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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 127


Senator ALLISON (10:01 PM) —I move Democrat request and amendment (1) on sheet 4373:

That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendment:

(1) Schedule 1, item 7, page 3 (lines 25 to 27), omit the item, substitute:

7 Part 1 of Schedule 8 (table item dealing with 2004 program year, column 2)

Omit “291,954”, substitute “309,824”.

8 Part 1 of Schedule 8 (table item dealing with 2004 program year, column 4)

Omit “7,414”, substitute “564”.

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Statement pursuant to the order ofthe Senate of 26 June 2000

The effect of the amendment will be to allow a net increase in the grants to schools for strategic assistance. These payments would be met from a standing appropriation providing for grants for targeted assistance.

This net increase in grants under the bill will have the effect of increasing expenditure under a standing appropriation in section 111 of the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Act 2000, and the amendment is therefore presented as a request.

Statement by the Clerk of the Senate pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000

The Senate has long accepted that an amendment should take the form of a request if it would have the effect of increasing expenditure under a standing appropriation in an Act amended by the bill. This request is therefore in accordance with the precedents of the Senate.

This has the effect of directing the $20 million which the government propose to spend on the tutorial credit initiative to schools. It is our view that the amendment would shift the funding from the grants to foster literacy and numeracy programs to the grants for strategic assistance program, which directs funding directly to the schools. We think that the $700 voucher that will be available to parents for students in grade 3 who fail the benchmark testing is possibly a waste of money because it is going to so-called tutors who may or may not have expertise in that child's particular learning problem. Schools are probably in a far better position to know what that child in grade 3 needs in order to progress their literacy ability.

It may be the case that schools become brokers for these tutorial vouchers, which would be a good thing, but it seems unnecessary that there even be a brokerage arrangement in place, and that the schools are in the best position to link whatever is being done by way of tutoring with what is going on in the school. They are also in a better position, with better trained and more experienced staff, to know the way to progress. As I understand it, tutors would be eligible for this role if they were undergraduates in teachers college, for instance. I do not know how that works, when most teachers do a degree and then a diploma of education, but it seems to me that you do not go to people with the least experience when you are dealing with the most significant problems. It might sound okay to parents and it might be just the thing parents think their kids need, but often the problems are complex and related to a learning disability. Even 20 sessions, which I think is about the number that would be afforded by $700, may not correct that problem.

There is also the question of the extent to which this is a pilot. We know it runs up until term 2 next year. There have been, as far as I can see, no real assurances about the evaluation of this pilot. It came just before the election, conveniently, to make it look like the government was doing something, but there is no commitment to doing it in the following year. It is not at all clear how the evaluation will proceed. Pilots are usually conducted with a fairly small group rather than being available country wide, and there is a proper evaluation of them before they are more broadly applied. I will be interested in what the minister has to say about why this came on just before the election and whether it is going to proceed beyond term 2 next year. We think the government has used this voucher idea, firstly, as a populist idea that the government no doubt hoped would capture the imagination of parents, but it has not been done in consultation with principals or the states.

There is a very great risk that the $20 million will be eaten up in administration, brokerage fees and so forth, whereas, if you provided it directly to the schools, I am sure they could use it much more effectively. You could put conditions on it. You could say, `The schools have to provide tutors or they have to do it in the school,'—whatever. It seems to me that this is a way of saying, `We don't trust you. We don't trust the schools to do their job and, somehow, we trust others, as yet unidentified, to be able to do it.' I guess some teachers will provide this tutoring, but it seems to be more likely that you will get students and that, good as they might be, they are not experienced and not necessarily in a position to know what the learning problems are for these children. We recommend through this amendment that that money be sent directly to schools for them to determine how it should be utilised.