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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4768


Ms GRIERSON (Newcastle) (13:22): I rise to speak in support of the Australian Education Bill 2012. Much like the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Broadband Network, the Australian Education Bill is a landmark initiative of this federal Labor government. As a former teacher and principal for 30 years prior to entering parliament, education and the wellbeing of young people is a particular passion of mine as I know it is of yours, Deputy Speaker O'Neill. Gaining knowledge, new insight and experiences are central to the human quest for fulfilment, and our schools play a vital role in prospering that human quest. It is a great privilege to be part of a government that is taking action to strengthen and support that nexus in everyone's lives.

The Australian Education Bill implements federal Labor's National Plan for School Improvement and is core to our education endeavours. This plan is the result of the federal Labor government commissioning in 2010 the review of funding for schooling, headed by David Gonski AC, with the aim to create better schools for our kids. Prior to this Australia had not conducted a thorough review of our schools funding system for 40 years The review team received over 7,000 written submissions, visited 39 schools and met with 70 education groups. The report, therefore, is informed, comprehensive and overall quite critical of our current funding system—one that is inadequate for the 21st century. In my opinion it is not just broken; it is mind-boggling in its complexity and shameful in its ability to be manipulated. In addition, under our current system, the federal indexation is linked to how much states and territories spend on their schools systems each year. As state Liberal governments slash school funding as they have in NSW particularly, Commonwealth funding to every school is impacted. This year, our indexation dropped from 5.9 to 3.9 per cent, which will only worsen. But I am pleased to say New South Wales has now come into the scheme. But it is important to know that, if indexation falls as projected, our schools would have been around $2.1 billion worse off in a few short years.

The review is informing the steps our government needs to take to improve our education system. Our plan requires a multibillion-dollar injection into our national schools education system. Our plan is ambitious; but, in order for our students today to be the global citizens and problem solvers in the Asian century, strong action is required now. It is heartening that the NSW government has officially signed up to the federal government's National Plan for School Improvement, which will deliver an additional $5 billion to New South Wales schools. This will benefit all schools in Newcastle and the Hunter region. Unfortunately, those opposite have committed to scrapping the agreement if they ever gain government, believing that a broken funding system is adequate for the children of Australia.

Regrettably, Australia's performance in international education league tables is in decline. Globally we rank highly in mathematics, science and literacy; however, we also have a wide disparity of up to three full schooling years between our highest achievers and our lowest. World leaders in education such as South Korea, Singapore and Finland show far less inconsistent results amongst peer groups. It is worth noting here that after International Women's Day Australia moved to highest in the world in educational attainment for women. I for one would like that to continue, and I know the extra effort that has been put in to make that so.

The average year 9 student from a struggling family is around two full years behind their peers in the best performing quarter in reading and mathematics. Over the past decade Australia has fallen from second to seventh in reading. We have also fallen from fifth to 13th in mathematics. As countries overtake us, obviously their competitive advantage over Australia increases. Our task is now to ensure that no child's education is neglected and to prepare them for a high-skilled and high-paid employment opportunity that our modern economy will demand.

The Australian Education Bill sets out three broad goals: for our schools to provide an excellent quality of education for all students; for our school system to be equitable; and for our nation to be ranked in the top 5 countries in the world in reading, science and mathematics by the year 2025, providing high-quality and high-equity education. Those are goals that everyone should aspire to and support.

The Prime Minister has rightly dubbed this our national crusade. A world-class education ought to be not just accessible and attainable but an inalienable right in such a fortunate country as ours. Our plan will provide a better funding system based on the individual needs of every student in every school. It will provide teachers and principals the support required to deliver on our key objectives through increased funding, resources and training opportunities from pre-service teachers through to principals. Additional support will be given to schools that require a performance boost, with emphasis on resource allocation for disadvantaged students. Higher entry requirements for trainee teachers will be introduced, ensuring that those in the teaching profession are in the top 30 per cent of Australia's population for literacy and numeracy.

Teaching is a very demanding profession, as my experience shows. I think I spent 12 years as a demonstration teacher and, of course, many years supervising students in practicums, and I can only say that there were times I particularly knew someone was not a suitable candidate for education. The system made it very hard if you made the recommendation that this person was not suitable for taking the lives of children in their hands. I am afraid it was not easy to have that acted on by others, but it is terribly important. You would not like to see teachers come into the system who are not suitable. I really do favour a system that not only looks at attainments but also looks like medical entry schemes such as are at the University of Newcastle, which looks at suitability and the commitment levels of those people.

I also am pleased to see that in our system beginning teachers will have a reduced teaching load, allowing them more time and flexibility to plan lessons thoroughly. They will also be paired with experienced mentor teachers who can guide them, and that really is a fabulous commitment. They will also be trained in the management of disruptive students, ensuring that no students are disadvantaged by the negative dominance of disruptive students. I look back on my first year as a teacher. Due to a flood, I was sent to a local school and became a teacher of a class of 30 students who were behaviourally disturbed. As a first-year-out teacher, I can tell you that was very, very difficult. They were from all different schools. I would never like to see a beginning teacher put in that situation. But in my last year of school I was principal of a school with a behavioural intervention unit. I guess it became a specialty, for obvious reasons.

Teachers will undergo annual performance reviews to meet national teaching standards, helping them to improve their practice and deliver the best results for students. My personal view is that peer review is always a wonderful exercise for teachers. Working as part of a team, peer review is a very positive process and not a punitive process. Additionally, teachers and principals will be able to access ongoing training linked to the national professional standards. There is no nobler vocation or profession than teaching. When done well it is the most generous of vocations. The more we invest in teachers the more our whole nation will benefit.

We have also committed that no school will lose funding. Instead, we will see consistent funding for all schools, with benchmark funding for each student based on the cost of delivering education at high-performing schools. Thank goodness we are setting the base level for education per student that is equivalent to a high standard. Having spent most of my 30 years of teaching time in disadvantaged schools, I know the inequity that exists. If this inequity is not addressed, for example by this education bill, it is an inequity that will see a downward spiral for this nation and for young people.

We will also see that benchmark funding complemented by additional funding based on loadings for low-socioeconomic students, Indigenous students, students with disabilities, students from non-English-speaking backgrounds, as well as being determined by the size and the location of the school the student attends. That is just so eminently sensible. You have to wonder why it did not happen before. I think I know why it did not happen before—too many years of conservative governments that were not particularly interested in equity.

Contrast our plan with the attitude shown by those opposite. In a 2012 Lateline interview the opposition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, denied that socioeconomic background affects student outcomes. I could not believe it. I could not believe that that correlation was not understood by someone who aspires to be an education minister in this country. They certainly do not understand how necessary it is to give those students a boost and be on an equal playing field with their peers. Education should not be about chance, luck or postcodes. A high-quality education is a right for all young people, regardless of their circumstances in life. That is what Labor governments and Labor reform agendas are all about.

Under our plan principals will be given greater powers to run their own schools, like hiring and controlling the budget. I agree that principals know their schools best: their classrooms, teachers, students and resources—certainly better than bureaucrats in another city. There is an assumption that every principal is a great educational leader, an effective business manager, an effective asset manager, an effective risk manager, a diplomat in community engagement and satisfaction, an expert in media and marketing, and an all-round genius. Well we need to make sure that principals have the skills needed to be all of that in this 21st century.

I want to talk about my experience regarding merit selection and developing every teacher. Merit selection is a good process but it just as important to make sure every teacher is the best they can be. That was of vital importance. One of the greatest joys for me was seeing a teacher regain their love of teaching and stay in their career. I am very much for the professional development of every teacher and every principal.

It is important that additional information be added to the MySchool website, including details regarding school finance; the number of teachers accredited at different levels; results of student, parent and teacher surveys; NAPLAN proficiency levels reached by students; post-school destinations, such as work and university; year 12 attainment rates; the school's individual improvement plan; and attendance data. I am all for data, having had a supervisor who insisted on that. I know the benefit of data, but it has to be well-rounded data contributed by every school to give that personal flavour. I always say to constituents who ask about choosing a school: 'Yes, you should look at the data, but then go and visit yourself. Schools have wonderful cultures and a walk through a school will tell you whether that is the right school for your children.' I also say to them that it is far better to enrol at your local school so your child is part of the local community, so make sure you make that a priority. In this country today families experience greater mobility and certainly across states we need more harmonisation, which this legislation also includes.

Our reform agenda comes in the wake of: a $1.7 billion loss out of the state education system in New South Wales, a funding freeze that just happened on Catholic schools in particular, 1,800 jobs lost in education support, 9.5 per cent increases to TAFE fees and significant cuts to TAFE programs. These are cuts that do affect every school and every student in the state. The local state members should be ashamed. We cannot allow those cuts to permeate our communities. Recently we also saw the Australian Education Union speak out against those savage cuts in New South Wales. They urged the New South Wales government to put aside politics and to fund the system—investment 'which thus far has been lacking'. It does take every state to make Gonski real and to put the Australian Education Bill into effect. I urge all states to do that.

Federal Labor has a strong track record when it comes to education. Our government has delivered the greatest investment in school infrastructure since World War II through the Building the Education Revolution program. There is a myth that that was not effective. Every school in my electorate ran an effective program. Every principal stepped up and made sure that those resources were well spent and the outcomes were exemplary. I can only say to those people who bleat about it: 'Why didn't you get involved? Why didn't you make sure it was well-managed in your schools?'

What a wonderful investment. I never saw those sorts of facilities in all of my 30 years of teaching and in education as a principal. It is an absolute blessing to go now into schools and know that children finally have 21st century facilities to match the 21st century new teaching methods that are so important. There are people who think that nothing has changed since they went to school, but the children have changed, their whole experience levels have changed and the context has changed. We are in the Asian century.

I am very proud to be part of a federal Labor government that has already invested over $150 million into Newcastle's schools and the education of young people. I thank the minister for his recent visit to Newcastle and the Prime Minister for her passion and commitment to education. It is a very exciting time for us. I commend the bill to the House.