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EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TRAINING PORTFOLIO
Department of Education, Science and Training
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EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Department of Education, Science and Training
CHAIR (Senator Troeth)
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EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
(Senate-Thursday, 2 June 2005)
EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TRAINING PORTFOLIO
Department of Education, Science and Training
CHAIR (Senator Troeth)
Australian National Training Authority
Vocational Education and Training Group
Australian National Training Authority
Vocational Education and Training Group
- Department of Education, Science and Training
- EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TRAINING PORTFOLIO
Content WindowEMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 02/06/2005 - EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TRAINING PORTFOLIO - Department of Education, Science and Training
CHAIR (Senator Troeth) —I welcome the officers from the Department of Education, Science and Training. The committee has fixed Friday, 22 July as the date for the submission by the department of written answers to questions on notice. I remind participants that oral evidence and documents in estimates proceedings are part of the public record. The committee has completed issues relating to cross-portfolio, the science agencies and the Science Group. We will now continue questioning the Schools Group, followed by ANTA and the VET group, the Higher Education Group, the Innovation and Research Systems Group, and the International Education Group.
Ms Paul —May I will let you know what documents we have brought to table in response to questions from yesterday?
Ms Paul —We have the organisation chart, which I mentioned yesterday morning; we have the list of consultations for the technical colleges; we have the DEST contract template; and we also have the literacy and numeracy scores that we were discussing last night.
CHAIR —Thank you for that.
Ms Paul —I am sorry, but I gather that we do not have the contract yet, but we will get it through the day.
CHAIR —Thank you.
Senator CARR —Let us go to the national curriculum and the Australian Certificate of Education proposal that the Commonwealth is seeking to proceed with. At the last estimates we discussed the proposition that the department was calling for a consultancy to work on this matter. What progress has been made on the appointment of a consultant?
Dr Mercer —Last estimates we advised you that we were going out to tender. We went out to tender in March to seek proposals from suitably experienced organisations to assess the options and advise on implementation arrangements for the Australian Certificate of Education. We then undertook a selection tender panel on the exercise, and the Australian Council for Educational Research was successful and has been selected to undertake the work.
Senator CARR —What is the price of the consultancy?
Dr Mercer —The price of the consultancy is $325,850.
Senator CARR —When will that report?
Dr Mercer —We expect ACER to finalise their report towards the end of the year.
Senator CARR —What are the terms of reference for the consultancy?
Dr Mercer —They are very similar to what I advised you of last time. We have asked ACER to analyse the existing senior secondary certificate arrangements, assess their standard and appropriateness and then analyse or assess a range of options for introducing the ACE. Options would include a national certificate as an alternative to the existing state based certificates, a national certificate which could evolve from those state base certificates, a certificate which would be a general aptitude test similar to that used in United States and a certificate modelled on the international baccalaureate. We have also asked that they propose implementation steps for introducing such a certificate. We are also requiring them to seek the views of all key stakeholders, such as government and non-government school authorities, curriculum and assessment authorities, tertiary administered admission centres, parent organisations, school principals and teacher professional bodies.
Senator CARR —Will it be by way of public submissions at all or will it just be private discussions?
Dr Mercer —We have discussed with ACER a process whereby they will undertake consultations in all states and territories. They would do that by both talking to individuals such as the heads of the curriculum authorities and pulling together groups of key stakeholders in meetings. Also, through their web site, there is an opportunity for anyone who has a view or interest to connect with ACER. A little later in the year, in October, we plan to hold a conference on the Australian certificate of education. Obviously, that would have an invitation list, but again it would be aimed at all of the key stakeholder groups.
Senator CARR —Will the question of costs of running each of these options be considered as part of the consultancy?
Dr Mercer —We are not asking them to attempt to cost that in great detail, but, obviously, as part of the implementation steps, such issues would come out.
Senator CARR —I would have thought that the cost was a pretty serious issue and central question.
Dr Mercer —Certainly it is a very complex area.
Senator CARR —But the actual cost of implementation surely would be a central issue?
Dr Mercer —It would obviously depend on the option too. If it were to evolve from state based certificates, that would be quite different. If it were to involve an aptitude test to be run as a national test across the country, there would obviously be a significant cost issue involved there.
Senator CARR —Did I hear you say that there was a question of examining the appropriateness of the existing qualifications?
Dr Mercer —We have asked them to look at the differing standards and requirements of the different certificates.
Senator CARR —Are ‘standards and appropriateness’ the words used?
Dr Mercer —Yes, they are the words used. We have asked them to examine exactly how the certificates function at the moment and any issues around that—for example, how they can be compared for the purposes of tertiary admission.
Senator CARR —How will you measure appropriateness?
Dr Mercer —I think it is a general term and involves testing with stakeholders the views of key stakeholders on how appropriate each senior secondary certificate is. For example, they may test with employer groups how appropriate it is to their needs in terms of their understanding from the documents of what the skills and aptitudes of potential employees are.
Senator CARR —Will the submissions be published?
Dr Mercer —Are you asking if any submissions to ACER will be published?
Senator CARR —Yes.
Dr Mercer —We would not expect that. We have assumed that organisations will be able to provide those to ACER directly.
Senator CARR —Yes, but is it the intention of—
Dr Mercer —It is not a public inquiry as such.
Senator CARR —But it is not secret, surely?
Dr Mercer —No, not at all. If any organisation wants to provide information they can. We would certainly imagine that the conference will be an opportunity for a lot of the information that has been gathered to be presented.
Ms Paul —ACER may have its own interest in publishing the submissions on its web site. It would be fine by us if they wish to do that.
Senator CARR —I would have thought that, given the controversial nature of this proposal—
Ms Paul —Yes, it would be handy.
Senator CARR —and if it is to work—
Dr Mercer —Yes, it could be helpful and it would help inform that conference and so on.
Senator CARR —Do you have any support from any of the states for this proposal?
Dr Mercer —The curriculum authorities who meet together—the Australian Curriculum Organisation—have certainly been working for some time themselves towards comparing their own certificates. Certainly they have expressed interest in being kept very closely informed and involved in the process.
Senator CARR —Would you translate that to mean that they support the proposal?
Dr Mercer —I would say that at the moment each state and territory considers that its own certificate suits its purposes. What we are attempting to present is the national interest and to see if there are any issues there—for example, for when students are mobile, for employer groups, who obviously are often looking at certificates coming from different states and territories.
Senator CARR —So I take it the answer is no.
Dr Mercer —The states and territories have certainly made their views plain, particularly following the last MCEETYA meeting. It is quite clear and on the record that they do not see the need for a national certificate. But of course they should be aware—
Senator CARR —That is what I was looking towards. Did one of them describe it as a waste of money?
Dr Mercer —I do not have that with me.
Senator CARR —I recall that it was the South Australian minister. Would that be right?
Dr Mercer —One may well have done that. At the same time, you would be aware that they have all worked towards being able to call and compare these certificates as an Australian senior secondary certificate themselves.
Senator CARR —Yes. ‘Australian’ is one of those great abused words, isn’t it? Have you got any research on the level of mobility of students in the Australian education system?
Dr Mercer —Yes, as part of the work that we have been doing on a common starting age we have been able to track some statistics. It comes out every year at about 80,000 schoolchildren moving across state borders.
Senator CARR —How many students are there in the system in any one year?
Dr Mercer —About 3 million.
Mr Evans —About 3.2 million.
Senator CARR —There are 3.2 million.
Ms Paul —This also goes to students who may do school in more than one state—that is the mobility amongst the student population which, over the life of a 12-year student experience is considerable. It also goes to students leaving schooling in one state and trying to enter tertiary education in another state.
Dr Mercer —Yes, it does.
Ms Paul —One of our interests with this work is to try and get in front of that too.
Dr Mercer —I would also like to add there that in fact the curriculum authorities advise students not to move in the last two years of schooling—so they are actively discouraged.
Senator CARR —Of course they are.
Ms Paul —A national approach would help families who need to move in those years.
Senator CARR —There is no question that the defence forces and a number of other groups of people have expressed concern for some years about the lack of national consistency in the education system. However, the question of moving towards a national certificate is another matter again. Have you had any comments from the states? Do they think it is a bit heavy handed?
Dr Mercer —As we have said, the ministers made their positions very clear following the MCEETYA meeting.
Senator CARR —How many employers have said that they want an Australian certificate?
Dr Mercer —Part of this process will actually involve employer groups. We have certainly had some feedback from employer groups that they do not find the current situation entirely satisfactory.
Senator CARR —I know very few people who regard the current situation as satisfactory—in particular, very few people who regard the Commonwealth education policies as satisfactory. It would not be hard to do a survey on that. I am sure you could get a very large level of support for the proposition that the current situation is unsatisfactory. But that cuts across everything.
Ms Paul —We get a lot of feedback from industry—for example, through the higher education industry advisory board—that employers are looking for something a bit clearer. This would certainly go to that. We get the messages in a number of ways.
Senator CARR —I can understand all of that, and there is a general movement towards national consistency.
Ms Paul —There is.
Senator CARR —That is why there is great concern about the changes that are being proposed in the vocational education system with the destruction of ANTA—that is, there is concern that we are going backwards. There are some inconsistencies in the approaches that are being taken in the different divisions of the department on this matter. When would you see such a proposition actually coming into force? Or is this just another talkfest?
Dr Mercer —As we have said, it is very clear that we are looking for an implementation process to come out of this. It is, therefore, obviously difficult to speculate ahead of time on how quickly any of these options could be brought to bear. Certainly some would be faster than others.
Senator CARR —I take it the state and territory authorities will be involved in this process?
Dr Mercer —Yes, they will.
Senator CARR —Or they will be offered the opportunity?
Dr Mercer —Yes, and they have certainly expressed interest in being involved.
Senator CROSSIN —The yearly report that was tabled is under the Indigenous and Transition Group rather than the Schools Group, isn’t it?
Mr Evans —Correct.
Senator CROSSIN —I gave you a question, No. E061_05, about the MCEETYA Schools Resourcing Task Force report. Your answer advised me that the report cannot be released until the council authorises it, which may well have occurred on 13 May. Has that happened yet?
Ms Wall —We advised that the report had not yet been considered by ministers. It was considered by ministers and noted. If you are still interested in that report I will check with the MCEETYA secretariat to ensure that, now it has been considered by the ministers, it can be released.
Senator CROSSIN —Yes, please. If the process is allowable, I would like a copy of it.
Ms Wall —Certainly—I will follow that up.
Senator CARR —Is it the case that, in regard to the tutorial voucher scheme proposal, there is no obligatory benchmark or testing regime to be applied to check on students’ progress or improvement with literacy under this scheme?
Mr Weddell —There is within the program of work for students a pre-test and a post-test to assist the tutor in working through the progress made by the student. The assessment tools that we do have available for tutors to use were developed for us by ACER. Some brokers are using those tools and other brokers are using something that is more suitable for their own purposes. There is a set of tools, if you like, to look at progress throughout the tuition.
Senator CARR —I have the answer to question No. E830_05 here. It says that no standard benchmark or test will be applied to assess the outcome of the tutorial program in the case of each individual child. How do you know you are getting value for money?
Ms Weddell —I suppose in the strictest sense, particularly in the way we use the word ‘benchmark’, there is not a standardised test that we are running over each of those tutorial sessions. But certainly we think that there will be enough information from the assessment tools that are there, including the kinds of information that will be provided through the evaluation strategy and the discussions that will be held with stakeholders—brokers, parents and others—in terms of trying to get to the matter of value for money.
Senator CARR —From the your answer to that question I have asked, question E830_05, would it be reasonable to presume that the estimate of $700 provided for each student will give students between 10 and 15 hours of tuition?
Ms Weddell —Yes.
Senator CARR —But it may well vary, depending on the going rate of pay?
Ms Weddell —We anticipate that it will vary, for a number of reasons. They are to do with the differences in different states and often the size of the endeavour as well, in terms of the size of the broker. But we certainly, from the outset of this pilot, did not endeavour to try to set a particular rate. What has happened is what we anticipated—that is, that it is a little different in each of the states and territories—and thus the variation you have mentioned.
Senator CARR —It is clear that if you are going to set a flat rate—a voucher type system—of $700 then the rate of pay will determine the number of hours that are used for that particular program. That is the logic of the proposition you are putting to us. I would really like to know what data, what evidence, you have that suggests what impact between 10 and 15 hours—because 15 hours is the maximum, with the lower end being 10—of tuition will have on the literacy of the students that are part of the program.
Ms Weddell —We anticipate that the variation of 10 to 15 hours will work through to about a minimum of 12 to about 15 sessions. We think that is essentially a term’s worth of tuition for a child. In terms of the thinking around the pilot initiative, looking at other kinds of tuition that are around and understanding that this was a way to try to look at additional assistance for children in a pilot sense, we have come to the thinking that looking at progress over a term would give us a good indication of some growth over that time.
Senator CARR —I asked what evidence there is to support this ‘thinking’, as you describe it. I did not catch what the evidence was.
Ms Weddell —There was not, I have to say, a great deal of evidence on this, but we did look at different kinds of tuitions in some kinds of other countries as part of putting the proposal together.
Senator CARR —Given that there was not a great deal of evidence, can you tell me which studies you have drawn upon?
Ms Weddell —I would have to take that on notice.
Senator CARR —I would appreciate that. I am not trying to be a smart alec, but it will not take you long, I would expect.
Mr Burmester —Can I step in there. It is a trial. The point is that a cohort of students has been identified that needs assistance. An approach has been taken which will determine the answer to the question that you are asking—that is, whether that intensity of additional support is adequate to address the needs of these students. Of course, the outcome will be that, for some children, it is perfectly adequate. For other children it may not be adequate. We need to know those two proportions.
Senator CARR —How was it that you came to select those particular brokers? I see you have Group Training Australia (WA). How did you select them?
Ms Weddell —We had an open tender process. Through that process we identified a number of brokers. As work is done to work through the agreements with those brokers, announcements are made. So we do have Group Training—
Senator CARR —I have six to eight in front of me. Is Group Training Australia (WA) an education outfit or is it a training company?
Ms Weddell —Group Training Australia (WA) is a training company.
Senator CARR —That is what I understood they were. They run remedial English programs, do they?
Ms Weddell —They run a number of programs. They certainly put in a very strong tender. They were successful in tendering for that work.
Senator CARR —So they employ special education teachers, do they?
Ms Weddell —They are employing a range of tutors who are being matched to the kinds of assistance that students need.
Senator CARR —In their bid they would identify the qualifications of the staff they are using, wouldn’t they?
Ms Weddell —Yes, they are undertaking the identification of tutors. Some of those tutors certainly, in terms of the guidelines that we have around qualifications, would include some special education teachers and those with education qualities, qualifications and experience in assisting and working with children with learning and reading difficulties.
Senator CARR —I would have thought that would be your fundamental requirement. What did you say the hourly rate was again?
Ms Weddell —The hourly rate in Western Australia?
Senator CARR —Yes.
Ms Weddell —I am not sure that I have that with me. I will look for it.
Senator CARR —I would like to compare it with the hourly rate for a special education teacher given that the nature of qualification for a special education teacher is usually at least a double degree.
Ms Paul —Our guidelines did set out, you might recall, exactly what we required by way of qualifications and range of qualifications and so on. The tender process I remember well. We dealt with it in the way we normally deal with a major open tender. A particular team was locked away from everyone else doing their work and drawing on as much expertise as necessary.
Senator CARR —But a group training company in this area, I suggest to you, is, to be polite, innovative.
Ms Paul —It must have been a good tender. It was a good process with normal probity—
Senator CARR —Was it a price tender or a quality tender?
Ms Paul —We looked at a range of criteria in the normal way.
Senator CARR —You also have Progressive Learning in Victoria and Queensland. Who is Progressive Learning?
Ms Weddell —Progressive Learning won two tenders—one in Victoria and one in Queensland. It is an organisation that has expertise in tutoring services. It is currently undertaking the work as broker in those two states.
Senator CARR —Can you tell me what the hourly rate is in Victoria and Queensland?
Ms Weddell —Again, I am not sure that I have that with me. I will try to find it.
Senator CARR —I appreciate that. Take it on notice, if you could. Could you indicate to me the qualifications of the tutors that Progressive Learning intends to employ?
Ms Weddell —Again, in terms of the qualifications of tutors, in our guidelines we set out that we ask tutors to have education qualifications and experience in working with children who have difficulties in reading. I expect that those are the kinds of qualifications that tutors are stepping forward with.
Senator CARR —Terrific. I taught in this area, so I know something of this matter. I may not have taught very well in the eyes of many people but the fact is that it is not just a person who is experienced that is needed here; these are highly specialised areas of teaching. I would like to know what the qualifications are—not experience in education as a school cleaner. I would like to know precisely what the education qualifications of the tutors are that are being employed in this project. When was Progressive Learning established?
Ms Weddell —When it was established as an organisation?
Senator CARR —Yes.
Ms Weddell —I do not have that information with me. I would have to take that one on notice.
Senator CARR —Could you tell me whether or not it was in January?
Ms Weddell —In January?
Senator CARR —In January, yes.
Ms Weddell —It would not have been in January, because the open tender process that we ran was last year, 2004.
Ms Paul —It was in the middle of the year, actually.
Senator CARR —Can you tell me the date on which they were established?
Ms Weddell —Again, I would have to take that on notice.
Senator CARR —If I am wrong about it being January, when were they established?
Ms Weddell —I think we went to tender in June 2004.
Ms Paul —June and July last year.
Senator CARR —I am obviously interested to know when they were established and what experience they have. That goes to the question of experience, doesn’t it? If they were established only last year and not at the beginning of this year, I do not see that that will substantially change the proposition I am putting to you. That is a concern I have. How many people tendered for each of these projects? I am going to presume that the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services is the same as the government department. I obviously have no complaint about that. Were they the only tenderers?
Ms Weddell —That was a while ago. I cannot recall if there were others. I think there were but again I might have to take that one on notice.
Senator CARR —I would have thought that within that organisation you would clearly have qualified people to do the work.
Ms Weddell —The South Australian department put forward a very good tender as well. That is why they got up as the South Australian brokers.
Senator CARR —It makes a lot of sense. But in Victoria and Queensland how many people tendered for the job?
Ms Weddell —Again, I would have to take that one on notice. I just do not have the information with me, and the tender was a while ago. I do not want to give you something that is not correct.
Senator CARR —In Western Australia how many tenders were there? If we can go to New South Wales, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory, what are the arrangements there?
Ms Weddell —In New South Wales the tender that was successful there was again a very good tender. The successful broker there is the New South Wales Department of Education and Training. We are working closely with them to successfully roll out the initiative in New South Wales. In the ACT the successful tenderer is Dr Pauline Griffiths, an education consultant with experience in schools and universities in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. In Tasmania we have two brokers—two arrangements there. The Association of Independent Schools of Tasmania will be looking after the non-government students in Tasmania who are eligible. We are working to establish the broker and will announce the brokerage arrangement for the other students there. You might appreciate that in Tasmania the situation was a little different from elsewhere. We will have to go to two brokers in Tasmania because of the late announcement of the eligibility of the students in the government sector. But that is all looking very good; we are very pleased with what is happening in Tasmania.
Senator CARR —Do you expect that it will be a government broker there?
Ms Weddell —We are certainly working very closely and well with the Department of Education in Tasmania, but, until negotiations are complete and contracts signed, there will not be an announcement of the detail.
Senator CARR —Okay. What about the Northern Territory?
Ms Waddell —In the Northern Territory we are in negotiations with a potential broker. Again, I am confident that we will have very good arrangements for the Northern Territory.
Senator CARR —Can you be a bit more informative than: ‘very good arrangements’? Who have you got in mind?
Ms Paul —I do not think we can, because we have not finished negotiating and it is not announced. That is the issue I think we are facing here.
Senator CARR —But the tenders are closed. Was there no tender application procedure?
Mr Evans —Our experience has been that, if the name of a broker is announced before a contract is signed, then that broker gets inundated by parents who are seeking support, in advance of the broker necessarily being prepared with the proper infrastructure in place. That is why we do not announce the broker until we have finalised the negotiations.
Senator CARR —What is the value of the contracts for each of those states?
Ms Weddell —I am just looking for that.
Dr Mercer —While Ms Weddell is finding that, I have found in our notes a comment about Progressive Learning and its history, which I think you would be interested in. It is a tutoring organisation that has been operating in the educational field for over 14 years throughout Australia and more recently in New Zealand.
Senator CARR —And so the entity known as Progressive Learning has been working for 14 years?
Dr Mercer —Yes, 14 years.
Senator CARR —And that is the same entity? It is not in a different guise?
Dr Mercer —That is the entity that we have contracted with.
Senator CARR —When did they get established in Queensland?
Ms Weddell —I am not sure. They have been an established organisation for 14 years.
Senator CARR —Yes, I got that part. Have they been working in Queensland for 14 years?
Dr Mercer —We will take that on notice.
Senator CARR —Because maybe that is where the confusion is—perhaps they have only moved in to Queensland since January. You know how Queenslanders think about that sort of thing.
Ms Paul —Obviously, they did well in the tender process.
Senator CARR —You say they are from New Zealand?
Mr Burmester —They have expanded into New Zealand—they did not come from New Zealand.
Ms Weddell —Senator, you asked about the estimated costs in each of the states and territories. In New South Wales it is some $6,215,000; in Victoria, $5,438,000; in Queensland, $4,728,000; in Western Australia, $1,000,000; in South Australia, $1.8 million; in Tasmania it is about $300,000, I think; in the Northern Territory it is still to be negotiated; and in the ACT it is some $172—
Senator CARR —They aren’t small contracts.
Ms Weddell —No—this is a large undertaking.
Ms Paul —It is a $20 million program.
Senator CARR —It is $20 million all up?
Ms Weddell —Yes. Some of those contracts or agreements have only just got under way. For example, New South Wales just yesterday undertook some of the initial training that we provide to each of the brokers and are in the early stages of set-up in terms of bringing together the coordination of the work ahead.
Senator CARR —I want to come back to the history of Progressive Learning. You are saying they have been in operation for 14 years. Does that mean they were registered 14 years ago? How do you know they have been in operation for 14 years?
Dr Mercer —That is our advice, Senator. They have been operating in the educational field. We can take that on notice if you would like to know exactly.
Senator CARR —I would like to know precisely because that information is being disputed—certainly to me it is being disputed.
Dr Mercer —Is that about their Queensland operation?
Senator CARR —There are obviously two issues here. Given that they have a $4 million contract in Queensland, obviously it is of some interest to know what work they have done in Queensland.
Ms Weddell —We can certainly take that on notice. I just do not have that information with me at the moment.
Senator CARR —It is just that they were not listed in the White Pages at the time of the tender arrangements and a Google search did not reveal any information. They were registered with ASIC on 14 January. I am wondering precisely, apart from their connection with the North Shore of Sydney, which I am told is where they are based—aren’t they?
Ms Weddell —Yes.
Senator CARR —In Bradfield. Were they known to the minister for 14 years perhaps?
Ms Paul —This was a tender done in an absolutely traditional tender process. As to where they are physically based, I could not comment.
Dr Mercer —I think that the questions must go to the establishment of their operations in Queensland.
Senator CARR —That is clearly an issue when they operate in Queensland, but given that they only registered with the corporate registration process in January and you are giving them $9 million—
Ms Paul —We are happy to come back with the history.
Senator CARR —I think it is fair that we know a little bit more about them.
Ms Paul —Sure.
Ms Weddell —We will certainly come back to you on that. We will take it on notice.
Senator CARR —Do they run chess clubs? Is that their education experience?
Dr Mercer —They are a tutoring organisation. Certainly they would have satisfied all our financial viability and other requirements as part of the tender.
Ms Paul —They would have had to have proven themselves in the tender. As I say, on recollection—when I was very familiar with it—it was an absolutely straight down the line normal tender.
Senator CARR —Fair enough. So their expertise in education is in literacy. Are you able to confirm that?
Ms Weddell —It is certainly in tutoring services.
Senator CARR —Tutoring services is different from literacy. I would like to know specifically if their expertise is in literacy or in chess.
Ms Weddell —They would have experience and expertise in delivering literacy tutoring. I cannot comment, because I just do not know without going back and finding other information, whether they have expertise in other areas.
Senator CARR —Will you take on notice their expertise in literacy.
Ms Weddell —Indeed.
Ms Paul —They would have had to have met each criterion, been scored and weighted and gone through all the processes that we go through.
Senator CARR —And you would be able to tell me how many tenders there were for this particular contract.
Dr Mercer —Yes.
Senator CARR —When was the decision made to select Progressive Learning? I read somewhere that it was only announced on 2 March. That is right, isn’t it?
Ms Paul —Although I am not sure and we would have to check, that could be the case, because with each of these brokers we have had to go into quite long negotiations, not surprisingly, about our expectations of them and our requirements, and that has taken time in each case. That may well be the case.
Senator CARR —What are the administrative costs of running this program?
Ms Weddell —I am not quite sure—
Senator CARR —The departmental costs?
Ms Weddell —The departmental expenses are some $0.94 million.
Senator CARR —How many staff will be running this program?
Ms Weddell —About five or six, I think.
Senator CARR —The administrative cost of about $900,000 is a year on year cost, is it?
Dr Mercer —That is what has been given for this year, because it is a trial—it is not a year on year thing.
Senator CARR —So are you saying that these contracts—this $9 million you are paying to Progressive Learning—is for only one year?
Ms Weddell —Yes. This is a—
Senator CARR —That is good money, isn’t it! That is incredible.
Mr Burmester —Senator, as you said earlier, the value of the contract is the number of sessions by the hourly rate of the tutors plus, presumably, some overhead for the broker who has to recruit and deploy their tutors and do the assessment. It is a trial—it is a one-year, once-off program at this stage, and that is the cost in Queensland because of the number of kids who are going to benefit from the program.
Senator CARR —We have the departmental expenses. What factor have you allowed for the administrative overheads for the contractors?
Ms Weddell —That would be around 20 per cent for the administration of the initiative by each of the brokers. Generally, that runs to about 20 per cent. So within any one contract the majority of the funding—some 80 per cent—is represented by the voucher, if you like, meaning the $700 per eligible student and then 20 per cent of that contract is for the administration.
Senator CARR —How many students have actually sought access to the program?
Ms Weddell —It is probably too early to have that information with me at the moment. Certainly we will be in a position with the next progress reports from brokers who have been established and announced to indicate what the take-up is and what the trend in the take-up is. The initial job of these brokers is certainly to advertise for tutors, bring tutors together and certainly make contact with schools and parents and provide information to parent communities to encourage their participation in the program. I would think that, certainly in our next progress reports, we will be asking for the data around matching students with tutors and how that is proceeding.
Senator CARR —The thing is, this program was announced over a year ago.
Ms Weddell —Yes. This pilot initiative has had a rocky path. The initial amount was allocated to run this in four states, then we found that all the other states wanted to be involved.
Ms Paul —Except Tasmania.
Ms Weddell —That meant that we had to access more funding and therefore come back to the parliament. We ran into an election.
Senator CARR —That is why it did not run last year. The commitment could not be met last year.
Ms Weddell —Yes.
Senator CARR —It has been put to me that in Queensland there would be about 4,370 eligible students but that Progressive Learning have been able to find only 800 students. Is that right?
Ms Weddell —I am not sure about those numbers.
Senator CARR —You are not sure?
Ms Weddell —No. Those numbers are not known to me. But in terms of finding the students, we have requested and have received assistance from the education authorities in Queensland to identify the students who would be eligible. At the last MCEETYA meeting the minister raised this issue at council and sought the assistance of his colleagues to provide direct information to parents, to tell them that this assistance was available to them. They were very happy to do that.
Senator CARR —Can I just be clear about this. You are saying that you are not familiar with the figures that show that the program has been delivered to only 800 of the 4,370 students.
Ms Weddell —I do not know about those particular figures. It would be something like that. In the progress report that we will be looking at soon we will be able to note what the exact figures are. But as to whether that sounds about right or not, it is still early days and there has been considerable difficulty in identify the eligible students. Once the information is made available to the parents of the eligible children I would anticipate that the uptake will start rolling in the right direction. Whether it is 800 right now I do not know. I would have to get further information to verify that.
Dr Mercer —It is important to point out that this initiative is dependent on the support of schools and principals. As Ms Weddell pointed out, at the last MCEETYA meeting our minister sought the support of his colleagues, and that has been forthcoming. Because of the delay in the program we are talking here about students who did not achieve the benchmark in 2003. Their parents would have received that report. We now have to try to reach those parents and make sure that they can show documentary proof of that. So the school support has been critical. Queensland, of course, is a highly decentralised state. It was always going to have those sorts of issues. Queensland has a very high number of rural and regional schools, and the support of the Queensland department is going to be critical to the success of the initiative.
Senator CARR —Do you think this is a reflection of a problem where we announce programs without talking to people first?
Ms Paul —No. I think there has been an enormous amount of communication and there has been—
Senator CARR —Is this before or after the announcement?
Ms Paul —After the announcement of the program. And there has been enormous interest from parents. The hotline has rung hot for a long time.
Senator CARR —So the hotline has run hot.
Ms Paul —And I am sure that was part of why each—
Senator CARR —It has run hot?
Ms Weddell —It certainly has.
Ms Paul —Hence the name ‘hotline’. I am sure that each of the states and territories were conscious of that when they chose to enter the pilot. MCEETYA ‘noted the support of states and territories in implementing the initiative which will provide the opportunity for an estimated 24,000 students to access valuable additional assistance in learning to read’ and they agreed to communicate to parents who were eligible where possible and to school principals where it is not possible, as I think Ms Weddell was talking about.
Senator CARR —There are two problems. I am being told that parents are having trouble getting through on the hotline—
Ms Paul —That is interesting.
Senator CARR —particularly in Victoria. They have been put on hold for a long time and they have then complained that no action has been taken when they have actually managed to talk to a human being. There is some dissatisfaction on that front. Given that the program was aimed at assisting people who have not done well in the year 3 benchmarks and they are now approaching the year 5 benchmark, there is some concern at how well $20 million is going to be spent. It is not early days at all; it has been around for a fair while.
Ms Paul —It is early days in terms of each of these brokers—
Senator CARR —So something is being done.
Ms Paul —Yes.
Senator CARR —Are there any plans to write to parents on this matter? What means of communication will you adopt?
Ms Paul —That is the agreement the states have given us.
Ms Weddell —We are working now with Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria and the ACT, as agreed at the council, for those states to provide directly to the parents, or through the principals to the parents, information about the additional assistance that they can participate in. I think those letters have already been sent out in the ACT. Certainly the other ministers undertook to make sure that students had access to the additional assistance. We are certainly working with our colleagues in those states to make sure that that correspondence and that commitment to try to get that information to parents are worked through. In the states where the brokers are the state departments, the same issue does not arise in that way because the departments have the data and the information. This is certainly the case in South Australia and New South Wales, for example. The department would know very well where those students are.
Senator CARR —That points to the benefit of working with the states directly, doesn’t it?
Ms Weddell —It does. In the model that we have here, in this pilot, we have a good mix of different providers. The way data is captured and used in each of the states is also a little different. We will have a lot of information for our evaluation of how best we can take forward initiatives like this. That will certainly be provided to government in the evaluation of this pilot.
Senator CARR —You mentioned the Australian Capital Territory, and Dr Pauline Griffiths is the successful tenderer for that. I take it that it is the same Dr Pauline Griffiths who was quoted in the Canberra Times on 14 April as saying:
I’ve been madly trying to get the word out to all eligible families ... but there’s not a great deal of people signed up.
Surely that reflects a serious problem.
Ms Weddell —Yes, that does reflect a serious problem. The serious problem was the one that we have just recently addressed by trying to identify the parents of the eligible students. I am happy to say that we and Dr Pauline Griffiths have worked with the ACT department, which has been very helpful in providing information just in the last week or so, post the MCEETYA meeting, making sure that that information is made available to those eligible parents. Certainly there was some difficulty, even with radio ads and other types of good promotion, in getting to these parents. We think a direct appeal to them—and this is where the states and the territory governments are helping us—will assist the participation of students in the initiative.
Senator CROSSIN —Looking back on my notes from last night, you were going to come back to us with the cost for the plaques for the flagpoles.
Ms Dacey —This morning I found three examples, from three different states, to give you a bit of a range. It went from $23 up to $77.
Mr Burmester —The schools will find that cost as part of the overall cost of their flagpoles.
Senator CROSSIN —As part of the $1,500?
Ms Dacey —Yes.
Senator CROSSIN —That will go a long way in the Territory. I am assuming that does not include its transport or postage costs. Is that right?
Ms Dacey —None of those examples were from the Northern Territory.
Senator CROSSIN —On the eastern seaboard they can probably just pop down to the local shopping centre and pick it up. Are you looking after the Active After-School Communities Program? Is this a part of your brief in the schools sector?
Dr Mercer —I have some information.
Senator CROSSIN —Good, because nowhere else I have been seems to know about it; I am glad I have found somewhere.
Dr Mercer —The Active After-School Communities Program is not with our portfolio. It is managed by the Australian Sports Commission. I have some information here.
Senator CROSSIN —Do you contract the Australian Sports Commission to do that?
Dr Mercer —No. That money is provided directly through their portfolio.
Senator CROSSIN —To you?
Dr Mercer —No, to the Australian Sports Commission.
Ms Paul —Dr Mercer is saying that it is not managed by us at all, but she has some information for you about it.
Senator CROSSIN —Maybe you could just table that.
Dr Mercer —I could table some information.
Senator CROSSIN —Who is managing that program then?
Dr Mercer —The Australian Sports Commission is managing it, and I believe it has contracted it out to providers around the country.
CHAIR —That is correct. I have also launched one of those. I am a very busy senator.
Senator CROSSIN —You are a professional launcher of the Active After-School Communities Program as well? Schools, flagpoles and now—
CHAIR —After school programs, yes. It is with the Sports Commission. I launched it on behalf of Senator Rod Kemp.
Senator CROSSIN —So they have the same requirements, in that these activities have to be launched by a government representative?
CHAIR —I cannot comment on that. I admit I have done one. But it certainly was with the Sports Commission.
Ms Paul —I do not know which portfolio the Sports Commission is with.
CHAIR —It is arts. It is Senator Kemp’s portfolio.
Senator CROSSIN —Thank you. That is all I have.
Senator CARR —I will put the rest of the questions to the schools division on notice.