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Wednesday, 14 December 1983
Page: 3767

Senator PETER BAUME —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

The Opposition welcomes the report of the Commonwealth Schools Commission on Participation and Equity in Australian Schools and the report of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, and the statement by the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) in relation to the reports. As was made clear in the debate last week on the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Bill to establish the participation and equity program, the program has objectives which are shared by the Opposition. If the Government is able to build upon what was started in the school to work transition program and if the Government is able to achieve greater participation in more relevant courses it will enjoy the enthusiastic support of the Opposition in what it is seeking to do.

In looking at the statement and then at the reports one is struck by the statements made in relation to tertiary education, by the compliments that are paid to the school to work transition program on which, of course, the participation and equity program is based. It is made clear in the report from the Tertiary Education Commission that the school to work transition program was achieving many of the objectives which are set down for this new program. In particular it was identifying certain groups which are disadvantaged, and the details of that are set out in the report. However, what pleases the Opposition is that from the school to work transition program we have a solid base on which this Government and this community can build in trying to increase participation and equity.

I will speak for only a couple of moments and will concentrate on only one aspect in one of the reports which was drawn to my attention by the Minister's statement, and that is the section which deals with the subject of assessment, accreditation and credentialling. One of the real problems in Australian education has been that children can go through our education systems, State education systems generally, and can come out at the end of 10 years, 11 years or 12 years with not a single credential or a single qualification which they can take to an employer or which they can look at themselves to get some sense of achievement out of their educational experience. We have a system in which there tends to be one major hurdle for accreditation at the end of people's school training. It has seemed to me for a long time that the credentialling approach in Australia leaves a lot to be desired. I am attracted by moves which have been made recently in New South Wales to provide a more comprehensive means of credentialling.

When I was in England earlier this year I had the opportunity to discuss credentialling with English education authorities. I learned, for example, that the Inner London Education Authority, which operates a system bigger than any we have in Australia, is examining credentialling in a very particular and positive way. It was put to me then by Mr Stubbs, the Chief Education Officer, that there is no reason why we cannot develop a portfolio approach to credentialling whereby pupils leaving an education system could carry with them a formal record of their achievements, whether or not they are able to pass the formal examination for university entrance. The difficulty we have had in this country is that the final qualification which provides generally the only useful credential for schooling is one which has been determined by tertiary institutions for their legitimate purposes and which leaves without a single qualification many students who cannot satisfy that credential. Mr Stubbs put to me earlier this year that an approach which might allow each student to develop a portfolio of achievement is one that might be looked at. I would commend that. If that is what the report is talking about, it is something which the Opposition would support.

I endorse the other approach to achievement and credentialling which has been put to me. That approach recognises that pupils might move at different speeds according to their academic ability and prowess and that they might meet standards at their own speeds, rather than being required to satisfy the normative standards for their age or peer groups each year. It has been put to me that students studying for music examinations in Australia simply take each level when they are ready. They take each level as they are prepared for it. Having passed it, whenever they pass it, they go on to the next level. There seems to be considerable merit in looking at our schooling system and at the credentialling and accreditation systems within the schooling system from the same point of view. Why should it not be possible for a student at one time to be studying mathematics at year 11 level, English at year 9 level and history at year 8 level? There should be no reason whatsoever why that should not be possible. It would give to the student extra flexibility and a chance to succeed at a speed he or she could accept as being appropriate for himself or herself.

Senator Jack Evans —In that specific area.

Senator PETER BAUME —I accept Senator Jack Evans's interjection. At the moment we have a system of credentialling and of accreditation which is placing barriers in the way of students and contributing to the unsatisfactory experiences which many of our students have.

I said that that was the only point I wished to talk about in detail. I wish to commend the Commonwealth Schools Commission and the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission for the way in which they are responding to the Government' s call in this program. I indicate to the Government that we will continue as an Opposition to look at the programs to see whether they are achieving their objectives. We wish those programs well. We wish them well on behalf of students throughout the Australian education system. We hope that the Government is able to achieve its aims of greater participation and greater flexibility. As I said at the outset, the Opposition will do all it can to help promote positive outcomes in education.

Question resolved in the affirmative.