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Annual conference of the Australian council of state school organisations



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SE3NT·BY:SCHOOLS & CURRICULUM ;27-10-97 ; 2:49PM ; DEET-* 616 2772599;# 2/10

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DRAFT SPEECH FOR

SENATOR THE HON CHRIS ELLISON

MINISTER FOR SCHOOLS, VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING

SENATOR FOR WESTERN AUSTRALIA

FOR THE OPENING OF THE

ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL OF STATE SCHOOL

ORGANISATIONS

CANBERRA 20 OCTOBER 1997

COMMONWEALTH parliamentary library

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Mr Slefaniak, ACT Minister for Education, President Keitli Staples, ladies and

gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure that my first official function as Minister for

Schools, Vocational Education and Training is to address the body representing

parents with children at government schools.

I was delighted to accept this appointment as Schools Minister because this part of

the Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs portfolio is critical to the

future of Australia’s young people.

I am particularly looking forward to working with government school organisations.

Government schools enrol seventy per cent of the nation’s students and employ

nearly three quarters of the nation’s school teachers. Let me make it quite clear my

belief that a strong and competitive government school system is absolutely vital to

our future as a nation. The Government has adopted a strong reform agenda in order

to strengthen our schools and this is designed to improve the outcomes of schooling

for all students, regardless of where they are educated.

This Government is interested in genuine reform and I would like to demonstrate

this through a brief overview of three critical parts of the Government’s schools

agenda - this deals with schools funding, in literacy and sehool-to-work.

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Schools Funding

There have been no cuts to Commonwealth programs for schools in the last two

Coalition Budgets. In fact the Federal schools legislation (the States Grants

(Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Act 1996) guarantees funding for

schools for the next four years, proving almost $16 billion for schools over the

period 1997 to 2000. The Commonwealth Budget Papers for 1996-97 show that

funding for schools is estimated to increase each year to 1999-2000, with an

average increase of just over three and a half per cent (3.6%) per year.

I have been made aware of claims that a funding mechanism called the Enrolment

Benchmark Adjustment is going to undermine the government school sector.

In answer let me say that, if there is no change in the proportions o f students at

government and non-government schools then this Enrolment Benchmark

Adjustment will not be triggered.

Even in the worst, case scenario, the sums which the Commonwealth will reclaim by

means of the Enrolment Benchmark Adjustment represents only one quarter of one

per cent (0.28%) of total public expenditure on government schools nationally up to

the year 2000.

In 1999, it is estimated that there will be 2,192,000 students in government schools

(68.9% of all school enrolments). This docs not suggest that there will be a

fundamental change in the relationship between government and non-government

school enrolments.

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In addition the Commonwealth Goveminent has recently decided to pay the frill

measure of supplementation for its recurrent programs. Based on movements in

average government school recurrent costs, the percentage increase of 7.4% for

1997 compared to some 4.2% for the Consumer Price Index for the same period.

This translates into an additional $228 million for schools in 1997 and an extra $935

million over the 1997 to 2000 quadrennium. Education systems can apply this

funding to help raise literacy standards, to provide professional development for

teachers and to support vocational education in schools. It is a matter for them to

determine priorities.

Literacy

I would also like to make it clear, however, that while the Commonwealth has

guaranteed continued funding for schools, it requires evidence o f improvements to

students’ learning outcomes. Every year $14 billion of taxpayers’ money is spent on

schools. I think parents want clear evidence that their children are receiving the best

possible preparation for life and work. The Federal Government feels the same

way, especially in view of clear evidence that a large percentage o f students are

having difficulty acquiring basic literacy skills.

Before we can be sure that young Australians are receiving the education which is

their right, we must have a clear grasp of what we expect of them, and how we

measure and report what they have achieved. The question of national literacy

standards is a major challenge confronting all education systems both here and

overseas.

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I would like to clarity for you some aspects of this debate.

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Slate Education Ministers have already agreed on an national goal in March this

year that every child leaving primary school should he numerate, and able to read,

write and spell at an appropriate level.

Ministers also agreed to deliver the national goal by endorsing a five point national

plan focussing on the early years of schooling. This plan focuses on early

intervention, the development of national benchmarks in literacy and numeracy and

assessing students against these national benchmarks. Inherent in this plan is a new

sub-goal also adopted by Ministers - that every child commencing school from

J 99 H will achieve a minimum acceptable literacy and numeracy standard within

four years.

The National Plan requires education authorities to provide support for teachers in

their task of identifying those children not achieving adequate literacy and numeracy

skills and in intervening as early as possible to address those students’ needs.

That Australia is taring a serious problem in literacy was evident tfom the results of

the National Schools English Literacy Survey released by Dr Kemp last month. He

also released an analysis of those results commissioned from the Australian Council

for Educational Research which showed that, while the majority of children in Years

3 and 5 are performing as expected in reading and writing, around 30% are failing to

meet a minimum acceptable standard in literacy. I might add that the situation was

much worse for Indigenous students.

There has been controversy over these results. In light of these concerns 1 would

like to point out that the analysis commissioned by Dr Kemp was done, not to

manufacture a crisis or to sensationalise the results, but to ensure that the results of

the survey would be presented in a way which was accessible to parents and to the

broader Australian community.

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There has been no manipulation of data. Overseas both the Clinton and Blair

administrations are stressing the achievement of high standards as fundamental to

the success o f (he British and American school systems. There is no reason why

Australian parents and the Australian community should not enjoy the same high

standard.

The previous Disadvantaged Schools Programme has not been abolished but has

been converted into a programme whose prime focus is literacy and numeracy.

The Government has increased funding aimed at literacy by $80 million and has

already committed $638 million for literacy and numeracy in the four years to 2000.

An extra $7 million will be provided from 1997 to 1999 for professional

development for teachers to support the implementation o f the National Plan.

This money will be well spent because from 1998 school education authorities will

be required to use literacy funding in a very focussed way. Funds must be used to

assist all students to be numerate and be able to read, write and spell at an

appropriate level, at the completion o f primary school. Commonwealth funds must

be targeted at those students in greatest need, particularly to schools with a high

proportion of students having literacy and numeracy problems.

From 1998, in order to receive funding under the Literacy Programme, government

and non government school authorities will be required to provide a detailed plan

outlining how these funds will be used to achieve measurable improvements in

literacy and numeracy outcomes.

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The looks forward to receiving these literacy plans from the States. We are seeking

to ensure that adequate resources are available and that funds are used in the most

effective way to meet, the literacy needs of every child.

I understand the Australian Council of Slate School Organisations has called for a

unified and collaborative approach to attain the national goals for literacy and the

development of suitable benchmarks. I would like to thank for your support on this

critical issue.

School to Work

The third key area for this Government is the transition from school to work.

I think it is helpful to look at students’ post school destinations to see just how

important this is for our young people.

About 45% of all school leavers participate in full-time further education in the first

year post-school, most at either university or TAPE. A further 55% of all school

leavers do not participate in full-time further education in their first year post­

school. The majority of these (64%) work either full-time or part-time. There are

declining opportunities for less skilled workers in the labour market in general and

for young people in particular.

In 1981 there were some 540,000 young people in full-time work. In June 1997

there were around 200,000. Some of the reasons include technological change,

increased competition from older jobseekers, and the trend towards part-time work.

Approximately one-quarter of young people who left school in 1995 were

unemployed in the following May.

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These statistics make it essential that schools do everything possible to ensure that

our young people are prepared for the workforce .The Government is committed to

provide over $ 187 million between 1997 to 2000 to expand vocational education in

schools. This means developing school based apprenticeships and traineeships, the

expansion of accredited vocational courses in schools and improved credit transfer

arrangements between schools and TAFEs. These projects will involve over 18,000

students in 170 schools across Australia with 900 students commencing part time

New Apprenticeships as part of their senior secondary study.

The McDonald’s arrangement with the Victorian Board of Studies gives formal

recognition for on-the-job training being undertaken by young people. This training,

of course, can be extended to not only McDonald’s but other employers who can

offer accredited training.

These are just some of the reforms the Government has already commenced.

I think it is a remarkable record for only eighteen months in office and, as Minister,

I look forward to continuing this work. There are, of course, many other issues like

the quality of teaching which still have to be addressed.

I do not think that we can afford to be complacent about the performance of

Australian schools. The recent tests carried out under the Third International

Mathematics and Science Study showed our nine-year olds doing very well in maths

and science, against students from over 40 countries.

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hi terms of mean scores, Australian students were oulperfonned by four countries in

mathematics and in science by only one. The countries that did outperform us

namely Singapore, Korea, Japan and Hong Kong are all in our region. We therefore

have to continually strive to deliver the best possible learning outcomes for our

students because our social and economic future depends on it.

In conclusion 1 would like to affirm that it is my intention to consult widely with

parent organisations like yourselves and with any group which would like to

contribute to the development of the Government’s schools’ agenda in a positive

manner.

I understand there will be officers from Schools Division of the Department of

1 Employment, 1 Education, Training and Youth Affairs here over the next lew days

and I urge you to direct detailed questions to them. It has been a pleasure to be with

you this morning and I look forward to developing a close working partnership with

you for the benefit of students in government schools.

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Thank you.