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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2533


Senator GICHUHI (South Australia) (14:25): My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Would the minister advise the Senate about what the review to achieve excellence in Australian schools, led by Mr David Gonski SC, found in relation to Australia's schools performance?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:25): I thank Senator Gichuhi for her question and for her enduring interest and commitment to excellence across Australia's school education system.

Indeed, it was in the pursuit of excellence that this government asked Mr David Gonski and a panel of educators, principals and experts to come together to look at how it is that we can best turn around what has been a stagnation, a decline in performance, in many areas and ensure that we have true excellence and true delivery of growth in student performance in return for the record and growing investment that Australian taxpayers and parents are making in their children's education.

The review did indeed paint a gloomy picture in terms of performance over a recent period of time, that over the last 15 years Australian student performance has dropped from fourth in the world for reading to 16th, from 11th in the world for mathematics to 25th and from eighth in science to 14th, according to the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment. Notwithstanding the efforts of many hardworking school leaders, principals, teachers and students themselves, there are too many schools in which the Gonski panel identified from research and evidence that students are cruising or coasting rather than being extended to their full capability; that our average performance across school systems is down; and that our lowest achievers are performing at even lower levels and our higher achievers not at such high levels. Yet over the 10 years from 2006, while Australia's GDP grew by 67 per cent, federal investment in education grew by 117 per cent. It is very clear that we have had a sustained period, under governments of different persuasions, of record growing investment in school education, and that compared to other OECD countries that often outperform us Australia spends more on our schooling and yet is receiving poorer results. That's why we committed to undertake this review to identify how we get the best bang for our buck—how we get the best outcome for Australian students. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gichuhi, a supplementary question.

Senator GICHUHI (South Australia) (14:27): Can the minister inform the Senate about the Turnbull government's response to the review?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:27): The Turnbull government has committed to and accepted the priority recommendations of the review, particularly the review's findings that we must deliver on foundation skills in the early years of education—the basics of literacy and numeracy—and ensure that they are established in Australian schoolchildren, ideally, by age 8. We've equally committed to and accepted the recommendation that there ought to be a better and more consistent assessment process and tool linked to providing specific guidance and advice to help teachers better target their teaching and better track the progress of students, ensuring that parents, as well as schools, have regular, clear, consistent and updated advice on how their students are learning and how that benchmarks against expected outcomes for those students.

But there ought to be better incentives to keep highly-skilled, accomplished and lead teachers in our classrooms and in the profession, mentoring others. Ultimately, we ought to seek to extend the skills of every student to their maximum capability so that not only do we have fewer underachievers but we have more overachievers achieving even higher— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gichuhi, a final supplementary question.

Senator GICHUHI (South Australia) (14:28): Would the minister please inform the Senate about the comments of key education stakeholders and the states and territories on their views, and the government's response to them?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (14:29): We have been very pleased that many representatives of principals, teachers and parents have endorsed the findings of the review. I acknowledge that in the gallery today there are many school students—no doubt hard at work here in Canberra learning about civics education—as well as their hardworking teachers and support staff and, possibly, some parents.

This review and its recommendations have received endorsement from all aspects of the non-government education sector; from principal bodies, particularly the Primary Principals' Association, who endorsed the focus on principal autonomy; from the Australian Council of State School Organisations and the Australian Parents Council; and from Professor Geoff Masters of the Australian Council of Educational Research, who described the review as a breakthrough—particularly praising the focus on the proposed new classroom assessment and teaching tool.

Ultimately, David Gonski and I briefed state and territory education ministers in Adelaide last Friday, and I'm pleased they responded positively and are committed to working constructively to get better outcomes for all Australian students, and a better return on our— (Time expired)