
Ms Smith : Correct, except for the last statement.
Senator MASON: My recollection of when Joseph Stalin addressed the Supreme Soviet is his saying the first person to stop clapping would be shot. That is all I have on this issue.
CHAIR: As there are no questions for programs 2.8, 2.9 and 2.10, we move to program 2.11 Youth support.
Senator BACK: Please tell me the process for selecting members of the Australian Youth Forum steering committee.
Mr Fernando : The Australian Youth Forum is part of the work of the Office for Youth. The steering committee for 2013 has just been selected and they met last week in Canberra. There is a call for applications nationally from people who are interested in being a member of the steering committee. There is an assessment panel to assess those applications and make a short list which is provided to the minister for his consideration.
Senator BACK: Is it annual?
Mr Fernando : It is annual. The committee runs for a calendar year.
Senator BACK: The reason I ask is that criticism has come to me that the steering committee last year seemed to be exclusively university educated people in their twenties. The question was: why were there not younger people, apprentices or employed or unemployed younger people? There also seemed to be few in the vocation education sector. Can you assure us that the constitution of this year's steering committee is more widely representative of young people? I think this is a valid criticism if it is accurate.
Mr Fernando : You are right that probably the majority of the young members this year, and possibly last year, had a tertiary qualification. However, I can assure you that the principles and guidelines—the selection criteria, if you like—for selecting young people are extremely socially inclusive, and we try to find young Australians from all different backgrounds to be part of the steering committee.
Senator BACK: Did you say that this year's committee has been signed off by the minister, or it has not been?
Mr Fernando : It has been signed off.
Senator BACK: Can you assure us that this year's committee is more widely representative than last year's?
Mr Fernando : I cannot do that with certainty. I do not have the actual biographies for the 10 members this year relative to last year. I think that there would be a reasonable mix of young Australians on the committee.
Senator BACK: What is the budget for the Youth Forum for this year?
Mr Fernando : Do you mean the steering committee?
Senator BACK: Yes.
Mr Fernando : The budget is $100,000.
Senator BACK: What other expenditures are there in addition to the costs which are incurred for, or by, the steering committee?
Mr Fernando : There are no other budgeted costs.
Senator BACK: Will there be a Youth Forum this year? Does such an event take place? What does the steering committee do?
Mr Fernando : The brief of the steering committee is to advocate for young Australians to be involved in engaging with government and having their voices heard by government. Generally, there is a committee member from every jurisdiction in Australia, and they, in their capacity as a steering committee member, go out through their own channels to engage with various communities in their jurisdictions and nationally in order to encourage young Australians to engage with government through the Australian Youth Forum website and other channels, so as to inform the government of what they are thinking on various issues.
Mr Davies : Other types of activities funded under the Australian Youth Forum appropriation include the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition, funding for the Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies, a contribution sponsorship to the Heywire program, which you probably saw last week, I think they were here—
Senator BACK: Yes, I participated in that. Very impressed.
Mr Davies : There are the National Awards for Local Government to try and promote those councils that are doing positive things with young people, the major sponsorship for the Young Australian of the Year and the benefits that accrue from that in promoting young Australians' positive contributions, and a number of other smaller things in terms of particular grants funding. The Body Image Awards is also another large one. All of those sorts of activities are funded under the AYF.
Senator BACK: I saw the Heywire participants picking that one up. The budgetary youth engagement decreases from $11.4 million this year, to $8.9 million next year and $7.5 million in the following year. Are those figures accurate and, if so, what is the explanation for the declining budget allocation?
Mr Fernando : The reason for the difference is that there were some youth centre projects that were part of this particular appropriation until they were moved to another appropriation.
Mr Davies : It was the construction of youth centres as a 2010 election commitment.
Mr Fernando : That is right.
Mr Davies : Basically, the construction program is concluding so those funds run out of the forward estimates period.
Senator BACK: Is there any expected reduction in your staffing levels at the Office for Youth commensurate with these changes, or it all can be taken up with capital costs?
Mr Davies : I cannot recall exactly. I can take that on notice but my recollection is that the departmental resources that came with that ran out as well.
Senator BACK: I think in answer to questions on notice the Office for Youth advised that the budget for the Transition to Independent Living Allowance for this current financial year is $3.9 million. Can you tell me what is the administrative component—if not can you take on notice—of that $3.9 million? As I say, if you would like to take it on notice.
Mr Hehir : Can I clarify, is that administration by the organisation that manages that, or by the department?
Senator BACK: By the actual administration of the program.
Mr Davies : We can answer that now, Senator. We have made an agreement with the Southern Youth and Family Services organisation for $390,000 to manage the program.
Senator BACK: Which takes me, if I may, to tenders. There are a number of tenders on the AusTender website from a range of other government agencies—ASIC, Department of Defence—for youth-related services. What role does the Office for Youth play in advising other government agencies on youth-related issues?
Mr Davies : Specifically around procurements? I am just not sure of the tender link.
Senator BACK: No. If these other agencies are putting out to tender for youth-related services, then the question is, firstly, do they or do they not come to your agency and, secondly, what advice—if any—does the Office for Youth give to these other agencies when they are contracting on youth-related matters?
Mr Fernando : Senator, if I can answer that question: other agencies may come to us on an ad hoc basis for advice on that particular matter; however, the Office for Youth has established a youth facilitator panel—I cannot remember the exact number of organisations that are on that panel, but I think there are at least 10 to 15—and we have informed other government agencies that we have established a panel of youth engagement and youth facilitator organisations, which they can also use in addition to the department.
Senator BACK: I will give you an example, if I may, and seek your advice. The Department of Defence developed its Youth Development Framework. They let a tender in late last year to the University of Melbourne for continuation of the development of this framework. Has the Office for Youth been involved in that process? Have you given Defence and, for that matter, the University of Melbourne any advice in the development of that framework?
Mr Fernando : We did not have any direct contact with the University of Melbourne; however, we did have contact—and we do have contact—with the Department of Defence about their Youth Development Framework. We invite each other to our respective youth-related meetings.
Senator BACK: Again, you might take this on notice since there are 20 of them: AusTender reveals that the Office for Youth has contracts with 20 different organisations to procure facilitators for the Australian Youth Forum and other initiatives. Could you take on notice what services these other organisations offer and how much each is being paid? I would not expect you to give us that information this evening.
Mr Fernando : I can, perhaps, inform you a little bit further on that. Those 20 organisations are the members of the youth facilitator panel, which I referred to. None of them have been paid any funds, they are just there as a panel and they can be called upon to quote for services in a particular field. None of them have been engaged at this point in time.
Senator BACK: So they are available as experts in the event that they need your services?
Mr Fernando : Yes.
Senator BACK: If I can move to grants. In 2012, the round of Youth Development and Support Program, the government awarded a grant to the Logan PCYC for the Global Entrepreneurial Multicultural Sewing project. I wonder if you could enlighten us a little on the purposes for which the grant was made and what the PCYC did with it.
Mr Fernando : I do not have those details. Could I just clarify, were you referring to grants issued in 2012-13?
Senator BACK: It says the 2012 round, so I would imagine that it would be this current financial year.
Mr Fernando : I might have to take that on notice in terms of what the specific project is about. I do not have that information with me.
Senator BACK: Thank you. If I could just go briefly to the National Partnership Agreement on Youth Attainment and Transitions—I will not try the acronym. Could you tell me again what the main KPIs are for that particular partnership and how the program is performing against those KPIs?
Mr Davies : The national partnership, as you are probably aware, commenced in January 2010 and expires at the end of 2013. The key performance measures of the partnership are the COAG targets. This includes 90 per cent of year 12 or equivalent attainment by 2015, and that is a mainstream target for all young people. In 2012 there was an increase of 1.8 percentage points in the proportion of 20- to 24-year-olds who completed year 12 or attained a certificate II or above. So it has moved from 84.1 per cent in 2011 to 85.9 per cent in 2012. Despite the increase in the participation rates, we do still have a challenge to reach the 90 per cent target by 2015. At the moment, the trajectory in improvement rate would need to be about 1.4 percentage points annually and it is currently about 0.6 per cent. So there is progress, but the target remains a challenge for the country.
The second target that the national partnership contributes to is the COAG target of halving the gap in Indigenous year 12 or equivalent attainment by 2020. And in this one the progress is much more promising. The 2011 census data shows that the proportion of Indigenous 20- to 24-year-olds who have attained year 12 or certificate II has increased by 6.5 percentage points between censuses. This progress is actually on track to achieve the target, compared to the national trajectory in the National Indigenous Reform Agreement. So we are on track for the Indigenous target.
Senator BACK: Armed with those successes, are you working on plans for the secretary and presumably the government, to renew, continue or replace the partnership?
Mr Davies : That, of course, will be a decision for government about what to do with the future.
Senator BACK: I know it will be a decision for government; I am aware of that. I am asking whether you are working on plans.
Ms Paul : I do not think we can answer that.
Senator BACK: I want to go back to the Youth Forum for a moment. Are there any members from regional Australia and, if so, what parts of regional Australia? What programs is the government operating in the youth space specifically for young people from regional Australia?
Mr Fernando : There are some representatives from regional Australia, but I am not sure which of the 10 are. There are some from the Northern Territory—from Darwin—and from regional or remote Western Australia, and there is somebody from Tasmania. I do not want to guess any further.
Senator BACK: It would be most interesting to know the geographical spread if we can.
Mr Davies : I have just found it. Three of the 10 in the 2013 committee are from rural and regional areas: Driver in the Northern Territory, Kadina in South Australia and Glenorchy in Tasmania.
Senator BACK: Are you able to point to any programs that are for young people from regional Australia.?
Mr Davies : There are a number. The Youth Connections Program that you are probably familiar with targets young people who are at risk of disengaging from school. It has a high proportion of young people from regional and rural Australia. It is probably the easiest if I can give you a table with all of them and their proportions, because there is a heap of them.
Senator BACK: That would be most interesting. Thank you very much for those answers.
CHAIR: We will now move to program 2.13, empowering local schools.
Senator MASON: Ms Paul, last time we discussed principal autonomy and the department confirmed that all states, including Queensland, participating in the program had agreed to implementation terms before the end of the 2011-12 financial year, that Western Australia was not participating because they have their own program and all states except Queensland had also provided a list of participating schools. I think we thought then that by the end of 2012 a list of Queensland schools participating may have eventuated. Do we have that now?
Ms Gordon : Yes. That list is now available on our website.
Senator MASON: Last estimates, I was informed that there were 927 schools participating.
Ms Gordon : I was incorrect in that response. We do have the list of schools from Queensland but it is not yet published.
Senator MASON: Can you take it on notice to give that to the committee? You do not need to read them out.
Dr Day : Yes, we can do that.
Senator MASON: Last estimates, I was informed that there were 927 schools participating. Now that we are in a new school year, where are we up to?
Ms Gordon : We currently have 926 schools. One school has withdrawn from the program.
Senator MASON: It has gone backwards.
Dr Day : Just by one.
Senator MASON: Ms Gordon, you informed me, I think, last October that the Australian Council for Educational Research as part of their evaluation of phase 1 of this program had undertaken a literature review and were embarking on an initial survey of participating schools—is that right?
Ms Gordon : That is correct.
Senator MASON: That resulted in a number of progress reports before a final evaluation report due after June 2012?
Ms Gordon : That is correct.
Senator MASON: I am wondering if any of the progress reports have been completed yet and, if so, whether they are publicly available; if not, when can we expect them?
Ms Gordon : We have not received a report to date but we are expecting one soon and it will be published. It will be publicly available.
Senator MASON: How soon is 'soon'?
Ms Gordon : I will need to defer to my colleague.
Dr Day : The report is due imminently. We are expecting it before the end of February.
Senator MASON: And you will publish that shortly thereafter?
Dr Day : Yes, that is correct.
Senator MASON: On the website?
Dr Day : Yes.
Senator MASON: How many progress reports are you due to receive?
Dr Day : We are due to receive three progress reports—a further one in August of this year, one in February 2014, prior to the final report in June 2014.
Senator MASON: That is the timetable?
Dr Day : That is correct.
Senator MASON: It is more than aspiration!
Senator Jacinta Collins: She has answered your question.
Senator MASON: There is no room for humour this evening, I can tell. I had a quick look back over DEEWR's portfolio budget statements and noticed that AITSL are given $1.25 million 'to support research, communities of practice, professional development for principals and school leaders participating in phase 1 of this initiative'. What exactly is that? What does that bring to the table?
Mr Cook : Senator, that was part of the question you were asking AITSL earlier today. I think it is about 104 participants.
Senator MASON: You may have to pull me up Mr Cook because I may have some other questions as well on cross-portfolio integration.
Mr Cook : I am very happy to assist.
Senator MASON: It is my fault because I know have covered a miscellany of issues early on. Please bear with me if you can.
CHAIR: We will move to 2.14.
Senator MASON: In October, when we discussed the rewards for school improvement, I was told that the intention was to take the framework to the standing council in December. Is that right?
Ms Gordon : Yes.
Mr Cook : Again, that is what we covered off earlier today, Senator.
Senator MASON: Why have we done this? Is this because I discussed all those issues together?
Ms Paul : Yes, you raised it with ACARA.
Senator MASON: You let me get away with it!
Ms Paul : You asked for it, Senator.
Senator MASON: You are so accommodating, Ms Paul!
Mr Cook : Just to assist, what was called the National School Improvement Framework, after feedback from the states and territories became the National School Improvement Tool.
Senator MASON: I remember the tool. Don't worry about that. I have not forgotten about the tool. I am not going to ask you about the tool again. I know all about that.
Mr Cook : The tool was a framework; it is now a tool. I am just clarify those two terms.
Senator MASON: National Rewards for Great Teachers: is it all right to go to that topic, chair?
CHAIR: Yes, although I think you will find that you have done that too.
Senator MASON: Bear with me. We have done the MYEFO, page 76, and the re-profiling of funds.
Ms Paul : Yes.
Senator MASON: In the 2012-13 budget allocations and spending, the national Rewards for Great Teachers program, there was the $60 million of the total $229 million. We have touched on that; we have done it. I come to the last one, and I am not sure we have done this. As of late last year the Queensland government—and, I believe, this is the intention of the Victorian state government—had declined to sign on to the Rewards for Great Teachers initiative. I do not think we have touched on that.
Ms Paul : No.
Senator MASON: Thank God. Is that still correct, Mr Cook?
Mr Cook : That is my understanding.
Senator MASON: I understand that this decision was backed by the Queensland Teachers Union president, Mr Kevin Bates, who indicated—
Senator Jacinta Collins: Are you saying the Queensland Teachers Union was talking about the Victorian government?
Senator MASON: Sorry. I will repeat the first question. Perhaps I mumbled my way through it. Let me repeat it. I understand that as of late last year the Queensland state government—and, I understand the Victorian state government as well—had declined to sign on to the Rewards for Great Teachers initiative. I think that is correct.
Senator Jacinta Collins: That the union was backing—
Senator MASON: No, that the Queensland and Victorian state governments have declined to sign to—
Ms Paul : Yes, Mr Cook said that.
Mr Cook : There was $18.5 million for Victoria and Queensland in 2011-12.
Senator MASON: All right. And they have declined to sign on.
Mr Cook : That is correct.
Senator MASON: I understand that this decision by the Queensland government was backed by the Queensland Teachers Union president, Mr Bates, who indicated that the offer was not worth signing on to because it involved teachers spending 'a substantial amount of money to apply, with no guaranteed income'. I think I previously expressed some reservations—I think in the last estimates—that teachers are required to pay potentially almost $2,000 to have the opportunity to be assessed for payments of either $7½ thousand or $10,000. Can you see this as a concern? We have touched on this before but—
Ms Gordon : Yes, we have discussed it before. Under the National Partnership Agreement states and territories can charge for providing the service of certification for teachers against the highly accomplished and lead standards. Having said that, there is no requirement for them to make any charge. It is up to them. But there is a cap as to how much they can charge.
Senator MASON: What is the cap?
Ms Gordon : I do not know that off the top of my head. I think it is about $1,600.
Senator MASON: Okay, so it is not $2,000; it is essentially $1,600, which would be the cap. This is a maximum amount.
Ms Gordon : That is right.
Mr Cook : Obviously part of what we were providing for states and territories was funding to assist them in relation to that. For Queensland, for example, it would have been $151.7 million over the life of the program. They could have utilised some of that funding to help subsidise what costs there might have been for teachers.
Senator BACK: It seems ILM certification gives them an annual increment in their salary, is that how it works?
Mr Cook : It is not an annual increment; it is a one-off payment, I understand.
Ms Gordon : There is a one-off bonus payment under the teachers national partnership.
Senator BACK: Of $7,500 up to $10,000?
Ms Gordon : That is correct.
CHAIR: What are the odds of that? Seven to one or 20 to one?
Senator MASON: Queensland has not gone into it. Is that the case for Victoria as well?
Ms Gordon : That is correct.
Senator MASON: Did other independent or any other education authorities express any concern about this as well?
Ms Gordon : About the bonus payments or about the cost of certification?
Senator MASON: About the cost. Assuming that $1,600 is the cap, was concern expressed by anyone else?
Ms Gordon : I was not personally involved in those discussions at that stage. I understand there were discussions around the fact that authorities wanted to have the capacity to charge at a cost recovery, but the discussion was that it really did need to be cost recovery so some work was done by AITSL at the time on what the cost of providing those services were and on the basis of that work, the cap was included under the partnership.
Senator MASON: Has some concern been expressed, other than by the Queensland and Victorian state governments?
Ms Gordon : There have certainly been discussions about the feasibility of the costs and what the cost would be about providing the services, and also what was feasible in terms of those participating. Some states are choosing not to charge any fee for the service, and others are looking at that, but they are all currently putting those processes in place.
Ms Paul : And they have all been signed. The others have signed up, of course. I suppose that it is the ultimate answer. They have signed on.
Senator Jacinta Collins: I am not sure that this is the Victorian government issue—the issue around why they failed to sign on. I think it relates also to industrial arrangements where industrial action occurred today.
Senator MASON: But they have not signed on?
Senator Jacinta Collins: No, that is right.
Senator MASON: I also understand that the Queensland government has not appointed a certification body, meaning that even though the independent and Catholic schools within Queensland had signed on, there was not the administrative capacity to take advantage of the scheme. Is that right?
Ms Gordon : That is correct.
Senator MASON: Have there been any developments there?
Ms Gordon : Nothing to report. We have had some discussions with the non-government sector about what some alternative options might be and we have not got to any point of resolution at this stage.
Senator MASON: At the time, I think it was last year, the minister, Mr Garrett, expressed hope that the Newman government would reverse their decision, but clearly that has not happened?
Ms Gordon : There have been some exchange of letters around an interest in resolving some issues. However, the government has not changed its mind.
Senator MASON: Chair, you will be pleased to know, that is it from me.
Senator Jacinta Collins: For the evening?
Senator MASON: Yes. That will make you happy. I do have some other questions, but I think I might put them on notice, just to keep you happy, Minister.
CHAIR: That completes our program. There being no-one else seeking the call I thank you, Ms Paul, and all your departmental officers and the agencies that appeared before us again, for their cooperation and their patience.
Committee adjourned at 20:49