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Speech at the Education, Employment and Social Inclusion Symposium, Melbourne.



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The Hon Julia Gillard MP

Minister for Education. Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations

Minister for Social Inclusion. Deputy Prime Minister

21 August, 2008

Speech

Education, Employment and Social Inclusion Symposium

Education, Employment and Social Inclusion Symposium Melbourne

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

Thank you for that welcome.

Let me start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Wathaurong People - and in doing so, let’s remember that achieving reconciliation and closing the gap on indigenous disadvantage is central to our social inclusion agenda.

I want first of all to congratulate you on this terrific initiative to draw attention to the educational, employment and social inclusion needs of the Western suburbs.

As the Member for Lalor and a proud local resident I’m personally behind this important campaign.

Achieving social inclusion is about creating community-wide partnerships and that’s what today’s event represents.

The fact that we’re here demonstrates that the Western Region is engaged and positive.

Our community has many strengths:

• fine kindergartens and schools; • a unique community university, Victoria University; • nine excellent TAFE campuses; • a young growing population; and • a dynamic local economy assisted by rapid housing growth and excellent transport

and economic infrastructure.

There’s a lot to be positive about and build upon - with great work being done by those represented here today.

This morning I attended a fundraising breakfast for Western Chances, which has given scholarships to more than 1,000 hard working students from the Western suburbs. This is social inclusion at work.

But while we’re doing many things right in this region, if we’re honest we also have to acknowledge that when it comes to education and employment outcomes for young people, we could do better.

Sometimes a lot better.

Our problem is that systematic underperformance in regions like this right across the country hasn’t been fixed by past policy approaches.

And, as a result, we still have some big hills to climb.

For instance, whilst we produce many academic high achievers and award-winning apprentices in the West, year-12 completion rates are around 40 percent below those of many eastern suburbs.

I want everyone here to ask themselves a question: are the children of Altona, Melton and Laverton 40 percent less naturally gifted than those of Hawthorn, Caulfield and Camberwell?

No. They’ve simply been give 40 percent fewer opportunities in life.

Whilst aspiration and interests will always vary, we have to start from the principle that all young people should be able to achieve their full potential, no matter where they live or what their interest happen to be.

Closing these gaps in educational achievement is incredibly important.

Not only are such unequal chances fundamentally undemocratic, they’re economically damaging.

Inequality of this sort - which leaves so many people without the capacities to benefit from the knowledge economy - is simply bad economics.

The future for the Western suburbs and of Australia as a whole lies in bringing out the potential of all our young people.

The message I want to convey today is that this is possible. And that it holds great promise for regions like ours.

The best education systems in the world can and do significantly reduce the effects of socio-economic disadvantage.

We have to make this our goal too. And there’s no good reason why we can’t succeed.

To help achieve this goal, the Government has flagged two important new strategies: the Education Revolution and Social Inclusion.

To make progress, change will be necessary across all areas of education and training policy: early learning; schools; higher education; vocational training; and the creation of individual pathways through this system for each young person.

I’ll spell out very briefly the major initiatives in a moment, but there’s an important point we must grasp - extra resources and individual programs alone won’t deliver fully if they operate in isolation from each other and if they are not accompanied by additional efforts by the intended beneficiaries themselves.

We’re going to need intelligent coordination and cooperation between the three levels of government.

We’re going to need the engagement of the whole community to get the key organizations and leaders acting with a joint purpose.

We’re going to need an absolute insistence on higher standards of quality and greater individual effort.

And we’re going to require full transparency about school performance to provide accountability and to ensure successes are recognized and copied and failure is identified and remedied.

In other words, success for the Western suburbs will require the marrying together of increased investment with the essential elements of good social inclusion policy.

So what are we proposing to do?

EARLY LEARNING

We’re going to start by increasing our investment and effort in early years programs because all the evidence suggests that the 0-to-8 years are crucial for developing the learning skills and capacities that can set people up for life.

Results from Year 3 reading and numeracy testing shows there is considerable room for improvement in the Western Region to improve outcomes for eight and nine year olds.

For this reason the Commonwealth and the States and Territories have adopted a COAG agenda to create a comprehensive, integrated, high-quality early childhood education system for all Australian children.

By 2013, the Government wants every four-year-old to be able to access 15 hours a week of quality early childhood education, delivered by a qualified early childhood teacher.

To achieve this, we’ve committed to up to 260 new early learning centres nationally over the next 6 years and to create a larger, more highly qualified early childhood education workforce.

Because priority will be given to the most disadvantaged communities, regions like this one will benefit.

Parents will have to play a big part in achieving these better results. We need to help them understand the importance of developing their children’s learning potential and give them the necessary skills.

And to help do this, we’re partnering with the Brotherhood of St Laurence to establish Home Interaction programs in 50 of the nation’s most disadvantaged communities. It’s a terrific program that’s working and could contribute significantly to outcomes here in the Western suburbs.

IMPROVING SCHOOL QUALITY AND EQUITY

The second policy area where improvements are being sought is schools.

We are implementing a whole range of policies that will improve standards and raise resource levels across the nation’s schools, with a strong focus on raising standards in the foundational skills like reading and maths, and the newly required skills of computer proficiency and Asian Language literacy.

I want to reiterate today a point I’ve been making strongly in recent weeks and which has been the cause of criticism from some quarters.

That’s my belief that when it comes to education, we not only have to increase investment, we have to insist - absolutely insist - on the highest possible standards of teaching, curriculum, student effort, transparency and accountability.

Especially in the schools serving the most disadvantaged communities.

Why? Because from last year’s McKinsey report into the characteristics of the world’s best school systems, that it is possible to compensate for most of the learning disadvantages a child brings from home to school.

The most successful school systems manage to do this not simply by spending more, but by insisting on the highest standards of achievement from all their students, and by focusing their energies on the crucial factor of improving the quality of teaching.

To target resources in a way that will best improve our education system, we need richer sources of information.

I’ve recently raised the example of the New York school system, which compares schools with similar student profiles to determine why some are succeeding while others are failing.

I want to make an important point here and to allay some misconceptions.

This approach has been portrayed by some as an attempt to forego investing more money in public schools and to create some sort of ‘league table’ that will accelerate middle class abandonment of public education.

That view couldn’t be further from the truth.

I come from the public education system myself. I’m a great believer in it. And living in the Western suburbs of Melbourne I know why it’s so important to improve it.

The approach I have outlined is designed with the specific objective of lifting up the most disadvantaged schools, no matter what school system the school is part of, by investing

significant new resources in the very thing that will help those schools improve the most - raising the quality of the interaction between the teachers and the students. The existence of more public information will be a tool to help us do this.

In my view, the supporters of public education should rally behind this approach because it will ensure that new investment will target need and that it will do so in the most effective way possible.

And that means that the public, Catholic and Independent schools that serve the most disadvantaged communities, and which achieve the poorest outcomes, will be the ones that will receive the most additional investment.

It’s a way of putting more investment into struggling schools in the most effective possible way.

And no one has anything to fear but much to gain.

To get these improvements COAG is now negotiating the creation of new funding agreements that will target new investment to improving teacher quality, raising literacy and numeracy outcomes and improving outcomes in Indigenous and low-socio-economic school

communities.

And, again, these equity-related investments will provide more resources and more focus on places like the Western suburbs.

SKILLS AND TRAINING

There’s no point getting more young people through twelve years of schooling if we then erect barriers for them as adults.

While we acknowledge that low rates of university enrolment and completion can stem from family attitudes and aspirations, there is much we can do at the higher education level itself.

One thing’s for sure - not a lot has been tried in the last few years.

The Government has announced a number of important higher education equity measures that will make it easier for all students from low-income families to go to university.

These include doubling the number of undergraduate Commonwealth Scholarships and halving the rate of HECS-HELP for those studying in key disciplines.

The Bradley Review of Higher Education, now underway, is also considering how we get more people from disadvantaged backgrounds in to university and TAFE and keep them there.

PATHWAYS FOR EVERY YOUNG PERSON

Our fourth approach to improving equity for young people is to get the transition from school to work right.

We have to create individual pathways to the world of work for every young Australian in the contemporary economy.

The teenage years, as we know, are a crucial transition point in people’s lives.

And while most young Australians are making good transitions to the world of work, about 1-in-5 are not, with about 1-in-20 making extremely poor transitions.

So we’re putting in a huge effort to understand where the demand for new skills is; giving this information to schools, students and parents; and providing the sorts of subjects and training that will enable young people to make the transition.

And this includes improving trade training in schools for those who choose not to go to university and creating hundreds of thousands of new traineeships and apprenticeships.

For those from disadvantaged backgrounds at risk of losing their way during this important transition period, we’re extending important programs like Youth Pathways and Connections.

Over time we expect these capacity-building measures will help lower school drop-out rates.

SOCIAL INCLUSION

Social inclusion policies will play a big part in this equity-driven education revolution.

Many see social inclusion as a good way of organizing place-based neighborhood strengthening programs. But its importance extends much wider.

It’s a social tool for economic growth and opportunities.

I see its role as contributing to the broader economic and social needs of regions like this one in a positive way - giving people the qualifications they need, giving business the workforce they need, and thinking through how housing, transport and welfare programs can be linked to create more opportunities for everyone.

Our new Social Inclusion Board will be examining ways to build the capacity of parents and communities to keep young people at school longer and get them into higher education, further training or jobs.

Tony Nicholson, who spoke here today, is a member of that Board and the thinking of people like him, with input from people like you, will ensure that the social capital and service needs of the Western suburbs and similar regions across Australia will be considered carefully.

CONCLUSION

To conclude, the Commonwealth is currently making major investments in the education, employment and social inclusion needs of this and other regions.

And those programs are now in the process of planning or starting to come on line.

It’s a huge job, requiring a strategic approach and a long-term focus.

We expect our programs to lead to significant improvements in educational and social outcomes for our disadvantaged suburbs and neighborhoods.

But the chances of success will be greater with every extra ounce of community and business engagement.

Today’s event demonstrates a new determination to by the people of the Western Region to make real inroads into economic and social disadvantage and to benefit from new national policy directions and new local economic opportunities.

This is very heartening for me both as a local representative and the Minister responsible for key policy areas.

I want gatherings like this around the country to become the catalysts for this sort of positive social inclusion policy we need.

And I want to end by making this pledge to you: I will take a strong interest in the conclusions and plans that result from today and the follow-up thinking and organization it leads to.

And I will come back to you and the Western suburbs with specific responses that will help contribute to our joint success.

Thank you.

Media Contact:

media@deewr.gov.au