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School libraries and teacher librarians in Australian schools

CHAIR (Ms Bird) —I declare open this seventh public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Training as part of its inquiry into school libraries and teacher librarians in Australian schools. I welcome representatives from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to today’s hearing.

Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath I should advise you that the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. I advise that the proceedings are being broadcast on the internet. We do have the written submission from the department—thank you very much. Would you like to make some opening statements to that submission and then we will have questions?

Dr Arthur —Hopefully, the submission speaks for itself. In broad terms, obviously the Australian government has a general role, particularly in school education in Australia. It would conceive its role as providing national leadership in that space; to work in partnership with state and territory governments and non-government school authorities, parents and educators and other organisations. It obviously has a key role in providing funding for government and non-government schools in Australia to achieve the objectives of Australian schooling which are set out in very high-order terms in the Melbourne Declaration.

Within that there are a number of specific programs that the Australian government funds. They are outlined in the submission, and I will not go through those in any detail. Obviously, we are happy to answer questions. Of particular relevance would be the library funding under the Building the Education Revolution and the funding available for future skills—I think you would most accurately call them that—which is being made available under the Digital Education Revolution particularly to address the issue which I think is also relevant to the subject of this inquiry—the role of teachers in being able to be skilled users of information technology and information retrieval as part of information technology.

The overall position that the Australian government takes, particularly under its part in the federal financial relations reform, is that it does provide funding for general purposes, and as part of a national education agreement it is part of a process whereby there are agreed outcomes between the Commonwealth government, state and territory governments and, through state and territory governments, other school players on the objectives which are to be achieved through the significant funds that are provided for school education in Australia by the Commonwealth government.

The Australian government is not, therefore, responsible—it never has been, but particularly not with the approach taken under the federal financial relations approach—for day-to-day issues in schools. So for issues of hiring, numbers, conditions and duties of staff within schools, the Australian government does not have a particular role in detail. Depending on how things are arranged, that can be the responsibility of state education authorities, within government systems it can be the responsibility of principals within self-managing schools, and within the non-government sector it tends very much to be the responsibility of schools to make those decisions.

That is all I have to say by way of introductory remarks, and I am happy to take questions.

CHAIR —Margaret, do you want to add some opening remarks? You are in workforce management; do you want to just explain what that is?

Ms Banks —I am happy to make some introductory comments in that respect. There are three Smarter Schools National Partnerships: one on literacy and numeracy, one on lower socioeconomic groups and one on improving teacher quality. Under that national partnership on teacher quality, we are focusing on making improvements to teacher education in terms of attracting people to the workforce, retaining them, developing them in their role and ensuring that, as the research indicates, the best quality teachers are before the children of this nation. That is the one single factor outside family et cetera that can make a significant difference. It is a very important part of the government’s reform agenda—to be raising the quality of teachers.

CHAIR —Thank you, Margaret. It just gives committee members an idea of who to direct questions to. I have a few questions and then I will hand over to my colleagues. Thank you very much for the written submission. I thought it was particularly pertinent to some of the issues that we have been grappling with in the public hearings and submissions so far, so I will indicate my great appreciation for that. I would just make a general comment that sometimes submissions cover the broad area but do not directly home in and address what we have been grappling with. But this submission does that, so we really appreciate that. I am dealing with the part of the submission that directly addresses the terms of reference. You have talked about the national professional standards for teachers. You indicate that the standards have been drafted in generic terms. The early feedback from consultations indicates that it is going to be enriched with exemplars around specialised practice, which may include teacher librarians, and you indicated earlier that ALIA and AITSL have been involved in that consultation process.

Ms Banks —That is correct.

CHAIR —I am just keen to know where you are up to with that—what you might have in mind. I understand it is in the development process, but could you give us an update on that.

Ms Banks —I will just explain what the standards for teachers are, first of all. They have been developed in four levels. The first level is the ‘graduate’ level, which describes what we expect of teachers as they graduate from their pre-service training. The next is ‘proficient’, where we would expect all of our teachers to be. Then there are the ‘highly accomplished’ and ‘lead’ levels, which introduce the opportunities of a much more extended career path for teachers and aspirational improvements, for all, through those standards. As you have indicated, these have been drafted. We have just completed a process of consultation, and the consultation submissions—in the process of being collated—will be guiding the rewriting of the standards. This work is currently being carried out as a subgroup of the committee, for senior officials that work to the ministerial council. At the completion of that writing they will be handed across to the new organisation, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, which will be using those standards as a core for many processes. They will then use a validation process—the tender went out a week ago—to ensure that the standards are continuous and appropriate. That will be tested in schools with—

CHAIR —When you have integrated the consultation and produced that next stage, is that available publicly, or is it going to the institutes confidentially and separately?

Ms Banks —All of this is being handled in a transparent way. The draft standards were available, and submissions from anyone were invited. The response to the consultation feedback will be collated and made public, and the redrafted documents will be made available also.

CHAIR —They will be made available through the MCEECDYA website?

Ms Banks —Yes.

CHAIR —It could be quite significant to the inquiry that we are undertaking. Do you have a time frame that you are working towards with that?

Ms Banks —We have a very short time frame.

CHAIR —Good.

Ms Banks —We are struggling to be able to meet the deadline because of that process of rewriting and validation. We do not know the extent of the rewriting. We think it will be reasonably extensive to take on board the feedback, but we are working towards a date of around the end of October by which to have the standards validated and ready to go to the ministerial council for endorsement.

CHAIR —I assume that will be post the final report of this committee.

Ms Banks —Yes. The standards are central, also, to this national partnership. As I indicated, there are many processes that will spin off—that will be informing teacher professional development, informing expectations about teacher registration and, of course, informing the pre-service courses. There are a number of accreditation and certification processes that will follow through this new institute over the next year or two.

CHAIR —It is of interest to us because a lot of what we have been hearing from our inquiry has related to a number of stages. We have had lots of conversations about beginning teacher education incorporating more ICT based learnings. Quite clearly there are two very different streams. One is integrating ICT—a pedagogical approach—and the other is a subject approach: the curriculum issues around the use of ICT. Many of the teacher librarians who we have spoken to have said that they have some concern that we are still stuck a little bit on the technology concept of the whole thing—the physical existence, if you like, of this technology in the classroom and its integration—and that to some extent we are missing the other side of it, which is that in a modern world young people navigate so much of their life online, and we need to understand what that environment is about—test the reliability of information and encourage young people to be good citizens online. There are all sorts of issues that are in some ways of far more interest to parents and communities but that get a bit lost with the whole focus. One simple way in which they say that is reflected is that they get allocated to doing ICT maintenance in schools, to a great extent, rather than doing the other side of it, where they feel they have far more to offer. Do you have any comment on that?

Dr Arthur —It is not surprising that teacher librarians make that very well-focused and intelligent comment, because they are obviously information management specialists; that is what they are. One of the key things about information and communications technology is the ‘technology’ bit at the end. It is about how you deal with information. In particular, a change that has come about in the past 10 years has been the extreme power which the technology now has to allow individuals to access a very large amount of information and to manipulate that information and then re-communicate it to a very large number of people. Librarians, by their training, are specialists in information management issues. They understand the concepts very well.

So it is certainly true that there have been many issues over what seems to some of us a long time—but is in fact a really short time—in the use of information and communications technology in education. One of the problems certainly has been a lack of understanding that the devices are essentially just a tool to allow the normal processes of education to happen more effectively than they would without the tools. They are not fundamentally different strains; they are simply tools to make the normal things you want to do in education—that mysterious process of transmission of information turning into learning from students—happen more effectively and, since we are bureaucrats, more cost-effectively.

It is certainly the case that the government understands that very well, and the issues that are being pursued through the Digital Education Revolution are trying to address the full range of issues set out in the submission that you have had from the librarians. If you look, for example, at the key documents that are guiding the implementation of the program, which are all available on our website, the implementation plan, the Digital Education Revolution implementation roadmap, and the national partnership on the Digital Education Revolution, you will find that the objectives described there are all student learning objectives—the technology is merely described in passing as things necessary to achieve those learning objectives. The crucial role of improving information management is a vital part of that.

One particular point you raise: it certainly has been the case in the past that the support for technology in schools has been very ad hoc and it has usually been through an enthusiastic person on the P&C or the teacher librarian, some of whom get pressed into being bad information management specialists—in the technical sense not in the librarian sense. What we are trying to do with the DER funding is to provide sufficient funding for there to be proficient professional support. An example that I know quite well in New South Wales—but it is mirrored elsewhere—is that you no longer have it being something which is not funded as part of the program. The actual technical support and the presence of support officers to do the technology properly is part of the program. For example, in the ACT they have a very systematic approach, which has been facilitated by the DER funding, whereby the systems support is properly integrated within the departmental function and both teachers and librarians can get on with doing their proper function, not being bad technical specialists.

CHAIR —One of the other things that has been raised with us—and it probably links to the issue of the leadership standards that are being developed—is that a lot of the teacher librarian based submissions talk about their grave concerns about school based management. Their view is that too many principals fail to understand the leadership and team role that a teacher librarian can provide in bringing a school into the 21st century. They acknowledge part of that might actually be the fact that in some places the role of the teacher librarian has been debased so much that it is often a person who is not actually capable of doing that. We have seen some really good examples from the private sector of libraries being staffed and led by very senior people who integrate with the schools; they develop the school’s online bullying programs, they deal with citizenship in the modern world—things that I think we would all hope every student is able to access. One of the things that struck us in questioning is this: is it about school based management or is it about creating standards for school leaders that actually require them to engage with these issues? I am interested in your perspective on that and whether we are looking at the leadership standards actually building some of those things.

Dr Arthur —I think the example you have given tends to answer the question. In the independent sector it is absolutely school based management—it is the school principal reporting to the school council, normally. That is the decision making process. By and large they are not external issues. Speaking against my own profession, it seems to me a mistake to assume that remote bureaucrats making large decisions about the value of a teacher librarian and other forms of para professionals is not the solution into the future. What characterises schooling in Australia, and is the position of the current government, is that there has been an awful lot of remote decision making about what the schooling structure should be and how a teacher should or should not be rewarded, and not enough ability for people to demonstrate the value of a particular activity within a context and have that decision making in the local context—recognise that value and embed that in the teaching practice of the school.

It is very easy to pick a problem and say that someone remotely needs to make the decision ‘this is important’ and impose that uniformly across a wide range of schools or workplaces or whatever. It has been a trend of government—not universally but increasingly—to say that that is a model which has not demonstrated success and that a model which provides the decision making close to the actual delivery and the responsibility close to the delivery is a much better model. For example, it is the philosophy behind the My School website that you provide an accountability—a clarity—around what is happening at the local level and have a large number of people actually involved in the process at that local level, guiding what happens, rather than a small number of people remotely attempting to do so.

CHAIR —Margaret, do you want to comment on the standards part of the question?

Ms Banks —Yes, I will comment on that side of it. Currently, the standards being developed are for teachers, for classroom teaching. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership has also been given the responsibility of drafting standards for school leaders. They are in the early stages of doing that, having only recently been established. In doing so, I think there is very strong recognition of the need for professional development of school leaders, particularly to be able to lead a school where they are responsible for the full decision-making processes. Those policy intentions are imbedded in this national partnership, where there is a reward payment for jurisdictions that are moving towards increasing the level of school decision making, particularly on staffing and the staffing mix and the selection of their staff, and there are a number of trials happening across the nation.

Because it is early days in the drafting of those standards that will become the national standards for school leaders or school leadership, there is now an opportunity to ensure that the sorts of outcomes and capabilities that we are after in all of our school leaders are reflected adequately. There is an opportunity ahead to be able to do that but, with around 10,000 schools, we do have varied capacities in school leaders. The issue that was raised by a number of the teacher librarians just demonstrates the varied capacity of leaders. The research indicates that what is really important in the models that roll out for school decision making and the level of support is that there must be significant support for leaders to be able to carry out their roles. There also needs to be significant flexibility in the model, because we are increasingly moving to a customised model of schooling where the centralised decisions are no longer valid.

CHAIR —I think our interest is that, in this area, the evidence would seem to indicate it is not evidence based. There is very strong international evidence about the great tie between effective libraries, literacy and numeracy results, and academic achievements with schools and yet that does not seem to be well understood amongst many schools. I think New South Wales is the only state where there is a quota allocation for schools for teacher librarians. I understand devolving the decision making. Sometimes, when we are not yet at a point of having good guidance for school leaders about what they need to be doing, the danger is you fall into a period where you lose those things and then nobody appreciates what they might be able to do—based on the international evidence. That is very useful information, from both angles.

Dr STONE —My questions fall into two main categories. If I could follow on from the business of trying to have, as you call it, a framework—the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership framework—for identifying what is needed. I can remember the days—only just, let me hasten to add—when inspectors came round to schools. Kids were led to believe they were inspecting them but of course they were inspecting the teachers and there would be weeks of preparation for the arrival of this inspector. I went to a very tiny country school and we had weeks of preparation for this inspector who, presumably, went away with a report and that reflected on that teacher’s or school’s performance in teaching—that is, the quality of the teaching that was happening.

In Australia we are very good at developing frameworks and standards and benchmarks and so on. When does the crunch come when someone independently—an expert, obviously—goes into the workplace of teachers, teacher librarians and actually observes them in action and reports independently on that? It would be in order to assist that teacher, quite obviously, and to give them feedback and support from their observations over an appropriate period of time—hours, days or whatever—other than referring them to a manual. It might be a virtual manual, of course, on the web, where they tick boxes and say, ‘That’s okay; I’ve shown up every day,’ and they have done this and that and have a new certificate of something, and so on. I am just wondering when that is going to happen. Is that part of your process? That is my first question. Maybe you want to answer that one before I go on to the DER.

Ms Banks —It goes back to the day-to-day running of schools being the responsibility of the state or the school, depending on the type. Those accountability processes vary from state to state or school by school.

Dr STONE —It is not just accountability; it is the quality assurance we are talking about, isn’t it?

Ms Banks —Yes, but in terms of the processes for going into teachers’ classrooms and observing their behaviour or their capability—

Dr STONE —Their skills.

Ms Banks —their skills—and providing the feedback, which we know is actually the very best process for improving teacher quality, one of the outcomes embedded in the national partnership is to improve the performance management of teachers. But how that is to happen is left to jurisdictions, and they have developed their implementation plans for how they will improve the performance management process.

There are, with the institute, moves towards more formal processes, but it is still embryonic. The institute is, six months into its establishment, still getting its governance processes et cetera into place. They have the standards to work with but they will be looking at the accreditation processes for teacher registration, the highly accomplished teachers and the lead teachers. In terms of identification of what level a teacher is performing at, I believe there will be some moves over the next years for the institute to develop more formal processes that will be utilised at the school level. At the end of the day, it is what happens at the school, so it is assisting at the front end with good processes as well as having opportunities for checking those processes are effectively implemented. But that checking remains the responsibility of systems, not of the Australian government.

Dr Arthur —Once again, on these occasions it is a matter for a policy decision by government as to whether or not Australia would move to having some form of inspectorate. At the moment it is a policy by the various state and territory governments. Whether the Australian government would have a position on that is, as I said, something for government to decide. We really cannot speculate on that.

I would note that internationally there are various models. Certainly in England there is a very strong adherence to an inspectorate model. You have a body called Ofsted, which provides exactly that inspectorate role for English schools and individual teachers. In some school districts in the United States, as I am aware, the kind of publication of achievement data which in Australia is published on a school-by-school basis is carried down to a class-by-class basis and parents can actually look at the performance of students against quite a wide range of achievement on a class basis. Clearly, the government is committed to a number of measures, currently summed up in the national partnership, to improve teacher quality. The extent to which there are further developments on the data side and further developments on inspectorates for teachers would be a matter for government.

Dr STONE —That is for the state?

Dr Arthur —At the moment it is the state governments. Whether there would be a national position on that—

CHAIR —In terms of the education authorities, I do not want us to lose sight of the fact that there are various systems.

Dr STONE —Absolutely—independent, state and so on. So, that is unfinished business, in a sense, for you, Dr Arthur, until you can—

Dr Arthur —It is a policy matter for government, yes.

Dr STONE —That has to be a concern: how would you know—at the institute, when someone has presented as highly skilled—through what process has that been established? Has it been an objective, comparative type of process with others in other states and so on?

Dr Arthur —There is a mechanism, I should think, as Ms Banks indicated, to look at how that accreditation will occur. That certainly would be something that AITSL would be supervising.

Ms Banks —That is correct.

Dr STONE —Let me just move on—and I am conscious of the other people who need to ask questions—to the Building the Education Revolution Program and the $3.97 billion in 3,472 school library projects. The committee is very interested in this: prior to the Commonwealth investing in these school library infrastructure projects, was there a discussion between the department and the states about where these new libraries were to go, how they would be staffed and whether there was a sufficient pool of qualified teacher librarians to work in these libraries to ensure that with the new building, or rehabilitated building, there would be both the additional qualified teacher librarians and other appropriate staff?

Mr OAKESHOTT —I would like to come in on the back of that, because one of my questions is very similar. My question is in relation to the submission having an actual dollar figure for 3,472 new libraries. The question I have, which I would love further details on and I am sure the committee would, is very similar to Dr Stone’s question. Without getting into the politics, the value-for-money question is one that is, I think, being looked at by three or four different inquiries or task forces. Is there a figure you can give us that is not necessarily a dollar figure with regard to new space? What is new? I know you mentioned ‘new’ libraries, but I am not sure how much of this is new compared with an upgrade of existing facilities. That is what I would like a breakdown on. I accept your point that the Commonwealth is not responsible for day-to-day management and resourcing, but for us to have a clear handle on what is new in this space—what is the issue that we are dealing with in terms of what is new?—it would help if there was another figure used. I do not know whether it is square metres or what it is, but if you have something, that would help.

Dr Arthur —We could need to take that on notice.

CHAIR —I will just clarify that the committee does not have a role in assessing the physical side of it, but I think what we are asking is: if we are looking at staffing, what is the increased size of the task?

Mr OAKESHOTT —That is right. Sorry to cut in on the back, but it was a similar question.

CHAIR —We acknowledge that even if it is a refurbishment that does not necessarily mean there was a teacher librarian attached to the old one. That is the sort of angle we are coming from, if you could address that.

Dr Arthur —In reverse order, we would need to take that question on notice. I am not in a position to interrogate the figures we have at that level. In answer to your question, Dr Stone, that would be answered by the general eligibility criteria for the Building the Education Revolution Program, which was, as is well known, an economic stimulus program. It is my understanding that the eligibility criteria essentially went to the desirability of the expenditure for a particular purpose and the ability to expend within particular time frames. These issues have been explored in detail in other areas of the parliament. We can certainly provide you with the eligibility criteria for this part of the Building the Education Revolution Program, which you can then scrutinise to see the extent to which you feel they do or do not assess or address the issues that you raised.

CHAIR —For example, we found that in New South Wales, because of this rollout, the Department of Education was funding a whole lot of new training places for teacher librarians. We are trying to get a sense of where the gaps are and how people might be addressing those, and whether that information comes to the federal department.

Dr Arthur —And the federal department does not attempt to manage all of those aspects of programs. We will provide funding for a particular purpose in this particular kind of program and will address the issues necessary deal with the stewardship of those funds in our eligibility criteria. We expect as part of the overall partnership approach to education, particularly schools education, that our other partners—state and territory governments, as you well say, the education authorities in the non-government sector—will appropriately execute their parts of the activities, including providing staffing for facilities that are made available through capital funding.

CHAIR —To further pursue Dr Stone’s question, there is an indication here that at the federal level you are looking at collecting data on teacher librarian numbers and so forth.

Dr Arthur —Indeed.

Ms Banks —If I could just qualify that, the availability of data on the teacher workforce is limited. However—

CHAIR —That is where our frustration comes from.

Ms Banks —A survey called Staff in Australian schools conducted four years ago provided some data. That survey is about to be repeated. We are in the process of consulting on the questionnaire. We have employed ACER to conduct the survey and have worked through the methodology. The data is basically focused on demographics and supply and demand. It is not about teachers’ attitudes—it is not attitudinal in its base. It goes out to school principals who will be answering questions about supply and demand. We would expect to pick up trends as a result of the BER in addition to workforce trends. Then there are individual surveys on teachers that ask them about qualifications and age to try to get a picture of expectations of the trends in the workforce.

CHAIR —Do you have a time frame on that for us?

Ms Banks —Yes, I do. We expect that to be implemented during school term 3 and the data will be available early in 2011. There could be some preliminary information earlier than that, but not publicly available. ACER could perhaps provide us with something a bit earlier.

CHAIR —Dr Stone, did you have a second question?

Dr STONE —They were my two questions. The first was about the actual inspectorate.

CHAIR —Sorry, yes.

Dr STONE —The second one was about the BER, because we are concerned: we have 3,472 new school libraries but have we got 3,472 new librarians or is someone madly responding to that need with additional places right now?

CHAIR —Or, even more worryingly, not addressing it?

Dr STONE —Indeed, because it would seem very sad. We have already heard a lot of evidence about the libraries being the poor relations in terms of the equipment. We loved that phrase ‘the dead elephant’—the graveyard for old computers and so on. They are often also the place where people retreat to we they have had a long teaching career. The two options are often career counselling or the library. It is important that we tune into the new facilities. Are they going to be appropriately staffed with experts—dedicated, trained professionals—in this area.

Mr OAKESHOTT —I have a technology question. These are anecdotal views that I would like some feedback on. This is as a local member and this is New South Wales specific; I do not know what is happening in other areas of Australia. I do get a sense that there is this emerging clash, for all the right reasons, between the issues around privacy and online protection for students within the ICT space.

Dr Arthur —Indeed.

Mr OAKESHOTT —But then also what we are seeing with some aspirations of government and community with regard to the post-Bradley environment, where everyone is wanting things to be seamless and flexible—‘collaboration without duplication’—and this clash between these two ideals. I have seen it a couple of times now, where it looks to be a case of technology holding up technology, where servers in one sense are not talking to other servers. Is there an awareness of that? Is there a strategy to deal with that? Can I have some feedback on that, please?

—The answers to your questions are yes and yes. It is a very significant issue. There are the general issues which are not going to be easily solved, such as how to balance the desire of people to use the power of technology, which allows anyone to connect with anything and anyone to connect with anyone, with the duty of care that is inherent in schools. It is unlikely that there is going to be a solution which magically resolves that on one side or the other. I think there is always going to be a tension within schools, particularly with minors, between those two issues.

However, you want the information and resource to be sitting in one area to be available more generally. That is something that is essentially a ‘technology’ problem. It is really an organisational structure problem, as reflected in technology, which we can address and which we are actively working to address at the moment. You have a number of problems. One is that you will have some resources sitting inside one state and territory curriculum repository and students in other schools not being able to access that. That is a permissions issue which could be solved and a solution is being actively worked on.

The other is a technology issue. If you have a resource and you want to know that the person who is accessing that resource is not a student but a teacher, how do you do that? At the moment the fact that the person is a teacher is validated. For example, within the New South Wales system there are ways to address that. It is an issue which has been worked on extensively in the university sector. By coincidence, I happened to have worked on those issues when I was working on ICT in the university area. In the university area the problem is one where you have very large databases and research instruments in different institutions and you want people within universities to access those. The way that has been developed to do that is a thing called federated identity management—it is bit of techno-speak.

Mr OAKESHOTT —It is called what, sorry?

Dr Arthur —Federated identity management, which just means that you manage identities but you do it like a federation with people being responsible for it. There is some work done by the National Science Foundation in that space. There is a group which has been approved by the ministerial council to specifically work on—another piece of techno-speak—interoperability issues within the schools area, which is funded out of my group. That group is actively working at the moment on exactly the issue of how to solve those issues, particularly in the context of the rollout of the national curriculum and how to get more value out of the assessment information that is available in schools. There are a bunch of people based in Melbourne who are actively working on those issues. There are some more technical issues and I am happy to provide more detail on those.

Mr OAKESHOTT —Can you provide us with some of that information on the technospeak and also a level of comfort, without laying blame anywhere, that we have not already built a system within states—for example, in New South Wales Catholic, independent and the public sector schools—and across states that is not recoverable, with parties not able to talk to each other as we work towards some of these national agenda items?

CHAIR —I am just going to intervene because it is way off the topic area.


CHAIR —Yes. I am quite happy for that to be followed up separately. The broader infrastructure issues around the DER are not covered by the terms of reference for this inquiry.

Mr OAKESHOTT —The reason for raising it was coming back to the role that the library plays and the use of ICT in that space.

CHAIR —And it may be limited by poor structures, I understand.

Mr OAKESHOTT —I probably should have finished the point.

Dr Arthur —The only comment I would make is that historically that is exactly what we have done. It is not a new issue; it is exactly how things have happened in the past. It is happening less so now. For example, in Victoria they have just completed deploying a thing they call the ultranet, which is a mechanism which does this. It has been built according to international standards and all of the contents in it have been developed on a basis that it should be accessible by all schools in Australia. So there are good things happening in that space.

Mr OAKESHOTT —Great, okay.

CHAIR —Further to that, one of the issues that has been raised with us—and it comes both in technology and equity—is the capacity to access databases that have to be bought. The National Library gave us an indication that they thought they could provide access to a suite of databases for about $1,000 a school, but that it was a bulk-buying option. At the moment schools have to decide individually to buy access for their libraries and that becomes cost prohibitive. It is a real issue about coordination of that access. Indeed, it would be a really important issue for a remote school with maybe a teacher librarian coming once a week or so to actually have someone come in and then train up the staff on accessing good quality databases instead of googling everything for the students.

Dr Arthur —That issue is also one that we are looking at: how to ensure that schools have access to all of the information they would require to effectively deliver schooling. The context we are particularly using to structure that is the national curriculum. It is an issue that we are certainly looking at. A major part of that is purchasing arrangements and managing intellectual property issues. There are a number of national committees on copyright issues which are attempting to address those issues. There is also going to be a roundtable of the publishing industry quite soon to look at better mechanisms for schools to access commercially produced material so that they do not have to go to a whole range of separate places with very, very different intellectual property regimes. They will also look at a more manageable solution for schools to have access both to wholly government funded information and privately produced information. This is a subject we do not have all the answers for but it is certainly a subject that is being addressed.

CHAIR —It will certainly be a challenge if increasingly news publishing goes user-pay online.

Dr STONE —That is why we have to buy subscriptions, yes.

CHAIR —That is right. It is going to be a great challenge.

Mr OAKESHOTT —I have one quick workforce development question. Again, anecdotally from a local member’s perspective—and saying this in the nicest possible way about my region, which is a low-SES region—whenever there is a reform agenda the teaching community probably does not seem to be an early and enthusiastic adapter. Is there is a correlation that is seen throughout the country? It looks to be those that are the ‘haves’—the higher SES areas—are also correlated to, as I say, enthusiastic early adapters in reform agendas and therefore tap into the buckets of money and get lots of care and attention. That capacity question for low-SES areas to engage in a reform agenda seems to almost entrench them where they are at. Is that recognised in what is happening and are we going to deal with that in regard to what we are specifically looking at here?

Ms Banks —It is certainly recognised as a very important element going back to the evidence that is guiding the whole reform agenda of Australia’s performance. Students in low-socioeconomic schools are not performing as well as those in some of the other OECD countries, so the government’s policy is very focused on that hence that low-socioeconomic national partnership that puts additional resources into schools to enable some assistance in motivating and driving some reforms. You have identified some real challenges for education in Australia overall—

CHAIR —That might be reflected in the ageing demographic of the teaching profession, too.

Ms Banks —We do not have a teacher shortage in Australia—that is a bit of a myth. There are plenty of teachers. We do have a shortage of highly experienced teachers who are willing to go into the low-socioeconomic schools and the very remote schools. It is distribution and shortages in particular subject areas—mathematics and science are the classic subjects.

The trend in education is that it is the beginning teachers who go to the low-socioeconomic and very remote locations. These are the teachers who need more support as they are starting their career, and it is much more challenging to be able to provide it. In the same way, there is often a beginning leader as well, who needs the support and is less able to support. An area identified in the national partnership covers reward payments for improving the quality of school leadership and teaching in the less advantaged schools. That is recognised as a key to making the difference.

Some of the less traditional things include what the incentives are that will take people there and, more importantly, what the incentives are that will keep them there for a sustained period of time—because that is also critical. Those low-socioeconomic schools often suffer radical turnovers and, whilst teachers might be quite good, it does not work to the children’s advantage to have two or three different teachers in one year, especially each making up their own mind as to their own pedagogy and methodology that they are going to implement. The issue you have raised is really critical and complex. The workforce is very much a focus of what is trying to be achieved here to reverse some of those trends. So you expect the consequence to be a take-up of transfers—

CHAIR —I am conscious of the time.

Mr OAKESHOTT —Thanks for that.

CHAIR —We have gone broad and I want to bring it back to a few very specific things, because we have to get this inquiry on target and reporting. I want to follow up some specific things that will be informing our report.

Dr STONE —Chair, could I just make a very quick comment?

CHAIR —Yes. I will find where I need to ask the questions while you make your comment.

Dr STONE —Following up on what Mr Oakeshott was just showing, there are two things that happen in regional as distinct from very remote Indigenous communities in Central Australia and Northern Australia. But I am talking about areas like the Mallee. There are two issues. One is the newly trained teacher getting there and moving on. The other problem which I observe more as the problem is where you have a teacher come who marries a local person and stays there forever. So there is not a vacancy but there is a person who has been there perhaps 25 or more years and very much needs, and sometimes wants, to shift about. In fact, there have been moves in the Mallee where schools will swap their teachers within a commutable distance. These teachers are not able to go elsewhere due to their family commitments and the ability of their partner to move. So they have actually schemed to get those teachers moving to a different school given that they have spent forever in another school. That is one issue, and I do not know that that is being done systematically and it should be.

The second issue is very critical. The My School data identified schools which were having difficulties in terms of the standards. We understood that the My School program was then going to lead to additional resources for schools which were struggling. I am wondering whether those resources are flowing yet, particularly in relation to teacher librarians. My school focused on literacy, as you would be aware, as one of the key criteria that we use to determine the school was achieving what it should. Is there now additional funding going into the schools that were identified as struggling or not up to standard, particularly in relation to literacy?

CHAIR —I will take that as a comment, because I am not going to broaden out the evidence again. Dr Stone particularly asked about resourcing under the literacy and numeracy program for teacher librarians.

Ms Banks —We are happy to provide that.

CHAIR —I notice in your submission that you say that education authorities have not identified any initiatives involving school libraries or teacher librarians. I do not want to hold you too long, so I want to be really specific. Do you think that there is a problem in that teacher librarians are not being utilised in the literacy and numeracy programs? I visited one of my schools and the teacher librarian is driving the literacy and numeracy program, but it is probably not being described as an initiative of the school library or the teacher librarian. I am a bit concerned that we might be losing some of the story about the leadership role that teacher librarians can play in driving that literacy and numeracy. Based on what you collect so that it can inform better practice for a wider range of schools, do you have some idea on what might be happening there?

Ms Banks —I can comment in terms of where this national partnership and the literacy and numeracy partnerships are up to. It has been early days, but it is all moving to a more consolidated phase. There has been a literacy forum whereby good practice was shared. We are also about to commence an evaluation process that will more systematically be picking up on and building the evidence. There is also the development of an evidence base—this is not my area but I am aware of this and we can get you more information—where the results are coming forward.

CHAIR —And what drove those.

Ms Banks —And what are the practices that are happening. We are as interested in the staff arrangements, the configurations—whether they are using tutors, what sort of staff they have and how they organise—as much as the classroom pedagogy. We are doing things but—

CHAIR —Could you get the division that is doing that to provide us with some information on it?

Ms Banks —Sure.

CHAIR —I think we would certainly be interested. We are very keen on the evidence base. All the submissions we have had on teacher librarians and the connection to literacy and numeracy improvements are about the evidence base, but that would be useful. I refer to the staff in schools survey that you referred to, which would include qualified teacher librarians. Is there a proposal? A lot of the evidence has pushed us to intervene at a level which, from your opening comments, is clearly not going to be appropriate for the national government in determining staffing and so forth. But one of the things we can do in the national quality agenda is encourage and drive, based on evidence, some good initiatives. I am wondering whether there is consideration for the My School website itself to record whether schools have libraries and whether they are staffed by teacher librarians.

Dr Arthur —Obviously that is a matter for government, and we can certainly take that back. I guess you might make a distinction between the My School website and possibly a requirement for the publication of information on a school website, because the key thing about the My School website is that it is a nationally comparable data set. It is not just information about—

CHAIR —But it would allow parents to look—that is, if it is evidence based that the existence of an effective library and teacher librarian drives better literacy and numeracy outcomes. Parents sit on P&Cs that often allocate their money to buying resources for libraries and so forth. It could be a quite powerful piece of information for them to be making some of those assessments.

Dr Arthur —Indeed, at the technical level. This is really just a methodology question—whether it is more effective simply to require schools to have that information in a particular format on their websites. It then becomes a relatively trivial matter for either My School or indeed anybody to harvest that and make it nationally available in a way that parents can look at it—as opposed to having a central authority go out and ask a school a question and bring that information back and compile a table. The question should be: how is the information made available to parents in a way that they can easily get at it?

CHAIR —Exactly.

Dr Arthur —Whether or not the methodology is the same methodology as generated on the My School website would possibly be something that we could look at.

CHAIR —Some of the evidence we have had from parents shows that quite often they do not even know whether the person staffing the library is a qualified teacher librarian or not, so there are some issues around that.

Ms Banks —If I may, one of the important things I would draw your attention to—I might not be correct on this—is that you were talking about the definition of a teacher librarian and it is my understanding that the association, which plays a very important role in quality-assuring its own profession, requires quite specific undergraduate teacher qualification with a Masters—

CHAIR —I do not think the problem is with the qualification. In schools there is a ‘librarian’ as far as parents are concerned. They do not necessarily know whether that is a technician, a librarian with no teaching qualifications, a teacher with no librarian qualifications—

Ms Banks —or a librarian with a teacher qualification.

CHAIR —That is the issue, I think. Just finally, the other thing that has been raised with us a lot is about the beginning teacher training. I sat on this committee in the previous parliament when we did the teacher training report and one of the big messages we got was: stop lumping more and more into the beginning teacher training, because it is not always the best place and time to do it.

I noticed in your submission there is consideration of integration into those beginning teacher standards some ICT pedagogy-type areas. One of the things we have been told is that if you plan that appropriately, people should be able to get some accreditation for then going on afterwards, if they want to become teacher librarians, and doing library studies. So they do not do subjects in their beginning teaching course. It is so completely stand-alone that it may generate an interest in becoming an information specialist in our modern 21st century schools but it gives them no credit for undertaking their qualifications. I am just wondering if you are looking at actual pathways when you are building in those entry-level courses.

Ms Banks —Pathways into teaching is a very important component. What we are not looking at so much is the detail of university recognition of credits from one course to another. In fact, we are looking at more flexible ways into teaching. There is increasingly support for a much more integrated model of the academic and the practicum with the school—

CHAIR —I want to narrow it down further than that. I am talking about if somebody becomes a beginning teacher, they get a qualification as ‘proficient’ and they want to take a leading role in information rather than management, some of the subjects they have done at the university course, if we are developing new ICT subjects, should support that decision to go on to the next level. I understand that you are not yet at the point of doing the leading and high level—

Ms Banks —But that will fit very nicely with the standards and the notion of a career path from being a proficient teacher or teacher librarian and being able to career-path into much more specialised positions that are recognised salary-wise.

CHAIR —It goes to the whole leadership issue, where a lot of the evidence was saying that it is not recognised that they are dual-qualified, that they actually have a whole lot of leadership skills. If that is built into the standards rather than us directing education authorities to employ people, it will encourage people. If you have got a principal who has actually had to undertake some standards development in information and the 21st century school, they are going to appreciate the role and more effectively utilise the role of the library and the teacher librarians in it. That is just the angle that we are keen to have a look at. How far down the track are you with the—what is after ‘proficient’?

Ms Banks —‘Highly accomplished’ and ‘lead teacher’. They are all being considered together as a continuum.

CHAIR —If we are looking at a report in about August, could that inform that process? I am just trying to match our timing with what you are doing to be effective.

Ms Banks —Yes.

Dr Arthur —There is also a project underway at the moment to look at the various mechanisms that states and territories have where teachers can test their capabilities in the use of ICT and get some feedback and access to tools which will improve that. There is a project at the moment to try to develop a national approach to that.

CHAIR —Great. I am sorry to rush you at the end there, but we are on a short time frame with the report and I am very keen to match what we are doing constructively with what the department is doing, so we do not sit completely separate from each other. We very much appreciate that.

Ms Banks —Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you.

—It is a pleasure. I think we might get you back closer to the end to nut out some details. Thank you for your attendance today. Resolved (on motion by Mr Oakeshott):

That this committee authorises publication of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Subcommittee adjourned at 10.44 am