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Thursday, 28 October 1993
Page: 2769

Senator CARR (3.48 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

The report by the Schools Council of the National Board of Employment, Education and Training, entitled Five to fifteen—Reviewing the `compulsory' years of schooling, was written after a two-year review of the compulsory years of schooling in Australia. It advocates a national policy framework. Many of the reforms that have been advocated in this report rely on the Commonwealth government taking a leading role in the quality of teaching and learning in schools in Australia.

  The report stresses the need to reduce unnecessary interstate differences, such as the school starting age, and calls for the establishment of a national framework for the monitoring and reporting of educational outcomes. Perhaps controversially, recommendation four of the Five to fifteen report addresses the issues of primary and secondary schooling. It states:

The Schools Council recommends that the Commonwealth encourage the Australian Education Council to consider the merits of relinquishing the `primary/secondary' description for the stages of schooling in favour of a categorisation which reflects the following three phases of children's and young people's development:

.   childhood;

.   adolescence; and

.   young adulthood.

The second and third parts of the report address the issues of curricula, teaching and teacher education. The report advocates the use of a national curriculum statement and profiles to achieve greater continuity between the different stages and levels of schooling from kindergarten to year 12. It stresses the need for language and literacy to be more substantial and a compulsory part of training for all teachers and the need for the upgrading of teachers of science and technology in our schools.

  Of particular interest to me is the section on access and equity. I would like to highlight the recommendation made by this report which calls on the Commonwealth to:

. . . continue to support the development of a National Strategy for Equity in Schools which includes the following elements:

.the harnessing of Commonwealth, State/Territory and non-government resources to the achievement of nationally agreed priorities;

.the establishment of a national database which makes possible the comparison of the range of educational outcomes of disadvantaged groups with that of the average student population;

. the publication of information on the resources, from all sources, which are being allocated to the achievement of equity outcomes.

Given the way in which the Schools Council is trying to find out exactly how much money is spent on access and equity, the report is an important contribution to the national debate.

  Finally, the report highlights the need for an analysis of the resource differentials between the schools providing compulsory and post-compulsory education. It endorses the Commonwealth's commitment to examine the level of funding for public primary schools with a view to improving early literacy learning.

  This is a very progressive report which contributes in important ways to the national debate about the future directions of our schools. Unfortunately, it comes at a time when some state governments are cutting drastically and very severely the provision of resources available to schools. We are seeing quite dramatic reductions in the number of teachers that are available for the teaching of children in this country; the closing of hundreds of public schools; the withdrawal of curriculum support services; and, in the case of Victoria, severe restrictions on the legal rights of members, parents and teachers of school councils to go through the legal system to try to prevent the closure of community schools.

  In this context, I am pleased that the Five to fifteen report advocates a greater national focus—a focus which recognises the national role in determining the national education agenda. The Commonwealth's role in ensuring education equity, with an emphasise on equality of opportunity, is fundamental to this approach. It is on this basis that the Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training (Mr Free) has highlighted, in recent times, the great disparities that exist within the Commonwealth about the way in which resources are being allocated. While the report indicates that the primary focus of education administration in this country will always be the state, it is important that the Commonwealth take an increasing role to ensure and guarantee that basic educational rights for all children in this country are protected, and so that we do not see the undermining of the very valuable and high quality state education systems that are being provided.

  Today's Age contains reports which contrast that sort of attitude. We see in Victoria the report indicating that there are increasing resources going to the private sector at a time of massive reductions in the resources available to the public sector. This report by the Schools Council is a timely report. It is an important part of the national debate. I would hope that, at the national education minister's meeting that will occur in December, serious work will be done on establishing of a national agenda to ensure that these recommendations are acted upon.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.