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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8818


Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (18:31): I rise to speak on the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011. This bill seeks to repeal the 31 January date for the implementation of the national curriculum in non-government schools as outlined in the Schools Assistance Act. I congratulate the member for Hughes and the member for Wannon, who spoke before me, for their very good contributions to this debate. However, I want to take up a couple of points made by the member for Hughes. He did go on a little too much about the strength of education in New South Wales. Everyone knows that Queensland has the best education system and the best curriculum! It is arguments like those that are divisive and are half the reason we have the problems we have. When it comes to the education of our children we must step aside and, from an educator's perspective, try to get a great result.

I represent schools in Townsville, Australia's garrison city. Children come from every corner of Australia. We see kids graduate from schools in Townsville with a great collection of school uniforms and unfinished subjects across the board. We see confusion between the states and between curricula, and about what grade they will stay in or go to, especially when they transfer between states and sometimes even intrastate. Clearly a unified approach would be great. The only way we can get this done is with a united approach.

It is clear that this time frame is far too rushed. Changing the deadline is vital in ensuring that independent schools are adequately prepared for the introduction of this curriculum, the first version of which has not even been approved yet, despite protestations and assertions to the contrary even last year and despite it being less than six months until the date of its expected implementation. I reiterate the statement by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in July last year:

This nation's talked about national curriculum for 30 years. I delivered it.

That is pretty much like health reform. They talk about delivery before anything has even been parcelled up. That is probably the greatest statement since Prime Minister Chamberlain said, 'Peace in our time,' after having talks with Adolf Hitler. It is a bit too much to believe when it comes to these things. They just do not deliver. Has the Prime Minister of the country ever delivered anything so prematurely? We will wait and see because we have health reform and all sorts of reform that we are going to deliver that she has already said has been signed off.

It is over a year later and we still do not have a final copy of the curriculum that is ready to be used anywhere any time soon. This bill is the government's way of conceding that they have failed to deliver. They have failed to deliver the national curriculum they have been boasting about in the time line they have committed to. It is an abject failure. It should weigh heavily on the minister's mind.

The coalition has had the foresight to amend the act. Even in March this year the government failed to see the problem coming and are now scrambling to make the changes that we should have agreed to five months ago. As the member for Hughes said, this bill is completely and utterly unnecessary, but we support this bill as a necessary measure to ensure that non-government schools are given adequate time for the curriculum rollout. I acknowledge though that the government's blunders at every turn with the Australian curriculum have made this necessary.

The issues I have with the national curriculum are not related to the concept. Like many members of the coalition, I think it is important that the curriculum taught in schools is the same in Queensland as it is in every other state. My problem is the way in which this government are so lockstep, with square peg and square hole, that so many of their policies are continually mishandled. As the member for Wannon and the member for Hughes, who spoke before me, said, there should be a framework around which school principals and individual schools can work. What a school can do in Mt Isa, Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory or Townsville is different to what a school can do in the heart of Melbourne or the heart of Sydney. There are differences and there should be a framework around which they can work to achieve the same results and get the same outcomes but give the local environment, the local identity and the local teachers and educators a chance to show why they spent four years or more at university to become teachers.

This national curriculum is heavy on details but the support for it is light. Even experts across the country have acknowledged that the content will be overwhelming for many teachers. Funding to support its implementation has been completely absent. This money is essential to provide teachers with the training and professional development needs to give children a good education from a new curriculum. Too often we see that the teachers' time has been taken off. We have more and more student-free days and more and more time out for teachers for resource time when they are not in the classroom. Teachers are like nurses: they want to be in the classroom. They want to be with their class. Too often we are pulling these people away from what they want to do—what they are trained to do—to make them fill out paperwork.

The coalition has put forward two amendments, both of which I fully support, to address some of the national curriculum's shortcomings. The first of these aims to address the lack of support for schools in implementing the new curriculum. As I have said, the government has taken no measures to ensure that schools across the country are given the assistance they need to make the national curriculum a success. This amendment seeks to address this problem. The second of the coalition's amendments relates to the standing council responsible for the national curriculum time line. Neither this council nor its advisory officials committee, the Australian Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs Senior Officials Committee, have representatives specifically to represent the views of the non-government schools sector. That surely must set alarm bells ringing for everyone in this country. That this part of the education system does not have a dedicated voice in the decision-making process for the Australian curriculum is a serious limitation, and addressing this absence will ensure that adequate consultation of non-government schools can and should take place.

Non-government schools are an integral part of Townsville's community and education sector. They are every bit as important as state schools and Catholic schools. Playing a vital part in offering parents choice and alternatives and with more than one-third of Townsville's schools being non-government, it is crucial that a group that accounts for such a big proportion of our education system be listened to when decisions regarding the implementation of the new curriculum are being and will be made.

I would also like to take this opportunity to raise my concerns regarding the government's NAPLAN tests. I have had concerns in relation to NAPLAN and the way it has been rolled out since day one. I have discussed in the past in this parliament the issues I have with NAPLAN. The program has been running for four years, and it seems as though the NAPLAN agenda has completely consumed the teaching agenda. In some schools children are being taught in preschool to prepare for the year 3 NAPLAN test. In between, music, art and sport have been dropped by the wayside as people prepare for nothing else because there is so much pressure applied to the results of the NAPLAN. I was speaking to a principal at a local state school just a couple of weeks ago. He told me that he knew right now that his grade 3s next year will not do well. They know, but there is nothing they can do. They will not get the resources, so they will fail the year and their funding will be cut. Their access to these things will be cut.

Students are taught to be proficient in the areas that NAPLAN will cover as teachers in schools do whatever they can to cater to the My School website, not to deliver a rounded education to students. I also add that there should be more aide time to go with the teacher. If you can get more aide time in primary schools and early childhood especially you will have a better result in years 9, 10, 11 and 12, because the problems of children not being taught the basics will be addressed by having a teacher there all the time.

The victims in all this are the areas that are so vital to a curriculum but not covered by the NAPLAN. Sport, music and art, as I have said, have all fallen by the wayside as schools have been forced to focus instead on improving their NAPLAN scores and concentrate on nothing else. Without a wide-ranging curriculum covering all areas, not only are the opportunities of these missing fields being taken away from kids; they will be less engaged in the teaching. A national curriculum is an important chance for Australia, and the government has already created far too many problems in trying to develop this change. We must get it right and we must take the time to get it right, and to get it right we need the right people sitting at the table to give their points of view—and they must be listened to.

In supporting this bill I would like to add one final point. From pink batts to Building the Education Revolution, this government has created countless problems by trying to rush through problems in legislation. We just cannot afford that sort of behaviour. We cannot afford to add the Australian curriculum to that list. It cannot be done and it should not be done. Thank you.