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Monday, 24 February 2014
Page: 700


Mr WILLIAMS (Hindmarsh) (13:19): I speak to oppose the motion today. My father is a teacher, and I am on the governing council of my children's primary school. Education has been and will be a massive part of my life going forward. I, like many parents, am concerned about the state of Australia's teaching standards and education, including in South Australia.

We are on the same page on a number of things. The member for Lalor talked about the need for improvement. Yes, we know there needs to be improvement. The member for Perth talked about the need for better teacher quality. We agree and we are doing things to that end. From our side we also know we are providing certainty for schools over the forward estimates. We know that we are replacing the $1.2 billion that Bill Shorten ripped out over four years for Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia and we are delivering $1.6 billion for the remaining states and territories on the commitments to non-government schools. We are taking a national approach to this. Over the next four years we will focus on what really matters in education—improving the quality of teaching, ensuring that we have a robust curriculum, increasing school autonomy and encouraging greater parental engagement. The importance of the home environment is something that the member for Gellibrand just touched on and how that influences a child's outcome. We are committed to a fairer funding model, which will ensure that no school will be worse off because of anything the Commonwealth does. Final amounts, as we know, for government schools are determined at a state level, and so there is a different application for the model.

We agree that there needs to be a new approach in this debate, and that it is not simply all about funding. Around 33 per cent of Australian school children are failing to meet minimum standards in reading, maths and science. This is despite an increase in funding over 10 years, and that tells us that it is not all about money. When compared to other countries, Australia is going backwards in maths and science. We need to do something about this. So, what are we doing? We are looking to have better training for teachers and we are looking to give parents and principals more autonomy in the way they run the schools. We all know that if you pick a team, that gives you great confidence in matching the needs of your community organisation to the needs of your business operation. That is what giving principals greater autonomy means.

We have set up a ministerial advisory group on teacher education that will identify gaps in current teacher education and recommend implementation timeframes. The member for Perth touched on the need for teacher quality. When I was out in the community, a constituent, an experienced teacher, told me that, if young teachers could receive better skills through guidance and mentoring, that would provide considerable benefits to all. How many times do we hear parents talk about the values of the teachers and how privileged their children are to have a great teacher. Like all good organisations, some principals make better leaders than others, but that is not to say that we cannot get those principals performing at a better level and get mentoring for those who have turned things around.

I was interested to read that, according to the OCED, Shanghai in China has one of the best and most equitable education systems. They have taken a certain approach to change behaviours and practices in some schools. The government contracts a high-performing school to work with a low-performing school to achieve an improvement over a two-year period. These development programs build leadership and teaching skills that are required for change. In my short time as a local member going out to schools, I can already tell the principals who have a clear vision to create a strong culture and have been able to execute their vision. That ability to execute should never be forgotten.

We have heard the member for Gellibrand talk about the school at Sunshine. We have also had the Grattan report, publicised in the Weekend Australian, which talked about turning school performance around. It is most interesting to see the five steps they followed and, while we have heard about some of them today, not enough emphasis has been placed on some of these steps. They are things like strong leadership, effective teaching, a positive school culture and engaging parents. There is evidence that where parents are engaged better student outcomes follow. As Obama said in his book, The Audacity of Hope:

All the money in the world won't boost student achievement if parents make no effort to instill in their children the values of hard work and delayed gratification.

Debate adjourned.