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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Canberra: Thursday 26 June 2003: nationally consistent schools.



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NATIONALLY CONSISTENT SCHOOLS

Date: Thursday 26 June 2003

Subject: Doorstop,

Parliament House, Canberra

MINISTER

I would just like to announce that the Commonwealth Government and I as the Federal Minister for Education will be starting a process which we envisage will take six or seven years our target being 2010 to drive Australia’s eight different educational jurisdictions to one education system for Australia. While in the past there have been people who have had this kind of ambition we need to recognise as parents of children whom we love, that we want to see that we live in a world where we have one nationally consistent education system in Australia which prepares them to be world citizens.

At the moment we’re in a situation where we have different starting and completion ages , in eight different educational jurisdictions. We have eight different curricula. We have eighty thousand children who move interstate or across Australia throughout the course of a year and of course with their families. Parents increasingly - not only in Defence but in business, are increasingly reluctant to move because they are worried about the disruption it will have on the education of their children.

The Commonwealth Government this year will invest $6.9 billion in school education and I think it is our responsibility to see that we start to use the leverage of that money to help work with the states to develop national consistency in education. We will not be upholding our responsibilities to the future of our children if we any longer simply allow an education environment in Australia which means we have eight different education countries within the one continent. It is unacceptable.

JOURNALIST

So will you be (inaudible)

MINISTER

Well firstly this is an issue which needs to be progressed in collaboration with the States

and Territories and there will be a Ministerial Council meeting with all the State and Territory education Ministers in mid July and this will be an issue which will we will have on the agenda.

I have put forward a paper for the State and Territories to consider. I understand already that the Queensland Government from the previous meeting is interested in working towards national consistency. I would be wanting also work with the states to (inaudible) that reading and writing and numeracy skills that not only do we test children against national benchmarks but also that parents have a right to know that their child, in whatever state they are being educated, is meeting the national benchmarks and where they meet up against them. Not only in literacy and numeracy but increasingly we need to be looking at science as well.

JOURNALIST

So are you talking about controlling state schools federally or just that each school has the same curriculum? Are you talking about taking the power of running state schools away from the states?

MINISTER

Certainly not. Under the Constitution of course state governments are responsible for administering regulating and principally the funding of state schools, and it would be absurd if the Commonwealth even thought about taking over that responsibility. What we are talking about is taking up the leadership responsibility of the Commonwealth to ensure we have much more national consistency in education. That we start to deal with the national rail gauge problem we have in education where if you move from New South Wales to South Australia or West Australia to Queensland educationally you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re moving to a different country.

Parents are increasingly worried in a mobile world that their children are going to be disadvantaged simply by moving from one part of Australia to the next . What we need to do is to work with all the State and Territory Governments to set some long term objectives in terms of national consistency. At the moment for example children sit 330 different exams to get into university. Some kids for example in the states of Queensland in Western Australia, get the same tertiary entrance score as a child in NSW or South Australia but miss out on a place in university.

JOURNALIST

Will you withhold funding from the States to force compliance?

MINISTER

Well that will be one of the issues I will be discussing with the States. What we need to do is to recognise …

JOURNALIST

Are you prepared to go that far?

MINISTER

Well I certainly would not be considering withholding funds from the States at this stage in relation to education but at the moment we invest $6.9 billion in school education. We have a responsibility as the Federal Government, the Commonwealth Government, to see that we prepare Australian children for a world that is increasingly competitive and I

think that it is unacceptable to the average parent that we have eight different educational frameworks in Australia.

JOURNALIST

How will you get them to agree then?

MINISTER

Well I think any sensible State Minister, whether they be proudly Tasmanian, Victorian or Queenslanders, would equally recognise the importance of moving towards National consistency and I think that most, in fact I would be surprised if any of the States or Territories were not prepared to work cooperatively with the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions to set some long term objectives or consistency towards which we now need to do.

JOURNALIST

So what inadequacies do you see (inaudible)

MINISTER

For example, it is staggering to think that only in Western Australia the ACT and the Northern Territory, do parents actually find out how their children are going in reading and writing and numeracy in Years 3 and 5. We have two other jurisdictions, Victoria and Queensland which have indicated that they will move towards reporting to parents but how much longer can we go on with a situation where one State Minister said to me that the reason that State would not support parents receiving information about how their children were going on National benchmarking because she felt the children and parents might not feel as positive about themselves as they should because they were not doing as well as the rest of the country. That is not in the interests of those children and certainly not their families. It is time that we started to get some national consistencies.

JOURNALIST

(Inaudible) Based on one particular States current standards or would it be a complete overview.

MINISTER

Well that is obviously a matter that we need to discuss with the States and Territories and one of the problems that you come up against of course is that whereas each one of the States and Territories might agree in principle to move towards National consistency they want the rest of the country to be like their State, so they are matters that we need to be discussing and we will be discussing in the context of leading to the next quadrennium of funding and priorities of school education.

JOURNALIST

Will you be accepting the position of unions on this (inaudible)

MINISTER

I would think that providing this is done in a collaborative and cooperative way and ultimately has the best interests of children at heart I would be surprised if anyone would be opposed to it. It is not about reducing resources or anything of the sort, nor is it

about seeing that we have a cookie cutter approach to school education. We don’t necessarily want children in every part of the country reading the same books and doing precisely the same curriculum, but we surely need to move to National consistency in outcomes and let’s at the very least start with literacy, reading skills, writing skills, numeracy and perhaps science. Let’s at the very least see that we have children who begin school at a common age where in whichever part of the country they are in and finish at a common age.

JOURNALIST

So that means a nationally consistent tertiary entrance exam does it? Would everyone have to sit the same leaving certificate or HSC whatever you call it?

MINISTER

One of the issues that needs to be put on the Agenda, is some kind of National consistency in terms of tertiary entrance exams because at the moment there are many parents and many young people who have expressed the view to me that if they are sitting an exam in Victoria they wonder just how comparable that is to the exam that is being sat in South Australia or Tasmania. These are things that are very important for our future, its time that we upheld the responsibility that we have to see that we prepare the next generation of young Australians, not just to be proud News South Welshmen or Queenslanders but Australians ready for an increasingly competitive world.

JOURNALIST

How much of the seven billion dollars will go towards this program do you think?

MINISTER

Well the Government, as I have said, the Government is certainly committed to the $6.9 billion that is has budgeted for school education in the next financial year and we certainly are not suggesting for one moment that we will be with holding funds to the States but I think that Australian families, Australian parents and tax payers, they expect the Federal government to start to, to take leadership in preparing Australian for the 21st Century. That is what this is all about and if we were talking about as I say, national roads or railway lines or anything of similarly important infrastructure, I think Australians would be totally behind it. I would be surprised if people don’t get behind this.

JOURNALIST

Just with the nuts and bolts, how would you envisage this - the States and Commonwealth, what a committee to rewrite the curriculum or how do you deliver consistent curriculum?

MINISTER

Firstly, that is a matter that we will be working through with the States and Territories and teaching professionals organisations and educational academics. The Australian Primary Principals Association, the Australian Secondary Principals Association and numerous other educational bodies have been talking to me over the last year advocating that the Commonwealth take up this position and as I say in the end its going to be a long and potentially slow process if we do this in the right way but it is time now that we set a 2010 objective of bringing Australia’s educational system to National consistency with - we will be abrogating our responsibilities to the future if we any longer allow a situation where families feel that they simply cannot move from one part of Australia to the next because their children are going to be disadvantaged. That might

have been acceptable a hundred years ago, it is certainly not acceptable today.