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Standing Committee on Education and Employment
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Standing Committee on Education and Employment
Ramsey, Rowan, MP
Tudge, Alan, MP
O'Neill, Deb, MP
Andrews, Karen, MP
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Standing Committee on Education and Employment
(House of Reps-Wednesday, 6 March 2013)
CHAIR (Ms Rishworth)
- Mr RAMSEY
Content WindowStanding Committee on Education and Employment - 06/03/2013
GARRIGAN, Mr Peter, President, Australian Council of State School Organisations
GIBLIN, Mrs Dianne AM, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Council of State School Organisations
CHAIR: I welcome representatives from the Australian Council of State School Organisations. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath I should advise you that today's hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as the respective houses. Thank you for your submission. I invite you to make a short opening statement and then we can proceed to questions.
Mr Garrigan : Thank you. By way of introduction, we speak as the peak parent voice for parents and communities of our nation's public schools. We have engaged widely with the families in our schools over the past three-odd years during the review of school funding. They have actively participated in the discussion and put forward their views to us. They wait impatiently for something concrete, some legislation, some words, some action to see, for this and future generations of children, a guarantee of equitable funding; to see education funding supporting the greatest need.
We have had countless reports, Gonski being the most significant and most thorough in decades. International reports such as the OECD's Education at a Glance, PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS cite that Australia was performing within the top OECD nations. Our performance is slipping and we have a lot to do to right the equity tale. Gonski reported that funding in education lacked transparency and, indeed, contributed to the lack of equity inherent in the Australian education system. Gonski is the latest in a number of reports that have highlighted aspects within our education system contributing to, amongst a number of things, this lack of equity. Further, it has made a number of recommendations around the funding of education that would address some of the identified concerns. Of major concern has been the manner in which funding to public education at both state and federal level has been determined.
For the young Australians in our public schools, equity in education means making sure that their personal and social circumstances should not be an obstacle to achievement. Education plays a key role in determining how young Australians will engage society as adults. Research has clearly shown that a higher level of education means higher earnings, better health and a longer life. By default, therefore, the social and financial ramifications of educational failure for Australia will be enormous. Those without the skills to participate socially and economically will generate higher costs in areas such as health, income support, child welfare, social security and penal systems. It is also about ensuring a high-quality standard of education for all, providing additional support for those areas of need and consequently creating a level playing field. What happens in the classroom obviously affects equity, but the relationships between schools, parents and communities also matters. Research has clearly shown that student learning benefits from effective home-school relationships.
The Australian Education Bill will be the test of Australia's resolve on equity. Greater equity in education cannot be achieved by extending the market in education. Choice and competition exacerbate inequity and social segregation. Research studies of these policies in Chile, England, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States have clearly identified these concerns. We have a unique opportunity this year to make a difference, particularly to the futures of low-income and other disadvantaged students, to set a path to a fairer society and to boost economic prosperity.
Regardless of whether you are a parent of a public school student or a private school student, the inequities of the Australian education system are now clearly visible, not only in the outcomes of the students but in the resourcing provided to their respective systems. An individual need only drive through their own neighbourhood in order to observe the differences in physical resources such as ground maintenance, age and condition of buildings, sporting fields, libraries, technologies and so on. They just need to talk with others in their community and hear the differences in opportunities.
It is clearly apparent, even without the research, that our current funding system is broken. Ensuring all students have equitable opportunities to learn and excel is essential to closing Australia's achievement gap and preparing our children and our nation for the future. This is what is at stake and why we need to implement a new school funding model. We need to ensure the Australian Education Bill passes through parliament and funding starts to move, in the first instance, to our most disadvantaged.
CHAIR: Thank you for your opening remarks. I will ask a couple of questions and then defer to my committee members. Firstly, you made a very strong case about the focus on disadvantage. Obviously the bill outlines the structure around extra funding around that disadvantage on top of a school resource standard. What are your views on those loadings, how do you think they might apply, and do you think they capture disadvantage?
Mr Garrigan : At this stage the metrics in some areas are still being worked out. What we need to look at is ensuring that, as a nation, we are putting in place the foundations for the equitable future of education in Australia. We need to ensure that every student in Australia, no matter where they go, will be provided with a quality education that addresses their educational needs. If that means we have to have a metric on top of a metric, then that is what needs to happen.
Mrs Giblin : And it is pretty clear from the low SES national partnerships and all the national partnerships additional fundings the differences they made in the schools and how schools now are concerned about how they are going to wind back if they lose that additional funding. We have seen increases in literacy and numeracy; we have seen much better school attendance in some of the high schools in some of the cases. We have spoken to a lot of our affiliates and we have seen the difference in young people going on to tertiary education. One school reports from five per cent up to 90 per cent of children now move on to tertiary education. This has only got to be a plus. These schools are receiving about an additional $300,000 a year. That money coming back off those schools is only going to reverse some of that great work that has already been done. So the evidence is there. The National Partnerships money has made a difference. That, with the multiple disadvantage for, say, students with disabilities, students from Indigenous backgrounds, students from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, compounded in some areas, will make a huge difference to the quality of education and the outcomes of those kids.
CHAIR: Can I ask, then, a follow-on question from that, because you have said that you believe the funding system is broken and yet the National Partnerships is working. Do you believe that the model outlined with the student resource plus the loadings provides a better way to deliver money to schools than, say, the National Partnerships? We have heard some evidence to say, 'Yes, that is the case,' but I am interested in your view.
Mr Garrigan : Our position would be, if you are looking at the current model, then when you get your National Partnerships money, that is finite—it will wind back. It has been clearly identified that when additional funds are put into the system then the results are being achieved. If you make sure that that money is ongoing, then the results will continue. It is our belief that, if you are going to ensure that you are providing an equitable education across the board in Australia, the objectives of the Gonski review and then the Education Bill need to be followed and adhered to.
CHAIR: W have had a lot of people talking about principal autonomy and school autonomy and finding a balance between that. A lot of people have advocated very strongly for it; other people have said: 'If it is autonomy that it is put in the right way, that is okay; if it is not autonomy that is put in the right way, if it does not lead to outcomes, that is not okay. It depends on what the autonomy looks like.' So there has been a whole variety of different views on that. I would be interested in your views on what you see as the benefits of school and principal autonomy and what that might look like.
Mr Garrigan : The question that you just articulated and the issues you have identified could reflect a number of my affiliates' and parents' thoughts as they come through the system. What you have got to remember is that, when you are looking at autonomy within the school system, within a school community, you need to ensure ensuring that you have got the engagement of parents, school, principal and the broader community. It comes back to 'it takes a village to raise a child'. So, yes, ensuring that you have got some form of engagement of all people and delivering a quality education is critical. However, what you have got to also ensure in putting in place that school autonomy is to make sure that you are providing the capacity building to the school community to undertake that. You need to ensure that, in delivering that school autonomy, you are not transferring accountability from jurisdictions, from governments or departments to the school community and then by default to the parents. The big thing is to provide ongoing capacity building for parental and community engagement. To say that you are giving schools autonomy—I could keep going on a number of issues there, but I am conscious of the time.
CHAIR: I think that answers the question. Thank you.
Mr RAMSEY: I have a couple of things to raise. I do not know if you will be all that aware but Amanda and I are both from South Australia and there has been a recent announcement over there that the state government is putting significant funds into I would think four of the very best government schools. I think Adelaide High, Marryatville High, and the other one Unley or Norwood. Do you know which ones, Amanda?
CHAIR: I do not know.
Mr RAMSEY: Anyway, it does not matter. But there is a lot of money going into these top schools to expand capacity so they can increase the number of students. I guess it is a question of whether you take Mohammad to the mountain or the other way round. What you think of that as a way of extending quality education—expanding the top schools?
Mr Garrigan : It sounds to me as if you are creating selective government schools. You are providing resources to a particular school to expand the opportunities of the cohort that is attending that school.
Mr RAMSEY: My understanding is that it is to expand the student number—the number of students.
Mr Garrigan : But are they then providing additional opportunities for the children—the students?
Mr RAMSEY: I am not across the issue. This is a recent announcement and I am just questioning what you think of that in general terms.
Mr Garrigan : The size of the school does not necessarily mean you are providing a quality education. I would rather see the young people in a community attend their local school and get the best possible education within their own environment so that they are learning and being provided with a wealth of support. Why send a child miles away if you can do that in your own environment?
Mr RAMSEY: I guess the point I am coming to is that these schools are in higher socioeconomic areas and their performance is proven. Presumably, under the current model, they would be getting less funding than more needy schools. The question comes back to whether it is money or whether it is ethos or whatever it is around the school that makes that difference, I guess.
Mr Garrigan : Just adding more money to a school to make sure it can take more kids does not necessarily equate to an increased educational quality. There is a need to ensure you have got all the necessary support structures, resources to deliver a quality education. Just because you are saying, 'Okay, in particular school environment, let's double the size of the school,' does not mean it will work.
Mr RAMSEY: To draw this back to funding—and that is largely what the bill is about, even though we have no detail and we do not know how that is going to work—in earlier presentations, and I have seen the figures on it, school education funding in Australia has gone up 40 per cent in the last decade. That is without the BER—it is aside from that project. That is an actual terms not in real terms, so I presume that gives us something like a 15 per cent increase.
Mr TUDGE: That is in real terms.
Mr RAMSEY: That is in real terms, is it? Given that we have slipped further down the PISA scale in that period of time, what do you think of how that money has been spent and how will we do better next time round if there is more money put into education?
Mr Garrigan : I cannot answer for all the dollars that have been going into the education system, because a lot of that money will go into different sectors within the Australian educational environment. What our belief is in relation to the current bill that is before the Australian parliament and the recommendations of Gonski is that if you identify that there is a definitive need then that need should be met and the opportunities for every child should be levelled. Whether they are going to the most affluent school in Australia or one of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged schools, the opportunities should be equal. In saying that the need for accountability for those dollars right across the board needs to be there as well. I am not going to question you on the figures that you have just mentioned, but I understand that even though we may have increased those dollars we are still, according to the OECD, falling behind other key performing nations in how much money we are putting into the education arena.
Mr RAMSEY: Thank you.
Ms O'NEILL: One of the things I am interested in exploring with you is that we want to get really good value for the dollar and parents have responded overwhelmingly positively to MySchool, which is based on NAPLAN results, because they felt they could not get a clear picture of what was going in there. It provides us with a baseline going forward. But the ambient nature of schools is a critical part of where the school success occurs and where it does not occur. Parents pick that up, kids pick it up. We have had testimony from parents, and Professor Teese, who was here before you, that these things actually do impact on how kids learn and then their success and indeed the outcomes of schooling. We are measuring literacy, we are measuring and numeracy and we are measuring science. If we want to capture that other stuff, what are the key things, in addition to those things, you think we need to measure? If we are going to measure what matters, what matters?
Mrs Giblin : That is a big one. In discussions with communities MySchool is not necessarily the top thing on their radar. In looking at what makes a quality school for them, most of those decisions are made in the playgroup or in the community itself. What they look for is a school that is not too far away from home, usually; delivers what they feel is a quality education for their child; a school that will nurture and look after their child; a school in which that their child will be happy and where their child's needs will be met. If the child has a need that is clearly identified, a school in which those needs will be met. It is a place where a child would feel safe—and obviously attendance is a key possible measure there.
Ms O'NEILL: Yes, he mentioned increased attendance at school in that outcome from five per cent to 90 per cent of students going on to tertiary education.
Mrs Giblin : Yes, they are key things that are showing that a child is obviously happier at school and that families are happier at school. A school that connects with its community is really important. The research is really clear. We have been part of delivering a last lot of research to government in regard to parent-community engagement—how important that is. Not that the parent becomes a teacher at home, apart from the things that we teach kids as parents and the other values and things, but the parent becomes a copartner and is understanding of what is being delivered at school and can support the child's learning. Also that the community is reflecting the school. Those things are really hard to definitively measure but they are often the things that parents have discussions about when they are looking at their local school. They are the things they will go to their local school about if they have concerns. They usually do not come and say, 'Goodness, we weren't on the top 10 per cent'; it is more about: 'My child is bullied in the playground.' 'I do not feel we have got the right amount of hours.' 'I think the voluntary contributions are out of our reach.' All of those sorts of things are more what you are looking at when you are looking honestly.
Ms O'NEILL: But parents' satisfaction with a school is a critical factor as well as students' wellbeing and teachers' duty of care—these are things that you think are important.
Mrs Giblin : Yes, absolutely.
Mr Garrigan : Certainly I would not say that a parent looking at where they would send their child would have the My Schools website first on their list of investigations. In fact, the majority of parents would not—
Ms O'NEILL: Certainly many people are talking to me about looking at that site and seeking out information. What they can get is very limited though in terms of a rich picture of what is going on in a school.
Mr Garrigan : That is correct.
Mrs Giblin : It is not giving a picture of those things that they want to know.
Ms O'NEILL: So the things we have mentioned would enhance parents being able to see if it is a good learning environment for their—
Mr Garrigan : That is correct. Doing a walk-through is a critical thing.
Mrs Giblin : You can see the equity of opportunity when you are down on the basketball court or football field, saying, 'My child has gone to this school and he has been able to do this and this, which is enhancing his learning opportunities.' You might get a school in a very low SES area or a school that has huge cultural barriers where those opportunities are not being offered. So equity is the key. It is not equal; it is equitable.
Ms O'NEILL: Professor Teese made the point that equality of inputs does not equal equity of outputs. In your view, does this bill address the desire for equity of outcomes? Does it provide a framework that will, in your view, lead to more equitable outcomes in education?
Mr Garrigan : We believe it lays the groundwork. We know there is still further work to be done in developing the metrics, but it certainly provides the foundations and the way forward for an equitable education system in Australia.
Ms O'NEILL: The response to those metrics is going to be pretty important as things move forward.
Mr Garrigan : Yes.
Mrs ANDREWS: I would like to talk about some of the things that you have already raised. We have heard a lot about quality—quality learning and quality teaching—and excellence. In particular 'excellence in education' is one of the principles that underpins the school funding. It does not seem to be very well defined. We have heard a lot of different views. I think most people would say, 'Yes, we want a quality education.' But what does that mean? What is a quality education? What is quality teaching? What is quality learning? What is an excellent education, and how do we measure that?
Mr Garrigan : That is a very good question! If we could answer that, we certainly would not be sitting here. We would be out there making a fortune. It comes back to providing a quality education for our children. When I say 'our children' I mean all children in Australia. We need to ensure that they have the resources, capability and capacity to achieve the best they possibly can.
Mrs ANDREWS: Is that in an academic—
Mr Garrigan : If you have a child with a disability then we need to provide the resources for that child to achieve the best they possibly can, whether that be in an academic or social environment. Whatever the case may be, we should be providing the resources to support that child to achieve.
Mrs ANDREWS: How do we know what those resources should be? And how do we know when that child has met their potential?
Mrs Giblin : Hopefully no-one ever reaches their full potential. We keep creating new potential as we continue to grow. I think it is about the ability to extend and continue to challenge. A classroom teacher cannot necessarily stand in front of the classroom now and deliver content because content changes on a daily basis, on a minute-by-minute basis. They need to be able to facilitate the learning and challenge the children and extend them to create new potentials for them so they can live life to the fullest. How do you measure that? It is difficult.
Mr Garrigan : It is a dilemma.
Mrs ANDREWS: Do you think it is an issue that needs further development or to be resolved given that quality learning, quality teaching and excellence in education are what underpin the funding model?
Mr Garrigan : It certainly underpins it and we strongly support those outcomes in those areas, but to say that we not go ahead because we cannot determine what is a quality education is a retrograde step. What we need to do is keep moving forward, providing the necessary resources and delivering to the best of our capacity.
Mrs ANDREWS: If I give an example it might make it a bit clearer. We would all like, for instance, the best car. What is the best car? It is potentially a fit for purpose vehicle. The funding is certainly part of it, as is the length of time that you might have the vehicle—all those factors become part of it. What factors do you need to put in to determine what is an excellent education?
Mr Garrigan : I will take your analogy and throw another one back into the mix, if I could. There are some schools that may send their children overseas on excursions to experience multiculturalism and interaction with the broader community. We are not saying that that is necessarily a bad thing, but what we would recommend and believe should be occurring is that the necessary technology should be in every school to be able to bring the overseas in to a particular school, not necessarily send your children out, so that you have that level playing field. The world can come to you a lot cheaper and it creates that equality, because not every parent can afford to send their child overseas on an excursion. I know that does not answer your question about the car, but there are some kids who can be resourced by their families and their schools to go overseas; we are saying: let's make that level playing field. Let's put the technology or whatever it may be in to ensure that all schools, whether in Wadeye in the Northern Territory or in the northern suburbs of Sydney, can all do the same thing.
Mrs ANDREWS: If there is anything else you would like to put to the committee that would help with a definition of an excellent education, we would really appreciate it.
Mrs Giblin : I suppose you know from the evidence that we are not to the quality of many of our other colleagues on the planet, so I suppose what we need to recognise is that we need to do more already.
Mr TUDGE: How much money do you think is required to achieve this equitable and excellent education?
Mr Garrigan : I really would not know, but I do know from what I have been advised and read that it is more than what was identified in the Gonski review.
Mr TUDGE: That was identified as about $6½ billion per annum. Is it more than that?
Mr Garrigan : My understanding is that those figures were based on 2009 actuals, so you then need to look at—
Mr TUDGE: If we index that up to maybe $7 billion per annum—
Mr Garrigan : That is an area I am not familiar with.
Mr TUDGE: If the government puts forward less than that, on your logic you would be disappointed because we will not have an excellent, equitable education.
Mrs Giblin : I think our state governments need to have some responsibility too. If governments put up less than that—
Mr TUDGE: Then you would be disappointed?
Mrs Giblin : We are extremely disappointed currently at the cuts that we are seeing in our states and territories.
Mr TUDGE: So, if we get to $7 billion per annum—
CHAIR: If you let the witnesses finish what they are saying, then you can ask your next question, okay?
Mr TUDGE: You will cut me off soon, Madam Chair, so I am keen to move it along quite quickly.
Mrs Giblin : I suppose what I was saying, thinking back, is that we are already disappointed that education is not being seen as a priority. In some areas we are currently seeing massive cuts in education. Here we are with some evidence that says that we desperately need more money invested in education; here we have been working studiously towards that with community consultation and academic consultation; and then we all of a sudden see these huge cuts. So it is the responsibility of governments, our state and territory governments and our federal government, to invest in this. These are our kids. This is what makes up our nation. For want of a better phrase, they are part of our future and they are having their own future now. So further investment is needed right across all levels of government.
Mr Garrigan : To say we should not do it because we cannot come up with a figure is not—
Mr TUDGE: I was not suggesting that for a second. Can I go to the conclusion of your submission, where the opening line is a very strong endorsement of the bill. It says that the bill provides 'full, fair and equitable funding for public education in order to allow every child to reach his or her potential'. As I said, it is a very strong endorsement.
I have the bill here in front of me. It is a short bill, as you know. I cannot see in this bill exactly where it provides full, fair and equitable funding for public education in order to allow every child to reach his or her full potential. I could speculate that, potentially, it may, down the track. Perhaps you know of details that we do not, but it is certainly not written in the bill. I just wanted to challenge you on that very strong endorsement from a peak organisation.
Mrs Giblin : We concluded by saying that 'the implementation of the act it will lead to ensuring …' So it is the implementation and the beginning of the sorting out of the metrics which will lead to our kids having a fair education. What we have now is not working. Our gaps are widening so we have to move to something that looks at need—
Mr TUDGE: Yes—
CHAIR: Let her finish, Mr Tudge, and then you can interrupt.
Mrs Giblin : That is okay. He interrupts me all the time.
Mr TUDGE: Thank you for the support!
Mrs Giblin : Now I have lost my train of thought.
CHAIR: Just let people finish what they are saying and then, Alan, you can have another question.
Mr Garrigan : I will just add to that. As I said in my introduction, we are the peak voice speaking for parents in government schools. It is our belief that the Australian Education Bill will provide an equitable education system for all Australia. In our submission to the House of Representatives we are talking about public schools, so equitable funding will be right across the board. We are hoping that it will be equitable and accountable.
Mr TUDGE: My final question relates to one which Mr Ramsey talked about before. I suppose it is a challenge for all governments and all parliaments to decide where to put more money, because there is a limited supply of money. As Mr Ramsey pointed out, we have had a 41 per cent real increase in funding over the last decade, and yet you are saying we have had worse outcomes. The evidence in front us, in fact, is that the outcomes are getting worse. Therefore the question is, if we add further billions of dollars to the education system why would that turn things around, when a 41 per cent increase, in real terms, in a decade has not done that?
Mrs Giblin : We need to distribute it equitably, and we need to distribute it based on need. We saw that with the national partnerships very clearly: when we gave additional funding to the schools that really needed it we saw the outcomes rise for those kids. So we do not have a model of delivering money to schools in a way that serves the whole community or the whole nation. We need to deliver a fairer and more equitable way of distributing that money, starting with putting on a loading for those with need.
Mr TUDGE: Are you talking about the state system particularly? Is it inequitable within the state government school system or are you talking about between sectors?
Mrs Giblin : No, we are talking about the lot.
Mr Garrigan : We are talking about the system across Australia.
Mr TUDGE: Within the sectors as well as between the sectors? Are you talking about equity within the state school sector?
Mrs Giblin : We are talking about across the nation.
Mr TUDGE: Can you clarify that. Obviously the state schools comprise about 70 per cent of all schools. Is there an inequitable distribution within those state systems, presently?
Mrs Giblin : There is an inequitable distribution of funding—
Mr Garrigan : There is an inequitable distribution of education funding across the nation.
Mrs Giblin : to the sectors.
Mr TUDGE: Are you saying that is between the sectors or within the sectors?
Mrs Giblin : I am not sure of your semantics. Both.
Mr TUDGE: It is quite a big difference to say that the key problem is that one school sector is getting more funding than another school sector—because they are funded on different bases—versus saying that within a single school sector, which is supposedly funding on the same model there are fundamental problems in how that money is allocated. That applies particularly to your sector, which is only the government school sector.
Mrs Giblin : I think that the diversity within the community is where the issue lies. Within the public school system—and this is probably doing off-track from your question—there are still communities that obviously have more disposable income to support their schools and other schools do. But across both the nongovernment and government sector we can see that there is an inequity in the way that it is distributed.
Mr TUDGE: So even within the schools which you tend to focus on you see inequity in the funding?
Mrs Giblin : Not in the funding, but in need.
Mr Garrigan : The delivery of funding to supports need.
Mrs Giblin : Your question is a little bit confusing.
Mr TUDGE: Your whole premise of the existing funding model was that it is inequitable. Seventy per cent are government schools which you have an interest in, 20 per cent are Catholic and 10 per cent are independent. Is your core concern in relation to inequity of the funding systems Catholic and nongovernment schools versus the public schools, or even within the 70 per cent of schools—the 7,000 schools which comprise the government schools—do you have problems with how the money is allocated within those 7,000 schools?
Mr Garrigan : Our core concern is that the delivery of funding for education in Australia needs to address the need of the students within their respective communities. That is the critical issue. Where it is allocated, whether it is to the government or the nongovernment sector, the need has to be addressed.
CHAIR: Thank you very much for the evidence you have provided here today. If you do want to make any changes to that evidence, you can make changes to grammar or fact in the transcript that will be sent to you. If there is anything else that you would like to provide—and I think that Karen asked about definitions of quality—if you could provide that information to the secretariat that would be very much appreciated.