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Address - National PEP Conference, John XXIII College, A.N.U.



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ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND YOUTH AFFAIRS, SENATOR SUSAN RYAN, AT THE NATIONAL PEP CONFERENCE, JOHN XX111 COLLEGE, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, CANBERRA. SUNDAY. 2 SEPTEMBER 1984_____________________

PEP is an ambitious program. In some respects it is the most ambitious ever undertaken by the Commonwealth in the area of education. Within the one program, the Government is committed not only to the needs of specific groups, but also to the larger aim of improving every

student’s education - in the words of the Act PEP aims: "to encourage all young persons to participate in education or training ... until they have completed a secondary education or an equivalent ... and to ensure that, as far as practicable the education and training provided

... offers all young persons equal opportunities to develop ... individual talents and abilities, and ... more equitable outcomes of education for all young persons".

The Commonwealth’s initiative in creating PEP comes at a time of widespread concern about the education of young people. Let me quote from some of the official reports which have recently been completed in the States and Territories.

In Western Australia, the Beazley Inquiry begins by recording that:

" The impetus for the Inquiry was Government concern about the relevance of existing patterns and provisions of primary, secondary and technical and further education ... to present community conditions and foreseeable future circumstances ... the community has become increasingly concerned about the

relationships between schooling, employment and post-school life in general."

Within this general concern, the Beazley report gives full attention to the disadvantaged, to achieving sustained improvement in participation levels, and to improving standards.

Here in the A.C.T., the Steinle Report sees the present situation in a similar light:

" [There is] evidence of a crisis in purpose in high schools throughout Australia and in similar Western-style democracies. The term crisis is used in its precise sense as a turning point or moment of decision rather than in its common usage as time of disaster. This crisis has come about not by any particular fault of schools but by an accumulation

of conflicting public expectations of schools in a time of rapid technological, social and political change."

These concerns are shared by other reports - by the Schools Commission’s SchoolinR for 15 and 16 year olds, by the Swan-McKinnon proposals in NSW, and by the Blackburn report in Victoria.

It is a great disappointment to me that Jean Blackburn's illness prevented her from being here tonight. Her report is clear, compassionate and far-sighted. To quote her:

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" Victoria is now at a turning point in its educational provision for those who have reached the end of compulsory schooling. The efforts made over the last two decades to transform a stage of provision originally designed for a minority into one in which a majority of the age group could

purposefully participate have reached the boundaries of what is possible within the existing framework. As well, changed circumstances and expectations in society at large have eroded the historical basis on which the system was built, making radical changes urgent. Present arrangements can no

longer cater for increased numbers of young people. The challenge now faced is that of designing new provision suitable to all young people in a democratic society at a new stage in its history.”

What Jean says of Victoria can also be said of Australia. The first thing we can say about PEP, with great confidence, is that it is in the mainstream of concerns which reach across systems. PEP is a national initiative in tune with local initiatives.

Undoubtedly the main focus of concern for young people and their parents is: employment. I'm sure I do not need to persuade this audience that these concerns are real, and that the education and training system must respond to them if it is to retain its standing in

the community, and serve the community. I am not suggesting that education and training can single-handedly solve the unemployment problem. But there is a great deal that we can do to respond to it. Quite directly, increased participation in education does mean decreased unemployment. Had retention rates been the same at the beginning of the 1970s as they were in the mid-1960s, for example,

teenage unemployment in August 1972 would have been 12.3 per cent rather than the 5.9 per cent actually recorded.

And I make no apology for saying that participation in education and training is preferable to participation in unemployment, because I know that we can give young people experiences which are worthwhile and enabling, and which enhance future lives and opportunities as well.

Of course those experiences must help young people fit themselves for employment. They must also help them understand the employment and economic system. And they must move out from those concerns to others. There is much talk of the need for 'relevance* in young people's

education, and rightly so. But employment is not the only thing which young people find 'relevant'. They love music, dance, theatre, sport, games, talking. And adolescents are notoriously concerned about The Meaning of Life! If we take those concerns seriously, allow them into

our institutions, then they can be the basis on which we can go on to some of our concerns. These we sum up in the idea of education as a process by which individuals and the culture as a whole reflect on and develop themselves.

What I am saying, then, is that PEP and all the broad movements in the States and Territories which I mentioned earlier must be concerned with participation not only in the weak sense of getting young people inside an institution, but in the strong sense of giving them a quality

experience.

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There is a long tradition in Australia of Government concern with resources and inputs to education and training. What we now recognise is that this must be complemented by a concern with content, purposes, and outcomes.

On the first half of our concerns I can be brief. The Hawke Government has turned around the decline in resourcing to schools and to tertiary institutions which was begun and continued by the Fraser administra­ tion. In every sector, in every level, in every system this Government has achieved substantial real increases in resourcing. We have done it

in each of our budgets, and we have done it in times of real and pressing budgetary restraint.

But we have also demonstrated our concern that these increased real resources shouId produce increased real quality - in what is offered, and in what is learned. We have re-established the Curriculum Development Centre. Its new Council is moving rapidly on major areas of national concern. We have established the Basic Learning in Primary Schools Program. We have continued to support the TAPE Research and Development Centre, which has been so successful in supporting TAPE Departments in their continuing improvement of TAPE curriculum. We

have established the Quality of Education Review, to be chaired by Professor Peter Karmel. The Review is asked to recommend ways in which Commonwealth expenditure can be directed more closely to the achievement of improved outcomes. And, of course, we have established PEP, which is centrally concerned with quality across the curriculum.

I am aware that the achievement of more and better quality partici­ pation for all is no easy task. The plain facts are - as every teacher knows - that we live in a society which is both diverse, and unequal. In schools and colleges are students whose capacities vary, and whose

interests diverge, especially as they approach adulthood. This presents education and training institutions with some of their hardest tasks, and most troubling dilemmas.

There has been, over the past 20 years or so, an historic shift in the response of the education and training system to inequality and diversity. Until the 1960s, there was a consensus amongst progressive thinkers, teachers and administrators that the best approach was to try to create equal opportunities by giving all students access to the same kind of curriculum in the same kind of school. And this strategy produced some great educational and social gains.

But we now see that this is not enough. We need to question the uniform, mainstream curriculum, and ask whether it is more congenial, and of advantage, to some groups than others. We know that we need to make different provision if we are to respond to different pasts,

circumstances and futures. We also understand that we need to take our fair share of responsibility not just for the opportunities that students are given, but for the outcomes which they achieve.

These realisations have made thinking and practices more complex and taxing. If we make the curriculum more diverse, will we lose common-ness as a basic value for universal education? Can diverse outcomes be * equal* ? If we put more resources into the most

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disadvantaged groups, and so make outcomes more equal, are we reducing the chance others might have to get a Longer period of education or training? I see from reading the summary of your concerns, stated in consultation with officers of my Department, that you are alive to

these and other questions.

In PEP, the Hawke Government has committed financial and moral resources to the goal of more and better quality participation, and to more equal educational outcomes. This idea - of 'more equal educa­ tional outcomes' - is an idea which some people like to denigrate. We are accused, in using it, of being levellers-down or educational

Luddites, as though it is impossible to pursue excellence and equality at the same time. Good teachers know that is not so. Good schools prove it. When we undertake to make outcomes more equal we accept that good educational work can improve the achievement of the least

successful and the most successful, and improve the quality of the curriculum across the board.

To be committed to those goals is not, of course, to be so arrogant as to say that we know the answers to some of the toughest and long­ standing of educational questions.

We are very much aware that answers to educational questions are bound up with answers to social and economic questions. We announced PEP last year as 'the centrepiece of the overall framework of youth policies that the Government is developing*. We have been getting on with that job, made both urgent and difficult by long years of neglect by conservative governments. The OECD Review of Youth Policies has

submitted its draft report, and the process of debate and reaction to that is well under way. The Kirby review of labour market training programs has submitted its Interim Report, and will submit its final report soon.

But wherever possible we have not waited for complete answers to get started on the job. As announced in the Treasurer’s Budget speech, a fundamental review of the structure of the various forms of income support for young people will be undertaken in time for next year's Budget.

I might at this point add that as a result of decisions taken in this year's Budget the 'incentive gap* between benefits under the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme - TEAS - and the unemployment benefit payment to 16 and 17 year-olds leaving schools has been virtually

eliminated.

The level of benefits paid to adult secondary-level students under the Adult Secondary Education Assistance Scheme - ASEAS - has been raised and linked to the level of TEAS. This should encourage more people in the 19 to 24 age group to return to complete secondary study.

Families on lower incomes with students in Years 11 and 12 at secondary schools will also benefit significantly from changes to the Secondary Allowances Scheme. The maximum allowance will be increased as will the level of adjusted family income at which the maximum allowance is paid. The change in the family income level also applies to TEAS and

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ASEAS, and it is expected that about 7,000 students who would not have been eligible to receive financial assistance will now be able to seek benefits under these three schemes.

In addition, the decision that previous study in a TAPE course of one year or less will no longer affect a student’s eligibility for TEAS in subsequent courses should encourage more young people to participate both in initial short courses and in further study according to their needs. Those studying in a university or college of advanced education may receive Commonwealth assistance for three to six or more years.

Provision of an extended period of support at the TAPE level is consistent with equity.

So we are moving on as quickly as budgetary constraint and the complexity of the issues will allow toward providing the framework of a comprehensive education and youth policy.

I said earlier that this Government realises that resources are necessary, but not sufficient, to improved educational work. As well as resources we need ways of thinking, talking, and following through on the issues. PEP is such a means. I am not sure just what is the

right image - a focus? a catalyst? a forum? - perhaps all of those. However we understand it. PEP is more than just more! It must have an identity of its own.

But that is not and cannot be an identity foisted on the States and Territories by the Commonwealth, or by managers of systems on students, parents and teachers. It is something that must be owned by all. And that will happen only if it is made by all. Those of you at this Conference are playing an important part in that, and will continue to do so when you return to your States and Territories, not least, I trust, through your work in the dissemination of this Conference.

All programs take time and effort to achieve their identity. Perhaps PEP, in being the most ambitious of programs will take extra effort to fully establish itself. PEP is both a program for special needs and groups and a program for all. PEP is concerned with both special courses and arrangements and with the development of a better, more

inclusive mainstream curriculum.

This educational scope is matched by a wide institutional scope. It embraces the school and TAPE sectors, the government and non-government systems, the Commonwealth and States and Territories.

As I have talked about PEP with people in all parts of the education and training systems I have found an interesting response to the breadth and ambition of PEP. On the one hand, many people are still not really clear about the identity of PEP. On the other hand, they

are encouraged by its boldness. When we gave PEP its broad shape, just over 12 months ago, we decided that it had to be bold, not because the Commonwealth wanted to make a takeover bid, but because, in actual daily life in the schools and colleges, problems and opportunities don’t come in tidy boxes labelled ’local’ or ’system’, 'credentials’ or

’curriculum', ’special group’ or ’all students’. If PEP is complex, that is because educational reality is complex!

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Of course this does mean that as well as putting careful thought into shaping PEP, we need to give attention to both PEP’s relation to other programs, and to its relation with what the systems are doing. The Schools Commission is reviewing the special purpose programs, and I know that what you have to say at this Conference will be fully taken

into account by the Commission.

As for the relation of PEP to the work of the systems, I began by noticing the broad compatibility of recent State and Territory initiatives with the goals of PEP. PEP is in a tradition in which the State and Territory systems and the Catholic systems have long played

an honourable part - that is, a tradition of making better education more available more equally. We are, in short, partners in a common cause. That is reflected in the structure of control of the program, with its devolution of responsibility. The partnership of admini­

strators, practitioners, and clients is also embedded in the structure of the program.

These are the values which have shaped this Conference. It is a time for reflection, debate, and planning, by all involved in PEP. The Conference brings together philosophy, about policy, and practice, it is a democratic forum in a democratic program.

I do not under-estimate the difficulty of what you are doing. A hundred years ago work got under way on the novel, even heretical, idea that all children should get a basic education. Half way through this century we made so bold as to think that every student should get some

secondary schooling as well.

Now we want success for the great majority of students in twelve years of worthwile education, or education and training. We do so, as Jean Blackburn points out, within a framework which wasn’t designed for the job. But we also have in our schools something that everyone

should have more of. If the task of doing that seems daunting, it is also very exciting. I am very pleased to be here tonight to share in that excitement, and to wish you a Conference as generous in spirit as the work you do.