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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 531

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(10.04) —On behalf of Senator Ryan, I seek leave to make a statement on the Government's response to the report of the Commonwealth Schools Commission's Panel on Planning and Funding Policies for New Non-government Schools.

Leave granted.

Senator GRIMES —This report is in response to the Government's request in the guidelines to the Schools Commission in August last year to appoint a panel of commissioners to draw up proposals for the notification and assessment of applications for Commonwealth assistance from proposed new non-government schools. These arrangements were to incorporate a negotiated set of priorities so as to enable the Commonwealth to budget for this program from 1986.

In preparing its report, the panel has consulted extensively with the States and with non-government school groups and authorities. The panel has reported widespread support for its major proposals, which are based on effective structures and procedures for co-operative planning, including Commonwealth and State governments and non-government authorities. These educational and financial planning arrangements reflect the shared responsibilities of all the authorities in the dual system of schooling in Australia and the need to plan for its development in a manner which promotes social harmony, educational co-operation and the planned efficient use of resources.

The Government has accepted all of the recommendations of the panel, and is confident that implementation of these recommendations will lead to a more equitable and efficient approach to the planning and establishment of new non-government schools, to the benefit of all Australian children in government and non-government schools.

As indicated in the report, while there is evidence in all States of well-developed, informal links between government and major non-government systems which have contributed to effective planning, nonetheless, there are a number of inter-related concerns. These include the need:

to plan new non-government schools in ways consistent with the need to cater for changes in enrolment patterns, and to avoid the tensions which can result from the unco-ordinated growth in new non-government schools in areas already well-provided;

to cater for needs relating to various forms of educational disadvantage;

to provide for the orderly development of non-government schools without seriously reducing standards of service in existing schools, govern- ment or non-government;

to recognise limits to public funding; and

to promote the economic use of resources.

The main features of the new arrangements, which will apply to new non-government schools to be established from 1986, are:

modification of the existing criteria for determining initial eligibility for Commonwealth funding;

the adoption of a planned approach to the provision of schooling services, with judgments to be made at the State level;

priorities for new schools proposals to be based on the principle of 'planned educational provision' in particular locations, including the planned development of both the government and non-government school sectors and the maintenance of standards in existing schools affected by new schools, this more comprehensive approach to planning to replace the previous mechanisms for assessing 'impact' on a school-by-school basis;

general recurrent grants for approved new non-government schools to be based on the general enrolment plan put forward by schools at the time of their approval;

priorities for the determination of both general recurrent and capital assistance for new non-government schools to be established against four broad categories of 'priorities';

the establishment of State level bodies to advise the Commonwealth on relative priorities;

the consideration of annual budget allocations for new non-government schools and their relative priorities; and

schools generally to be advised of provisional approval for assistance some 12 months before opening. Schools opening in 1986 to be advised by about September 1985.

These new policies are an important element in the Commonwealth's overall approach to the provision of a firm basis for proper educational planning. They are also consistent with the need to make the best use of available resources, against the background of strong demand for schooling arising from increased secondary participation and enrolment shifts, and for technical and further education and for higher education places.

The panel has also observed that the educational and financial effects of unplanned expansion of new places in existing schools are similar to those arising from the unplanned development of new schools. At some future stage, the Government will consider the most appropriate way to accommodate to the planned educational provision significant increases in new places in existing schools which fall outside the Government's policy of increasing retention rates.

As the panel points out, a dual system of schooling requires the development of co-operative arrangements among all the funding partners. The States are substantially involved in the overall process: They are responsible for planning new government schools and for registering new non-government schools. In most States, interest subsidies on loans for building projects, along with per capita grants, have been a significant factor in assisting new non-government schools. However, as the panel has demonstrated, there is now a need to upgrade the planning process, and a most important part of this will be greater involvement and co-operation from the States, as well as the non-government schools authorities.

I will be taking up with State Ministers for Education the early establishment of State level bodies, with procedures and structures to reflect the particular needs and circumstances of the different States and Territories. Once these are in place, the new processes can be implemented. There will be early action taken to implement transitional administrative arrangements for applications for proposed 1986 school openings.

The consequential changes to the States grants schools assistance legislation will be introduced as soon as possible. These initiatives will complement the Government's other policies for schools which were announced in the guidelines last year by ensuring the planned development of the dual system of schooling in Australia in the context of the educational needs of all Australian children.