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Wednesday, 1 November 2000
Page: 21851


Mr BARTLETT (2:24 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Is the minister aware of recent analysis on the progress of the national literacy plans, particularly in New South Wales? What is the minister's response to this analysis?


Dr KEMP (Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Macquarie for his question. I acknowledge his deep commitment to education, both public and private, in his electorate. These days, parents are rightly demanding that every child should learn fundamental literacy and numeracy skills in the early years of schooling. Australian parents were appalled at the performance of the Labor Party in office when some 30 per cent of young people were found not to be able to read and write properly. As a result of the leadership of this government, there is now agreement between all the state and territory governments and the Commonwealth on national literacy and numeracy standards and on a national plan to deliver literacy and numeracy skills at or above those standards to every child. To achieve this national literacy and numeracy goal, literacy and numeracy need to be top priorities for the education systems in the states. There needs to be evidence of clear progress from year to year.

Everyone will be concerned when evidence emerges that a state is not making the necessary commitment and the necessary progress. I have had my department analyse the recently published results of the New South Wales basic skills test taken earlier this year. The results of this analysis reveal the very disturbing fact that in New South Wales literacy and numeracy standards have slipped back this year over last year. If a proper effort to support teachers had been made, we would have expected further significant progress this year under the national literacy plan. In fact, there has been a decline in standards in New South Wales. Across year 3 and year 5 in both literacy and numeracy, the proportion of students in the lowest skills bands has increased. In the higher bands, year 3 literacy fell by three per cent, year 3 numeracy by five per cent, year 5 literacy was down two per cent and year 5 numeracy declined by an alarming eight per cent.

It would not be good enough if standards had simply been maintained this year because under the national plan specific progress is required to be made from year to year, but in fact what we see in New South Wales is that standards are actually declining. What is even more disgraceful is that the New South Wales government has been promoting as acceptable literacy levels which are clearly below the national standard. In doing so, Mr Aquilina has branded the Carr government as a government of low educational standards. It has not mandated time for literacy in the curriculum, as Victoria and South Australia have done. It has not instituted a review of literacy teaching as Queensland has done. It has not established pilot programs to evaluate best practice as the Kennett government has done.

Opposition members—The Kennett government!


Dr KEMP —It has not set out, like the ACT, to improve communication and accountability to parents. The fact is that the Carr government has failed to adequately invest in education in that state. It has failed to match Commonwealth funding increases. It has run down buildings and facilities. It has allowed the New South Wales Teachers Federation to run rampant and it is now persecuting non-government schools. It has sat on its hands as 20,000 students have left government schools over the last four years. Mr Boston, the director of schooling in New South Wales, receives a $20,000 bonus—one dollar for every student who has left public education over the last four years. There is an `ABC of failure' in education in New South Wales—that is, Aquilina, Boston and Carr. That is what they are—an ABC of failure. With declining literacy standards and a failure to make a commitment to what parents and students are most concerned about, we see what the Labor Party means in practice. I urge the New South Wales government to stop its charades, its side shows, and start focusing on the matters of most importance to parents—as this government is doing—proper literacy and numeracy standards for every child.