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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3203

Senator COLSTON —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, I present the fourth report on the examination of annual reports, dated December 1985, together with the transcript of evidence.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator COLSTON —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I find it strange that thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours can be spent by a Senate standing committee on an inquiry only to have the Chairman of that committee seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a speech about the inquiry. Yet this is what I have been instructed to do. Thus I reluctantly seek leave to incorporate my speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

On behalf of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, I table the fourth report arising from the Committee's examination of annual reports.

The Committee's first report on annual reports of government agencies dealt with the timeliness of reporting. The second considered standards of presentation and information which should be included in annual reports. The third report concentrated on children's television standards.

This report deals with the 1983-84 annual report of the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority.

The committee considers that the Schools Authority's annual report is deficient in several respects, especially in regard to reporting on activities and operational problems. I should observe that the Authority does not agree with this view. It informed the Committee that the annual report is not the major way in which it communicates its views to the A.C.T. public.

This is correct, but the Authority also has an obligation to report to the Parliament. The Committee expects that the Authority will in future produce annual reports that fulfil its obligation to report comprehensively to the Parliament.

The bulk of the Committee's report deals with assessment in secondary colleges in the Australian Capital Territory. In the Committee's view, assessment procedures in secondary colleges were not treated adequately in the Schools Authority's 1983-84 annual report. They are a matter of public interest and are of vital importance to students and parents.

External examinations at the year 12 level were abolished in the A.C.T. in 1977. Since that time, a system of continuous assessment has been used to assess students' performance in the final two years of secondary school.

Most opponents of assessment in upper secondary education in the A.C.T. base their criticisms on the perceived disadvantages of continuous assessment as contrasted with external examinations.

The Committee has noted that in Australia only the A.C.T. and Queensland rely entirely on continuous assessment to rank candidates for entry to tertiary education. Other States and the Northern Territory continue to rely mainly on external examinations, with an element of continuous assessment.

Although the Committee found that the continuous assessment procedures used in the A.C.T. have limitations, other methods of assessment are also deficient in some respects. Nevertheless, based on the evidence before it, the Committee has a preference for an assessment system which combines continuous assessment and external examinations.

It recognises that any change to the A.C.T. assessment system would involve additional expense and some initial disruption. Even so, the Committee considers that the A.C.T. Schools Authority should review the possibility of using external examinations as part of its assessment procedures in future.

Assuming that the current system of continuous assessment will continue in the short term, the Committee considers that some refinements are necessary. These refinements should include some change in procedures for accrediting courses and possible adjustment of tertiary entrance scores for alleged sex bias.

There was evidence of major differences of opinion between the A.N.U. and the secondary colleges about procedures for accrediting courses. The Committee therefore welcomes the Schools Authority's appointment of a committee to inquire into these procedures. It will take careful note of that committee's findings.

Honourable senators will be aware that one of the most controversial issues in assessment in the A.C.T. is alleged sex bias in tertiary entrance scores.

The evidence shows that there are systematic differences in the tertiary entrance scores obtained by students, depending on whether they attend co-educational or single-sex colleges. These differences appear to disadvantage girls attending single-sex colleges.

The Committee considers that there are grounds for concern not only because the A.C.T. assessment system may discriminate against individuals in certain groups but also in relation to the effectiveness of the system.

For these reasons, the Committee supports the recent establishment of an inquiry instituted by the A.C.T. Schools Authority, the A.N.U. and the Canberra College of Advanced Education. This inquiry is charged with determining whether there is evidence of systematic bias in the calculation of tertiary entrance scores and, if so, recommending changes to overcome any bias.

There are three other issues on which I wish to comment.

Firstly, there is an apparent widespread lack of understanding of the current assessment procedures among the public, and especially among employers. The Committee commends the efforts of the A.C.T. Schools Authority to educate the public about assessment procedures but considers that more could be done.

Secondly, the Committee is concerned that the procedure most used or assessing students in small groups is inadequate. Small groups of students are usually amalgamated with larger classes or with several other small groups for the purposes of assessment. The committee doubts the validity of this approach. It supports a second approach which involves individual assessment. This approach, which was instituted in the A.C.T. in 1984, should replace the procedures involving the amalgamation of groups.

Thirdly, the Committee supports the system of appeals available to A.C.T. students who are dissatisfied with assessment given by their teachers. However, no appeal is allowed against the external elements of the assessment procedures. For example, there is no right of appeal against the score obtained on the Australian scholastic aptitude test. The Committee understands the reasons for this. It nevertheless considers that, in the event of exceptional circumstances, there should be some avenue of appeal against the external elements of the assessment procedures.

In conclusion, I wish to thank the past chairman and officers of the A.C.T. Schools Authority for their co-operation. The Committee was particularly grateful for the help given to it by the students and teachers at Hawker and Narrabundah colleges. I also thank those who contributed to the inquiry through written submissions or oral evidence. The Committee's special thanks are extended to the Committee secretary. Mr Terry Brown, to the Committee's research officers, Dr Roslyn Kelleher and Mr Neil Bessell, and to the Committee's steno- secretary, Mrs Maresa Laird. I commend the report to the Senate.

Senator COLSTON —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.