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Monday, 21 March 2011
Page: 2398

Mrs ANDREWS (12:44 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011. This bill seeks to amend the Schools Assistance Act 2008 to extend the existing funding arrangements, including recurrent funding arrangements until the end of 2013 and grants for capital expenditure until the end of 2014, for non-government schools. I begin by putting on the record what I believe is the importance of education. Education is a process of imparting skills and knowledge. It provides access to information and the opportunity to acquire deeper knowledge. It enables and extends practical experience and interacts with technology to enhance productivity. From preschool kids to adult learners, participants in education have greater opportunities to build their self-awareness and confidence. Education helps to develop resilience and to secure a stable family income. Education is a building block of innovation—it inspires creativity and enlivens passion. Education connects our community and helps us build a better world for the next generations.

The Gold Coast, where I come from, is fast becoming an education city. In my electorate of McPherson on the southern Gold Coast, we have two universities. At the southern end of the electorate we have Southern Cross University and in the north of the electorate we have Bond University. We have TAFE facilities and several training colleges, including some that are privately owned and operated. We also have over 30 schools, including the private schools and faith based schools of Somerset College, Marymount College, Marymount Primary School, St Andrews Lutheran College, St Augustine’s Parish Primary School, St Vincent’s Catholic Parish Primary School, Kings Christian College, Hillcrest Christian College, Gold Coast Christian College and All Saints Anglican School.

I consult widely with principals, teachers and parents throughout the electorate, and a couple of issues are consistently raised. Firstly, parents want a choice of schools for their children. Secondly, they want the opportunity to send their children to an independent school and not to be penalised by the government for making that choice. As I have indicated already, there is a significant number of independent and faith based schools in my electorate, and parents appreciate having the choice of sending their children to those schools. Many of the independent and faith based schools have significant waiting lists, and this demonstrates that there is a strong demand for independent and faith based education on the Gold Coast, particularly on the southern Gold Coast.

I take this opportunity to speak about one of the schools in my electorate, St Andrews Lutheran College. I recently had the opportunity to speak to the principal, Mr Tim Kotzur. Whilst our initial discussion was regarding the Ride2School program, we also spoke about funding arrangements for independent and faith based schools. Mr Kotzur subsequently wrote to me specifically about the issues that were relevant to St Andrews. By way of background, St Andrews is a prep-to-year-12 coeducational school providing Christian education in the Tallebudgera and Burleigh areas of the Gold Coast. Since its establishment in 1993, the school has grown rapidly to a stage where it now educates approximately 1,100 students. St Andrews comprises three subschools: a junior school, which is for prep to year 6; a middle school, which is for years 7 to 9; and a senior school, which is for years 10 to 12.

The junior school, using the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme—the PYP—as its framework, places a strong emphasis on developing both the fundamentals of numeracy and literacy and higher-order inquiry skills. The middle school has a diverse vertical electives programme, and year 9 students experience an extended outdoor education and service-learning program. Senior school students select a pathway that reflects their academic and vocational needs and provides what is most appropriate to their postschool aspirations. Information and communication technologies are integrated across the curriculum for all year levels.

St Andrews values a holistic approach and encourages students to develop values that enrich the intellect, nurture the spirit, develop social responsibility and create healthy lifestyles. It is a school that seeks to provide an environment where each student is valued and is challenged to discover, develop and use their unique gifts and abilities for personal growth and service to others.

St Andrews, like other faith based and independent schools, strives to keep its fees accessible to the families in the community. Ninety per cent of the St Andrews families come from the local area. To continue to provide affordable, accessible quality education, St Andrews and other non-government schools need stable and guaranteed funding to enable them to financially plan for the future. All students, regardless of where they are educated, should receive a basic funding entitlement. Providing for the education of all Australian students is a fundamental responsibility of a democratically elected government, as it ensures that all Australian students have the opportunity to be educated to recognised standards and to world’s best practice. Parents with children attending St Andrews and other independent schools maintain their effort in contributing to the education of their children, and I congratulate them for continuing to do so.

Access to capital funding to plan for new buildings and facilities and to refurbish current ones is also required if the faith based and independent schools are to continue to provide excellence in education. I commend St Andrews Lutheran College on its strong academic, sporting and extracurricular records and look forward to assisting them, along with many other schools in my electorate of McPherson, in the future.

The population of South-East Queensland has been growing rapidly in recent years, not just from births but also from former residents of the southern states relocating for the lifestyle offered, particularly by the Gold Coast. Many of those relocating are families with school-age children, some of whom who have already started school in Victoria or New South Wales. As these families assess which school would be most appropriate for their child, they deserve certainty from the government.

A school student’s education can well last 13 years. The attitudes of the Gillard government and the minister do not just offer uncertainty to the sector but to the parents and students. This bill extends the funding arrangements for schools based on the previous coalition government’s socioeconomic status, or SES, funding model, and I support it. The SES funding model is vastly superior, despite the Prime Minister’s previous criticism of this more equitable and fair model in comparison to the previous Labor government’s Educational Resources Index. The Prime Minister is on the record claiming this model is ‘flawed and unworkable’, which of course has partly contributed to the uncertainty surrounding in particular the non-government education sector. I note that the minister for education initially refused to confirm the SES model would be extended through to 2012, contributing to the problem.

This bill extends the arrangements until 2013. While this is only two years away, at the very least there is some element of certainty extended to the sector through this bill, despite the Gillard government’s dubious support to this approach in the long term. As this bill today only extends the funding for two years, and this is done in recognition of an election promise the Prime Minister made under pressure, parents would be asking themselves: ‘We can afford to send our children to this particular school for now, with the current fees and in acknowledgement of increases in fees vaguely in line with inflation, but will we be able to continue to send our children here until they graduate?’

A four-year funding agreement for a non-government school can be $1.3 billion. If this funding were stripped out of our schools, some would have no choice but to raise fees in order to maintain the quality of their facilities and the education they provide. This model does not take into account school resources or fees, which raises concerns regarding the government’s motivation behind the recent additions to the MySchool website. We know, historically, that the Labor Party has been critical of non-government school funding, arguing that this funding reduces the funding available for government schools while ignoring the fact that the bulk of this funding comes from the states. The small concession to parents, students and schools offered through this bill does not offer the full certainty they require. I call on the government to commit to take any alternative model they may introduce that will rip funds out of our non-government schools to an election so that the electors can make up their minds whether it deserves support.

Because the SES model distributes according to need, the schools serving our communities in most need of assistance receive the greatest assistance. In the electorate of McPherson this will be schools at the south of the electorate, including St Andrews Lutheran College. What this means in practice is that parents, irrespective of their income levels, have a realistic opportunity to decide the most appropriate schooling for their child, including independent or faith based education. In addition, it creates incentives for non-government schools to branch out and assist students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds as there will be a financial benefit.

As has already been stated, the most seemingly well-equipped schools have student populations that are not necessarily comprised of our most economically advantaged students. Many parents make enormous sacrifices to send their children to the school of their choice, and their choices in this regard can be shaped by a variety of factors. It could be that their child has a talent for music or sport and the school of their choice offers special programs in these areas that are not offered by their local state school. It could be that, due to behavioural or learning difficulties of a student, the parents select a non-government school which offers programs that they believe will make a long-lasting difference to their child. Additionally, we should support parents who wish for their child to receive a religious education at a religious school in the spirit of acknowledging the importance of choice and religious freedom. It must also be acknowledged that many of our so-called advantaged schools supply numerous scholarships and assistance for underprivileged students, and this model encourages this behaviour to continue.

Schools are not discouraged from fundraising through the SES model. Of course, school communities should be encouraged to support their own schools through fundraising. Indeed, there are not only financial benefits available in this regard. Fetes, working bees, fundraising committees and school events all add to the sense of a true school community and build relationships between parents, and all of this has a flow-on effect that is positive for the students.

I support this bill and support the SES funding model as a superior model. The SES model encourages choice, acknowledges that non-government schools deserve support and sensibly distributes Commonwealth education funding. It encourages positive behaviours by schools and parents and it ensures that those schools that nurture our most disadvantaged receive the most support. It is on that basis that I support the bill.