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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4807

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth) (15:49): When the debate was adjourned earlier today I was referring to an article by John Hattie concerning the question of how much of a difference experienced and expert teachers make. He identified that, of all the influences that account for the variance in achievement of students, obviously the largest one, at 50 per cent, is the qualities and abilities of the student himself or herself. But the next largest factor, at 30 per cent, in the variance in achievement was due to the quality of the teacher. He makes the point—and this is a point we have made repeatedly from this side of the House—that we have to direct attention to higher quality teaching. Simply throwing money at the system, campaigning for smaller class sizes, regarding the teachers unions' industrial objectives as being consistent with good educational outcomes—that is all very misconceived. The focus has to be on the quality of the teachers.

This was brought home to us yet again in February last year when the Grattan Institute published a report following its conference that examined four high-performing school systems in our region—in Korea, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore—all of which were overtaking us to varying degrees. I quote from Ben Jensen's report where he says:

Today's centre of high performance in school education is East Asia. Four of the world's five highest-performing systems are Hong Kong, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore ... in Shanghai, the average 15-year old mathematics student is performing at a level two to three years above his or her counterpart in Australia, the USA, the UK and Europe. In recent years, many OECD countries have substantially increased education expenditure, often with disappointing results. Between 2000 and 2008, average expenditure per student rose by 34% across the OECD. Large increases in expenditure have also occurred in Australia, yet student performance has fallen.

He goes on to say:

Success in high-performing education systems in East Asia is not always the result of spending more money. Korea, for example, spends less per student than the OECD average.

I think we all know this from our own experience. I remember being a very poor student of Greek in year 9. I think I got six per cent in the annual exam, which I assume was awarded to me for spelling my name—probably only in English! And then the next year, due to a remarkable and charismatic teacher—John Sheldon, who I pay tribute to today, to his charisma and knowledge—I was so inspired to improve my performance that 12 months later I did very well and, in fact, came fourth in the state. We have all had experiences like this, where it is the outstanding teacher who makes the difference.

This is where, when the previous speaker, the member for Newcastle, was referring to the school halls program of the Rudd government and saying what a fabulous program that was, the real tragedy was, of course, that this was not directed at teachers at all. The truth is that the Gonski proposals—the so-called Gonski reforms—were simply about financial resourcing, and it is a very valuable piece of work by a very outstanding Australian. But what the government has not done is to put genuinely new money on the table, or additional money on the table. As I said earlier: it is taking with one hand and giving with the other. But, above all, it is not providing any detail as to what this money is actually going to be used for.

There is talk about giving schools more money, but how is it going to be used? The one thing that we know for sure is that just putting more money into the education system will not, in and of itself, produce better educational outcomes. The focus has to be very keenly on the quality of the teachers, rewarding teachers—good teachers—more generously and encouraging them to stay in the classroom. One of the characteristics of the Australian education system that comes up in the OECD's PISA studies—and these are the big studies on school performance and student performance across all the OECD countries—is that Australia has the narrowest range in teacher remuneration for classroom teachers between the starting salary and the highest salary you can earn while remaining in the classroom. That means that all too often the outstanding classroom teacher goes on to an administrative job—becomes a principal or a deputy principal—gets out of the classroom in order to earn more or, indeed, leaves teaching altogether.

We have to recognise that a good teacher—a really effective teacher—is very intelligent, is well educated—particularly if they are in science or mathematics; they have quantitative skills which are in enormous demand—and, above all, is an engaging and compelling communicator. Those are skills which are immensely valuable in just about every other part of the economy.

I do not think that anyone becomes a schoolteacher in order to get rich, or because the income is attractive. But, equally, we have to recognise that teachers have husbands, wives, children and obligations, and that unless the best teachers are better rewarded there will be a continual loss of them either to non-teaching roles within the educational system or, indeed, to the rest of the economy.

The most concerning thing, therefore, about the government's program is that it has this word, 'Gonski'—and my old friend, as I said earlier, has become not just a proper noun but a verb as well—but where is the detail? None of the states are yet aware of the precise funding details. What are the precise requirements? What does it really mean? The Prime Minister is seeking to get the states to sign up to what is effectively a press release. This issue is too important to be politicised in such a transparently crass way.

We have to get down to the specifics: how is this program that the government is proposing actually going to put more money into schools? Is it going to be a net increase in funding? And what is the outcome going to be for each and every teacher in the system? How is this funding going to change the quality of the teaching in the classroom? Until the government can do that, this will be seen as yet another reminder of Kevin Rudd's great campaign on health: all hype, all headlines, all press releases without the detail that is so critical to our children's future.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Saffin ): I thank the honourable member for his contribution. And in relation to the word 'Gonski', the honourable member might consider that it is a gerund—a verb-noun!

Mr Turnbull: I thank the Deputy Speaker for that. On indulgence, I may say that David Gonski is just rising up the scales of grammatical achievement! He is a noun, he is a verb, he is a gerund! It is extraordinary—better than an AC!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member—that is enough!