Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 120

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) (9:07 PM) —I am happy to table the reasons given in the House of Representatives. It is a four-and-a-bit page document. I will incorporate it into Hansard if that is what Senator Carr would prefer. That would put the reasons on record. Would that be your preference, Senator? I seek leave to incorporate into Hansard part of a document entitled Schools Assistance (Learning Together—Achievement Through Choice and Opportunity) Bill 2004: Schedule of the amendments made by the Senate to which the House of Representatives has disagreed.

Leave granted.

The section of the document read as follows—

Senate Amendments 1, 2 and 5

These amendments seek to insert a definition of `need' into the Act. They also require States, Territories and non-government education authorities to commit to give priority in the allocation of funding according to need. The Government supports the provision of funding to schools on a needs basis and this principle underpins Australian Government funding for schools.

The Australian Government funds non-government schools according to a formula which measures the socioeconomic status (SES) of the communities from which a school draws its students.

The SES funding model involves linking student residential addresses to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) national Census data to obtain a socioeconomic profile of the school community (based on occupation, education and income) and measure its capacity to support the school. The SES approach, unlike the Education Resources Index (ERI) system which it replaced, is transparent and objective, based on independent data that are consistent for all schools.

One of the key principles that underpin the SES model is that private investment in education should not be discouraged, and therefore, it does not take into account a school's private income from fees or any other sources. The amendment contradicts this principle.

To include a definition of “need” in the legislation, which covers a range of schools programmes, unnecessarily limits how need may be interpreted and could adversely affect the funding of schools. The definition of `need' is very broad and potentially could make it difficult for States/systems to target funding for specific needs groups of students.

Any definition of need is best accommodated within specific programme guidelines for particular programmes, as is currently the case. The Australian Government provides funding for schools under the Capital Grants Programme and a number of targeted programmes such as the Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs Programme, the Country Areas Programme, the Languages Programme, and the English as a Second Language—New Arrivals Programme. Funding for these programmes are predominantly allocated according to need and educational disadvantage.

State and Territory government and non-government school education authorities are responsible for the detailed administration of the school funding programmes in their systems and schools. Under the current arrangements, school education authorities have the flexibility to make decisions on which schools have the greatest need for additional assistance, including for educationally disadvantaged students, and to determine appropriate funding amounts for those schools. Schools also have the flexibility to use funding to meet the needs of their students.

The Agreement conditions are also comprehensive and set out the expected outcomes and reporting and a commitment to meeting the National Goals for Schooling, which are already agreed by all governments.

In addition, the subject matter of the Bill as it currently stands has been the subject of consultations with all State and non-government education authorities, peak bodies and other major stakeholders. The Government is conscious of previous strong criticisms from State Governments and the non-government sector where it undertakes amendments to Commonwealth legislation which can have implications for government and non-government school authorities without the opportunity for prior detailed consultation on the form of procedures of this type and their implementation.

There has been no correspondingly extensive consultation with the education sector on the proposed amendment.

Accordingly the House of Representatives does not accept these amendments.

Senate Amendments 3 and 6

These amendments propose to change the wording on the commitment concerning principal autonomy to provide flexibility for system wide recruitment incentives particularly in hard to staff schools in isolated regions. The Government has already responded to this concern by including in the Bill a provision that a commitment to give the principal and governing body autonomy over matters including staffing should be “within a supportive framework of broad systemic policies” [Refer to Part 2, sections 14(k) and 31(k) of the Bill].

The proposed amendment is superfluous and does no more than express in different words the existing provision for teacher appointments to be made within a supportive framework of systemic policies. That provision recognises the need for school systems to implement policies and practices that ensure good teachers are available in the required numbers for all schools—especially in the case of rural and remote schools. The specific requirements in relation to this provision will be set out in the Regulations as part of the school performance reporting element and will reflect this consideration also.

Recent educational research indicates that highly effective schools have strong and effective school leaders who drive the development of school policies and practices. The provision (on school/principal autonomy) will strengthen the ability of school leaders to make effective teacher appointments for their schools.

Accordingly the House of Representatives does not accept these amendments.

Senate Amendments 4 and 7

These amendments propose to insert a number of principles for reporting on students' learning and school performance. The Bill already contains a strong accountability and reporting framework with a focus on improving student outcomes. The educational interests of students are best served through commitment and focus to improving student outcomes

Parents need student reports that are meaningful and use plain English enabling them to better assist their child's learning and development. It's time to place parents more firmly at the centre of schooling.

The Bill includes provisions for greater disclosure by schools of their performance. There is an urgent need for greater transparency and accountability from schools to parents and the community.

School performance information is not readily accessible or meaningful and parents need better information to inform decisions about their child's schooling;

It is important that schools publish a broad range of information on their achievement and programmes so that parents can choose a school that best suits their child's needs;

It is important to keep a strong focus on outcomes, not just inputs. How many school students are achieving national literacy and numeracy benchmarks? What are the outcomes in senior secondary schools—retention rates and academic achievement?;

Regulations accompanying the Bill will set out minimum requirements for school performance information. Schools will be able to inform parents and publish information of other their policies and programmes on offer.

An earlier report prepared by Professor Peter Cuttance and Shirley Stokes, Reporting on Student and School Achievement, surveyed over 500 parents to identify principles of best practice in reporting student and school achievement. These have played an important role in forming a stronger accountability and performance framework seen in the current legislation

Accordingly the House of Representatives does not accept these amendments.

Senate Amendment 8

This amendment requires non-government schools to publicly report all sources of gross income received and all gross expenditure. The Australian Government strongly supports all educational authorities publishing the total amount of public funds that the school receives. The Australian Government has published the amount of general recurrent funding that every non-government school in Australia will receive each year from 2003-08.

The Australian Government does not believe it appropriate to require the publishing of the detailed financial accounts of non-government schools as they are independent entities. Further, such a requirement has not been discussed with the Catholic and Independent school sectors. The Australian Government believes that the sector should be consulted before new requirements are imposed on them.

Non-government schools provide detailed financial information to the Australian Government in order to ensure full accountability of the public funds that they receive from the Australian Government. Non-government school authorities must, among things, provide financial accountability each year, in the form of a certificate, signed by an accountant, to the effect that funds have been spent, or committed, for the purpose for which they were provided.

Accordingly the House of Representatives does not accept these amendments.

Senate Amendment 9

This amendment requires non-government schools to publish any exclusion policy and practices. As private entities it is the right of individual schools to implement whatever enrolment policies are in line with their educational philosophies. However, to be eligible for Australian Government funding, all non-government schools must meet the same obligations regardless of their particular religious or educational philosophy. It is also a condition of funding that the schools commit themselves to Australia's National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century.

The National Goals include the provisions that “students' outcomes from schooling are free from the effects of negative forms of discrimination based on sex, language, culture and ethnicity, religion or disability; and of differences arising from students' socio-economic background or geographical location” and that “all students understand and acknowledge the value of cultural and linguistic diversity, and possess the knowledge, skills and understanding to contribute to, and benefit from, such diversity in the Australian community and internationally.”

Accordingly the House of Representatives does not accept these amendments.

Senate Amendments 10 and 11

These amendments seek to provide a process for system or state-wide priorities for the assessment of the allocation of capital grants for government and non-government schools; an explicit reference to the distribution of capital funding on a relative needs basis for schools, and require parents to be explicitly involved in the process of setting priorities for capital expenditure. These amendments are unnecessary. It is not necessary to legislate this level of detail in relation to programme administration and consultation. The Administrative Guidelines, which form part of the funding agreements specify detailed requirements for the Capital Grants in terms of allocating funding, assessment and reporting requirements.

Under these guidelines, the Block Grant Authorities (which administer the capital money for non-government schools) already determine the priorities for funding on the basis the relative educational disadvantage of the schools. In determining educational disadvantage, they take into account the SES score of the schools, number of isolated and special needs children and health and safety issues.

Accordingly the House of Representatives does not accept these amendments.

Senate Amendment 12

This amendment seeks a review of resources for all schools before 31 December 2005 including a report on the buildings, facilities and equipment available at every school in Australia. Australian Government capital funding for government schools has been maintained in real terms and increased in actual dollars. The principle responsibility for maintaining the fabric of Australia's schools systems rests with State and Territory governments. The States and Territories have the major responsibility for State schools, which they own and manage. The Government encourages States to undertake proper planning for all their schools consistent with their responsibility for managing their school system. The undertaking of such a review on government schools would need to be considered by States and Territories.

In 2002, DEST published an analysis of non-government school infrastructure Taking Stock—Report of the Survey of Non-Government Schools Infrastructure in Australia 2000/2001. The report presents key findings from the National Survey of Non-Government Schools Infrastructure in 2000 and 2001. The survey collected a broad range of data that demonstrate sufficiency, condition and suitability of infrastructure in the non-government sector. This information has been valuable in informing procedures under the Capital Grants programme. In addition Block Grant Authorities have a sound knowledge and understanding of the state of school infrastructure in their respective regions.

Accordingly the House of Representatives does not accept these amendments.

Senate Amendment 13

This amendment seeks a review of the impact of the reforms enacted under the Bill to be completed before 30 June 2006. The Australian Government does not believe it should mandate such a significant review without the opportunity for detailed consultation on scope and processes with government and non-government school authorities and with other relevant agencies. Adding such amendments to this legislation without consultation is not the way to proceed

The Australian Government is the single largest funder of school education. As such it has the right to set financial, policy and administrative directions. The Australian Government will exercise its leadership role in schooling in areas where national reform is required. This may involve consideration by Ministers through MCEETYA processes on specific matters. However the Australian Government has the right and the responsibility to attach conditions to its very significant schools funding to ensure that these important reforms are implemented.

Accordingly the House of Representatives does not accept these amendments.