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Thursday, 23 October 2008
Page: 4


Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (9:22 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Introductory remarks

It gives me great pleasure to present theAustralian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Bill 2008. This bill is yet another illustration of how this government is getting on with the job of delivering an education revolution to Australia.

This government knows that a world-class education system is the foundation of a competitive economy, that it underpins a dynamic labour market and that it is central to building a stronger and fairer Australia.

Over the last 12 years, under the Howard government, our education system has been allowed to fall behind. It has suffered more than a decade of neglect.

In the May budget, this government committed an unprecedented $19.3 billion to an education revolution; we have started rebuilding a modern, high quality education system for all Australians.

We are delivering computers to schools and new trade training centres are also on their way.

Our education tax refund is available to parents for educational expenses incurred since July this year.

This bill builds on this government’s achievements so far.

In less than one year in government we have begun to transform the Australian education landscape.

This bill, by creating a new national authority responsible for curriculum, assessment and reporting, introduces a new era of transparency and quality in Australian schools.

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority

During the 2007 election we promised that a Rudd Labor government would deliver a national curriculum for Australia. We promised that a Rudd government would deliver a comprehensive and sophisticated approach to performance reporting for individual schools across Australia.

Now we are delivering on what we promised.

In the past, education policy in this country has been dogged by a lack of transparency. Information about what happens in schools and what difference it is making has been seriously lacking.

In a world where education is central to prosperity and to social inclusion, being limited to such an opaque picture is not acceptable.

We cannot afford for our educational debates to ignore the fundamental issues of quality and outcome that will determine our young people’s future life chances.

But this was the reality of education policy under the Howard government. Its funding policies polarised debate and neglected the long-term needs of students. Its curriculum posturing generated more heat than light. It was all about publicity for Liberal ministers rather than what children learn. Its coordinating structures failed to bring either coherence or efficiency to the regulation of schooling or the management of essential business between governments.

In contrast, this government has built the foundations of a comprehensive, long-term school reform strategy.

A national education agreement will be concluded through COAG before the end of this year. This agreement will establish for the first time the shared national targets, outcomes and policy directions that we need to achieve a world-class school system serving the needs of every Australian student.

The national education agreement will provide the framework for ongoing, collaborative reform.

Its priorities include proposals for national partnerships to lift teacher quality, boost literacy and numeracy and raise achievement in disadvantaged school communities.

Our ambition is to deliver a world-class education for every Australian student in every community.

To achieve that goal, we need curriculum, assessment and reporting systems that are up to the task.

A new era of transparency

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister and I called for a new era of transparency in Australian schooling.

We argued that to lift performance and direct new resources to where they will make most difference, we need unprecedented rigour and openness in the collection and publication of schools data.

If we are to identify accurately where the greatest educational need across the Australian community is located and encourage excellence in every school, we need a basis for fair, consistent, and accurate analysis of how different schools are doing.

Accurate information on how students and schools are performing tells teachers, principals, parents and governments what needs to be done.

This means publishing the performance of individual schools, along with information that puts that data in its proper context. That context includes information about the range of student backgrounds served by a school and its performance when compared against other ‘like schools’ serving similar student populations.

In a world-class school system curriculum, assessment and performance reporting all play a crucial role in ensuring that teaching and learning are of the highest quality. They must be carefully aligned with each other and reflect the best of what happens in Australian schools and around the world.

This bill will establish a single national authority to perform that role.

This bill marks a defining moment in the future of education in Australia. A defining moment that we could have only achieved by working closely with our colleagues in the states and territories to end the blame game in education.

It is with pride that I acknowledge the role of the state and territory education ministers who have worked with me through the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs to achieve this reform.

This is collaborative federalism at its best.

The creation of this new authority gives effect to the Council of Australian Governments’ historic decision on 2 October 2008 to establish a new national education authority.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority will bring together, for the first time, the functions of curriculum, assessment and reporting at the national level.

It will be a key driver of the education revolution.

It demonstrates to parents, students, teachers and the international community how committed we are to ensuring that every young Australian has the best possible start in life.

It places education at the forefront of the national agenda—a place where it has not been for 12 long years.

As part of our commitment, the Australian government is committing more than $37 million over the next four years to support the work of the new authority. This commitment will be matched through existing contributions made by the states and territories.

Detail on provisions of bill

This bill establishes the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority as an independent statutory authority under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997.

The bill includes provisions to ensure that state and territory education ministers’ responsibility for curriculum arrangements in their own jurisdictions is recognised and respected and that non-government school systems are participants in the new national arrangements.

The authority will be responsible for the management of curriculum, assessment and reporting at the national level and will report to all Australian education ministers through the ministerial council.

The ministerial council will be responsible for setting the authority’s work program through a charter. The authority must perform its functions and exercise its powers in accordance with the bill and the charter.

The bill provides for the authority’s core functions across the areas of curriculum, assessment and reporting as well as the ability to operate commercially with regard to educational services.

The authority will be led by a 13-member expert board of directors, responsible for overseeing the functions of the authority. Membership will include a chair, a deputy chair, one nominee from the Commonwealth, one nominee each from each state and territory education minister, one nominee from the National Catholic Education Commission and one nominee from the Independent Schools Council of Australia.

These appointments will be made by the ministerial council.

There will also be a chief executive officer of the authority, appointed by the board, responsible for overseeing the day-to-day management of the authority.

The authority will be responsible for delivering Australia’s first national curriculum and the new transparency and performance reporting agenda announced by the Prime Minister last month.

National curriculum benefits

In developing a single national curriculum, the authority will ensure that every young Australian has access to the highest quality education—regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic background.

The national curriculum will outline the curriculum entitlement for every young Australian.

This is something that I believe is 30 years overdue for a modern, talented and resource rich country, such as Australia.

We must ensure that all Australian children achieve their educational potential, and that more of them complete schooling through to year 12.

The new national curriculum will be future oriented and will equip our young people with the essential skills, knowledge and capabilities to compete internationally and thrive in the globalised economies of the future.

It will also facilitate greater student mobility for some 340,000 Australians, including for some 80,000 school aged students who move interstate each year in pursuit of educational or employment opportunities.

A national curriculum will benefit teachers by giving them a clear understanding of what needs to be covered in each subject and in each year level during each phase of schooling. It will also allow teachers the flexibility to shape their classes around the curriculum in a way that is meaningful and engaging for students.

The national curriculum will also bring benefits to parents. It will give them clear and explicit agreement about what it is that young people should know and be able to do. It will be grounded in the best of the traditional disciplines and will have as its foundation specific standards of literacy and numeracy.

Earlier this year, this government announced the establishment of an interim National Curriculum Board with responsibility for overseeing the challenging task of developing the national curriculum.

The interim board, led by Professor Barry McGaw as chair and Mr Tony Mackay as deputy chair, have been working very hard to engage the education community in developing Australia’s first national curriculum in English, mathematics, the sciences and history.

And they have been doing an excellent job. I would like to commend the interim board members for their efforts and energy in taking the work this far.

The work of the National Curriculum Board will now form part of this new authority and we will work with the board to ensure that there is a considered transition strategy put in place to effect this transfer of responsibilities.

As part of our election commitment, we are committed to establishing the final governance arrangements for the board by 1 January 2009.

Today, we deliver on that commitment.

Concluding remarks

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority will be at the forefront of the Australian government’s commitment to provide all young Australians with better opportunities and the best start in life.

It will be the engine room of reform, a key driver of our education revolution.

It will be responsible for delivering some of the most significant educational reforms in Australia’s history.

It heralds a new era in education across Australia. And it places education at the forefront of the national agenda where it rightfully belongs. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Pyne) adjourned.