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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 8959


Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (14:53): My question is for the Minister of Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister advise the Senate what the international comparative data released today is showing about Australia's school system?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:53): I thank Senator Johnston for his question and for his interest in the comparative performance of Australia's school education system. I am pleased to inform Senator Johnston and the Senate, through you Mr President, that the OECD's Education at a Glance 2015 report released overnight shows that Australia spends, as a proportion of GDP, a very high level, in fact an above-average level among OECD countries on school education. It is a demonstration of the strong support, indeed the record support, provided for school education in Australia.

While at a primary school level our rate of expenditure is slightly below the OECD average, at a secondary school level total expenditure per student is significantly above the OECD average. The OECD average is some US$9,484, while average expenditure on secondary school students in Australia is significantly above at AU$11,010, a demonstration of the strong commitment that governments around Australia and continually throughout political industry have put on supporting a school education sector. While funding matters, it is what you do with the funding that matters most in education outcomes that can be obtained.

In Australia, we have noticed over the last decade or so that funding has increased quite substantially. In fact, in the period 2000 to 2009 funding increased some 44 per cent. Yet during that time we saw declines in real and relative terms in our PISA scores—the international benchmark on literacy, numeracy and science. That is, of course, a very concerning and worrying situation for Australia and it is why as a government we have put our focus not just on funding questions but also on how we can help schools to do their best to lift other standards in teacher quality, curriculum and all standards in the education system. (Time expired)

Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (14:55): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. What is the Commonwealth doing to support students, families and schools and to improve student outcomes?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:55): Complementing the record funding of some $69.5 billion which this government is providing for our school education system, an increase over the forward estimates period in school funding of 27.9 per cent, the government is also focusing on teacher quality and on measures to help lift the standard of teachers coming into the profession. We have ensured that a robust national curriculum has been put in place. Implementing the recommendations of the curriculum review, we delivered upon and de-cluttered the curriculum, ensuring that all jurisdictions signed up to the delivery of that curriculum.

We have provided measures to try to increase school autonomy among the jurisdictions, with all jurisdictions signing up to the independent school initiative. Indeed we are working to enhance parental engagement. Perhaps the most important factor that can complement strong school outcomes is strong parental engagement and our measures to encourage parental engagement including particularly the learning potential app which has been made available to parents around Australia. (Time expired)

Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (14:57): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. What further action is the Commonwealth government taking to improve teaching quality?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:57): I thank Senator Johnston for particularly focusing in on teaching quality. The OECD Director for Education and Skills said in February this year, 'The highest performing education systems tend to systematically prioritise the quality of teachers over the size of classes.' Indeed, our government has made sure that teacher quality has been at the forefront of our reforms. That is why we established the TEMAG review of initial teacher education programs, which reported in February, and have accepted all but one of its 38 recommendations. This has ensured that we have gained agreement from the states and territories for new guidelines for the selection of entrants to teacher training programs, the adoption of new literacy and numeracy tests, as a means of demonstrating that teacher graduates are in the top 30 per cent of the population for personal literacy and numeracy, and are supporting an accelerated timetable to bring all initial teacher education programs under the new national standards and procedures, ensuring that parents can have confidence that in the future the quality of teachers will match the investment by governments.