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Monday, 30 October 2006
Page: 13

Mr MICHAEL FERGUSON (1:17 PM) —I move:

That the House:

(1)   notes as unacceptable Australia having eight different, and often inconsistent, sets of school curriculum;

(2)   calls on the Commonwealth to work cooperatively with the State and Territory governments for greater consistency in both school curricula and standards for every Australian school student; and

(3)   supports initiatives which will improve the education standards and accountability of educational authorities across the country, both government and non-government.

I believe that Australian governments of all political leanings should now focus intensely on the needs and best interests of our nation’s education system. This is the place of nurture and preparation for a lifetime of experiences and, hopefully, lifelong further learning. We as a country have much to be proud of in our education system.  Recent achievements include: record levels of Commonwealth funding to all schools, while supporting parent choice; much-needed reforms to higher education; proper recognition of adult and vocational education; and support for values, literacy and numeracy, plain-English reporting and greater physical activity.

This is very admirable. However, in my view, this parliament needs to take the lead to forge a better standard for our school education system. There is widespread community concern about the content and standard of curriculum being developed and delivered by the various education authorities around Australia. Our nation of just 20 million people suffers from having eight separate sets of curriculum and, to different degrees, fads within systems that teachers, parents and students feel dissatisfied with.

As a former teacher, I am able to say from experience that students who move between states really do struggle to fit in; indeed, some students who move between schools within one state may feel lost in the wilderness as there is no common base curriculum, in terms of actual content or outcomes, either between states or, amazingly, within them.

We need to work to facilitate student mobility around Australia because there is a lack of transparency in curriculum about the specific details of what students need to know. It ought to trouble any parent that their child can graduate from grade 6 without knowing their multiplication tables; it should make them angry that their child can graduate from grade 10 without knowing them. Clearly, this in itself is no proof that there is a need for change, but it is very compelling evidence indeed.

In my state of Tasmania, enormously expensive changes have been made to a new curriculum called the ‘New Essential Learnings’, which has proved to be a disaster and has had to undergo serious repairs even within these early days of its implementation. Even now, there is every prospect that students from different schools within Tasmania will be exposed to an entirely distinct school curriculum assessed against discrete local standards—or lack of them.

The education needs of students are not unique to particular states or regions. Our students need to be equipped with the fundamentals: the enduring skills and learning that will help to make them more informed and productive citizens. These needs are not unique to particular areas or jurisdictions; they are common across the country. The application of different education philosophies around the country contributes to a situation whereby students studying supposedly similar subjects may be exposed to quite different approaches to texts, ideas and social issues. Worse than this, there is some evidence of politically partisan curricula and behaviour in a small number of schools.

With this in mind, it is important that responsibility is taken to ensure that authorities in both government and non-government schools are held accountable in their role of improving and implementing education standards. A recent survey by Roy Morgan Research shows that 69 per cent of Australians do want a national curriculum. The neo-dinosaurs in the ALP are therefore swimming against the tide of much-needed reform. The Australian Science Teachers Association declared its support for a national year 12 science curriculum because in some states ‘science curriculum is a mile wide and just one inch deep’. From comments like this, it is clear that the wider community and the professional community are demanding an end to fads and a return to common-sense curricula with agreed core subjects and a renewed focus on literacy and numeracy.

The Commonwealth government needs to take a co-operative leadership role in its drive for a back-to-basics approach to ensure that we have greater national consistency and, importantly, greater accountability.  All of this can and must be achieved cooperatively with state governments and non-government school authorities by improving standards from mediocrity to excellence, by supporting students with special needs, and by an additional special focus on ensuring that Australian school graduates are the world’s best.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Is the motion seconded?

Mr Bartlett —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.