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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8782

WYATT ROY (Longman) (15:57): I rise to speak to the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011. The Schools Assistance Act 2008 currently provides for the funding arrangements for non-government schools to be continued upon implementation of the national curriculum by 31 January 2012. With the legislation as it now stands, if the curriculum is not implemented by the stated date the Australian government could require reimbursement of these funds. The amendment proposed in the bill repeals the implementation date of 31 January 2012 and replaces it with a standing regulation that takes into account the staged development and implementation of the national curriculum. Also, the proposed amendment provides that the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood and Youth Affairs will determine new timelines.

When the initial legislation on the national curriculum was drafted in 2008, it was anticipated that the national curriculum would be finalised and ready to be rolled out by the beginning of 2011. However, the government underestimated the complexities of the task at hand, and the national curriculum is far from finalised. Like most programs developed by this Labor government, the development of the national curriculum has been poorly managed. The coalition is supportive of the principle of an Australian curriculum; however, the final version has not been approved and most jurisdictions will not begin its implementation until 2013. The legislation before us therefore needs amendment. It should be noted that the coalition attempted to make the necessary amendments in March this year; but at that point the minister seemed unaware that there would be a problem.

In 2008, education ministers adopted the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. The declaration affirmed:

As a nation Australia values the central role of education in building a democratic, equitable and just society—a society that is prosperous, cohesive and culturally diverse, and that values Australia ' s Indigenous cultures as a key part of the nation ' s history, present and future.

It further affirmed:

Schools play a vital role in promoting the intellectual, physical, social, emotional, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development and wellbeing of young Australians, and in ensuring the nation ' s ongoing economic prosperity and social cohesion.

These are the guiding principles that have informed the development of the national curriculum, and, as guiding principles, they are admirable in their intent. However the requirement to amend this legislation highlights delays in the rollout of the curriculum and concerns associated with its development that have not been addressed. The fact that this parliament needs to consider this bill is evidence that the Labor government has not delivered on its commitment. In April 2008, the Labor Prime Minister promised 'A national curriculum publicly available and which can start to be delivered in all jurisdictions from January 2011'. One year ago during the election campaign the Labor Prime Minister said: 'This nation's talked about national curriculum for 30 years. I delivered it.' The documents are still far from ready and there continue to be significant concerns with the process.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority is continuing to develop the national curriculum. The initial consultation on the K to year 10 documents for English, maths, science and history occurred between March and May of last year. Comments were incorporated and further consultation with expert educators was undertaken. The Labor government is planning to present a final draft to education ministers in October of this year for approval at the ministerial council. A similar process is being followed for the senior curriculum and its development is continuing.

However, as mentioned, there have been a number of issues associated with the development of the national curriculum. The first of these is that there was inadequate representation of the non-government sector on the relevant subcommittee reporting to the ministerial council. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2010, 71 per cent of schools in Australia were public schools, with the remaining 29 per cent Catholic or independent schools. In the same year, the total number of students in Australian schools increased by 26,071 with 63 per cent of that figure comprising private school students. Since 2000, the number of students in private schools has increased by 21 per cent, whereas the number of students in public schools has increased only by one per cent. Given these figures, is it not unreasonable to expect that a sector that is currently servicing a third of our children and is growing should have a voice on the subcommittee?

Parents are voting with their feet and exercising their right to choose where and how their children are educated. In the coalition we support the right of parents to choose which school their children attend. We believe the independent sector should be maintained as a viable choice for as many parents as possible. We also recognise that every child that is in the private system is a child that is not placing a burden on taxpayer funded public education. Freedom of choice is a key Liberal value and is one that many members of my community have exercised when choosing schools for their children. In this context, we believe that the independent school sector should also have a strong voice on the subcommittee reporting to the ministerial council and the sector should also have a say in the decisions regarding implementation time frames.

The nature of the curriculum documents themselves has also been questioned. The Labor government's curriculum documents lack clarity of direction and an overarching framework. We are concerned that there is too much ideology driving the content of the curriculum. For example, there is a predominant focus in Indigenous and Asian culture without similar weight being given to British heritage or our Judeo-Christian traditions. This raises serious concerns about the balance and the content that is going to be taught in our schools.

In addition, there are concerns that the national curriculum is overcrowded, meaning that many schools will be left without the flexibility to deliver programs that correspond with their particular philosophy—for example, in the area of the arts. There is also an excessive focus on content rather than the development of essential critical and creative thinking skills in students. Furthermore, the documents appear not to have enough flexibility to cater for children who require additional support or those who are particularly talented. Issues have been raised regarding, for example, the science curriculum documents which are purported to be so difficult that students may actually be discouraged from studying the sciences. This would be a terrible outcome.

The other concern with the national curriculum, separate from the documents themselves, lies in how it is to be implemented. Teachers have expressed serious concerns with regard to the support they receive as the curriculum is rolled out. The Federal President of the Australian Education Union said recently 'We're seriously worried by the absence of any funding to support the implementation'. The unions should be concerned. This government's track record at delivering programs is absolutely abysmal—think pink batts, think school halls. The national curriculum is far too important to go the same way as these failed programs. A rollout without the necessary training and support for our teachers who will have to deliver the content is a recipe for the disasters that have become the hallmark of this Labor government.

In order to go some way towards dealing with a couple of these issues, we urge members opposite to support the amendments the coalition is moving. The first of these will underscore the importance of ensuring that schools and teachers receive the support and professional training they require in order to effectively implement the curriculum. The second amendment will ensure that the independent school sector receives representation and is consulted on the time lines associated with the implementation of the curriculum. The coalition supports the legislative amendment proposed by this bill in recognition that implementation of the national curriculum is going to take much longer than originally anticipated and is yet another failed Labor promise. A three-year implementation for phase 1 of the Australian curriculum commencing this year with implementation by 2013 is likely. However, a time frame for phase 1 of the senior secondary curriculum is yet to be agreed. Furthermore, updates to the curriculum will be required from time to time. The amendment is designed to provide a mechanism whereby the staged introduction and any amendments can be accommodated. However, there are worrying deficiencies in the process. There is no non-government sector representation on the Australian Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs Senior Officials Committee, which reports to the ministerial council, and there is no plan to support teachers and schools in the implementation of the curriculum. They are areas of significant concern. The coalition's amendments address these issues.