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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
16/03/2016
Electoral education

EDMONDS, Ms Dannie, Acting Branch Manager, Curriculum and Students with Disability Branch, Department of Education and Training

PATTIE, Mr David, Acting Group Manager, Schooling Group, Department of Education and Training

Committee met at 09:17

CHAIR ( Mr Buchholz ): I declare open this public hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for its inquiry into electoral education. This is the fourth public hearing that we have held. I acknowledge and thank my colleagues for their attendance this morning, and for electing me as chair of this committee yesterday. I believe it is a most auspicious committee.

I understand that the committee held roundtable public hearings in Canberra on 15 July 2015 involving many stakeholders for this inquiry. The committee also travelled to South Australia, where it visited several schools and held public hearings in Adelaide on 29 and 30 July. Another public hearing was held in Melbourne on 27 August. I am sure my colleagues who have been on the committee longer than I have will be keen to ask questions today of the witnesses, so brace yourselves.

I would like to thank the first two groups of witnesses, who were due to appear on 2 March, for your flexibility in allowing us to reschedule for today. Finally, I remind committee members of Senate privilege resolution 1.16, that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth should not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy. Mr Pattie, do you have an opening statement?

Mr Pattie : I would like to thank the committee for inviting the Department of Education and Training to appear at this hearing. I have a short opening statement. As you know, the department is the Australian government's lead agency responsible for helping Australians access flexible, high-quality school education. The Australian government plays a national leadership role in educational policies and provides significant funding to for areas of national educational importance. The government works with states and territories to improve schools and student outcomes through proven policies and initiatives, particularly in the priority areas of teacher quality, school autonomy, engaging parents in education and strengthening the Australian Curriculum. Policies and initiatives that support electoral education include the civics and citizenship education components in the Curriculum, the National Assessment in Civics and Citizenship, support for quality teaching and the Parliament and Civics Education Rebate initiative, or PACER.

The department's submission, provided on 16 July 2015, focuses on these policies and initiatives and looks at electoral education in the context of civics and citizenship education in schools. In a significant development since the department's submission, all education ministers endorsed Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum on 18 September 2015, including changes made following the review of the curriculum, including citizens and citizenship. That was endorsed as part of the humanities and social sciences curriculum, starting in year 3, and for teaching civics and citizenship through the Australian Curriculum from years 7 to 10. Civics and citizenship knowledge and understanding in the Curriculum is organised around the following key questions. How is Australia's system of democratic government shaped by the Constitution? What principles of justice help to protect the individual's rights to justice in Australia's system of law? How is Australia a diverse society and what factors contribute to a cohesive society? These are similar to the three concepts identified in the department's submission: government and democracy, laws and citizens, and citizenship diversity and identity. The Australian Curriculum therefore provides a sound basis for electoral education in schools. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, who are appearing later, can provide further information. Thank you.

CHAIR: Page 4 of your submission has a table on student achievement from 2004 to 2013. Do you have any more recent statistics? Is 2013 a normal lag time for catching data?

Mr Pattie : We do have some data from a little bit later, but normally there is a lag between when a calendar year finishes and when the process of reporting goes through and is cleared. For instance, in 2016 you would expect 2014 data to be available, so there can be an 18-month lag time.

CHAIR: Is there anything that stands out in that data over the years?

Mr Pattie : In relation to what?

CHAIR: Fifty per cent proficiency rates.

Mr Pattie : The proficiency rates between year 6 and year 10 have not really changed over the years. In year 10, there was a non-significant—my experts tell me—blip in the completion rate, but it has been fairly static over the years.

CHAIR: More recently in the press or in the media, we have seen a little bit more scrutiny of the quality of schoolteachers. The articles were around schoolteachers' literacy and where they were at. In the area of civics—page 5 of your submission, under quality of teaching—how significant is the need for the improvements of quality of teaching in civics?

Mr Pattie : That would not just be civics; I think that is across the board. The priority, as I mentioned in the opening statement and in our submission, on quality teaching is one of the four priorities for the government. It is not just civics and citizenship; we need quality teaching to provide quality student outcomes.

CHAIR: Are there any plans for improvement in teacher education or quality—if we want to take it broader than civics and citizenship—

Mr Pattie : Yes. There has been a lot of work in teacher education and qualification—the accreditation standards that AITSL and people are working through. They are working with both universities and states and territories in achieving the highest quality teaching we can.

CHAIR: Tell me about Scootle. Tell me what that is.

Mr Pattie : Scootle is a platform that resources and helps teachers deliver subjects they are provided. Essentially it is an electronic portal of resources and people can log in and access those resources for free. It might be lesson plans or materials they can use in classes and things like that.

CHAIR: Is it well utilised?

Mr Pattie : Yes, it is well utilised. It is still relatively new, and we are working on providing more information on Scootle as we go. There will be more information provided up there on all sorts of different topics as it develops.

CHAIR: Have you taken any commentary on the suggestions that there might be too much information on Scootle that is not sorted by date or its relevance?

Mr Pattie : I would have to take that on notice. I am not aware of any of that, but there might well be. The people who run Scootle would have more information on that.

CHAIR: Lovely. I am looking at the questions that have been prepared for me, and this is a loaded question: are you satisfied with the level of funding you have received over the next four years? You do not have to answer that.

Mr Pattie : Thank you.

Mr PASIN: I think the question relates to PACER funding.

Mr Pattie : Right.

Mr PASIN: I am not satisfied that a $60 rebate from my electorate is worth administering, quite frankly. It is now costing kids 1,200 bucks to get to Canberra and, not surprisingly, there is a proportional decline in schools attending. I think am down to below 25 per cent. It is probably even worse for you, Ian, as a Western Australian.

Mr Goodenough interjecting

Mr PASIN: In my case, it is expensive because they need to bus to a capital centre or bus the whole way. Anyway, is there any plan for a budget submission for PACER to beef up what we are doing? The idea that this rebate has not been indexed since Mrs Pearson brought Tony Pasin here as a year 7 student in 1988—which is an exaggeration, but she reminds me every time she comes here that the rebate has not moved. Where are we with that?

Mr Pattie : I cannot comment on what might or might not be in the budget—

Mr PASIN: Was a submission made to the department at least?

Mr Pattie : We have not looked at the PACER program, other than what is in the budget: $23 million allocated for the next four years, which is part of the existing budget. While PACER is a capped program—and it does not exactly go to your question—we have actually never utilised the entire budget. It is always running at about 95 per cent or 96 per cent, so we are short, but that does not go to the question about the guidelines, which is your $60 amount.

Mr PASIN: I was terrified to read that in the 2013 NAP CC report that 46 per cent of students in Australia at year 10 level were able to identify the specific historical event recognised by Anzac Day. Putting it another way: 54 per cent of year 10 students could not make the link between Anzac Day and the landing at Gallipoli, presumably, and service more generally in World War I. It speaks to a fairly significant failure, which is picked up by the proficiency rates, which was the question my colleague put. Do you have any comments around that?

Mr Pattie : As a parent, I would also—I was quite surprised by those numbers.

Mr PASIN: So was I, although I was not too worried about the failure to recognise the definition of 'trade union'—that is tongue-in-cheek.

Mr Pattie : Given the significance of Anzac Day, particularly in these last couple of years, it is surprising. I do not really have any commentary about why, but I would have thought it would have been higher myself.

Mr PASIN: Eighty-one per cent of students being unable to identify the Queen as our head of state is probably equally disturbing. I would like to go to the recommendations of the review. You might have said something about state and territory governments having come to a landing point on this, but where are we at with regard to those recommendations?

Mr Pattie : Of the review of the curriculum?

Mr PASIN: Correct. The seven recommendations about civics and citizenship.

Mr Pattie : The seven recommendations?

Mr PASIN: At the top of page 3.

Mr Pattie : Sure.

Mr PASIN: They are eminently sensible, from my perspective.

Mr Pattie : As I said, the foundation to year 10 curriculum was endorsed late last year. That includes civics and citizenship components in years 3, 5, 6, 8 and 9. In other words, the recommendations have been introduced into the curriculum. Those other gaps and items that the recommendations showed up have been included in the curriculum as it was endorsed.

Mr PASIN: Does that include that civics and citizenship is now mandatory at year 10?

Mr Pattie : No; I was going to come to that one. Year 9 is the last year that it is included in the curriculum as a particular item. That is not to say that schools do not teach it in year 10. That is probably the one that has not been made mandatory in year 10. Having said that, it is there; leading up to year 10 all of the topics are covered.

Mr PASIN: I take it if that is not there, then the next paragraph, which alludes to a very strong case for it to be made mandatory at year 12, is not—

Mr Pattie : No. So the year 11 and 12 senior secondary curriculum has not been endorsed and it is up to the states and territories to implement their curriculum to cover those topics. There are science and geography and a few others that are part of the year 11 and 12 curriculum, but, in this case, no, it is not.

Mr PASIN: I have certainly anecdotally got a sense that there has been a refocus on civics and citizenship in recent times, and some of the failings that we are seeing through the statistics is born of that period where we kind of dropped the ball on civics on citizenship. I am hopeful that through this refocusing—and I would certainly encourage you to seriously consider year 10. I am not convinced of year 12, because if you set the foundations well and you really solidify it in year 10, students are, what, 15 at that age?

Mr Pattie : Sixteen.

Mr PASIN: Fifteen or 16—you have kind of solidified it in their mind by then, and I do not think there is a need to specifically mandate it at year 12. To the extent that I can provide feedback as part of the reason why we are doing this review, there has been a refocusing, which is starting to go flow through to all of the classrooms. As we attend classrooms, as I expect you do too, you are starting to have more nuanced conversations with students, which tells you that they have learnt something about our electoral system and our form of government and these things.

CHAIR: However, there is a growing percentage of those who are less engaged, and that does come back to the question about the quality of teachers. In one area within my electorate, a teacher who was teaching civics took the kids down to the mayor's chamber, which was in full council arrangement, and asked them, 'So when do you go to Brisbane'—being our state parliament—'for sittings?' The mayor said, 'No, I'm the mayor; I'm not a state politician'. There was quite a disconnect. That is a nice, loaded example, but in the general education process of Australia, I think there are some statistics out there that less than eight per cent of the public are politically engaged and understand it. For the Hansard, can I acknowledge the presence of the Honourable Alan Griffin.

Mr GRIFFIN: I thought I was early; I am sorry.

Mr GOODENOUGH: Where's your medal?

Mr GRIFFIN: I am getting it polished at the moment.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions?

Mr GRAY: Ms Edmonds, are there any state variations in these sorts of proficiency results? Some of the anecdotal evidence that we as members of this committee might point to is the experience of how Tasmania and the ACT tend to vote differentially below the line—showing, we would think, a greater level of knowledge of the working of the electoral system and greater voter choice. Do you see any difference in performance at state level?

Mr Pattie : I will have to take that on notice; I don't have it in front of me, I am afraid. I might have to check with my colleagues about that—happy to do that.

Mr GRAY: Thank you, yes.

Mr GOODENOUGH: During our site visit to Melbourne, we had the opportunity to engage with high school students in an open forum, and many of them expressed the view that they felt that the visit to Canberra alone was not sufficient to give them a complete understanding of the process. They would have liked more to be included in the curriculum. Has any consideration being given to expanding the number of hours?

Mr Pattie : In the curriculum?

Mr GOODENOUGH: Yes.

Mr Pattie : I think the challenge we always have with the curriculum is trying to fit everything into it, and one of the recommendations of the review of the curriculum was to address the overcrowding in the curriculum. So it is probably fair to say that civics and citizenship, as well as other subjects, has been considered in that way, but it is always a balance between how much time there is and how many other subjects there are as well. So it is a challenge.

Mr PASIN: I am familiar with the Simpson Prize, and it is a very good program; congratulations on it. In relation to the National History Prize, can you give me a quick thumbnail description? How it is run?

Mr Pattie : Sure. The History Challenge is a competition for students from primary years to year 12. They are encouraged to do research, consider evidence, and exercise their own historical judgement through essays, multimedia presentations, museum exhibits or works and other formats on a set theme. This year, the theme is 'triumph or tragedy'. We have about 7,000 students take part in the challenge, and the overall winner is the Australian Young Historian of the Year. We provide funding to the History Teachers' Association of Australia to manage the program and the challenge on behalf of the government. A range of organisations sponsor particular categories, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs sponsors the Australian wartime experiences category each year, along with the War Memorial.

Mr PASIN: Is there a parliamentary and/or civics component to that? I am thinking particularly about political history, which I think is a massive blind spot in our education system.

Mr Pattie : I would have to take on notice the content. The way I understand it is that, within that triumph or tragedy theme for this year, it is open to students to talk either about parliamentary history or something else.

Mr PASIN: Sure. Are there any other programs or prizes—or that kind of thing—that encourage the study of political history or study of electoral systems?

Mr Pattie : We have the National Schools Constitutional Convention, which I think is on this week, and we bring 120 students to Canberra to talk about constitutional issues.

Mr PASIN: And how do you select those 120 students?

Mr Pattie : That would be a good question. I would have to take on notice how we actually select those students.

Mr PASIN: I think these prizes are very valuable tools, if you are engaging through them with a very broad base. The Simpson Prize is a classic example; history teachers run programs through their classrooms and have students submit entries—so that you may end up with eight winners but you have had, say, 80,000 participants. I would appreciate knowing something more about that.

Mr Pattie : Yes. We can provide that; I just don't have that information in front of me. We are happy to do that.

Mr PASIN: The states run really effective youth parliaments. I have not seen the equivalent federally, and I think it would not be a bad thing.

Mr Pattie : Sure, we can take that on notice.

CHAIR: How many personnel are there in the Department of Education and Training?

Mr Pattie : In the whole department?

CHAIR: Yes.

Mr Pattie : I would be guessing; probably—look, I could take that on notice. I do not have it—

CHAIR: Is it 100 or 1,000?

Mr Pattie : The whole department, which includes it higher ed, VET, schools, and all the rest is more like 1,600 to 1,900. But I would have to take—

CHAIR: No, that is fine; don't take it on notice. I just wanted an indicative idea.

Mr Pattie : There have been a few machinery-of-government changes, so the numbers change.

CHAIR: I understand. Later on today we will hear from the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. I am just trying to understand, is there anything in and around curriculum that the department does which is separate? Because they are the assessment authority, and you set the curriculum—is that correct?

Mr Pattie : The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority do all the curriculum work for us. In fact, Ms Edmonds's branch has about 10 people, maybe, looking after curriculum.

Ms Edmonds : Yes, it is about that.

Mr Pattie : And it looks after the policy settings and that sort of thing.

CHAIR: That is the national curriculum.

Ms Edmonds : Yes. So ACARA look after the curriculum but we tend to do things like, if there is a particular effort around developing support materials for a national priority—like the STEM stuff at the moment; that is something we are doing. But we don't set the curriculum ourselves. ACARA do that.

CHAIR: So if they set the curriculum, can you just give me an overview of what the quality of the teaching staff in our schools is like? If we were to assess them, is there room for improvement? This harks back to my first line of questioning about the concerns in the media, to see if those comments were founded. Has the department investigated or found anything—

Mr Pattie : When it comes to the quality of teaching, I think it is an area of interest for us to pursue how we can improve that. But I do not have any specific commentary on where the failings might or might not be, suffice to say that improving teacher quality improves student outcomes. We have seen that over the years, in terms of results from NAPLAN and things like that.

CHAIR: Yes. With the NAPLAN data, is there much difference between private and public?

Mr Pattie : I do not know that we have that level of detail actually. I would have to take that on notice.

CHAIR: It would be interesting, because you would draw the analogy that the private schools' teachers were paid less than those in public schools.

Mr Pattie : I think there is a lot of variation between what funding is available and the outcomes from students. It is not necessarily that more funding means better outcomes.

CHAIR: Exactly.

Mr Pattie : It does come down to the quality of the teaching, the parental engagement and that sort of thing.

Mr PASIN: I have just got one more question: what is the relationship like between the department and the PEO? Is it seamless?

Mr Pattie : The PEO?

Mr PASIN: The Parliamentary Education Office.

Mr Pattie : We probably deal with them on an operational basis, but—

Ms Edmonds : I imagine, in terms of the initiatives that we have around civics and citizenship, that there is some contact at officer level.

Mr Pattie : Yes, at officer level.

Mr PASIN: Could we get you to come back to us and let us know what that level of interaction is?

Mr GRAY: Yes, I think it is really important.

Ms Edmonds : Yes, sure.

Mr Pattie : Yes, we can do that, absolutely no problem.

Mr PASIN: They are at the coalface, and it would be good to know that their feedback is being fed into the department, particularly for programs that don't get to Canberra.

Mr Pattie : We certainly have interaction with them in terms of the event, the Simpson Prize and the challenge and those sorts of things that come up here. We will come back to you on that.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Pattie and Ms Edmonds, for your evidence here today. You have some issues that you have taken on notice and we look forward to you getting that to the secretariat. We are done, thank you.

Mr Pattie : Thank you.