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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17211

Mr PEARCE (5:00 PM) —It is time for action on school education reform. It is unbelievable that, in 2003, there are different school education practices in every state and territory of Australia. For many years, there has been occasional debate around Australia about the introduction of a national school education framework with uniform grade structures and consistent curricula across all states and territories. As Commonwealth, state and territory education ministers come together next month in Perth, it is clear that the time has come for this issue to be resolved for the benefit of our children and future generations.

Currently, Australian children in each respective state and territory are graded, educated and assessed in completely different ways. The question that has to be asked is `Why?' A key reason is the historical unwillingness of state and territory governments, together with the Commonwealth, to forget parochial and political differences and to actually sit down around a table and work collaboratively on an agreed framework to deliver best practice school education for all Australian children.

As we continually work towards improving educational opportunities and outcomes for young Australians, it is important to consider the practical impact of state and territory differences on the education of our children. Consider a six-year-old child in their third year of schooling whose family moves from Tasmania to, say, Western Australia. Differences in the respective starting ages for schoolchildren provide the child's parents with a quandary. Should the child be enrolled in year 3 in Western Australia with significantly older classmates or be enrolled with children of a similar age group and return to year 1. Regardless of the decision made, the child would be confronted with a markedly different syllabus, creating, in effect, an impediment to that child's educational progress. Even attempting to time the move in the best educational interests of the child is difficult, because parents are faced with different school term dates, with terms starting and stopping at different times from state to state.

There are many reasons why children in Australia would benefit from a homogeneous school education framework. As an island nation that does not share its borders with any foreign entity, Australia has the great advantage and capability of being able to hold and share many common interests, values and beliefs across the entire nation. A national education framework would enable more young Australians to learn more about and celebrate these national bonds—and enable them to more coherently work together toward building our national future.

The ever-increasing trend of globalisation, which is due largely to lifestyle changes, advancements in communications and technological innovations, means that Australians are living in a borderless community. This is marked more and more by frequent travel—whether that be permanent or temporary—within Australia or overseas. Our education framework needs to recognise and facilitate this reality and ensure that our children are equipped with the necessary skills to compete in an increasingly global environment.

With the continual drive to secure improved resourcing for our children's education, there is potential for a huge boost in financial resources available to schools as a result of cost savings and operational efficiencies that could be gained through introducing a national schooling framework. Today, throughout Australia, there exists an extraordinary level of duplication in many areas of education administration. This includes such areas as curriculum development and planning, school benchmarking and general organisational responsibilities. These resources could be reallocated into providing more educational resources for students in the classroom and securing better conditions for teachers.

A national framework, particularly in the area of curriculum design and implementation, would provide two further substantial benefits. It would allow decision makers to measure, monitor, review and benchmark on a nationally consistent basis what works and what does not work in school classrooms throughout the country. Today it is almost impossible to compare and evaluate schooling across the country on almost any measurement. This is because consistent and reliable data is not available from the states and territories, due to the various frameworks being so diametrically diverse. Comparison of results nationally would increase the level of accountability to parents in ensuring that their children are provided with the best possible educational outcomes. As the example of the new literacy and numeracy benchmarks has shown, the increased availability of data from monitoring benchmarks provides an important focus for the improvement of school programs.

This national approach would enable the development of a best practice curriculum based on hard evidence that would help ensure all Australian children receive an education that is proven and measurable. A national collaborative approach to education would mean that the process of developing education itself would be improved. The process could draw on and build from the pick of the crop at the state and territory level for contributing expertise, sharing learning, articulating best practice and bringing about new and visionary developments. It would also, in my view, provide improved outcomes.

Critics argue that a national education framework would reduce diversity, but I challenge that view. I believe that a national pool of ideas, drawn together by the introduction of a national framework, would be far more diverse than the frameworks the states or territories currently have at their disposal. I believe it would encourage diversity.

A national education framework would deliver greater fairness and equity for Australian students in the recognition of their academic achievements, particularly when they are being considered for entry into further study. National assessment standards would mean that school leavers would have more flexibility and greater opportunity in their future options because they could be more equitably considered alongside local students when applying for courses outside their home state or territory.

It is not just students but also teachers who are mobile. A more consistent recognition of competence and experience would assist teachers who move between the different states and territories. It would help reduce the substantial new learning and briefing currently faced by teachers when they move states or territories. For all teachers, a national education framework would provide a greater opportunity to engender a sense of shared purpose. This would help to raise the profession even further in the eyes of not just the teaching fraternity but also the whole community. It would also facilitate shared teaching approaches that would mean improved teacher effectiveness and teacher education. It would enable universities and other organisations to develop teacher education programs that were, at least in part, consistent for all Australian students.

A national education framework would also provide a tremendous opportunity to engage more people in the education process, particularly in the design of the curriculum. In particular, I believe that it would provide an important avenue for students and parents to become intensely involved in shaping the future of Australian education. This is an area that I feel is vitally important for the ongoing relevance of Australian education, especially to the children themselves.

Above all, in light of the reality of increasing family mobility, decision makers should overwhelmingly embrace a move toward a national school education because it would significantly reduce the current disadvantages faced by young Australians who move between the different state and territory education practices. It would also provide a greater sense of confidence to students moving schools and to their parents that their new school shared the same intentions and goals as their old school.

To see the potential benefits of a national education framework, one only needs to consider the success of the introduction of the national literacy and numeracy benchmarks. The motivation for a nationally consistent school education framework is not about parochial interests, politics or individual educational agendas. It is all about the best interests of our most precious resource: the children of today and the children of tomorrow. (Time expired)