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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4828


Mr SIDEBOTTOM (BraddonParliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (17:19): I am really pleased to be able to talk on education, having been involved in education for some 25 years of my previous working life. I would like to comment on some of the statements made by my friend the member for Wannon—and he would expect this. What we have on this side is a plan which involves funding, certainty of funding, and expectations and improvements related to this funding for both public and non-public schooling by state and territory governments along with the federal government.

What we got from the other side is, firstly, a desperate attempt to try and defend the opposition spokesperson on education, who thinks educational policy is a racehorse, because that is as close as he would ever get in reality to it. Secondly, what we got from every member who has spoken so far, with the templated answers they are provided with, is a set of values. So we have got a plan versus a set of values. I ask all of those listening to this debate to weigh up what they believe is the substance in both these approaches. I do not think they will take very long to work out that one side indeed has a plan and is working assiduously to see that plan reach fulfilment in a very, very important sector of public policy and in socioeconomic outcomes for this country, and the other side is effectively saying no.

I think everyone observing this debate or participating in it respects the Gonski review. One of the fundamental statements of the Gonski review was that we have a broken funding system and we need to give that funding system certitude and assurance into the future no matter where you are educated—both in the school and in the state and nationally. Some of the factors that affect and are affected by the school funding debate are the outcomes of our schooling system. We really do have some challenges we all have to face. It is no good passing the buck. We have got to deal with it

Part and parcel of that is about resourcing; part and parcel of that is about giving certitude to funding into the future; and part and parcel of that is also having expectations and outcomes from this funding, which we want applied nationally.

For instance, year 9 students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can be up to three years behind better-off peers. That is a disgrace. The international tests have showed that our year 4s have performed the worst in reading and literacy out of all English-speaking countries. That is disgraceful! And on average, Indigenous students are two to three years behind non-Indigenous students in reading and numeracy.

What do we do about this, apart from wring our hands, huff and puff and carry on like pork chops in this place? The government is seeking a plan in three parts. First: fix the school funding system that the independent Gonski review found is leaving too many students behind. The intent of this plan and the funding behind it, irrespective of what is said opposite—and by some states at this stage, doing their argy-bargy, which you expect in this Federation and when they do their argy-bargy discussions—is to fund all Australian schools under the same approach—all Australian schools—with a set amount per student and extra funding to tackle disadvantage.

When we look at this extra funding to tackle disadvantage we have, first and foremost, this Schooling Resource Standard which we talk about, recommended by the Gonski review. It is widely endorsed by teaching and education experts. So we have this fundamental benchmark of funding for all students. I am no educational economist nor, indeed, a statistician et cetera, but it is based on that standard which we believe provides the best of outcomes in the best of schools for those students.

On top of that, this is in order to overcome need—and we all agree in this place that surely, the basis of our funding should be a needs-based funding system, no matter where that student is. This is the hardest thing for people to comprehend, no matter where those students are and in what sector or what state or territory. What are some of these 'extra' areas, or 'loadings', as we call them, on top of this benchmark, which will all determine the best outcome for students?

Here are some of these extra loadings that students and schools need for more support. First and foremost is a low socioeconomic status loading. Just to fill listeners in, this ranges from $695 per primary student and $914 per secondary student, to $4,635 per primary student and $6,996 per secondary student. This is a loading where there is need based on low socioeconomic status. There is an Indigenous loading, where it is appropriate, and this will range from $1,854 per primary student and $2,439 per secondary student, to $11,000 per primary student and $14,000-plus per secondary student. Again, these are based on the levels of need.

Students with limited English skills are set at 10 per cent of the per student amount. There is a location loading applied to each school's per student Schooling Resource Standard amounts, plus any school size amount. There is a size loading as well and there is a loading for students with disabilities, intended to be phased in from 2015 once a nationally consistent data collection on students with disabilities has been established.

We need to ensure that every school has the money it needs to do a great job. I do not think that any of us disagree with that. We need to ensure that funding is there every year, hence the certainty of funding: not just funding by itself but certainty of funding into the future. To ensure certainty, states and territories are offered $9.4 billion across the next six years under a two-for-one funding deal that, if fully implemented, will see an extra $14.5 billion invested in school education across that time and across all sectors.

To give effect to this, the Commonwealth will increase its school education budget by 4.7 per cent every year, and we are asking the states and territories to commit to three per cent growth in return. So this is a genuine funding-guaranteed partnership, not just on the total amounts but giving certainty into the future—something we have never had before. What will this mean? There will be enough funding for every school to get, as a bare minimum, its current funding—I say that again: every school to get its current funding—plus indexation of three per cent. The vast majority of schools currently below their Schooling Resource Standard will get more. I will return to the more specific implications of this possibility and/or its rejection a little bit later, if I have time.

The third part of our plan is really important because it is no good just relying on funding. We have to have outcomes, we have to have benchmarks and we have to have expectations across the nation, no matter what school you go to. None of us, I believe would disagree with that. To ensure that this investment in schools is coupled with wide-ranging school improvement reforms is an absolute necessity. So the plan is more than allocating moneys; it involves benchmarking. I would like to have a look at some of those, if I can, and just share with you some of the expectations.

There are higher entry standards for teachers and a requirement that new teachers be in the top 30 per cent of the population for literacy and numeracy before they can graduate. We rely most heavily and most significantly on our teachers—and I was proud to be one. I do not think you can invest in anything more important, apart from students, but in those who influence the most, and that is in our teachers. It should be one of the highest remunerated and highest status professions in this country. I think we all would agree with that, and I think we could do a hell of a lot more to ensure that that happens.

That has something to do with standards. Not only is it related to standards for entry into the teaching profession; it is also about support and funding for the professional development of teachers who are now in the system—all the way through. And maybe it is also about looking at resourcing different streams of support for teachers and their careers inside the teaching profession. Rather than having to move over to administration, they could remain in our classrooms, in our teaching and learning environments, and bring that fantastic expertise that they have.

There should be more support for new teachers. There is nothing more daunting than facing your first class or two. It is really important that we properly resource our schools in order to reduce their workload and to mentor them, particularly in the first couple of years. It is really important. It can mean so many more teachers staying in our system, being absolutely comfortable with our system, and being supported doing that. It is about ongoing professional training for all teachers and principals, so their skills remain up to date and students benefit from the best teaching methods.

There are annual performance reviews for every teacher. I know people get touchy about annual reviews—I suppose we have them every three years—but it is part and parcel of the modern workforce and the modern workplace; and nothing keeps you more on your toes and on your mettle than to actually be reviewed. Importantly, you are doing this to improve your skills; not to worry about the negative side of it. There is extra training for teachers in managing disruptive behaviour and dealing with bullying—we cannot deny that it is going on in all our schools—so every child in the classroom gets a chance to learn in a safe environment.

There are personalised learning plans for students who need extra help; more power for principals, like hiring staff and controlling the budget; better information on the My School website; a school improvement plan for every school; extra help for students that need to improve their results, and successful schools will share their ideas and strategies with others; access to learning an Asian language for all students from their first day at school; the Australian curriculum being implemented in every school and in every subject; an early years reading blitz for foundation to year 3 students to provide early intervention to students who need it; expansion of NAPLAN to cover science literacy; an annual state of our schools report to help track student performance; and so on it goes.

We are effectively saying that we need to guarantee funding, and that funding is benchmarked to a particular resource standard that gives the best of education to our students. Above and beyond that, there is a loading and that may involve Indigeneity, low socioeconomic status, location and place—in terms of remoteness—and so forth. On top of that, we need to give certainty to this resource funding. That means into the future and it means guaranteed indexation; it means that every school will be better off than they are. We need to be able to do this into the future. Importantly, there are expectations of outcomes that we as a nation believe are fair and reasonable.

At the heart of this is a system that is currently not working. I do not care what school you go to; people of reasonable intelligence and good will know that we can do a lot more. We need to raise the standard of those who are involved in teaching our students. We need to encourage them, support them and give them the training they need, both before they go teaching and during. We need to resource our schools the best that we can, so that teaching, learning and decision making on the ground can be enhanced. We also need to guarantee funding for our schools into the future. That is what Labor offers. Those on the other side offer little more than a set of values which they are using to defend the opposition spokesman for education. (Time expired)