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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 1860

Senator ROBERTSON —I refer the Minister for Education to the report entitled `In the National Interest'. I ask: Can the Minister indicate her response to the proposal by the Commonwealth Schools Commission that external examinations be terminated? Does the Government support the abolition of all external examinations? Will the Government be urging the States and non-government school systems to follow this course? I also ask: Is the Minister able to advise of the effects on schools where external examinations have been eliminated?

Senator RYAN —The Schools Commission report, recently published, called `In the National Interest', discusses a number of ways in which school systems could become more responsive to the needs of the economy, could work more closely with business and industry groups and could better prepare teenage students for the world of work. In that report there is some discussion about the role of external examinations. However, I should make it clear that the Commonwealth Government has never supported the abolition of external examinations, nor do I propose that it ought to do so. Two systems, the Queensland government system and the Australian Capital Territory government system, have not had external examinations for many years now. They have had school-based assessment. Queensland has a very high retention rate of students to the end of year 12. The Australian Capital Territory has a very much higher participation rate to the end of year 12 than any other system and also has a very favourable record of performance by its graduates in Australian universities.

Nonetheless, the question of whether students are to be assessed by school-based reports, by external examinations or by some combination of both methods is very clearly a matter for the States. It is not a matter for the Commonwealth. As I said, I have never advocated the abolition of exams, nor do I propose to do so. Although the Government has yet to make a detailed response to the report `In the National Interest', I certainly will not be advocating any action with respect to external examinations.

The Schools Commission report acknowledges that it is a matter for the State systems to make these decisions. As I recall, when giving its views on external examinations it also points out that any change in assessment methods, such as from external examinations to school-based methods, should be done only with the complete support of the community. I am quite surprised that some media commentators and Opposition spokespersons have chosen to leap upon this quite minor aspect of the report, since it is not the Commonwealth's prerogative to move in this direction. As I said, I do not intend to do so. However, it is a good thing that the report is receiving attention because it undoubtedly responds to many of the demands made by business, employers and industry leaders for a more relevant school curriculum which gives more opportunity for input from the business community and which, as I said, will better prepare young students for the world of work. When the Government and Government committees have properly considered the report I will be making a full statement in response to it.

Senator ROBERTSON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for her answer. However, I draw her attention to the fact that I asked a third question. Will she comment on the effects on schools where external examinations have been eliminated?

Senator RYAN —I did mention the Queensland and Australian Capital Territory systems. There has been no measurable decline in standards as a result of those systems having school-based assessment methods. But, of course, Queensland, relative to other States, has a high participation rate to the end of year 12. The Australian Capital Territory government school system has an extremely high participation rate-towards 80 per cent to the end of year 12-and the performance of students coming into universities from the Australian Capital Territory government school system is at least as good as that of students coming from other systems. As I have said, it is not for the Commonwealth to make policy on these matters but, naturally, it is interested in observing the different patterns of performance of students from different schools, and those matters I have just related to the Senate are matters of fact, to which Senator Reid, for example, can attest.