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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4753


Ms LIVERMORE (Capricornia) (12:36): I am very happy to stand on this side of the parliament and support the Australian Education Bill 2012. One of my favourite things to do as a local member is to visit and spend time at schools in my electorate. Whether it is standing in a classroom and talking to students about the parliament, attending a musical performance, celebrating the induction of new school leaders or congratulating students as they graduate, it is always a pleasure and an important insight into the challenges and possibilities of our education system.

The most obvious observation to make as I take part in those activities is the differences between schools, and the differences within schools. In the space of a week I might be at Mistake Creek State School, which is an hour's drive on a dirt road from the nearest town, with just a handful of students, and at Lakes Creek State School in Rockhampton, where the children of migrant meatworkers get the help they need to learn English. We also have the Rockhampton Grammar School, a P-to-12 boarding school renowned for its academic and sporting achievements. Then there is the Hall State School, which has a high proportion of students with special needs and which engages staff and students alike with an award-winning environmental education program. And, of course, there is Crescent Lagoon State School—the school my children attend and the one that I know as a parent rather than as an MP. This small snapshot of schools, which would be familiar to MPs right across the country, goes to illustrate that we ask a lot of our education system to meet the needs of students from vastly different places and backgrounds, and to overcome disparities in size, remoteness and so many other factors.

With so much at stake for individual students and our national wellbeing and prosperity, we need to know that our education systems in Australia can deliver on our expectations and the demands of the global economy. This is especially the case at this time of transition. Australia is on the threshold of a new era of prosperity, but we cannot assume that it will look like those times that have gone before. As set out in the Australia in the Asian century white paper, and core to the government's policy agenda, there is the promise of opportunities ahead of us, but not a guarantee.

Our future is not predetermined. It will be the product of how successful we are at converting our current advantages into the human capacity, adaptability and innovation that will be the currency we will need to prosper in the coming century. All those things start with education, and that is why the bill we are debating today is so important. It is important because it says to the community that this government gets it. We understand that our education system is not meeting the needs of today's students, let alone the generations that will be making their way in the world beyond this time of mining-generated wealth.

Not one of us can afford to ignore the results of international tests and comparisons that show Australia is failing to keep up with the educational achievements of our neighbours and competitors.

Over the past decade the PISA exams—the Program of International Student Assessment—coordinated by the OECD has shown an alarming drop in the comparative performance of Australian students. For example, in that period Australian students have fallen from second to seventh in reading and from fifth to 13th in maths. Another similar statistic that has been quoted often in this debate is that in test results released at the end of last year it was shown that Australian year-4 students were significantly outperformed in reading literacy by 21 countries out of the 45 that took part in the testing.

This government came to office with education as one of its key priorities and we have backed that up with investments to improve teaching and learning, as well as significant upgrading of school infrastructure. The international ranking results I have just quoted, however, demand an even greater national effort aimed at giving Australian students the education they need to secure their place in the world. The question is: what should that greater effort look like? This government understands that for each student to truly get what he or she needs from education and to truly realise their potential we need to do more than simply add more funding to the existing system to do more of what it currently does. Instead, we need a new funding framework built on a set of explicit principles and goals so that we can be sure of getting the maximum value for every extra dollar spent on education.

The Australian Education Bill 2012 lays out the legislative framework which will deliver more funding and resources to every school as part of the implementation of the National Plan for School Improvement, also enshrined within this bill. The purpose of this bill is made very clear in its preamble and it is something I fully subscribe to and wholeheartedly support:

All students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education, allowing each student to reach his or her full potential so that he or she can succeed and contribute fully to his or her community, now and in the future.

The quality of a student’s education should not be limited by where the student lives, the income of his or her family, the school he or she attends, or his or her personal circumstances.

The quality of education should not be limited by a school’s location, particularly those schools in regional Australia.

…   …   …

… future arrangements will be based on the needs of Australian schools and school students, and on evidence of how to provide an excellent education for school students. These arrangements will build on successful reforms to date.

These are all important statements of the value this government and, one would hope, this parliament places on education and its role in the lives of individual Australians and the prospects of our nation. They should not, however, come as a surprise to anyone because the words in this bill actually reflect the substance of Labor's education policy and programs since we came to office in 2007. In her second reading speech when this bill was introduced to the parliament the Prime Minister outlined the path we have been on, step by step putting in place the foundations for this significant and necessary reform of school education.

We knew when we came to power in 2007 that reform had to be built on evidence of what is happening in schools right now—which students go to which schools; what are the indicators of success or disadvantage within a school population; what is a school contributing to the educational performance of its students and how does that compare to other schools; and, which schools are successful in meeting the needs of their students and getting the best out of them? We could not answer those questions when we first came to government in 2007. So we set about the task of answering those questions and building an education system for the future. My School was developed to gather the information that could answer those questions and guide appropriate responses.

Over the same period our government has made massive investments in delivering extra resources into schools through national partnerships with states and other schooling systems. Schools put those resources to work in new approaches and programs to address poor literacy and numeracy, to lift the quality of teaching and to overcome disadvantage experienced by low-SES students. Using the data from My School and other measures we have worked to identify what works in schools. We can identify the elements of success and where more support is needed if those results are to be achieved in each and every school.

The Gonski review has confirmed that more support, more funding, is needed if we are to replicate the lift in standards and educational results seen in those National Partnership schools around the country. The Gonski review went further in recommending important new characteristics of school funding. Those characteristics are central to the fundamental reform of school funding that this government is committed to and they are given legislative force in this bill. The bill provides assurance that the Commonwealth will introduce a needs-based funding model for future Commonwealth funding. That funding will be provided on the basis of a schooling resource standard which will provide a base amount for all students, according to a formula that accounts for the costs associated with providing a high-quality education and additional loadings that address the costs associated with educational disadvantage. So schools will get the funding they need to meet the needs of their individual students, whether those students face disadvantage because they come to school with a disability or they attend a small, remote school or they experience other barriers linked to lower educational attainment. The Prime Minister explains in her speech that the schooling resource standard will be based on what it costs to educate a student at schools we know already get strong results.

I am proud to say that at least one of those benchmark schools is in my electorate of Capricornia, and it is the evidence I have seen at that school that makes me such a strong supporter of the Gonski model and this bill. Berserker Street State School has been on a remarkable journey in the time I have been the local member and especially since this government came to power. Most of that improvement in transformation has occurred since the special needs of the school's students and community were recognised and the school was allocated significant extra funding as part of the national partnership for low SES schools. Under the leadership of the Berserker principal, Rebecca Hack, and with the help of those extra resources, the school has been able to employ additional staff to support programs in literacy, numeracy and Indigenous engagement as well as special staff such as a social worker. There has been room in the budget for innovative teaching programs, including targeted diagnostic screening for things like oral-language skills and professional development for teachers and teachers' aides.

I have probably spoken about it in the House before but it would be no surprise to members to know that I have visited Berserker Street State School many times and seen for myself the commitment of the staff and the way students are responding to the efforts that are made to meet their individual educational and personal needs. You can actually sense the focus, engagement and enthusiasm of the students as you move from class to class, and I have got to say that it is not something I could have said about Berserker school 10 or 12 years ago. I visited the school just in the last couple of months with Senator Jacinta Collins and during that visit we were both invited to sit-in on a grade 1 reading group. A number of students jumped up to read aloud to us and one in particular, named Josh, was put on the spot and asked to read to us while being filmed for the local news bulletin and photographed by the local newspaper photographer. Josh did not skip a beat and he confidently treated us to a couple of pages of the book he was reading. It was only later that his proud teacher pulled us aside and told us that when Josh started prep a year earlier he had been identified as having almost no oral language skills, to the point where he could only put one or two words together. Poor oral-language skills are closely linked to difficulties in learning to read.

The support and specialised interventions that Berserker has had the resources to provide, thanks to its extra funding, have resulted in the progress we saw that day and the people of Rockhampton saw that night when Josh read to all of them on the evening news. This is all reflected more broadly in Berserker's data and is the reason that Berserker is amongst those excellent schools identified to formulate the schooling resource standard. Berserker school is the schooling resource standard and the national plan for school improvement in action and the results are truly inspirational. The point of the Berserker example is that every school needs to be resourced to respond to its students' needs and the community's expectations.

I have given that example because it means that we have seen in Rockhampton what can be achieved with extra investment in schools towards lifting standards of leadership, teaching and learning.

I was very disappointed to see today that the Premier of Queensland is rejecting the federal government's offer of the extra investment that has seen those results achieved at schools like Berserker, and others in my electorate and right around Queensland. Instead, what is being offered by the Queensland government—if it fails to sign up to the national school improvement plan, and if we go into the next election without the national school improvement plan having passed through this parliament and being on its way to being implemented as the funding model for Australian schools—will see cuts to schools in the state of Queensland, cuts to each and every school, at a time when there needs to be more investment in education.

Every student deserves to have an excellent education. These have always been core Labor beliefs, but now they are also national imperatives. That is why this bill commits the government to goals for the excellence, equity and international competitiveness of our schooling system and sets the framework for school funding to achieve those goals. I commend the bill to the House.