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Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Page: 46


Senator KROGER (5:11 PM) —I will resume from where I left off earlier on in the day in making some observations about the Education Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 and the Schools Assistance Bill 2008. I was referring to an article published in the Canberra Times on 6 November 2008. The author was Rabbi Kennard, who is the Principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College in Melbourne—a very well known school. He made some very pertinent observations. He said:

Does the “compulsory” nature of the curriculum mean that Australia will follow the (no doubt caricatured) French model, whereby the minister of education could look at his watch and know what each child throughout his country would be studying? Will it follow the English system, where teachers were told exactly how to spend each minute of the daily “Literacy Hour” and could expect school inspectors to check-up that the first 20 minutes was spent in direct teaching, followed by the correct amount of group work and summation?

Or will the curriculum be closer to the Victorian system, which schools highly support? The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has devised the Victorian Essential Learning Standards, a “curriculum framework” which in detail describes the areas that students must be taught and the standards that they are expected to reach, while still allowing principals and teachers the right to exercise their professional judgment as to how best to achieve these results.

Rabbi Kennard, may I proffer, is only one of many principals of independent schools that are mightily concerned about the Schools Assistance Bill 2008.

Despite Minister Gillard’s claims of an education revolution in the last 12 months, I have to confess that I am an education revolution sceptic. What she has demonstrated in the last 12 months has been anything but an education revolution. In its first budget, Labor cut almost $400 million in specific programs targeted at improving standards and literacy and numeracy—something that parents are more concerned about than anything else. They scrapped the An Even Start—National Tuition Program, a program providing vouchers for tuition to the value of $700 for students who failed to meet the minimum literacy and numeracy benchmarks. They scrapped the $70 million Summer School for Teachers program, which was all about raising the level and quality of teaching that is offered to our children. To top it off, Labor also scrapped the $50,000 rewards program for schools that improve literacy and numeracy test results. May I suggest that the Rudd Labor government has bitten off more than it can chew when announcing an education revolution and promising to deliver a world-class education for every Australian student in every community.

As we have seen only recently, the promised ‘computer on every desk’—which has been amended to a computer on every second desk—for those students in years 9 to 12 was a flawed process and a flawed suggestion from the start. We have now seen, thanks to FOI, that the cost for that program has blown out another $800 million. I would suggest that Minister Gillard, as education minister, is seriously challenged in this portfolio. The Schools Assistance Bill 2008, in combining both appropriations and standards, is actually holding all principals of independent schools to account. I strongly suggest that there is much that needs to be considered to look at this and improve it for all students.