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Wednesday, 10 March 2004
Page: 26369

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (9:01 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The government is committed to achieving the best education outcomes for male and female school students throughout Australia.

The Sex Discrimination Amendment (Teaching Profession) Bill 2004 is directed at that end.

The fact is that education outcomes for boys are falling behind education outcomes for girls in Australia.

In fact, boys on average are achieving at significantly lower levels than girls in all areas of the assessed cognitive curriculum from early primary to late secondary school in Australia.

A House of Representatives inquiry report into the education of boys in June 2003, entitled Boys: getting it right, examined the problems particular to the education of boys.

It identified as a significant problem the imbalance in the number of male and female teachers in schools, in particular in primary schools, in Australia.

The figures speak for themselves.

Only 20.9 percent of primary school teachers in Australia are men.

The problem is only getting worse.

In 2003, male teachers constituted 24 per cent of the 55,577 domestic students enrolled in initial teaching courses in Australia.

Males were only 18.8 percent of students training to become primary school teachers.

A mere 3.6 percent of the 7,115 students training to become early childhood teachers in Australia were men.

Research shows that teaching is not an attractive career option for men for reasons including concerns about salary and the perception of a risk of allegations of abusing children in schools.

This bill amends the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to provide that a person may offer scholarships for persons of a particular gender in respect of participation in a teaching course.

The section would apply only if the purpose of doing so is to redress a gender imbalance in teaching—that is, an imbalance in the ratio of male to female teachers in schools in Australia or in a category of schools or in a particular school.

This bill means that educational authorities and others can offer scholarships to encourage male teachers into the profession in a manner consistent with the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

The bill is drafted in gender-neutral language, which means that the amendments would allow discrimination in favour of females if a gender imbalance in favour of males were to emerge generally or in a region or sector.

The government's acknowledgement of the importance of both men and women in teaching in our society, and the government's commitment to encouraging men into the profession, will help to change people's perceptions about the role of men in the profession in the future.

The government believes that addressing the imbalance in the number of male and female teachers in the profession is important in providing students with both male and female role models in schools.

The imbalance in the number of male and female teachers in schools, in particular in pre-schools and primary schools, means that boys and girls are without enough male role models in schools.

This has a detrimental impact on education outcomes for boys.

This bill is a vital measure for addressing the existing gender imbalance in the profession.

Students throughout Australia will benefit from having both male and female role models in the teaching profession.

This bill complements the government's other major strategies for addressing the particular challenge of increasing education outcomes for boys, including:

Boys' education is a priority area for the $159.2 million Australian Government Quality Teacher Programme.

This includes $6 million committed to the Boys' Education Lighthouse Schools Programme to identify best practice in boys' education, with a further $500,000 committed to research.

I commend this bill to the House and I present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Ms Roxon) adjourned.