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Education and Employment Legislation Committee
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority


CHAIR: I now welcome the officials from ACARA. Mr Randall, would you like to make a short opening statement?

Mr Randall : No, thank you.

CHAIR: Okay. We will proceed straight to questions. Senator Lines?

Senator LINES: Thank you. At the last Senate estimates we asked questions about the refocusing of ACARA—I think we spent quite an amount of time on that subject—and we asked, specifically, about 'The coalition's policy for schools: putting students first', which states that it will:

… refocus the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority to ensure it is focused on developing the highest possible standard curriculum. We will transfer all data, reporting and compliance functions that are not curriculum related back to the Department of Education - this will free the Authority to direct its resources into developing rigorous benchmarking processes so we can compare our curriculum against the world's best curricula. It will also ensure that we are able to regularly make improvement to the curriculum over time so it remains competitive and adequately monitor its implementation to be sure it is improving student outcomes as intended.

Minister, you took on notice exactly what constituted 'refocusing'. However, the answer to this particular question on notice did not refer to refocusing at all. Rather, it said:

The Australian Government is examining the role and responsibilities of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) informed by the Review of the ACARA.

Is the government still planning on refocusing ACARA, as was outlined in its schools election policy? That is a very longwinded question. I just wanted to give you the background.

Senator Birmingham: I think there are a number of ways in which ACARA has evolved and been influenced by policy decisions. Out of that, if you want to use the word 'refocus', if that is what was used at the time, then I think that has occurred and is probably an ongoing work in progress.

Senator LINES: It is not me using the word 'refocus'; it was in your—

Senator Birmingham: Yes. I said that.

Senator LINES: But you said 'if I want to'—

Senator Birmingham: I said if you want to use the word, if it was in a policy document—

Senator LINES: It was in your policy document. Something which evolves is not quite the same as something which is refocused. It says specifically that you will direct its resources in developing rigorous benchmarking et cetera.

Senator Birmingham: I think the Education Council, with the work of the Commonwealth and partners, has managed to achieve much of that. But I guess my comment about things evolving and being a continual work in progress is that we are always striving to look for ways to do these things better.

Mr Cook : To assist, some of the refocus is happening and was part of the review of ACARA as well. That is part of the legislative requirement of the government. Part of that refocusing for ACARA is focusing more strongly on online assessment, as you would appreciate, because the focus in future years is less about curriculum, because of the great work ACARA has done to establish and finalise the F-10 curriculum materials. So the refocus, which is clear in that ACARA review report, will be more about assessment and utilisation of online assessments. So there is already a refocus of ACARA occurring, and that is agreed by council.

Senator LINES: But we have policy position which talks about a refocusing of ACARA. The minister has described it as a work in progress, as an evolving thing—

Senator Birmingham: I view improvement as a continual exercise.

Senator LINES: Well, that is not a refocus. Mr Cook, you have talked about a future refocus.

Mr Cook : The refocus is public.

Senator LINES: I want somebody—the minister, perhaps—to really clarify what refocusing ACARA means. It is not an evolution. It is not an evolving process. If departments did not evolve, we would all be in trouble.

Mr Cook : With respect, any refocus over time would have to be an evolving process. So one piece of work has been done by ACARA. They are being refocused to focus on—

Senator LINES: But what specific refocus?

Mr Cook : The refocus is very clear in the review of ACARA report, which is public and which council have actually—

Senator LINES: What is happening to refocus ACARA?

Mr Cook : I think I answered part of that question. The focus is less on curriculum now and there has been a refocus on online assessment, as a result of the work—

Senator LINES: Right. So how have you shifted resources?

Senator Birmingham: Senator, I would be happy if Mr Randall wants to talk about the way in which some of ACARA's work and focus may have changed following that review and the endorsement of its recommendations by the Education Council.

Senator LINES: I am trying to get to the nub of what we are talking about—this word 'refocus'.

CHAIR: Senator, are you directing your questions to Mr Randall?

Senator LINES: Everyone seems to be having a go. I started with the minister. Mr Cook helped out and now Mr Randall is being asked to help.

Senator Birmingham: If your question is what has changed out of the refocus that has been undertaken following the review of ACARA and the adoption of recommendations from that by Education Council, I will invite Mr Randall to—

Senator LINES: Let's be very clear what I am asking here, Minister Birmingham.

CHAIR: And who you are asking it to.

Senator LINES: I asked it of the minister. He is the one who is handballing it, not me—or he is being assisted by the two gentlemen on either side of him. The first question was: is the government still planning on refocusing ACARA? I got a string of fancy language there but not a yes or no. I asked that specifically in relation to what is outlined in the coalition policy. Now I am asking: please are you able to clarify what refocusing ACARA means? So is it still being refocused in line with your policy, and what does that refocus mean?

Senator Birmingham: I am happy to say in relation to the policy ambition of refocusing ACARA: mission accomplished. The review of ACARA was undertaken and the Education Council considered matters following from that and adopted recommendations. In a second I will invite Mr Randall to explain to you what some of those changes may have entailed, but I would say in addition that I expect all agencies, as I said at the outset, to continually seek improvement in their operations. So these matters are always a work in progress. But in relation to that particular statement I am happy for Mr Randall to give you the details of what has changed as a result of the work that was undertaken.

Mr Randall : Thanks, Minister.

Senator LINES: Perhaps I can continue with my questions and I may come to—

Senator Birmingham: No, Senator Lines, you wanted to know what the refocus was. Let's actually—

Senator LINES: No, I asked you—

Senator Birmingham: You just wanted to know that it has been done?

Senator LINES: No, I asked you: were you still planning to refocus?

Senator Birmingham: Done.

Senator LINES: And I asked you to clarify. I have some further questions that may assist Mr Randall, if he is going to give me a full explanation.

CHAIR: I am dying to hear from Mr Randall—excellent.

Senator LINES: Senator McKenzie, you get an opportunity to ask your own questions. These are Labor's questions. Can you explain how you are examining the role and responsibilities of ACARA, as referenced in SQ15-000685? Do you want me to wait while you source that QON?

Mr Cook : I think—

CHAIR: Who was that directed to? I thought it was Mr Randall.

Mr Cook : I think that probably would have been a department question on notice. This is part, as the minister has indicated, of the review of ACARA. That is a public report. That work has been done. The recommendations are clearly available. The recommendations have been agreed by the Education Council. Some of those recommendations were discussed at the last committee hearing. One of those recommendations, for example, in relation to refocus is:

… ACARA's highest priority is to shift the balance of the available resources and attention to its assessment function and collaboration with Education Services Australia and all Australian governments to ensure successful implementation of NAPLAN online.

That is a refocus that ACARA has been asked to do as part of the recommendation of the review of ACARA, which is a process that was going on—

Senator LINES: I asked specifically in relation to a question on notice: SQ15-000685. I asked you to explain how you are examining the roles and responsibilities of ACARA as referenced in the response to that question.

Mr Cook : There are two processes in relation to that. One is the legislative requirement to review the roles and responsibilities of ACARA. That has been delivered. That was delivered on behalf of Education Council. That was agreed by Education Council. The second part is that Education Council and the senior officials group always monitor the work of ACARA. It is the Education Council that sets the charter letter. It is the Education Council that agrees the business plan and the budget for ACARA. So it is the Education Council in partnership with the Commonwealth—the Commonwealth being part of that council—that will always continue to look at and monitor the work of ACARA and set directions for that agency.

Senator LINES: Just so I am clear, are you suggesting the Education Council and the government are examining the roles and responsibilities of ACARA as referenced in that question?

Mr Cook : That is the requirement under the act. ACARA is owned—

Senator LINES: Sure, but I am asking you in relation to the QON. Have you got the QON there in front of you?

Mr Cook : Yes.

Senator LINES: So are you saying in relation to examining the roles and responsibilities of ACARA that that will be done between the Education Council and the government?

Mr Cook : The Australian government has examined the roles and responsibilities. We will do, as we always do, take that to states and territories.

Senator LINES: I asked you how you were doing that. So how is that being done?

Mr Cook : We led the review of ACARA.

Senator LINES: So the government is doing that.

Mr Cook : We have done that. That is publicly available.

Senator Birmingham: In relation to the refocus, there was a review and it is public available. The Education Council has agreed upon steps following that review. In relation to ongoing examination of the role and responsibilities of ACARA, it is the responsibility of the Education Council to approve the work plan of ACARA, which I understand occurs on an annual basis, so that is an annual examination, if you like, of the role and responsibilities of ACARA.

Senator LINES: So it is an annual examination?

Senator Birmingham: The approval of the work plan occurs annually and in approving the work plan of course you would hope and trust that all states and territories and the Commonwealth—parties to the Education Council—would consider those roles and responsibilities.

Senator LINES: 'Would consider', so is that a wish list, Minister?

Senator Birmingham: No, it is not a wish list; it is a work plan of what ACARA is doing over the—

Senator LINES: I have asked how they are being examined. We understand that the review has been done and it is now public.

Mr Cook : The technical aspects of that are: a paper goes to the Education Council from ACARA—and I can probably let Mr Randall speak for himself; ACARA submit their work plan to the council; every state and territory and the Commonwealth government examines that work plan; any other ideas they may have in relation to how ACARA should focus its work over the next 12 months are put and then discussed at the Education Council; amendments are made if necessary; and then that is finally approved by the Education Council.

Senator LINES: So when will any changes, if there are changes, be implemented?

Mr Cook : It relates to which changes they are. In relation to the review of ACARA, those changes are already being implemented in relation to things like a stronger focus on online assessment. They are already being implemented.

Senator Birmingham: Mr Randall can speak to those if he wishes, which I did offer before.

Senator LINES: Before we get to Mr Randall, are you in a position to clarify that the data compliance and reporting function of ACARA will not be transferred to the department?

Mr Cook : That was part of the review of ACARA. The feedback from states and territories was that was not something that they believed should occur. The government does believe that is appropriate and so those responsibilities do remain with ACARA.

Senator LINES: So they are not going to be transferred to the department?

Mr Cook : In relation to the review, that is correct.

Senator LINES: So the government at this point is happy with the compliance and reporting functions of ACARA and they will remain with ACARA?

Mr Cook : That is correct, as outlined in the review of ACARA.

Senator LINES: Does ACARA currently measure transversal skills like creativity, communication, collaboration and problem solving?

Mr Cook : I will hand over to Mr Randall to answer on behalf of ACARA in relation to their work.

Mr Randall : Currently we do not. Those things you have called transversal skills are represented in the Australian curriculum as general capabilities, so with the curriculum being implemented—repeating and acknowledging some of the points that the minister and Mr Cook already made—we have ongoing discussion with the states and territories about how, expecting that young people are being taught and are learning those sorts of things, we might continue to adjust and improve our assessment program so that we can assess those. We are talking about whether under our sample assessment program those sorts of things can be assessed. Just to be complete for the record, one of our general capabilities—ICT skills—is currently assessed under sample assessment and I think last time we met we talked about some of the results we got from those.

Senator LINES: So, the skills that I call creativity, comms, collaboration and problem solving, you are calling 'general capabilities'?

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator LINES: Has the ministerial council asked ACARA to look at general capabilities specifically?

Mr Randall : When you say 'look at', the ministerial council has approved a curriculum that has those seven general capabilities within it. So they are clearly there. Part of my answer is that the focus now is that, as the curriculum is being implemented, quite appropriately the discussion now has turned to the council itself discussing, on advice from us and from other forms of advice it gets, how assessment of those might best be undertaken. It is worth my noting that some states and territories, Victoria for example, already have some assessment programs in that space. Also, we have had some contact internationally from countries that are interested in it. So the discussions are taking place. But, given your earlier question, at the moment there is no assessment program that we are conducting apart from the ICT one, which takes us directly to those general capabilities—the assessment of them.

Senator LINES: I understand that you are saying that ICT is the only one.

Mr Randall : Of our seven general capabilities that are formally and explicitly assessed, yes.

Senator LINES: Why was that decision made?

Mr Randall : There has not been a decision not to assess them. We have just got the Australian curriculum in the last two years and it is now being implemented. It is logical to say that if we now have literacy and numeracy being assessed, and we have ICT, science and civics and citizenship, as we continue to work with the implementation of those, the question or discussion—and it is taking place—is how might we and when might we move to the assessment of those. So, a decision has not been taken. My reference was to the fact that there had been some discussion about it.

Senator LINES: I am sure, Mr Randall, you are alive to the criticism we often hear that we should not be heavily focused on NAPLAN and literacy and numeracy?

Mr Randall : I hear it occasionally, yes.

Senator LINES: I hear it a lot more. We are always told. Are there any discussions underway at the moment to look at how you might measure those general capabilities, with the exception of ICT?

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator LINES: Are those discussions underway?

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator LINES: What are some of the proposals that are being looked at?

Mr Randall : The curriculum is set up to say that those things are not developed or taught or demonstrated in isolation. To stick with one of the often spoke about ones, problem solving, it is evident in science and history in a general sense, but they will be specific.

Senator LINES: It is something that is often reported on in school reports. There might be an anecdotal comment about a person's ability to problem solve, or not.

Mr Randall : There is a lot of work in schools and in the broader literature where you might observe and make general comments about young people's problem-solving ability. The discussions that we have had have been to say that, as we continue to assess, whether it is literacy, numeracy, science or any other area, might we then bring these in and focus on them problem-solving, say, through our assessment of science, or critical and creative thinking, as we call, or ethical understanding, which is another one of our general capabilities. So the discussion is both which ones and when, and then the methodological discussion about it. Those are our, if you like, domestic discussions, but, through some of our networks—and Dr Rabinowitz could talk about this more—we are making links to some of the international developments. The OECD and others have an interest in this work. If we put it in relation to the council, the council has set some general advice about, but it is the next level down of officials, I would characterise it as involving ACARA officials and the various working groups we have, about whether, how and when we might do that assessment.

Senator LINES: You could argue at the moment that an anecdotal comment on a child's school report is somewhat subjective, because it is the teacher or other professional staff's assessment of that child—a pre-assessment if you like. It could be argued that that could be subjective. People problem-solve in very different ways that you might not always recognise.

Mr Randall : I always want to value teacher judgement in those areas. We always talk about all the various forms of assessment, information and advice. For teachers, and it varies around the country, there are various observation schedules and other things that they can use for assessing those things. So there are a lot of good practices around. You are asking if we do elevate it up to a higher level, and that is an open question.

Senator LINES: What would tip you towards a higher elevation of that assessment? Problem-solving is presumably a critical skill that students will need into the future to be innovative.

Mr Randall : What would tempt me?

Senator LINES: Yes.

CHAIR: As you have further questions, we will suspend for a tea-break now and resume with ACARA after the break.

Proceedings suspended from 10:30 to 10:45

CHAIR: The committee will resume questioning of ACARA by Senator Lines.

Senator LINES: Where are you up to with looking at how you might assess some of these general capabilities? We do not have to focus on problem solving.

Mr Randall : I will not repeat what I said before about the level of the discussion. I guess with all of these things it comes to why we are doing it, how we are going to do it and when. A key starting point is: if we would like young people to learn it, assessment is part of that teaching and learning process, so getting assessment data back improves it. Then what is the best form of assessment? Is it in the classroom, at school level, at state and territory level? And, methodologically, what are the various techniques that we have? Those are the nature of the questions that are going on.

Your question earlier was about some of the considerations we have. As we invest our time and the resources of the organisation, as well as those of the federation, to moving NAPLAN online, once we get NAPLAN online, the testing facility that Education Services Australia is building enhances our ability to further improve assessment. I said a moment ago that as we look at science assessment online, which is a sample program, we will look at ways to present the questions in different forms. So you can go to critical and creative thinking and other things. They are all part of it. I guess answering all those questions is part of that process.

Senator LINES: It is true to say that, if we do not count things, sometimes they do not matter. So are there examples from overseas where countries have successfully put in place assessment of those general capability skills that are attractive in an Australian context?

Mr Randall : Not necessarily at a national level—again, it comes to your point about the level of assessment. There are numerous examples which we would draw upon in any policy advice we put up here about how people can do it. But, again, we do not need to go beyond Australia. I mentioned earlier that Victoria has done some work, and Western Australia has done good work in assessment. It is drawing those examples together. Prior to that is: at what level and for what purpose do you want to locate this assessment? My attempt at a light-hearted response to you was about occasionally hearing about the value of these things—it is the case that we need to locate any of these assessment programs and our advice about getting return on it. How is this going to help? How much does it matter? Therefore, that reflects nationally or at the school level. Those general capabilities matter, in our view, for the prosperity of the country as well as the benefit of young people. That is why we have them in the curriculum. So we will be keen to follow through on those. We want young people to learn them. The question, 'Are they learning them and how well are they learning them and what can we do to improve that learning?' will guide our ongoing discussions.

Mr Cook : The Commonwealth did fund some work on this. You asked about other countries. We worked with Finland, Singapore and the USA. The University of Melbourne did some work around the assessment of 21st century skills.

Senator LINES: Of general capability skills?

Mr Cook : Yes, so problem solving, working collaboratively—all those sorts of things. There are professional development modules they developed for teachers and there are some trial tasks they developed as to how you would assess that. That is all publicly available. That is all online. The Commonwealth funded that a few years ago now.

Senator LINES: What were the general outcomes of those inquiries?

Mr Cook : General outcomes in terms of student performance?

Senator LINES: Yes, so the general view is that they are assessable?

Mr Cook : Yes.

Senator LINES: You could argue that, if those general capability skills are not well developed in students, that does impinge on their ability to learn the hard-core areas—science, maths, English and so on. They will not do as well if they do not have good problem solving and are not creative thinkers, for example.

Mr Randall : Yes. My argument has always been: those who are good at science are going to have good numeracy, good literacy and good critical and creative thinking. Those things go hand in hand, so, yes, that is why they are in the curriculum.

Senator LINES: Yes, and it seems to me that we want to make certain that children have really well developed capabilities that support the learning of literacy, numeracy, science et cetera, don't we? I am not trying to trap you or anything; it is just a general observation.

Mr Randall : The general proposition is broadly accepted. It is reflected in the Australian Curriculum. Where you get into deep debate is on the question of how best to assess them and the level of reporting and all those other things. The work that Mr Cook referred to has given us a good reference to that. We are doing some work investigating our own sample assessment programs. I mentioned work Victoria is doing and WA is doing. We are doing some work with the New South Wales department of education looking at different ways of assessing these things. I will say, with a teaching-education background, that the thing we will keep foremost in our minds is: how is this assessment information going to turn back in and help us improve young people's learning? But it starts with the proposition you make. These things are important. But I will reiterate, before we, if you like, go back into some of the debates we have had in the past: it is both. It is not general capabilities in the absence of disciplines; it is disciplines and these things. That is a feature of the Australian Curriculum—one that we are proud of and one that, again, we get some attention from other countries about. So the curriculum proposition is there. We have articulated what we would like young people to be learning. Assessment to improve teaching and learning is a focus not just of ACARA; it is a focus of authorities around the country and it is a day-to-day focus for teachers.

Senator LINES: I guess the bigger challenge, if we did move to looking at, benchmarking and assessing general capabilities, is how we move the public on, particularly parents, who are often very narrowly focused. I am a parent myself and I was narrowly focused on literacy and numeracy and the much harder skills. I think we have to somehow take the public with us that these other skills are critical, really, and inform how well children do. But, at the moment, parents are focused on how well their child can read or their science or maths ability.

Mr Randall : Parents should continue to be focused on how well their young son or daughter can read. Literacy and numeracy are, I would continue to argue, foundational and enabling. You are right, though: critical and creative thinking are important. In our general capabilities, we have these other ones there as well as science. They are all there. So we should build upon where the parents currently are rather than have an argument that that is wrong and something else is better. It is about building upon those—I agree. Our work in presenting that curriculum and having that consultation was partly about that. Again, your proposition to us is that it is methodological—how you do it; the best place to do it—but it also is a communication-engagement activity.

Senator LINES: Yes, to move parents from looking directly at the marks in the school report to also looking at the other areas. Mr Cook, you answered my question about looking at credible and established methodologies for measuring those skills. You say there are those methodologies and that research has been undertaken by the department that is publicly available.

Mr Cook : You can see the tasks online. With the problem-solving one, for example, they had two students on two different computers. They could be anywhere in the world and they had to work together to solve the one task. They did that and the computer program was assessing the contributions of both individuals. All of those things are online; you can see those things.

Senator LINES: That is interesting. Mr Randall, before the break you were going to talk to us about the refocusing of ACARA. Would you tell us what, in line with the coalition's policy, that refocusing looks like.

Mr Randall : I will go back a couple of steps. The questions, as the minister and Mr Cook referred to, were taken up in the review of ACARA—they were part of the terms of reference. The report was commissioned by the Australian government, the recommendations were taken to the Education Council and, out of that, a range of recommendations were made. From my point of view, I characterise them because I then translate them into the construction of our work plan. A number of the recommendations were about how we go about business, looking at our governance, looking at efficient, effective things and making sure we are consulting with the states and territories, taking account of the nine education ministers, who set our overall policy framework. There is some work in there where we are looking at our current structures and how we can improve those. A lead point in curriculum was to say that we have developed the curriculum; let's focus on a period of stability. Let's move that attention to supporting teachers to deliver it, but at the same time ACARA should be positioning itself by undertaking benchmarking and looking at how our curriculum is going, so that, in four or five years time, we are ready for an update. The report talked about maybe a six-yearly review cycle. We have said here a number of times, I guess, that, very clearly, NAPLAN was endorsed emphatically by the Education Council. Our clear, persistent focus is on working with others but making sure we are ready to have NAPLAN online starting 2017.

In relation to the third part, My School, the review made some recommendations about how we could continue to improve My School, some of which will be evident in the forthcoming update of My School, where we have sought to simplify and lighten up on some of our language, noting that a range of people read that. We are looking to make some of the language more parent-friendly, if you like. The review also encouraged us to get on and add some of the other indicators, which we have not yet been able to deliver on. Senior secondary outcomes is one example. All of that work is then taken up in our four-year work plan. The minister referred to that. At the end of last year, the Education Council endorsed our next four-year work plan.

From my point of view, that captures all of the work that came out of the review of ACARA, and that is where the focus is. It is evident through that and the refocus and the ongoing improvement that we are seeking in that work plan.

Senator LINES: It seems like it is more a review than a refocus. A refocus implies to me that we specifically look at this area as opposed to that area. Ongoing review is important. It is important to do that and to continue to be critical and cast an eye over what work we are doing and where we need to push that work, whereas refocus seems to imply that there is something else needed.

Mr Randall : Again, we could have a discussion. From my point of view—and it has been clearly made and it is evident in some of our organisational changes—the move to NAPLAN online is a refocus or a sharpening up. It is absolutely there. It was clearly made through that and it is key to our work—

Senator LINES: I would call that a next step. It was, presumably, inevitable that one day we would put NAPLAN online.

Mr Randall : I am not sure now of the question, I guess. All I am observing is that, from my point of view, there was a process put into place, the council accepted the recommendations and, without taking the first part of the focus, they are certainly focusing my attention as CEO, the board's attention and the organisation's attention to make sure we deliver those things.

Senator LINES: Getting back to those general capability skills, how much is currently invested in the science, ICT and civics and citizenship sample assessments carried out by ACARA?

Mr Randall : We have our sample assessment program, which is a three-yearly cycle—science, civics and citizenship, and ICT literacy. My recollection off the top of my head is that it is about $1½ million a year. It depends. With science at the moment we are only doing year 6, so it varies. I could take it on notice, but it is of that order. That is for the development, administration, marking and reporting of those assessment programs.

Senator LINES: You will take it on notice, but you think it is about a million and a half?

Mr Randall : That is the order of it.

Senator LINES: And is that investment getting us the sorts of answers we want?

Mr Randall : I think so. And that is on the back of the strength of the Australian curriculum. What we have now got, which we did not have a few years ago when some of these programs were introduced, is a common reference point, the Australian curriculum. My measure of that would be when we did release the ICT literacy report last year, which actually—I do not think anyone would have picked those results, to say that while there is increased use of technology, what our young people in schools are learning is declining. That has become a very sharp focus. It has been taken up across the full range, through to the response to some of the STEM initiatives focusing on additional support for schools, and others here could talk about that, all the way down to the classrooms and stuff like that. If your measure of assessment programs, or the effectiveness of assessment programs, is helping us have some data about how well we are going in these important areas, and focusing us on where we can improve, if they are your high-level measures of success, then I would say absolutely.

Senator LINES: In relation to science, do you look at gender issues? We hear anecdotally that a lot of girls are dropping out of science subjects. Do you have any hard statistics on that? Is that something that gets raised with states, or is it something that states talk about?

Mr Randall : If I unpack that, the Australian curriculum has been written on the assumption that all young people will learn science from F through to 10. Our sample assessment programs focus on those years. At the moment we use data for year 6 and we draw data from international programs for year 10. I think your question goes to participation in a senior secondary.

Senator LINES: Yes, it does.

Mr Randall : We do not collect participation in science at a national level, but there are—I would imagine the Chief Scientist's report recently would have had some of that participation data.

Senator LINES: Is that something you look at, Mr Cook? Certainly we hear anecdotally, and I know in Western Australia it is an issue that I hear about locally from constituents, but it is also a fact that at years 11 and 12 we are having this big dropout by young girls.

Mr Cook : That is part of the response to STEM more broadly that the ministerial council agreed to in December last year. So there is now a national STEM strategy that is dealing with a range of things, including looking at the scope of years 6 and 10 science and ICT assessments. Part of that is also about gender. But do we collect state and territory data in relation to participation? We do not as a rule. We can, but it is all state data; the states collect it themselves and it is dealt with at state level.

Senator LINES: I guess we do need that national picture of what is actually happening. If it is a problem in Western Australia, then I imagine that is across the states.

Mr Cook : That is an explicit recommendation of our STEM strategies. Just to outline that: a request to develop national reports to chart national change in a range of STEM data—for example, STEM participation, including a focus on girls, lowest years and Indigenous students. That work will actually now be done as a result of this report the council has agreed to.

Senator LINES: And when can we expect some first results on that?

Mr Cook : I do not think that will take too long, but this is the responsibility now of senior officials of all states and territories. The first meeting of that group is in the very near future.

Senator LINES: Whatever comes out of that, that will be the first benchmark?

Mr Cook : There would be other information that we would have from other reports, as Mr Randall said. The Chief Scientist report and things like that, but from a national perspective of all education systems working together, that would be the first time all education departments have worked together to actually share and report the data simultaneously.

Senator LINES: Mr Randall, does anyone take a national look at what is happening with girls particularly, up to year 10, with their marks in science? Are we seeing girls are failing at science, are they doing well at science? Is there any of that kind of assessment being made?

Mr Randall : With the data we collect, and I do not have the report in front of me, we go back to our last sample science assessment, where we look at year 6 students and we will have that report from a boys-girls—

Senator LINES: It is there in NAPLAN, I guess.

Mr Randall : The report will be on our website. I am happy to provide that link or answer that question more specifically.

Senator LINES: Yes, it would be good to see what is actually happening.

Mr Randall : If I could go back, I have been reminded that—I think I had in mind, in part, your question about the participation in various science subjects. We do publish the national report on schooling, where we collect some data. The 2012 information—so I am acknowledging that—talks about in science the number and percentage of year 12 students enrolled in tertiary recognised subjects. The overall in science—so there is no disaggregation—is 52,673 students, or 49 per cent, in science; girls 52 per cent enrolled; boys 51 per cent. So at one level you can say there is no significant difference. Arguably, though, you would want to break that down and look at physics, chem, biology and other things like that, because in Western Australia, as I understand the data, there is probably a gender difference between, human biology and biology; and physics and chem.

Senator LINES: And is human biology part of what you classify as 'science', or is it 'biology'?

Mr Randall : No, we have developed a senior secondary curriculum in 15 subjects, so there is a senior secondary curriculum available developed nationally. Western Australia, as I recall, is the only state that differentiates 'biology' and 'human biology'. We have a national senior secondary curriculum in biology and, yes, that and human biology would be 'science'.

Senator LINES: We like to be outliers in WA, for historical reasons I think. Going back to my question about you currently investing in the current sites of ICT and civics and citizenship sample assessments; you told us a bit about that. What is the sample size of those tests?

Mr Randall : Do you recall, Dr Rabinowitz?

Dr Rabinowitz : Yes, it ranges between 5,000 to 6,000 across two year levels. So 10,000 to 12,000 in year 6 and year 10 combined.

Senator LINES: How are they carried out and measured?

Dr Rabinowitz : We take a representative sample nationally and within each state and territory, so about 300 to 320 schools to get the 6,000 or so kids per year.

Senator LINES: So, when you say 'representative', it is across all what? You use some social data in the SES factors?

Dr Rabinowitz : Across sectors, across student populations. So, when we present the results, it represents all populations and subpopulations.

Mr Randall : Senator, the point to note there too is that for the last few years those sample assessments have been delivered online. So, as we proceed to move NAPLAN online, states, territories, us and others have good experience, albeit on a sample—but therefore confidence in how those things can proceed.

Senator LINES: What is the cost of that? Are you able to break that down?

Dr Rabinowitz : It ranges between one-and-a-half million and just under two million per test, depending on which one and how much we are using the technology in the science and in the ICT.

Senator LINES: Do you expect that cost to go down once you have better access to the NAPLAN data?

Mr Randall : Probably what I would argue is: if some of our delivery costs go down, I would want to invest that into—

Senator LINES: Something else; of course.

Mr Randall : I would have to take this to council. What I would want to do is invest it into—we go back to better questions—improving our question methodology. We moved from a paper based program here into online and, if our delivery costs go down on the back of the online assessment framework, I would be wanting to divert those into improving the nature of our questions.

Senator LINES: Okay. Are those current sample assessments funded on an ongoing basis?

Mr Randall : Our budget, our work plan, is funded on a four-year basis. So, if I go back to last year, the council agreed to our next four-year plan and agreed in principle at that time to our budget for the next four years, and so that is there for the next four years.

Senator LINES: Thanks very much, Mr Randall. That is the end of my questions for ACARA.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator O'Neill?

Senator O'NEILL: I do not think I will traverse too much territory that has been covered. But I have a number of questions, particularly around the data of students with disability on My School. You would be familiar, Mr Randall, with the recent publications in newspapers about the disability inclusion data on My School website? I wonder if you could give some detail about those reports—in particular, what exactly will be published?

Mr Randall : Ministers have agreed for us to publish—add—some information about students with disability on the website.

Senator O'NEILL: Sorry—when you refer to 'ministers'?

Mr Randall : The council—sorry—I should be more specific. The Education Council has agreed to that. That was back in December 2012. But quite reasonably at the time it was recognised that the comparability of that data nationally needed to be addressed, and work over the last few years has been focusing on that. So there is a joint working group for students with disability that has been working on this, and ACARA is involved in it but it is also working with states and territories, and I acknowledge it is a group chaired by the Australian government. Late last year, having progressed this work, they asked ACARA to commence work towards examining the students with disability data with a view to determining how to represent the data on My School. That work has now commenced, so we have not—

Senator O'NEILL: Just before you go on, Mr Randall: just to be clear, the process was agreed to in 2012?

Mr Randall : The commitment to publish the data was agreed to in 2012.

Senator O'NEILL: And here we are in 2016.

Mr Randall : But what I said was: the issue has been to arrive at one nationally consistent data and get all the states and territories in the position where they can actually collect the data. There is a distinct difference between saying, 'Let's publish it', and having the eight states and territories all in the position to collect and publish. That has been the work over the last few years.

Senator O'NEILL: We have discussed on a number of occasions in previous estimates hearings concern in the disability advocates community about the delay and the failure to share information. I am really keen to get a great deal of detail if we can, Mr Randall, about when you were informed to take on this work, in terms of making the information available through My School. You said 'late last year'.

Mr Randall : Senator, just to clarify, there is no delay. The delay is exactly the time line that the Education Council agreed to in relation to the data. In relation to the collection of that data from the schools, council agreed that 2015 would be the first year that all schools would be involved in the data collection process. Council agreed that when that data was of sufficient quality it would be published on the My School website. So just to clarify: there actually is no delay in relation to the Education Council; it is exactly the time line that the Education Council agreed to.

Senator O'NEILL: I am sure, for the record, that it is agreed that many advocates and parents of children with disability have been very frustrated by that time line, so there is all the more interest in the detail of what is happening now. So if you could answer my question: exactly when were you given the go ahead to commence this work?

Mr Randall : To commence particularly what?

Senator O'NEILL: Preparing the data to put up on My School website. You said 'late last year', I believe.

Mr Randall : I said that at the meeting last year the group—and noting that—

Senator O'NEILL: The joint working group?

Mr Randall : The joint working group recommended ACARA commence work towards examining the students with disability data with a view to determining how to represent the data on My School.

Senator O'NEILL: And what date was that recommendation received and in what form?

Mr Randall : I have the notes here. To answer your question, I imagine it was a decision made by that joint working group so it will be minuted somewhere. If you like I can follow that up; there would be a recommendation there. We have been party to the discussions, as I said a moment ago, and—noting the point that Mr Cook made about commitments and then realising it and moving towards it again within an agreed time line—now we are at the point where we do have the agreement around the form and the collection of the data, we will now turn our mind to that and bring that back to council. The focus of the data is the adjustment categories so that—

Senator O'NEILL: Before we go to the detail, can I just get this time line clear? The joint working group—did they send a formal request to you in a letter? How were you informed about your project work around the revelation of this disability data?

Mr Randall : Just to help: ACARA is not responsible for the collection of students with disability data.

Senator O'NEILL: That is right.

Mr Randall : So that is actually the responsibility of states and territories—and, at this point, the Commonwealth in relation to collation because it is actually the chair of that joint working group. The work that ACARA was asked to do by council was to prepare for what a future publication of that data would look like. So they are not responsible for the collection; they do not have the data. That data is owned by states and territories. That is just a slight clarification in relation to that data itself, as opposed to preparing for what data presentation may look like on the My School website.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you for that clarification. That is really helpful. Mr Randall, when did you receive your directions and in what form from the joint working group?

Mr Randall : I will take that on notice to give you an exact answer. We have people on the joint working group. I keep in touch with our officers. One of Dr Rabinowitz's staff members works on it. I am aware of all these things and the discussion, but you are asking me a particular form. I will take on notice about how I got it. I do not recall to be able to answer as clearly as, I think, you want me to do at the moment.

Senator O'NEILL: Is it possible, Mr Randall, that you just received the information as a verbal from a meeting or would you have been directed more formally to undertake the work described by Mr Cook?

Mr Randall : There are minutes of meetings, there is reporting back and that group makes decisions. There would be various ways that I was informed about it. I will go back and check whether there was anything more formal than that.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you. What date? When you said 'last year', what did you mean?

Mr Randall : Sorry?

Senator O'NEILL: At the end of last year, you got the impression, whether it was by that or—

Mr Randall : No, I did not say 'by impression'. I said 28 October was when the joint working group made a decision. You have asked me the form that that was given and I said I will take it on notice to answer the nature of the question.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you. Were you given any time lines in that construction about what and when you needed to produce it?

Mr Cook : Instructions would only come from council. The joint working group cannot instruct ACARA. Those recommendations have to go to council. Council has to actually direct or instruct ACARA to undertake a particular piece of work.

Senator O'NEILL: Okay. Do you have a copy of that direction so it can be clear about what you were asked to do and when you are asked to do it?

Mr Randall : What we have been asked by the joint working group was to develop proposals—

Senator O'NEILL: Well, from the joint working group or from the council.

Mr Randall : From the council, that was a decision in 2012 that we would move towards reporting student with disability data on the My School website. The last consideration by council was about the quality of that. The quality of that data is currently part of a quality assurance process involving over 400 schools to assure the council that the data is actually of sufficient quality to be published and therefore not to be inaccurate data, I guess. That piece of work will not go back to council until, I think, the first half of this year.

Senator O'NEILL: Until the first half—we are in the first half. So when in the first half?

Mr Cook : I do not know off the top of my head when the council meetings are.

Mr Randall : The June council meeting would be the one that we would be taking our advice back.

Mr Cook : It would be March-April, I understand.

Senator O'NEILL: Okay. Now that you are tasked with how this information will be shared with the public through My School, what exactly will be published?

Mr Randall : That is some work we are working on at the moment. Internal work is going on about how we can best represent that. Again, I will take that on notice and when we next meet I will be in a position. We have been asked to prepare that advice. I would be getting ahead of myself to put it here today. Noting the points that Mr Cook has made, internal work is going on; through to council. I we have not resolved it, so I am not in a position to be able to answer that question at the moment.

Senator O'NEILL: If I am understanding the time line correctly, you will provide a report to the June council at which a decision might be made about whether that would go public or not?

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: When will parents, for example, and teachers and the community more broadly be able to—

Mr Randall : I expect—

Senator Birmingham: I think it is important to establish that there are two processes that need to be considered here. The work ACARA did is best described as the work around the concepts of how data will be reflected and represented on the My School's website and what conditions might need to be put on that to ensure that individual students could not be identified out of that data or the like. There is separate work that the education council equally needs to consider which relates to the credibility and quality of the data that was collected in 2015. They are separate decisions. They may come together at some point down the track where quality of data is accepted and a mechanism through ACARA as to how it will be published and reflected publicly is accepted and that all comes together, or it may be that one is a problem that lingers and the other reaches resolution. I am just wanting to make sure you understand there are the two matters there, and ACARA has not been asked to prepare the publication of the 2015 data—they have been asked to prepare the means and scenarios and rules by which data will at some point in the future be published.

Senator O'NEILL: If it is a preparation of means and scenarios and ways that the data might be published, and it is going to the council in June, it would seem pretty unlikely that there would be any publication of that data before the end of the year. What is your understanding of the timetable?

Mr Randall : My focus at the moment on high school is an annual update of My School. We are preparing for the 2016 update, which brings all the 2015 data together. One of the options would be that we are focusing on 2016 data, or any data collected, being rendered in a 2017 update. Having said that, we have also worked with states and territories to publish attendance data in a slightly different cycle, so there may be another option. Again, it is too soon for me to answer your question more definitively than that because, as the minister has outlined, we are dealing with representation and all that goes with that, about how that data is collected, the QA of it and then the rendering of it, then there is the other question about people's confidence in the data. It is too soon for me to speculate, but there are two broad options.

Senator O'NEILL: So one would be sticking to your normal pattern, and you indicated there might be an additional release of information around attendance—

Mr Randall : Last year we did—we updated My School with attendance. Our cycle up until now has been March or so of each year. One of the things in the Cook report was for us to look at, in consultation with states and territories, publishing data and not waiting till once-a-year updates. Attendance data last year was an example of that. I am using that as an example of whether that would apply in this case or not. They are the two options.

Senator Birmingham: It ultimately would be a decision of the Education Council, comprising state and territory ministers and the Commonwealth, of what is published, in what format and when. It will then be a matter for ACARA to implement that decision. So long as whatever is determined is technically feasible I am sure that ACARA will do so.

Senator O'NEILL: I would like to go through a series of questions the kind of which parents and interested teachers have. I am not hopeful that I am going to get responses to these after what you have made clear in your remarks so far, but I want to see if you can help me out. As to what exactly will be published, we do not know yet. Is that correct?

Mr Randall : That is correct.

Senator O'NEILL: Will there be an index attached to this?

Mr Randall : I do not understand what you mean by 'index'?

Senator O'NEILL: Depending on how you are using the data, what will be indicated in terms of disability funding? You talk about different levels last time—

Mr Randall : The discussion to date has been to try to focus on the nature of the disability and the level of adjustment being made. That is what the discussion has been about. It is a matter of trying to take that form of information and represent it. That would be the focus of it. The nature of the disability and the adjustment being made in the school to meet that young person's needs is the broad thrust. The question that comes is how do you best represent that. At the moment there has been discussion of a number of categories of those informations. I think the discussions about that are broadly known. That is not something that we have arrived at. But when it comes to a technical question of how it is then rendered, if you go to things like other ways of representing it, we will be need to be mindful of things like privacy and things like that, so we will turn our mind not just to the descriptions but, depending on the number of students there and how the cells work out, we will have to have a look at those sorts of combinations. If there were just three students in the school, for example, and you get a cell size of one in each case, we have rules to take care of privacy, which means you have to aggregate. That is why I cannot give you a more complete answer, but it is focusing in broad terms on the nature of the disability and the level of adjustment being made by the school.

Senator Birmingham: As I am sure you will recall, the data is collected across four categories of adjustment required in the school. As Mr Randall has just explained, some of the issues to consider in relation to publication relate to those privacy factors. The question is then: would you publish information across each of those four characteristics? Would you aggregate all four? Would you aggregate the three characteristics where loadings are attached and separate them from the one where loadings are not attached? They are some of the issues that need to be worked through, that ACARA would be considering and will bring its recommendations and views to the Education Council.

Senator O'NEILL: You indicated that you do not own the data—that the states and territories own the data.

Senator Birmingham: And the non-government sector, yes.

Senator O'NEILL: Is data collection continuing? Is it on track?

Mr Cook : The data collection for 2015 has occurred and is on track. That data is currently being examined in terms of quality assurance. As I indicated, we have a quality assurance project. That means that approximately 400 schools are involved in the process where effectively we look at, moderate and check the data to ensure that the data is an accurate representation of those levels of adjustment that the minister explained. That is important because if you are going to publish data you want to make sure that the data is accurate and quality assured. That process is occurring. That report will go back to council in March or April, I understand, to talk to ministers, I guess, about the quality and the assurance of the data that was collected in 2015.

Senator O'NEILL: In developing the approach to measuring and reporting inclusion, has ACARA worked with any experts?

Mr Randall : The joint working group that we are a member of—again, some of these matters will have been talked about and canvassed as these things have been going through. ACARA has been working with those. Historically, yes, as we prepare our advice to ministers it becomes a future question and we will, as we always do, convene the appropriate level of expertise we have. So my answer is that we will, as we prepare that advice.

Senator O'NEILL: But at this stage you have not engaged any particular experts to work with developing that?

Mr Randall : No, not so far.

Senator O'Neill: Inclusion in the classroom is represented in a range of different activities and different teaching methodologies. How do you propose to measure that, Dr Rabinowitz? Has any consideration been given to that? Or maybe Mr Cook may be the better person to answer.

Mr Cook : Sorry, I missed the question.

Senator O'NEILL: The ways in which classroom activities and teaching activities are measuring the level of inclusion—has any consideration been given to those measures?

Mr Cook : As part of that process we developed extensive professional development material. I think the university of Canberra might have been involved. There were a number of different organisations and states and territories involved in relation to things teachers should consider when they are making the judgement; because the teacher will make a judgement. There are a range of support materials. States and territories and the non-government sector took the role in supporting their schools and teachers around how to make a judgement about a child being at a particular level of adjustment. It is not so much about the teaching strategies per se, although that is part of it; it is about the range of needs that that child has and how the school adapts their various resources to meet the needs of that particular student. The question might have been whether there are materials, but in relation to supporting teachers to measure these things there are a range of materials that have been developed.

Senator O'NEILL: The teachers will be doing the measuring?

Mr Cook : That is correct.

Senator O'NEILL: There is no independent expert panel?

Mr Cook : That is the quality assurance process.

Senator O'NEILL: And that is what you are undertaking—in how many schools?

Mr Cook : 400 at the moment.

Senator O'NEILL: If I understand you correctly, there is a process of teachers understanding the nature of inclusion, further development on top of their already extensive professional experience, whether that might be preservice, postservice or inservice—

Mr Cook : It is not about inclusion per se; it is about adjusting their teaching methodology or their resources to meet the needs of those particular children. The work that we are doing is at a national level. Every state and territory actually has their own quality assurance process in relation to this as well.

Senator O'NEILL: There is a differentiation across there. You are going to a national standard. How much detail of the data will be reported going forward in terms of levels of adjustment?

Mr Cook : That will be a matter for councillors, who have indicated concern about it a number of times. Those issues are council decisions.

Senator O'NEILL: You have indicated the privacy issue, but the depth of revelation of understanding about this is something we just cannot know at this point of time. It is a working in construction—is that what you are telling us?

Mr Cook : What we know is that there are four levels of adjustment. We have known that a very long time. We know that we now have information from all schools in Australia in relation to that. As I have explained, ACARA is considering the presentation of data. Privacy and small numbers and all those sorts of things will be considered, and then council will decide how that data will be presented on the My School website.

Senator O'NEILL: So at this stage you cannot tell me whether the levels of adjustment are going to be reported or not?

Mr Cook : That will be a council decision.

Senator O'NEILL: That might be all joined up together for privacy reasons.

Senator Birmingham: That is what I said before. I did put the scenarios.

Senator O'NEILL: I was just trying to clarify it.

Senator Birmingham: As Mr Randall explained, if you have school with two or three students with disability that has reported them, and they are potentially reported in each of the different levels adjustment, there is a consideration as to whether the entire school community may then be able to make assumptions about which students are where and potentially impinge upon the privacy of those students. They are the types of complexities in the publication of such data that are being considered.

Senator O'NEILL: Given what you have said so far, and the unlikelihood that there will be something up in public view before the end of 2016, if we are looking to 2017 for publication do you have any initial ideas of what you will be publishing?

Senator Birmingham: You are making an assumption there about when publication may occur. I am not going to set any particular target or time line. I do appreciate that there are many people disappointed with the length of time that this process has taken to date, notwithstanding, as Mr Cook indicated, that it has all run to the agreed time line.

Senator O'NEILL: How about you give a date today? I think they would be delighted to have date.

Senator Birmingham: Could you not interrupt, please, Senator O'Neill?

Senator O'NEILL: I have to wait a long time to get the questions when you start with the answers.

Senator Birmingham: I have said very little today so far, and I have tried to let your questions run. Please do not interrupt me. What I was saying was that you are attempting to define a time line—

Senator O'NEILL: Get a date, exactly.

CHAIR: The minister is attempting to answer your question.

Senator O'NEILL: It is just so frustrating, chair. People want this information and they cannot get it.

CHAIR: And it is frustrating for everyone listening to have constant interruptions. Can we avoid interrupting each other? Minister, please answer Senator O'Neill's question.

Senator Birmingham: Senator O'Neill is attempting to derive a predicted time line out of what Mr Randall and ACARA have said. That is not the case. It will be the Education Council's decision. As I said before, if the Education Council makes a decision that the data is of sufficient quality and the proposed methodology for its release meets all of the concerns and issues that could be associated with that and instructs ACARA to release it all this year, I am confident that, barring any technical impediments that would sit in ACARA's way, they would do so. They are matters that the education council will consider. I was saying that I will not set arbitrary time lines on this, firstly because it is not my call—it is the call of the state and territory ministers in conjunction with me; secondly, importantly, because as I was saying I do appreciate the frustration of many people at the time line that has been applied and that the length of time taken—notwithstanding, as Mr Cook indicates, that is has all run to time. I would not want to set ambitions at this stage that would only lead to further disappointment.

Senator O'NEILL: The only thing that people out there are going to know as a result of this is that you are meeting in June 2016 and nothing will be released before that. We should be hopeful that something may happen between 2016 and 2017. That is as much of a time line as we can get.

Senator Birmingham: It is not my call. It is not the Turnbull government's call or the Commonwealth's government's call. It is an Education Council decision involving each and every state and territory minister as well as the Commonwealth.

Senator O'NEILL: Chair, it would help if the minister gave much more clear, short answers to the questions, rather than being this long.

CHAIR: I think this also beholden on the asker of the question to understand that if it is not the decision of the minister or the government that needs to be recognised in the question.

Senator O'NEILL: Can I ask the minister if he is advancing with his colleagues, in current discussions or at that meeting that is foreshadowed in June, that there will be a release of the level of funding associated with students with disability, particularly in relation to the four levels of adjustment? That is something else people want to know.

Senator Birmingham: Some $100 million in additional funding has been applied for students with disability this year. Issues around whether at some stage the way in which funding is delivered may shift to something that is informed by the NCCD data, of course, rely on acceptance of the quality of that data. I absolutely am working with state and territory colleagues to ensure that that is advanced. They have to varying degrees expressed concerns about some of those quality issues, which are being addressed and considered through the audit process that Mr Cook has referred to.

Senator O'NEILL: Is the quality of the data in question?

Senator Birmingham: Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: So we have had three years of collection and frustration from the community—advocates, parents and teachers—and this point you are still expressing concerns about the quality of the data and reflecting that that is a position held by the state ministers that you interact with through the council as well?

Senator Birmingham: State ministers have expressed those concerns. That is a fact which I have publicly acknowledged previously. Last year was the first year that every school in Australia was involved in that. I am very eager to see the results of the audit that is underway and to assess what we can do to make sure that the processes are improved and enhanced in future to make sure that data is as robust and reliable and as consistent across jurisdictions and sectors as it can be.

Senator O'NEILL: The categories in the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability—did you just express some concern about that data set?

Senator Birmingham: I did not express concern about the categories, no.

Senator O'NEILL: Only about the quality of it. In what way?

Senator Birmingham: About the consistency and reliability of the actual data itself across jurisdictions and sectors. I am trying to engage and be helpful in answering these questions, but for the progress of the committee I point out that there are questions for ACARA identifying issues around publication of the data, that you rightly started with, but questions about the actual collection of the data are really questions for the department in outcome one.

Senator O'NEILL: When I go to this article that came out on 28 January, the impression that the government is creating is that it will soon include disability access information. In our conversation this morning it does not sound like soon to me.

Senator Birmingham: That is not impression that I am seeking to create.

CHAIR: Senator O'Neill, these questions are much more appropriately not for Mr Randall and ACARA, who are before us right now, but for the department under more support for students with disabilities in outcome 1. I would direct you to this line of questioning later today. Do you have any questions for ACARA?

Senator O'NEILL: I do. In terms of ACARA's engagement, do you have any conversations going on with representatives of the ministers from the other states?

Mr Randall : No, not directly.

Senator O'NEILL: They are not on that state working group with you?

Mr Randall : State departments are on the joint working group, so the federation is represented on the joint working group. If that is the answer to your question, it is yes. We participate in and attend that working group.

Senator O'NEILL: Do you continue to work with them outside those meetings?

Mr Randall : I expect so. It depends on what the issue is. We have talked here about where the focus has been about the nationally consistent collection of the data. I am happy to go back and find out when we have talked to them about. But now that the focus is on us and we have got to this point and the recommendation that we focus on preparing our advice about the best form of representing this data on My School, both within that working group and through other conversations and our own working groups, the answer to your question is that we will be.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you. So a little bit more. I just feel that, in a slightly different way for ACARA—in terms of work on the Australian curriculum, could you give me a bit of an update on the work that is under way to include students with disabilities and those for whom English is an additional language or dialect?

Mr Randall : If guess if I just reverse that order.

Senator O'NEILL: Sure.

Mr Randall : Sorry, it went to languages in my head. For the development of the curriculum, students with a disability and students with additional language or dialect, we have developed a curriculum—I was going to conflate them; I will deal with them separately. Students with English as an additional language or dialect: the focus has been on developing a curriculum which sets standards for all kids around the country. The general proposition about students who have a language background other than English, or the various other ways of expressing that, is to say: what assumptions has the curriculum made and how do you bridge and link the students into the curriculum? So there is a focus, around the country in various forms, to say let us work with children to bring their English language ability up so to enhance their engagement with the curriculum. So the curriculum is sitting there. We developed—and I would need to check the time frame—an additional resource with states and territories to help focus bridging those students into the curriculum. So that continues to be a resource being used by state and territories. Many have taken it as it is. Many have been incorporated even within their additional support material. That is the work that has been done. That is the work that is available and that is being implemented.

Senator O'NEILL: I am trying to hear you well. So this is a sort of work in progress, with it being taken up in a rather random way, depending on the interests of the schools?

Mr Randall : The EAL/D resource is developed; it is on the website. I am characterising it as a resource to help bridge young people with that language background into the curriculum. The expectations are there in the curriculum, and this is a resource to help bring them in. My point, which you interpreted as random, was that states and territories are using that a bit variably, depending upon the resources, the policies and the strategies they have. I would be happy to take on notice and account for the various ways and, if you like, the existence and the use of that. I would not agree with the term 'random'.

Senator O'NEILL: I would be very interested in the uptake then and a bit of geospatial analysis of where it is actually being used, and any more qualitative data that you have as well.

Mr Randall : I can only give you on what the states and territories are doing at the policy level. I cannot go down to where it is being implemented in schools. That is not an access that we have. I can tell you what the status of our resource and what they have done with it at the state and territory level.

Mr Cook : Just to assist on that one, the work that was done late last year—which the council has endorsed—announced in the communique was: where state and territories have their own English language proficiency profile, it was matched to the work that ACARA had done. There is now a national profile that exists in relation to that, matching those two resources together. That is publicly available, I understand.

Senator O'NEILL: Okay. That would probably be one of the things that I am going to ask for in terms of the milestone moment of agreement. If you could provide—I do not know if you will be able to do it today—any milestones, including consultations, testing of concepts and materials.

Mr Randall : Around the development of the resource?

Senator O'NEILL: Yes.

Mr Randall : I will take that on notice and provide that for you.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you. And anything about its implementation, uptake, et cetera, of course, which we just referred to earlier.

Mr Randall : Sure.

Senator O'NEILL: So that is for the students for whom English is an additional language or dialect. Could you give me some indication of, perhaps, again, those key milestones, the process of consultation, curriculum development and material, testing of concepts, et cetera, for students with disabilities?

Mr Randall : For students with disability, as the curriculum was being developed, there was discussion about—and, again, I am going to deal with the broad. Depending on the form of disability and how they are included within the curriculum, I am going to focus on those with mild and intellectual impairment, because the demands of young people. So I am going to separate and focus on that more than, say, sight impairment or any of those others. The discussion that was going on was: if we pitch our kindergarten expectations at the average age of children entering school, are they beyond expectations that might apply to young people with a learning impairment in some form?

Discussion took place about the various ways of, from a curriculum point of view, supporting teachers to identify and then respond to the learning needs of those young people. We put a position that we would propose some work. There was not agreement around the country about that position. So the resolution that went to the council at the end of last year was, rather than formally add to the national curriculum which says 'Everyone has to do this,' the resolution was that ACARA would link through the Australian Curriculum website a range of resources that exist—Victoria's resource, New South Wales resource and a range of other resources, and some of them are curriculum-like resources—so that teachers of those students can draw upon a resource, whether it is available in their local state or territory or interstate, and make that available. We are yet to put that up on the website. It is part of our work plan to put that up on the website as soon as we can this year.

Senator O'NEILL: That is about curriculum materials, resourcing and access. It is not about disability specific curriculum creation, though, is it?

Mr Randall : If I take your second part about how you actually deliver it to young people in the classroom, no. Is that what you mean in that second part of your question?

Senator O'NEILL: Yes. I thought there was some understanding that a cohesive, connected curriculum for a range of disabilities that might be under development. Are you telling me that there is no such curriculum for students with disabilities or differentiated by disability? So none of that work is underway?

Mr Randall : No.

Mr Cook : State and territories have a range of those materials themselves. Victoria, for example, with the University of Melbourne around—

Mr Randall : The ABLES program.

Mr Cook : Yes, the ABLES program. That ABLES program has been shared, I understand, with a number of other states and territories. That is some very good work that has happened specifically around disability. Mr Randall was talking about the broader aspect of the national curriculum. But there has been no request to ACARA by the council to develop a disabilities specific curriculum.

Mr Randall : ABLES is one of those resources that I am saying that we will then link into the curriculum. Previously some of these resources—

Senator O'NEILL: I am familiar with the ABLES program.

Mr Cook : That is Victoria. They have led very strongly on that, and I understand they have shared that with a number of other states. But I do not know which ones they are, I am sorry.

Mr Randall : I am happy to take this on notice. We have the list of what we are publishing. It would then be a matter of making sure we can do all the links and publish it in a form. I have referred to a range of resources that exist. With your New South Wales background, you would be more familiar with the New South Wales policy and approach to inclusion from a curriculum design and implementation point of view.

Senator O'NEILL: Yes.

Mr Randall : Victoria has a different approach. We found in trying to achieve a national resolution that there were some deeply and strongly held differences that we were not able to bridge. The resolution we took to council was, rather than try to force one, given the histories and the practices there, to publish the range of resources so that teachers in New South Wales, for example, can—once we get this up—see linked in through our website a Victorian resource, a Western Australian resource or a New South Wales resource. We are trying to enrich access to that. What I would then like to do is monitor who is accessing those resources and who is using them, so that we can continue this discussion to see if we can advance on the position that we have at the moment.

Senator O'NEILL: If I compare that, though, with your other curriculum initiatives in, say, English or mathematics and science, this is a very different model. It is not a disability specific model. There is no universal design for the country. There is not even a modified national curriculum dimension to it, is there?

Mr Randall : We could get into the notion of which child we are designing this for. If, for example, there are some kids with a disability in year 6 in the country, the challenge for that teacher is to identify the current level of development and achievement of that young person so that he or she can build upon that young person's achievements. The Australian Curriculum is being used by some of those teachers, and they might be saying, 'Here is the year 6 expectations for the rest of the country, and this young boy or girl, for whatever reason, might be working towards the year 2 expectations'—that is, the cognitive expectations in, say, reading or writing. So the challenge for that teacher is then, 'How do I focus on that young person's needs and bring them forward? How do I do that when I have 35 other children and I am using these contexts?' So it becomes a mix of setting the right demands. The curriculum does help with that but it also becomes the pedagogical response.

I am saying that when we investigated this there was a difference of approach and policy in New South Wales versus Victoria and we were not able to bridge and get some common advice. So our resolution has been to say, 'All young people should, ideally, be working towards the expectations in the Australian Curriculum. For some young people that is going to take longer and their progress may not be as quick as the average student or the majority of students. What can we do to help teachers identify those needs and move them forward?' That becomes a resource response—helping teachers to do that. That is what we will be looking to publish, and I hope that the outcome will be that a greater range of resources will be available to teachers than they might otherwise have had just within their states and territories.

Senator O'NEILL: You talked about the states and the historical moments that we are having—and we have been through that over quite a long time with the movement to an Australian curriculum. I have to go back to my curriculum theory, where the vision of an Australian curriculum was a fantasy many, many miles down the track. This sort of differentiation across the country is something that people ultimately saw as a liability that wanted redress and we came to some connected view of what could be core things for Australia.

Mr Randall : Agreed.

Senator O'NEILL: It sounds like you just described where we were before with curriculum is where we are still with regard to disability curriculum and inclusion. The history of emerging at a particular point and having curriculum at a particular point is really what you have been discussing. What is best practice internationally and how is that informing this? What responsibility is ACARA taking for understanding of the elements of inclusion that involve sports, classrooms and other school activities? It seems to me that there is a crying need for some significant curriculum a pedagogical leadership in this area. Parents are crying out for it. Teachers are crying out for it. I am a little disappointed to hear, 'The states are doing all their things and we are going to put some resources together.'

Mr Randall : I do not agree entirely with the characterisation but I agree with the gist. Working with all the different states and territories to settle on a curriculum—which is now being implemented around the country—we were not able to achieve exactly that same outcome in the space that you and I are now talking about.

Senator O'NEILL: Can you take me to some of the problems? What were the impasses that made that impossible?

Mr Randall : In order to tease this out, I am going to use the terms you have used about curriculum expectations and pedagogical practice. The proposition that we put up was a way to bring those together. We were talking about inclusion in mainstream classes being a bigger challenge than special education units and the like. How do we best help that teacher with the inclusion of one or two in a class? We put a proposal up to sort of say, 'Here are some ways to do it.' I will not be able to do it full justice here, but I am happy to either talk with you off line or give you some advice about it. Essentially—an I am oversimplifying it—the difference in the approach taken in Victoria and the approach taken in New South Wales from a policy inclusion point of view was too great for us to bridge around the national table. So, rather than try to force it, we have said that we need to continue the discussion. To go to your question, we will continue to be, to the extent we can, involved in this discussion to advance it—I think we are a little step ahead, a baby step ahead, of where we were—and force that discussion around, 'What is working best in the classroom and what will best help teachers?'

So, yes, we have not achieved what we have done with the rest of the national curriculum. But ACARA will continue to be involved in terms of making these resources available more widely than they have been through the means of our curriculum linked into our curriculum website, and we will continue to do what we can. As to your point about international and national best practice—

Senator O'NEILL: Mr Randall, in the input into this process which clearly, in my view, has failed—I will not put that on you—in terms of a national curriculum.

Mr Randall : It did not succeed, no.

Senator O'NEILL: But it has not clicked into place; perhaps that is a more elegant way to put it. Did you foster that process by giving the states and territories access to the research around international best practice?

Mr Randall : Yes, and they also brought their research about it, as well. We can argue it is an empirical question and try to get to this sole: 'here is the answer' but, from a policy and interpretation of inclusion and discrimination policy aspect, it is more complex than that. Again, I am more than happy to talk with you some more about it. We will continue to use our means to push it to achieve and to realise, hopefully, what we have done with the rest of the curriculum with the others. We have not achieved what I had hoped we were going to do, but we have advanced the discussion. I am happy to keep talking with you through this means or other means about how we can continue to progress it.

Senator O'NEILL: Who are the stakeholders that you are consulting with around this?

Mr Randall : Again, I am happy to give lists, but it includes the professional associations and the various representative groups of these as well as the state and territory officials.

Senator O'NEILL: Could you give some detail on notice?

Mr Randall : I will give you a list of the advisory groups that we work with and others we have consulted with along the way.

Senator O'NEILL: I did have the question: when will this work be finished?—but that might be a little bit of an ambitious question.

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: Has the ministerial council given you any direction about their view with regard to the development of a disability-specific curriculum or a modified national curriculum with indications for disability?

Mr Cook : Just to clarify, ACARA has been asked to—and this is the recommendation from the review of the curriculum that the council accepted: 'To improve the inclusivity of the Australian curriculum by more appropriately addressing the needs of students with disability.'

That is the direction from the council. ACARA has provided updates in relation to their progress, but it is predominantly not the responsibility of ACARA to deal with issues around pedagogy in teaching and learning. ACARA is a curriculum body; it is not a pedagogy body. While they do support some of these—

Senator O'NEILL: I do not think you can completely tease them out one from the other, Mr Cook.

Mr Cook : I am saying what ACARA is actually responsible for. I am being very clear on that. That is why you do find states and territories have their own programs like the ABEL program in Victoria. The state of Victoria is responsible for the pedagogy, the teaching, the professional development of teachers to ensure that inclusions of students with disability can occur effectively using, from a curriculum perspective, an inclusive curriculum—which is what ACARA has been asked to develop, or to improve the current curriculum so it is more inclusive. I am just differentiating what ACARA can take on and what ACARA does not take on because states and territories are very clear that implementation of curriculum, including pedagogy and teaching and learning, is their responsibility because they are their teachers.

Senator O'NEILL: I guess that is why they are being so clear about the need for additional funding to do that job, as well.

Mr Cook : There is additional funding, there is over—

CHAIR: Let's move on.

Senator O'NEILL: Is ACARA currently funded to undertake this particular work around national disability curriculum?

Mr Randall : In terms of the council decision last year and what is in our work plan I will read from this, if that is okay: 'During the year will provide access to relevant resources developed for teachers of students with significant intellectual disability via the diversity section of the Australian curriculum website. It will add to the Australian curriculum website additional illustrations of practice focusing on how teachers plan and make age-appropriate adjustments for students with significant intellectual disability, and will include examples of different ways students might demonstrate what they know, understand and can do to the Australian curriculum general capabilities continua—literacy, numeracy and personal social capability.'

That is what we have been funded to do in the immediate future.

Senator O'NEILL: Could you give me the quantum of the funding that is allocated to that task?

Mr Randall : I will take that on notice. I do not have that in front of me.

Senator O'NEILL: In most of my questions there I have focused on disability, but I would also be interested in any additional information you can give me around English as an additional language dialect. I realise those are very different points from what you have said, but I would be interested in that as well.

Going to question on notice SQ15-685, I would like to put on record my disappointment with the quality of the answer. Frankly, I was outraged when I read it. I thought, 'This is a complete disrespect of this process.'

When I ask questions on notice I expect to get something reasonable in return. In response to my question about the Students First policy and the data transfer reporting compliance, I received an answer which says : 'The Australian government is examining the role and responsibilities of ACARA informed by the review of ACARA'. That was the sum total of your answer to my question when I wanted to know what was happening with data transfer and the functions of the curriculum.

Mr Cook : We did deal with this with Senator Lines.

Senator O'NEILL: I am sorry, I may not have been here for that. You got a full answer this time, Senator Lines?

Senator LINES: To which question?

Senator O'NEILL: To the one about the data reporting and compliance functions?

Senator DASTYARI: I would not go so far as to call it a full answer.

Mr Cook : We indicated to Senator Lines—

CHAIR: Why don't you take the opportunity to review Hansard, Senator O'Neill?

Senator O'NEILL: I will and I hope it is a more fulsome answer and if it is not I will put one on notice that I hope gets a decent response.

CHAIR: Okay. Thank you. No more questions for ACARA? Thank you very much ACARA. By agreement the committee is returning to cross-portfolio matters because of Senator Lines. Do we have the officers we still need?

Mr Cook : We do not have our Chief Financial Officer here, no. We thought cross-portfolio had finished.

CHAIR: And it was but Senator Lines—

Mr Cook : I can take on notice, but if there is detail of budget I am afraid I might not be able to help you, I am sorry.

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Cook, there is a couple of things you could take on notice anyway, even if the Chief Financial Officer was here. I am fairly relaxed. Some of these questions, in particular regarding provisional recruitment service, may end up having to be taken on notice, but do you have information on the advertising campaign for the government's childcare changes?

Mr Cook : I am sorry, all our comms people have gone as well. I will take it on notice, I am terribly sorry.

CHAIR: To be fair to Mr Cook, it is not the department's issue, we had moved on from cross-portfolio.

Senator DASTYARI: It is not your fault. We are very relaxed about all of that. Mr Cook, rather than me read them out to you now, and then you take them on notice and take up 50 people's time, we will provide them to you, in writing, on notice, through the appropriate process.

Mr Cook : Thank you. I appreciate that.

Senator LINES: I have a couple of questions.

Senator DASTYARI: No, we are going to provide them on notice.

CHAIR: The comms people have left.

Senator LINES: And the advertising as well? Okay. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Cook. All fun and games.