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Monday, 9 August 2004
Page: 25927


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (6:00 PM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

SCHOOLS ASSISTANCE (LEARNING TOGETHER-ACHIEVEMENT THROUGH CHOICE AND OPPORTUNITY) BILL 2004

This Bill renews the Government's commitment to school education for the next four years. This funding package delivers $31.3 billion for schools over 2005-2008, which is an increase of $8 billion over the current quadrennium and represents the largest ever funding commitment to Australian schools.

The Bill secures funding for Australian Government programmes of financial assistance to the States and Territories for government and non-government schools. It succeeds the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Act 2000 which authorised funding and arrangements for the 2001 to 2004 funding quadrennium.

The Bill represents a major investment in the future of our society. Through increased financial assistance to schools, particularly schools serving the neediest communities, the Government seeks improved outcomes from schools and a brighter future for Australian students.

This Bill reflects the Government's policy decisions related to the 2005-2008 school funding quadrennium. It is built on the principles that every student will be financially supported regardless of the school that the child attends and that no school will have its funding cut. These are important principles that are not shared by the Australian Labor Party.

State Government Schools

Following representations from the State and Territory Governments, the generous Average Government School Recurrent Cost (AGSRC) method of indexation will be retained as the basis for determining the increases of Australian Government funds to state schools. This will continue to deliver increased funding to State government schools of 6 per cent per annum.

In the next four years the Australian Government will deliver $9.8 billion in supplementary funding to state governments for their schools—an increase of $1.9 billion over the current quadrennium. $7.2 billion of this $9.8 billion will be in general recurrent grants. This represents a 28% increase over the current four year period in general recurrent grants (excluding increases due to enrolment and related effects).

The AGSRC will also be maintained as the basis of indexing recurrent funding for Catholic and Independent schools.

Catholic Schools

The socioeconomic status (SES) funding model will be maintained and more deeply embedded as the basis for Australian Government funding of non-government schools in Australia. From 2005, the 1610 Catholic systemic schools will become fully integrated into the socio-economic status (SES) funding system, meaning that every non-government school, regardless of denomination, will attract funding according to the socio-economic status of the communities that the school serves. As a consequence of the Catholic schools joining the SES system, they will receive $362 million more in additional funding. This will bring their general recurrent funding over the four year period to $12.6 billion—a 32 per cent increase over the current four year period (excluding increases due to enrolment and related effects).

Independent Schools

Independent schools will continue to have their funding determined according to their SES scores, which have been updated. Independent schools will receive a total of $7.6 billion in general recurrent funding—a 27 per cent increase excluding enrolment growth and related effects. The system of “funding maintenance” will continue and a funding guarantee mechanism will be introduced to ensure that when schools SES scores are updated, no school will have their funding reduced.

Special Purpose Grants

Literacy and numeracy are the most important foundation skills our children need during their education. This Bill continues the Australian Government's commitment to improving literacy and numeracy for all Australian students. The Bill includes an estimated $2 billion for a new overarching targeted programme, the Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs Programme, which will be targeted at the most disadvantaged students, including students with disabilities. This funding represents an increase of $393 million or 25% over the previous quadrennium. This includes additional funding of $25.6 million to provide fairer and more transparent funding allocations for students who require additional assistance in the government and non-government sectors.

The Bill also contains funding of $1.5 billion over 2005-2008 to assist with the provision of school facilities, an increase of 14% over the previous quadrennium. Importantly, it includes an additional amount of $17 million over the quadrennium to provide specific capital grants funding for non-government schools in isolated areas and communities in the Northern Territory.

This Bill also includes

$113 million to assist geographically isolated children.

$231 million to assist newly arrived students of non-English speaking backgrounds.

$110 million to improve learning outcomes of students learning languages other than English.

Conditions of Funding

A key feature of this Bill is the strengthening of the performance framework for Australian Government funding. The strengthened accountability and reporting requirements in the Bill will reinforce the link between the funding provided under Australian Government programmes and improved outcomes for all Australian students. These requirements will underpin the Australian Government's national priorities in schooling.

Greater national consistency in schooling. At present, everything from school starting ages to educational standards differs from one state to another, causing great difficulties particularly for the 80,000 students who move interstate each year. This Bill will stop these absurd anachronisms. As a condition of funding, States and Territories and school authorities will have to agree to implement by 2010 a common school starting age and to implement common testing standards, including common national tests in year 6 and 10 in English, maths, science and civics and citizenship. Children should be at the same educational standard and learn similar skills regardless of the state in which they reside. These national tests will provide authoritative measures of the standard of achievement of children against national measures.

Better reporting to parents. Parents are frequently not kept fully informed as to how well their child is performing at school. This Bill contains provisions to ensure that school reports are written in plain language and that assessment of the child's achievement is reported against national standards (where available) and is reported relative to the child's peer group. Achievement in national numeracy and literacy tests must also be reported to parents against national benchmarks.

Transparency of school performance. Information about a school's performance is frequently poor or difficult to access. This Bill will require all schools to publish school performance information to provide parents with objective data to assess schools and have specific information against which to hold schools accountable. The precise requirements will be specified in regulations but will include the public release of the following information for each school: percentage of students achieving national benchmarks in literacy and numeracy and their improvements on the previous years; average year 12 results and percentage of year 12 completions; school leaver destinations; teacher qualifications and proportion participating in ongoing professional development; staff and student retention and absentee rates; value added measures of student performance.

Greater autonomy to school principals. The Bill includes as a condition of funding that school principals have a significant say over staffing issues in their own schools. Further it will require State and Territory governments and school authorities to commit to providing principals strengthened autonomy over, and responsibility for, education programmes, budgets and other aspects of school's operations.

Creating safer schools. We should be doing everything we can to ensure that children are able to go to schools where they feel safe and protected. There are no circumstances where bullying is acceptable in schools. Not every school has well known protocols in place which teachers and parents can follow. The Bill requires the implementation of the National Safe Schools Framework in all schools as a condition of funding. This provides a set of guiding principles for schools to follow so that every school can have in place a comprehensive set of protocols for providing a safe learning environment. The Framework will need to prominently displayed in schools.

Common commitment to physical activity. Obesity and lack of physical activity are major causes of preventable health problems. Schools play an important role in promoting physical activity and a healthy lifestyle. However, the time dedicated in the school week to physical education and sport is declining. More than 40 per cent of children play no organised sport. This Bill will require all students in the compulsory years of schooling to undertake at least two hours of physical education each week as part of the school curriculum. This is subject to commonsense exemptions. This measure will complement other measures that will be announced shortly to tackle childhood obesity.

Making values a core part of schooling. Parents consider discipline and values as very important social factors in choosing a school for their child. I will be seeking the endorsement of State and Territory Education Ministers for the adoption of the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools. It will be a condition of funding to prominently display this is all schools. In addition, every school will be required to have a functioning flag-pole and fly the Australian flag.

The Australian Government remains committed to school choice as a fundamental democratic right. The Bill recognises the right of parents to choose the type of education they want for their children. This Bill recognises that every child is entitled to a base level of public funding towards their education.

If we are to develop the skills and knowledge for Australia's future then we need a genuinely national education system, proper recognition of quality teaching, greater freedom for schools at the local level, schools that are safe and committed to teaching values, educational justice for Indigenous Australians, and a commitment to do something about schools that are not performing. We remain committed to quality schooling for all Australian students regardless of the school they attend and we will continue to provide record funding to all Australian schools.

This legislation will strengthen all schools and build national consistency. Through improved accountability and outcomes this Bill will ensure the health of our education sectors and the future growth of our nation.

—————

STATES GRANTS (PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION ASSISTANCE) LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2004

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Act 2000, to provide funding for the Tutorial Credit Initiative in 2004 and to correct a technical defect in the Act.

Tutorial Credit Initiative funding

Literacy and numeracy are the most important foundation skills our children need during their education. When this Government came to office there was no national reporting of literacy and numeracy standards. We have now introduced national literacy and numeracy testing and benchmarking at years 3, 5 and 7. These have now become a critical part of the schooling system and a key indicator of academic performance. The Australian Government is also committed to ensuring that States and Territories provide information to parents about their child's performance against the national literacy and numeracy benchmarks.

This Government is also taking steps to assist those students who do not meet the national literacy benchmarks. I recently announced the Tutorial Credits Initiative, to provide up to $700 to parents for tutorial assistance for children who have not attained the minimum reading skills as measured by the Year 3 national reading benchmark in 2003.

The Tutorial Credits Initiative will provide $700 worth of tuition to students on a one to one basis out of school hours by appropriately qualified, screened and vetted tutors. Parents will be able to redeem the tuition credit to choose the most appropriate type of assistance for their children. Brokers will be appointed through an open tender process to assist parents and assess and appoint tutors.

When I announced this initiative, only four states—Victoria, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, reported to parents their child's performance against the national benchmarks. Other States agreed to report to parents their child's performance against national benchmark standards, and these states will also be included in the trial.

In order to expand the number of states included in this trial initiative, additional funding is required under the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies and Projects programme for 2004. This additional funding will also enable other authorities, once they have committed to reporting the 2003 Year 3 reading benchmark results to parents, to participate in the Tutorial Credits Initiative.

The 24,000 children across Australia who have not attained the minimum reading skills deserve the opportunity to receive additional tutorial assistance offered by the Tutorial Credits Initiative, and their parents are entitled to comprehensive information about their child's progress.

Technical defectSES funding phasing in arrangements

This Bill will also correct a technical defect in the Act.

The Act gave effect to the new socio-economic status (SES) based funding arrangements for non-government schools for 2001-2004. This historic reform has provided a more transparent, objective and equitable approach to funding non-government schools. General recurrent funding is distributed according to need and schools serving the neediest communities receive the greatest financial support.

Under the Act, schools with an SES funding level received increased funding phased in at the rate of 25 per cent of the increase each year. The intention of the original legislation, as passed by this Parliament in December 2000, was to fully fund schools at their new funding level by 2004.

There is, however, a technical defect in the SES funding phasing in arrangements as set out in the Act. This means that over 700 non-government schools, including schools which enrol some of the most disadvantaged young people in this country, cannot receive their correct entitlements under the General Recurrent Grants programme in 2004.

The proposed amendment in this Bill will enable the current Act to fulfil its original intent, so that schools receive their correct funding entitlement for 2004.

Conclusion

The Howard Government is committed to improving the literacy and numeracy standards of all Australian children and ensuring that all parents receive information on their children's literacy and numeracy achievement against the national benchmarks. This Bill confirms the Government's commitment to a strong school sector which offers high quality outcomes to all students and choice to parents. Quality education is vital to Australia's future.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Buckland) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.