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Wednesday, 23 May 2007
Page: 2

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Minister for Education, Science and Training and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the bill is to amend the Schools Assistance (Learning Together—Achievement Through Choice and Opportunity) Act 2004 (the act). Through this legislation the Australian government provides significant funding to support government and non-government schools.

Over 2005-08, a record $33 billion will be provided by the Australian government for schools across Australia. The Howard government believes that through this investment of taxpayer funds parents can be assured that their children will have a greater opportunity to receive a quality education by high-quality teachers in a high-quality environment, regardless of the location of the school they attend or whether it is a government or a non-government school.

The Howard government is boosting this significant investment by delivering more than $843 million over four years to schools through the Realising Our Potential package announced as part of the Australian government’s 2007-08 budget package.

The total schools budget will provide over $9.7 billion for the 2007-08 financial year, bringing the Howard government’s total increase in school funding since coming to office in 1996 to 172 per cent. Around 3.4 million students from over 9,600 schools and school communities across Australia will benefit from the range of significant educational initiatives.

This amendment bill will implement two important budget measures for schools.

This bill will provide funding of $121.1 million for regional and remote non-government schools in addition to current funding. Students in more than 400 regional and remote non-government schools will be supported to achieve better educational outcomes for their students.

A loading provided to non-government regional and remote schools recognises the higher cost of delivering schooling in regional and remote Australia. Schools will be able to direct the increased funding to improve the educational opportunities for students in these regions. The Howard government recognises the unique hardships regional and remote schools face, and these funds will enable those schools to target the areas that most seriously affect their capacity to enhance educational outcomes for their students.

Student achievement against the national literacy and numeracy benchmarks shows that students in non-metropolitan areas of Australia achieve well below the level of their peers in metropolitan regions. By providing additional funding to these schools they will be provided with the means to afford greater support to their most educationally disadvantaged students. The funding could be directed to additional resources, attracting quality teachers, increasing staff retention, improving ICT facilities or improving teacher access to professional development

This additional funding will be provided in the form of a loading in addition to general recurrent funding provided by the Australian government. Eligibility for the loading will be determined using a remoteness classification as defined in the remoteness structure under the Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Standard Geographical Classification and according to the remoteness of the census collection district in which the school campus is located. The delimitation criteria for remoteness areas are based on the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA).

Non-government schools, or campuses of schools, located within areas classified as ‘moderately accessible’, ‘remote’ or ‘very remote’ will receive an additional five per cent, 10 per cent or 20 per cent respectively of the funding entitlement associated with their socioeconomic status score. This additional funding will be available for schools from 1 January 2008.

It is time that all governments recognised that regional communities face unique hardships and need assistance through the provision of funding where it is most needed. State government schools will also benefit as the Howard government, as part of the next schools funding agreement, will require state and territory governments to provide an equivalent increase in funding for their regional and remote government schools from 2009.

The Howard government will continue to invest in young Australians in regional and remote areas to ensure all students, no matter where they go to school, receive the educational outcomes we expect for all students.

The second bill measure implements a humanitarian settlement initiative. The bill will provide increased per capita funding to assist with intensive English as a second language tuition for students entering Australia under the humanitarian program. Through this measure, an additional $127.8 million will be committed over the next four years to demonstrate the Howard government’s commitment to supporting newly arrived humanitarian entrants and acknowledges that English proficiency is a vital aspect of successful settlement. The budget initiative will double the per capita rate of funding paid to government and non-government education authorities for students in primary and secondary schools who enter Australia on a humanitarian visa. It builds on the success of the existing English as a Second Language—New Arrivals Program, which last year provided assistance for about 13,000 eligible primary and secondary students around Australia, including more than 5,000 humanitarian entrant students nationally.

For humanitarian entrants in Australian primary and secondary schools, intensive support to improve English language skills is one of the best ways to improve the educational outcomes and future employability so that they can participate more broadly in Australian society.

The Realising Our Potential package as announced in the budget will ensure that the Australian education system better meets the needs of students and the expectations of parents, enabling them to prosper economically and socially in a global environment. It will improve quality, ensure consistency and assist students falling behind in the fundamental areas of literacy and numeracy.

The Realising our Potential budget package also includes:

  • the National Literacy and Numeracy Vouchers program, which will provide assistance to parents of students who have not achieved minimum literacy or numeracy standards in years 3, 5, 7 and 9;
  • a new Australian Government Summer Schools for Teachers program, offering our best teachers more professional development with upskilling in important areas such as literacy and numeracy, maths, science, English and Australian history;
  • grants for schools of up to $50,000 under the Rewarding Schools for Improving Literacy and Numeracy Outcomes initiative;
  • the Improving the Practical Component of Teacher Education initiative, to ensure the practical experience of student teachers is of high quality and sufficient length to prepare teachers for the classroom;
  • a new pilot program to trial the use of aptitude tests by universities for assessing year 12 students seeking tertiary entrance each year; and
  • funding to develop core curricula standards in year 10 in a number of core subjects, and in years 11 and 12 in subjects including English, Australian history, biology, chemistry and physics as well as funding for the development of national teacher training and registrations standards.

In addition to the total funding provided for schools in this year’s budget, the Howard government will, from 2009, require that government and non-government education authorities focus on lifting school standards and quality, including through:

  • introducing national teacher training and registration standards to improve the skills of new teachers;
  • including external assessment as part of year 12 certificates and common descriptions of levels of achievement;
  • introducing greater principal autonomy in school management and teacher employment arrangements;
  • introducing performance based pay for teachers to encourage and reward excellent teaching;
  • reporting school and student performance against national benchmarks, including literacy and numeracy results, with school and state comparisons; and
  • encouraging the states and territories to establish more selective high schools.

The Howard government is putting measures in place to ensure all Australian schools focus on improving quality, so that parents can be confident their children will receive a high-quality education and develop the core skills to be successful in their careers or in further education and training. The Realising Our Potential package will drive quality improvements in Australian schooling for all students.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.