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Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1528


Senator PETER BAUME(3.09) —This matter of public importance concerns educational standards, educational excellence and choice as a part of the means of achievement of these goals. Australian parents want schools to provide good standards and quality learning for their children. Students too want excellence. They want the best as they prepare for the future. Without this, young adults will not get a fair go in life and they will not get a fair go from the education system. Choice is vitally important in the provision of quality schooling. Choice provides competition, diversity and extra options, and each of these enhances the quality of education. Choice enhances excellence and it enhances the fair go for students and for Australia. Choice promotes competition because it maintains excellence. Choice promotes competition because it raises learning standards. It maximises potential and the realisation of potential and it enhances efficiency within the whole education system.

Choice promotes diversity. It allows for the emergence of schools based on a religious ethos. It allows for schools which want to emphasise academic learning and academic excellence. It allows for the emergence of schools that want to regard themselves as community schools. It allows for the emergence of schools that want to emphasise artistic or musical talent. I refer, for example, to the conservatorium high schools. It allows for the emergence of local schools which relate to their local community. It allows for the emergence of better disciplined schools. It allows for a variety of forms of school governance, and it allows for the accommodation of those who wish to send their children to school with others of a common culture. Choice and diversity allow different parents and students the opportunity to pursue what they see as important.

I have here a publication from the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority entitled 'Choice of Schools in the Australian Capital Territory-Parents have their say'. We see at table 8 on page 16 of the document the kinds of reasons which parents in the Australian Capital Territory gave for the choice of schools, which bears out what I have been saying. I seek the permission of the Senate to have table 8 of the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority publication incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

[N ence (68%)

Religious (78%)

Religious (70%)

Reputation (34%)

Social Environment (37%)

Education Program (53%)

Education Program (58%)

School Type (31%)

Education Program (37%)

Convenience (40%)

Discipline (48%)

Education Program (29%)

Reputation (37%)

Discipline (33%)

School Type (29%)

Staffing (17%)

Limited Choice (35%)

School Type (31%)

Convenience (24%)

Learning Environment (17%)

School Type (18%)

Staffing (25%)

Reputation (23%)

Independent school parents

Independent

Independent

Independent

Independent

School A

School B

School C

School D

Education Program (85%)

Religious (83%)

Education Program (72%)

Education Program (73%)

Learning Environment (58%)

Staffing (51%)

School Type (44%)

Staffing (45%)

Parent-School Reln. (50%)

Discipline (51%)

Staffing (41%)

Discipline (45%)

Staffing (46%)

Education Program (45%)

Religious (31%)

Religious (28%)

School Type (27%)

Parent-School Reln. (29%)

Discipline (31%)

Learning Environment (28%)

Social Environment (11%)

Learning Environment (27%)

Learning Environment (23%)

School Type (25%)

Note: Percentages refer to a number of parents mentioning this as important reason for school choice.


Senator PETER BAUME —I thank the Senate. Choice will promote extra options as well. It will allow for the development of different learning techniques to the advantage of some children. It will allow for a greater range of subjects and it will allow for more community activities. We believe that choice has a lot going for it in terms of education and in terms of what it can offer Australian children. All these factors have a capacity to raise the quality and variety of learning and general education and all of them are enhanced by the widest possible choice.

When we discuss choice we need to think of choice between sectors-between government and non-government sectors. We need also to think of choice within sectors-within the government and non-government school sectors. In the non-government sector we need to recognise that choice is necessary between the non-government systems and choice is necessary as well among community schools, for those who may wish to choose a community school or a school which has been promoted by some small group. It should be available to their child in the same way as a Catholic systemic school or a government school is available. Within the government sector we must look for choice to remove the rigidities which exist, such as zoning rigidities, which restrict choice between government schools.

We know that parents want choice. We know that in the Australian Capital Territory parents want choice. We know, further, that in the Australian Capital Territory 30 per cent of Australian Capital Territory parents who have children in secondary high schools wanted to send their children to some other school. I draw the attention of the Senate again to the document entitled 'Choice of Schools in the ACT-Parents have their Say' and to the summary document at table 7 on page 15, which indicates quite clearly that 30 per cent of parents of high school children in the Australian Capital Territory wanted their children to be educated elsewhere. Twenty-five per cent wanted their child to move to a private school and 5 per cent wanted their child to move to another government school which had not been available to them. Why did they want to move? Many of them wanted to move their child because of the education program, or because of questions of discipline and questions of staffing. I seek the permission of the Senate to incorporate in Hansard table 7 from the Schools Authority publication.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

TABLE 7: THE MOST PREFERRED SCHOOL FOR PARENTS SENDING THEIR CHILDREN TO GOVERNMENT, CATHOLIC AND INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS

Proportion of parents preferring

The school Another school

now

Parents of children at a

attended Government Catholic Independent

% % % % Government-

primary 75 5 8 12 secondary 70 6 13 11 Catholic-

primary 93 2 2 3 secondary 87 1 9 3 Independent-

A 97 . . . . 3 B 92 . . 5 3 C 97 . . . . 3 D 98 . . . . 2


Senator PETER BAUME —I am very grateful to the Senate. The facts show that non-government schools do not have teacher strikes and are not forced to close because of strikes that have nothing to do with the educational program in the school. The facts show that non-government schools certainly in my State, are producing better results at public examinations. The facts show that non-government schools are very responsive to the community and are more responsive to parents and to individual pupils.

The Opposition supports choice in education. The Opposition's education policy guarantees financial support for educational choice, because our policy will provide for at least 20 per cent of the standard government school cost for each student. Our policy guarantees that in the exercise of that choice there will be simple administrative arrangements for schools seeking funding and deadlines will be met within those arrangements. The Opposition's policy will guarantee ready support for new non-government schools so that when those schools wish to emerge they will not be prevented from doing so. We have heard, and I will mention it later, that the Government has actually made it part of its intentions to make it more difficult for some new non-government schools to emerge because it believes that they may not fit in with the efficiency of the systems already present. We have a view that for the benefit of children, for the benefit of education and for the benefit of all schools, choice must be maximised, and our policies will do that. As well as that, we will ensure simultaneously that the quality of learning in government schools is enhanced. We will do our part in that regard.

Our policy, alongside that of our colleagues such as Mr Greiner in New South Wales, Mr Olsen in South Australia and Mr Kennett in Victoria, will look towards decentralised decision-making in government schools. Our policy will look towards increased choice within the government school sector so that the local community, the local principal and the local parents are responsible for more school policy-making. Our policy will seek to encourage the removal of rigidities such as zoning which restrict school choice. Our policy will seek to break the monopoly power of the teachers' federations, so that dedicated and caring teachers can put teaching and learning and students and education ahead of politics and ahead of the federations' political goals. I digress to say that what is happening in New South Wales today-rolling strikes in district after district, with the high schools closed-is nothing short of a disgrace. What is at issue is who shall manage and who shall run the schools in New South Wales. Shall the duly elected Government-not a government of my political persuasion, but a duly elected government-run the system or shall the Teachers Federation run the system? What is at issue? Is it some great principle of education, some great pedagogical principal of learning, some issue of culture? Not at all. It is the issue of whether the government of the day in my State shall have the right to determine matters of staffing.

Let me clearly put the view of the Liberal Party. We are not political supporters of Mr Cavalier nor of the New South Wales Labor Government, but while ever on this matter they stand up to the Teachers Federation in New South Wales, while ever they assert that they are running the schools in New South Wales, while ever they assert that they will remain responsible for staffing, and while ever they stand up to the Teachers Federation on this matter, we will know that they are doing the correct thing and that they deserve our support. Our policy will discourage the trend to centralised bureaucratic educational monopoly, of which the militant teachers federations are advocates. I must say that this does not apply to all of the teachers' federations. In at least one State I know that the Teachers Federation takes a very moderate and reasonable line. But the militant federations around Australia are not doing education any good and they are not seen by parents as doing it any good. That is another reason why parents want other choices and other options. Whenever I have seen the opening of a new non-government school I have been struck by the fact that its enrolments are great from the beginning. In particular, within the Catholic system the schools are full on the day on which they open.

We want to see decentralised, simple administration. We want to see a government school system which will emphasise students, parents and dedicated teachers, not the system within which they operate. The system is less important than the education which is delivered to the pupils.

But students also need increased choice in higher education and in technical and further education in Australia. It is a fact that the Government has provided some extra places in higher education. I acknowledge that. We applaud what the Government has done. Nevertheless, because of the increased numbers coming through the school system, the demand for places in higher education is greater now than it has ever been. We have to look at the number of people turned away from the gates of our universities, colleges of advanced education and TAFE institutions. We find a very unsatisfactory situation. This year between 15,000 and 30,000 qualified students could not find places in higher educational institutions. I draw the Senate's attention to a letter written by the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee and the Australian Committee of Directors and Principals in Advanced Education to the Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, on 29 April, which addressed the number of people turned away from higher education in Australia. Table 5 of that very comprehensive letter from the higher education authorities makes it clear that up to 29,000 students-making allowance along the way for the fact that there may have been double counting-may have been turned way from our universities and colleges. I seek leave to have Table 5 of that letter written to Senator Ryan on 29 April incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

TABLE 5

Eligible applicants

Did not

Number Received offer receive offer

No. % No. % Admissions Centres

New South Wales (UCAC) 41,649 34,922 83.8 6,727 16.2 Victoria (VUAC) 31,757 23,153 72.9 8,604 27.1 Queensland (QTAC) 24,257 18,984 78.3 5,273 21.7 South Australia (SATAC) 13,174 10,185 77.3 2,989 22.7 Western Australia (TISC) 10,275 8,672 84.4 1,603 15.6 Institutions

Tasmania 1,664 1,519 91.3 145 8.7 Northern Territory 939 939 100.0 0 0.0 Australian Capital Territory 9,475 8,257 87.1 1,218 12.9 Additional Institutions*

New South Wales 1,942 1,639 84.4 303 15.6 Victoria 3,265 873 26.7 2,392 73.3

138,397 109,143 78.9 29,254 21.1


Senator PETER BAUME —I thank the Senate. In addition to that, between 50,000 and 75,000 qualified students-it is hard to be sure of the exact number-could not find places in technical and further education. Students who wanted the chance to acquire a trade skill, students who wanted the chance to acquire skills that would help them find jobs and a place in the world, were turned away from the doors of the technical colleges when they sought that educational opportunity. The absence of choice and opportunity for these students has prevented them from learning, from improving themselves, from getting jobs and from becoming a part of the mainstream of our community. In short, these students who could not get into higher education and into TAFE are not getting a fair go. Senator Puplick will identify soon how the Opposition's open university proposal will make use of print, electronic and advanced satellite technology to bring educational choice and opportunity to these Australians. I will leave that to my colleague when he speaks.

Unfortunately, the Labor Government has sought since it came to office to restrict choice. It has done a number of things. It has slashed the grants to the hit-list schools, increasing the financial burden upon the parents. It has reduced the real funds of many other schools through the recent recategorisation, increasing the financial burden upon the parents progressively as the years go on. It has made it harder for the schools to expand, diversify or relocate by treating such schools as what it calls new schools. It has accepted the rigid new guidelines for new schools included in the Connors report, a report entitled 'Planning and Funding Policies for New-Non Government Schools-Report of Panel of Commonwealth Schools Commissioners, March 1985'. In paragraph 58 on page 15 of that report, where the Government's plans are being discussed, the following words appear:

This would provide the Government with a means of exercising greater control on the availability of recurrent funds for new schools in order to avoid--

I emphasise, to avoid-

the unplanned expansion of non-government schools overall, or in certain locations.

So it goes on. It makes quite clear that this panel dealing with the planning and funding policies for new non-government schools had as one of its briefs the making more difficult of the emergence and funding of new non-government schools. The Government has increased greatly the notification time for new schools, including the so-called new schools which are expanding and relocating. The Government has introduced a funding formula that discourages schools from improving themselves. Senator Ryan could not answer today the following simple question: Is it not a fact that if they improve their funding resources they will get less from the Commonwealth and if they do not maintain their present funding, if they reduce their funding, they will also be penalised for failing to maintain effort? This is the kind of perverse incentive system that is creeping into what the Government is doing.

The Government has burdened schools with excessive red tape, with complex rules and with huge forms to fill in. As a result of that, the Government has caused the Commonwealth Schools Commission to miss deadlines for the notification of schools. We need only go back to 1984. I remind the Minister of the promises schools had that by the end of September or the end of November they would have certain information on which they could plan for this school year. Time after time those deadlines were missed, due not to the fault of the officers of the Commission but to the fact that too few officers were being asked to do too many things of a political and administrative nature.

What does all this mean for schools? It means that schools cannot plan. It means that it is harder for them to expand. It means that there is less diversity of subjects and activities. It means that more time is wasted on administrative activities and that there are fewer choices for parents who are worried about their children. In any event, it is more expensive. One of the things that non-government schooling does is save money for the community. Every parent who decides to contribute by sending a child to a non-government school-even a new non-government school, I remind the Minister-is saving money for the Commonwealth because the child's schooling costs less than it would if the child were educated within the government system.


Senator Ryan —From the Commonwealth?


Senator PETER BAUME —In the State school systems; I thank the Minister. All this adversely affects the quality of learning. We support the pursuit of excellence in the school down the road, the school around the corner, the local community school where parents want to see their children do well. We want to encourage those schools to be entrepreneurial, flexible and successful. Non-government schools are part of that entrepreneurial, flexible and successful system, and they are part of the pursuit of excellence.

In relation to government schools, the Labor Government has abrogated a whole series of solemn promises, given before its election, to provide extra resources to the government system. These never arrived and because of this the Government abrogated its obligations under the famous prices and incomes accord, which included money for government schools. We believe that that money did not arrive. We believe that attacking and restricting the hopes of parents through new or expanded guidelines to restrict the development of non-government schools is no way to move towards the revitalisation of government schools in Australia. The Opposition wants every parent and every student to have a quality school at the bottom of his or her street. Increased choice is part of that deal. It is a good deal for education and a good deal for Australia. The Opposition wants all qualified students to have access to higher education or TAFE. My colleague Senator Puplick will develop the proposition that our open university system would offer such access. Our policies for schools would offer the choice that is necessary to achieve what we so desperately need in Australian education-the improvement of standards, the pursuit of excellence and the achievement of the full potential of every Australian child.