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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8744


Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (13:13): I rise to speak on the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011, which calls for changes to the implementation dates of the national curriculum for non-government schools. The concept of a national curriculum dates back to the 1980s; however, the states and the territories to this day have retained control over their own curricula. Historically, the attempts to introduce a national curriculum have failed and the idea has been widely criticised. The national curriculum was, however, endorsed in the leadup to the 2007 federal election and has been managed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.

At the time of the act's drafting in 2008 it was anticipated the rollout date of the national curriculum across all schools would be 31 January 2012. This bill proposes to alter the deadline for implementation to allow for a staged approach for the non-government schools sector implementation. The first part of this bill proposes to repeal the act's current implementation date for the Australian curriculum set out in the act as the original deadline. As an alternative to the original deadline the bill proposes variable implementation dates for various phases of the Australian curriculum. The Standing Council for School, Education and Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs will determine these new time lines. Due to the phased approach being undertaken to develop the national curriculum, the extent of consultations undertaken in the development and the need for flexibility have resulted in a need for a legislative amendment as prescribed in this bill. The amendment will provide a legal framework for the non-government sector to allow for the implementation and the appropriate administration of the implementation dates.

To advance on the national curriculum, all of the concerns need to be assessed to ensure that we are progressing positively with our education sector and not putting the sector in jeopardy for the sake of sticking to deadlines prescribed before all of the relevant stakeholders and representatives from government and non-government schools had a chance to be consulted as part of the development process. The national curriculum must exceed the expectations of the current state and territory curricula to be a step forward. It is an important change that needs to be carefully planned and executed to ensure we do not end up in an education bungle.

The coalition is supportive of the intent of a new national curriculum. However, there are some concerns with the prescribed documentation and the possibility that the content of these documents may very well overwhelm teachers who do not have the funding or support for the training that will be required before the rollout of the national curriculum occurs. For these reasons the coalition will move two amendments. The first relates to the importance of ensuring that schools are given the support they need to successfully implement the Australian curriculum. At the moment, a nationally agreed or consistent approach across all jurisdictions does not exist. This needs to occur so that schools and their teaching staff receive the professional training required to be able to implement the Australian curriculum.

The second amendment suggests a clear representation of the non-government schools with respect to the decision-making process for the future time frames of the national curriculum. In a media release issued last week by the Independent Education Union, the federal secretary, Chris Watt, said he welcomed the amendment. Mr Watt said that it is critical that non-government schools are part of the decision-making process so that they could put forward the needs of the sector. In a direct quote, Mr Watt said:

Around half of all students attend a non-government school at some stage in their life, and it is critical that these schools are a part of the national conversation.

I strongly agree with Mr Watt and believe that all non-government schools should be included in this national conversation.

In my electorate of McPherson there are a number of non-government schools, some of which include both primary and secondary education, including Hillcrest Christian College, King's Christian College, Marymount College, Somerset College, St Andrews Lutheran College and All Saints Anglican School. The non-government sector makes up around a third of the 33 schools within my electorate, and as their federal member I need to ensure that these non-government schools are afforded the same opportunities as their state counterparts when the national curriculum rolls out.

Currently, there is no specific representation from the non-government sector on either the standing council or its advisory officials committee, the Australian Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs Senior Officials Committee. So far, all of the major non-government stakeholders that submitted to the inquiry into the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011 agreed with the bill's measures and the staged approach to the development and implementation of the Australian curriculum. However, both the National Catholic Education Commission and the Independent Schools Council of Australia raised concerns about the representation of the non-government sector in the development and consultation process, and had concerns about whether or not there would be support for staff and teachers during the rollout. Other stakeholders had similar concerns. I note from the submission of the Australian Primary Principals Association that it is concerned about the lack of a properly considered and cohesive national implementation plan, along with adequate resourcing to support the curriculum's implementation and the need for appropriate consultation with relevant stakeholders.

In addition to the concerns raised here today, I would like to highlight a local issue that is relevant to this debate on the implementation of the national curriculum. Many people relocate to the Gold Coast from interstate, and at present there is no direct correlation between the curricula in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. For example, a child who completed year 2 in Victoria could go into either year 2 or year 3 in Queensland. If the child transferred to the age-appropriate year 2 it is quite possible that the child will already have completed some of the curriculum interstate before transferring to Queensland. However, if the child were to transfer into year 3, that child would most likely have some gaps in their learning since there would be some of the curriculum that had not been covered and they would be a year younger than their classmates. This alone is likely to create angst for the child, their siblings, their parents and their teachers, and this certainly needs to be addressed.

Just this weekend an article in the Gold Coast Bulletin addressed the confusion over the starting age for school children. According to the article, parent groups are now pushing for a national school starting age. A reference to this 2006 report from Access Economics and Atelier Learning Solutions was included in the article to support the push. The report claimed 80,000 children were moved between states with their families each year. The article stated:

… a national school starting age could help children from low socio-economic families get into the education system and gain access to numeracy and literacy programs faster.

Currently in New South Wales, the primary education journey is from kindergarten through to year 6. This spans a total of seven years. The eighth year of schooling begins in year 7 at secondary school. Students are at least four years and five months of age when entering the New South Wales school system. In contrast, although children enter the Queensland system at four years and six months, they will spend eight years in primary school from prep to year 7, and move to secondary school in their ninth year of education to start year 8. In summary, Queensland students spend eight years in primary school and only five years in secondary school, while in New South Wales students spend seven years in primary and six years in secondary.

The Queensland school system is scheduled to be in line with the other jurisdictions by 2015, and year 7 students will make the move to Queensland high schools. Locally, one of our largest state high schools, the Palm Beach Currumbin State High School, is in the final stages of a $9 million expansion that will include classrooms to accommodate the 20 per cent increase in students predicted from the inclusion of year 7 in their school. Whilst this is obviously a separate issue to the bill we are speaking on, it is of paramount importance to Queensland schools and particularly to those schools in my electorate which will also be facing the additional expenses and administrative duties incurred in making room for these students at all schools in both the government and non-government sectors.

While the implementation of the national curriculum is being costed and planned for, these schools may also have to juggle the expansion and transition of year 7 to the high school sector. This is just one local example of the many issues surfacing in relation to the national curriculum. It needs to be considered when planning such a significant change to the existing education sector. In 2008, the Prime Minister said the curriculum would take three years to develop and that its implementation would take place in all jurisdictions from January 2011. It is now August 2011 and there are still many concerns and issues with the national curriculum. In the current legislation, all non-government schools are required to implement the national curriculum by 31 January 2012. We are only months away from that date, so it is imperative that these changes proposed in the bill be made to the existing legislation to allow for more flexibility and more forward planning.