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Wednesday, 26 November 2003
Page: 22911

Mr PROSSER (11:04 AM) —The implementation of the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 2003 will give effect to the government's 2003-04 budget initiatives for schools. It includes the provision of additional capital funding for the years 2004-07 for non-government schools. The bill will provide additional funding in 2004 for the Strategic Assistance for Improving Student Outcomes program as well as additional and ongoing funding for 2003-04 for the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies and Projects program.

This bill continues a commitment to the capital grants program which supports non-government schools throughout Australia for construction and refurbishment work on school buildings. Initial 2003 funding totals some $91 million. This bill will appropriate approximately $48.3 million for capital funding in non-government schools over four years: 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. This amendment will maintain capital grants for non-government schools in real terms at the 2003 level. Without this amendment, the level of capital funding for non-government schools for the years 2004-07 would fall more than $11.7 million each year below the 2003 funding level, adversely affecting schools serving the most educationally disadvantaged students.

Over the 2001-04 funding quadrennium, schools receive over $1.3 billion in Australian government funding under the capital grants program. Of this funding, almost $950 million will go to government schools and over $373 million to non-government schools. This means that over 72 per cent of capital funding will go to government schools—a sector with only 68 per cent of all enrolments.

There are 61 government schools and 25 non-government schools in my electorate of Forrest. A significant number of them have carried out capital works construction and refurbishment work on their school buildings to cater for the increased student enrolments which reflect the continuing steady growth of residents in the region. Indeed, the inner regional local government area of Dardanup within my electorate was recorded as having the seventh fastest population growth in Australia between 1996 and 2001, with an average annual growth rate of some 6.2 per cent.

Capital grants funding is important to maintain the level of infrastructure for schools so they can continue to grow, to improve education outcomes and to provide greater choice and diversity for all students. This bill will bring these measures into effect. The government's eighth budget allocation recorded funding of $6.9 billion to Australian schools and students for 2003-04, which represents an increase of some $528 million or 8.3 per cent over last year.

In the 2001-04 funding quadrennium, the Commonwealth government will provide approximately $25 billion in direct funding to schools and school students, with the majority of this funding being appropriated through the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Act 2000. The federal government's primary objective in school funding is to achieve a quality education for all Australians. One of the fundamental principles underlying the federal government's role in school education is to support the right of parents to choose the educational environment which best suits the needs of their child, whether it is in the government or the non-government sector.

Government schools enrol 68 per cent of total enrolments, and these students get some 76 per cent of the public funding for schooling. In 2003-04, government schools will get an estimated $19.9 billion from taxpayers for their 2.3 million students. This $19.9 billion represents combined Commonwealth and state funding. Non-government schools get about $6.2 billion in funding for their more than one million students. Federal government spending on government schools is at the highest level ever. In 2003-04, the Australian government will spend an estimated $935 million more on government schools and students than in 1996—an increase of almost 60 per cent. This substantial commitment highlights the national leadership in education shown by the government.

Since 1985, the federal government has been the primary source of public funding for non-government schools. In 2001, the Australian government introduced a new funding system for non-government schools which more accurately reflected the needs of the communities they serve, using a measure of the socioeconomic status of the school community. Also, enrolments in non-government schools are increasing at a greater rate than those in government schools. Non-government school enrolments have increased by 13.3 per cent over the period 1996 to 2002 and are projected to increase by 1.6 per cent in 2003. Government school enrolments have increased by 1.6 per cent over the period 1996 to 2002 and are projected to increase by 0.2 per cent in 2003. The increase in non-government funding does not mean that funding is taken away from government schools, as has been wrongly claimed.

The 2003-04 budget continues the government's commitment to improving the literacy and numeracy outcomes for Australian students. This bill will also provide additional funding of some $54.3 million through the Strategic Assistance for Improving Student Outcomes program and the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies and Projects program over the years 2003 and 2004 to improve the learning outcomes of educationally disadvantaged students, particularly in the key areas of literacy and numeracy. This funding demonstrates the Howard government's continued support for the acquisition of vital literacy and numeracy skills by all Australian students. Literacy and numeracy are the most important foundation skills students need during their education. This government places a high priority on the development of and proficiency in these skills to enable young people to utilise education, employment and training opportunities in later life.

The government introduced reporting of national benchmarks for literacy and numeracy standards for years 3, 5 and 7, against which all students' achievements can be measured and reported. Funding under the Strategic Assistance for Improving Student Outcomes program is used by government and non-government education authorities to support critically important programs in schools for students requiring additional assistance in these vital foundation skills. This government is continuing its commitment to these fundamental skills through its significant funding for literacy and numeracy. The National Literacy and Numeracy Plan provides for assessment of all students by their teachers as early as possible in the first years of schooling and for early intervention for those students identified as having difficulty. Importantly, the plan also provides for professional development for teachers.

The attainment of appropriate literacy and numeracy skills in the early years of schooling provides the foundation for learning. This continued funding of the Australian government's literacy and numeracy programs will continue to assist students to attain the necessary literacy and numeracy skills they need to participate fully in further education, employment and society. In terms of reporting benchmarks and assessment data to parents, in 2001 the government made an election commitment to secure state and territory reporting to all parents of their child's skills in literacy and numeracy against national standards. Benchmark data provides parents and the school with independent information on a student's literacy and numeracy achievement levels and highlights future learning needs. All Australian parents have a right to know how their children are performing against national minimum literacy and numeracy standards.

This is a significant development for Australian education. At present, only Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT report a child's results against the national benchmarks. Victoria, Queensland and South Australia have also given public commitments to report to parents against the national benchmarks. From 2004, all parents across the country will begin to receive reports of their child's literacy and numeracy achievements against national benchmarks. This is an important decision. It represents another foundation stone in the building of a nationally consistent, high-quality education system.

The analysis of results from the Western Australian literacy and numeracy assessment indicates that girls continue to do better than boys in literacy in all years. The difference in performance between boys and girls increased from years 3 to 5 and from years 5 to 7, and it is most evident in writing. However, boys' and girls' numeracy results are comparable. It is pleasing to note that the performance of year 7 students in the Bunbury district in the 2002 assessment in reading, writing, spelling and numeracy indicated that more than 88 per cent met the benchmark for reading skills and over 85 per cent of students in the Warren Blackwood district also met the benchmark. The monitoring and continuous improvement of literacy and numeracy benchmarks will ensure students are provided with the best opportunities for educational outcomes to further their employment and training throughout their lives and to enrich their social achievements. The States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 2003 confirms the government's commitment to school education and improving the outcomes for all students.

The federal government's funding in education represents a major investment in our future society. Through increasing financial assistance to schools, particularly schools serving the neediest communities, the Australian government seeks improved outcomes from schools and a brighter future for all Australian students. Through this funding the Australian government will put Australia in a better position to make major contributions to our global future and to continue our tradition of innovation and technical skill. This funding commitment highlights the national leadership shown by this government in demanding the best for our students. This substantial commitment to education strengthens this government's leadership role in working towards a nationally consistent, high-quality education system. Quality education is vital to Australia's future. Therefore, it is necessary not only to maintain levels of funding for all children but also to cater for the needs of educationally disadvantaged students, particularly in the key areas of literacy and numeracy. I commend the bill to the House.