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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18708

Mr BARTLETT (3:11 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Would the minister inform the House of recent announcements about national consistency in schooling for Australian children?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Macquarie for his question, for his leadership of the education and training committee of the parliament and for his great representation for everyday Australians, like Greg and Jean Fletcher and those who want choice and standards in education.

Last year, some 80,000 school-age Australian children—the equivalent of the entire school-age population of the state of Tasmania—moved interstate, and frequently they and their parents could be forgiven for thinking that they had moved, in an educational sense, to a different country. We have six different starting ages for year 1. In four states and territories we have six years of primary school and in the other four we have seven years. At the moment, only in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT do parents receive the results of national benchmark testing for reading, writing and numeracy skills, and only recently have the other states and territories agreed to come on board. For example, in the state of New South Wales, one in 12 students in years 3 and 5 cannot pass a basic—and I mean basic—year 3 reading test, yet the only people in the state who do not seem to know are their parents, because those results are not reported to them. In the state of Queensland, one in five boys cannot pass a basic year 5 reading test, yet today their parents do not receive those results against the national benchmark. Compounding this, at the other end of the education system the Australian curriculum authority web site advises students not to move interstate in year 12 because of variations in completion requirements.

The Commonwealth government is doing a number of things in this regard. One thing is that, on behalf of the Australian government, I announced several weeks ago that $10 million will be committed to establish the National Institute for Quality Teaching and School Leadership. The purpose of this is to see that we provide national leadership in ensuring that the professionalism of Australia's teachers is maintained and is nationally consistent. As parents, we want to make sure that the teachers teaching our children, whether in Bunbury, Hobart, Darwin or indeed the electorate of Macquarie, are all keeping up with the same standards, to ensure the highest standard of teaching are being provided to our children.

At the ministerial council meeting involving myself and state and territory ministers in mid-July, the state and territory ministers and the Australian government agreed to a number of things. The first is that we will now have national reporting against benchmarks in reading, writing and numeracy—for which the member for Goldstein should take great credit—with reporting to parents beginning next year, 2004. The second is that all of the states and territories have now agreed to a common starting age for school by 2010. That may not mean a great deal to some Australians, but I have had a parent tearfully telling me that she had to explain to her five-year-old child why that child was required repeat year 1 when they moved interstate.

In addition, the Commonwealth, state and territory governments have agreed to look specifically at initiatives that will ensure national standards in education right across Australia. I think that our greatest challenge in school education is to ensure that we raise the respect that this society has for teaching as a profession. Apart from parents it is teachers that most influence the lives of our children, and for that reason in particular the Commonwealth will be driving hard, with teacher professional organisations, to ensure that the national institute for teacher quality and leadership in schools works cooperatively with all state and territory governments, provides leadership and prepares the next generation for the 21st century.