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Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Page: 11468

Mr ZAPPIA (11:27 AM) —I rise to support the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Bill 2008, which brings in the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. I do so because this is good public policy. It is one of a series of measures which forms the Rudd government’s education revolution beginning with an investment of $19.3 billion in education in the May budget, an investment that is central to building a stronger future for Australia and a fairer Australia and preparing Australia for future challenges.

I will not waste my time responding to the comments and the paranoia of the member for Fadden but what I want to do is respond to one of the allegations and comments that is continually made by members opposite in respect of the Investing in Our Schools Program and how this government supposedly ended that program. The program, as other speakers on this side have pointed out, was ended by the previous coalition government. What I have before me, which quite clearly spells that out, is some press statements put out by the coalition government about 12 months ago and in the lead-up to the last federal election. I want to quote from a press release put out by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who at the time said:

Details of the continued support for the Investing in Our Schools Programme will be announced in due course.

That was on 28 August 2007. More than a year later, we are still waiting for those details. But more importantly and more specifically, subsequent to that press release from the Liberal Party’s website where they talked about their policies in the lead-up to the last federal election, they listed 10 objectives that they would commit to if they were elected. Not one of them talks about the continuation of the Investing in Our Schools Program. So if they want to come in here and talk about that policy ending then they ought to turn around and look behind them and look to the people who in fact did end that program and not accuse this government of having done so.

Australia is now ranked 20th amongst the OECD countries for the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who have completed upper secondary education or its equivalent. Access Economics estimates that young people who leave school before year 12 are six times more likely to make a poor transition to post-school activities than those who complete senior schooling. I note that each year of schooling is associated with an increase of around 10 per cent in earnings. I also note that a study published by the Dusseldorp Skills Forum and the Business Council of Australia estimated that a 10 per cent increase in year 12 or apprenticeship completion by 2010 would boost annual GDP by 1.1 per cent by 2040 as a result of increased labour force participation and improved workforce productivity. Those are some of the benefits that come from better education. When members come into this chamber and talk about the so-called proud record of the coalition for its commitment to education, perhaps they need to look at some of those statistics which in fact paint a very damning picture of what happened to education in this country under the watch of the coalition government.

I said earlier that the Rudd Labor government has committed $19.3 billion to education in its first budget. That includes $1.2 billion for the digital education revolution, and as part of that spending the government is providing $11.5 million to support professional development for teachers in information and communications technology and $32.6 million over two years to supply students and teachers with online curriculum tools and resources. I also point out that $116 million has already been provided to 896 schools across Australia to fund 116,820 new computers. So the program is being rolled out, contrary to what other speakers have said, and it is being taken up by schools around Australia. I have yet to find a school that does not want new computers. The $19.3 billion also includes $2.5 billion for trade training centres in secondary schools, and $90 million of that has already been provided to 34 lead schools across the country. There will be $62.4 million over the next three years, commencing in the 2008-09 year, for the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program. This is important, given that our strong trading partners in the years ahead will be Asian countries. There will be $625.8 million over three years, commencing in 2008-09, to reduce HECS rates for maths and science students. New maths and science graduates will also be eligible for a 50 per cent reduction in their HECS if they pursue a career in those fields, including in teaching.

To add to my earlier points about the need for the policies included in the education revolution, it is the aim of the government to ensure that by the year 2020 the percentage of Australians aged between 20 and 64 without qualifications at the certificate III level and above will be halved. It is the aim of the government to ensure that by 2020 the number of diploma and advanced diploma completions will have doubled. And it is also the aim of the government to ensure that by the year 2013 there will be universal access to early learning for all children. I also note that there are nearly 6.5 million Australians who have no post-school qualifications and that every year some 45,000 to 50,000 early school leavers do not go into full-time work, full-time learning or a combination of work and learning.

To return to the substance of the bill, we live in a global community where people not only travel frequently to places around the world but take up employment and career paths in different parts of the world. As we all know, transnational corporations set up businesses in many countries with the same job specifications and professional training requirements for the staff they recruit, wherever they are to be based. That is even more the case with respect to employment opportunities and qualification requirements within Australia. It makes little sense to have education providers around Australia setting individual standards and curriculum in each state and territory. The Rudd government recognises that, and the state and territory governments recognise that. That is why, on 2 October, there was a historic COAG decision to establish the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority as an independent statutory authority that will bring together the functions of curriculum assessment and reporting at the national level. I believe this decision will be welcomed by families and industry around Australia. The Rudd government has highlighted time and again the significance of education to future prosperity and opportunity for individuals and future prosperity for our nation. A good education is dependent on a number of factors, and curriculum setting and assessing form part of those factors. This bill is a long overdue measure and I welcome the intention to commence this process on 1 January 2009.

The bill also provides for a national assessment of student performance. Knowing how students compare with other students around the country is important for students, parents, employers and the teaching profession. Importantly, it is essential knowledge for governments because it will assist them in the allocation of education and social spending and in the provision of targeted funding. It is widely accepted that education outcomes are not simplistically determined by the school environment or the quality of teachers; other social factors can and do determine education outcomes. It is very important for governments to know how students from different communities are performing by assessing them against the same curriculum. Governments can then identify underlying social issues which may need addressing. In that context I want to refer to a report entitled How young people are faring 2008, prepared by the Foundation for Young Australians and released earlier this year. I referred to this report in a previous address on education, but this statement in the report is absolutely relevant to the point I am making at the moment:

Social disadvantage promotes lower rates of attainment among some groups of young Australians … 19 year-olds from low SES backgrounds attain Year 12 or its equivalent at a rate 26.1 percentage points lower than that of those from high SES origins.

At age 24, well over one-third of those from low SES backgrounds have not completed Year 12 or equivalent, compared to about one in seven of those from high SES backgrounds.

This is the important paragraph:

Achievement levels in school also affect attainment, and since school achievement is highly correlated with social background, policies developed to target improvements in Year 12 completion will need to address the issue of social disadvantage.

That is the critical comment made in that report, and it is the critical point of this bill. If the government can provide those assessments and those comparisons of how students are performing in different parts of the country it will enable the government to target specific spending, because quite often those performance levels are not directly related to the school, to the teachers or to the subjects that are being studied, but to other factors which also need addressing.

Of course, a national assessment will increase the level of accountability on both schools and teachers. The important issue here is to ensure that all relevant factors are taken into account when drawing conclusions about student performance and, therefore, school performance. I link that with the previous comments I made. You cannot judge a school by its performance if you simply take into account the performance of the students. You have to make a judgement on the basis of other, external factors as well. That applies if you are going to make judgements about the teachers who are teaching in those schools. I am sure that those matters are well understood by the minister.

The COAG agreement which underpins the implementation of this bill will also address a critical decision for families when they consider moving from one state to another. Each year about 340,000 Australians move interstate, and I would expect those figures to rise in the years ahead. About one-quarter of those 340,000 Australians are students.

Not having uniformity in the school system across Australia raises two matters of concern. Firstly, parents sometimes reject a worthwhile opportunity to move from one state to another because of the impact on their children’s education. They will make a conscious decision, perhaps, not to take up a better position for themselves because they do not want to disrupt their children’s education. They put the children’s education first. Secondly, for those who do move, considerable readjustment is required for children still at school. If a child has to go from one school to another, sometimes in another state, it disrupts them to the point where it might affect their social wellbeing. Importantly, they may have to pick up months of learning as part of the adjustment process in the new school. Because of that they may not perform as well as they might otherwise have performed. It does have an impact on their children’s schooling so I can understand why parents are sometimes reluctant to move from one area to another.

In my own state I have known of parents who have moved from one part of the City of Adelaide to another part—or even out into the country—but have continued to send their children to the same school, even if there is considerable cost, just so that they will not disrupt their children’s schooling. Having a national curriculum overcomes many of the difficulties associated with relocating from one school to another. For that reason alone it is an important bill.

In recent weeks I have attended end-of-year ceremonies at many of the schools in my electorate. I am always impressed by the extraordinary talents I see in young people throughout our community. I am equally impressed by the commitment of so many of the teachers in those schools, and how they, in turn, always find innovative ways to make school life more meaningful and more interesting. I want to take this opportunity to speak about one such example. I refer to the Banksia Park International High School. I attended their end-of-year presentation a week ago, but some three weeks earlier I attended the launch of a very special program. The program is referred to as the Banksia Park International High School international football program. This is a brand new concept. It is a concept that was put together by the school as a response to a need from within the school community. It goes a long way, I believe, to providing real opportunities for young people, not only in their school but in schools across Australia.

Banksia Park International High School, as the name says, is a school that has students from all around the world. The most common sport that all of those students can identify with is soccer. That is why they focused on soccer as the basis for this program. There are opportunities for students from year 8 to year 12 to get involved in the program as part of their school curriculum. This is not just a recreation or a hobby program; this forms part of the school curriculum right through from years 8 and 9 to years 10, 11 and 12. The details of the program, particularly with respect to years 11 and 12, are still being finalised but they have already launched the program and it is underway. It is available to both girls and boys in the school.

You may well ask: how does this fit in with the school curriculum? Soccer is an international sport. In order to get the program up and running the school has been working with the South Australian Football Federation and with Adelaide United soccer club, which is the dominant soccer club in our state—and which, I might say, if I can digress, has performed exceptionally well this last season—and they are working with the local soccer club, Modbury Soccer Club. They are also working with the person who sponsors the Adelaide United soccer club, Mr Nick Bianco. The whole concept is about getting students involved from the early stages of the game right through to the end. It teaches the children about refereeing, coaching, sports training, administration and, if they want to pursue it as an individual, even becoming a player.

All of those areas today provide opportunities for employment later on. All of those are career opportunities. In fact, when you consider how dominant and important sport has become in our daily lives, it really is a huge employment sector. If you want to get work in that sector, there is no better way than to devise a course that enables a pathway into sports administration, sports coaching, sports participation or refereeing. All of those areas provide opportunities for our young people. They are being pursued, but quite often they are being pursued without the proper training.

I commend this program because, as someone who has always supported sports participation in the community, I know there are benefits that go far beyond just education. Young people who get involved in sports and in this kind of program learn about leadership. They learn about taking responsibility. They learn about being committed. It is a healthy activity that they get involved in. They learn to work as a team and in conjunction with other people. It makes better people of the young people who get involved. I have seen it time and time again in those who participate in sports, even just at local sports club level. To see a school pick up all of those pieces, put them together in the form of a curriculum and then offer it to its students is commendable. I certainly look forward to working with the school in the years ahead as it rolls out the program. I understand that in the first couple of years the program will run only for a few weeks but as students move on through years 10, 11 and 12 it will become a full semester activity. As I said, it actually forms part of their school curriculum and they will be assessed accordingly.

As I said at the outset, this is part of the series of measures that the Rudd government has introduced as part of the education revolution. It is an important part and one that I believe will make a real difference to the opportunities for young people in this country. I commend the bill to the House.