Title Education and Employment Legislation Committee
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority
Database Estimates Committees
Date 25-02-2015
Committee Name Education and Employment Legislation Committee
Page 69
Questioner CHAIR
O'Neill, Sen Deb
Ruston, Sen Anne
Ryan, Sen Scott
Wright, Sen Penny
Responder Mr Randall
Dr Lambert
Mr Cook
Ryan, Sen Scott
Dr Rabinowitz
Ms Paul
System Id committees/estimate/58734856-0690-4249-98de-de5d3ce7d191/0003

Education and Employment Legislation Committee - 25/02/2015 - Estimates - EDUCATION AND TRAINING PORTFOLIO - Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority


CHAIR: I welcome the officials from Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. Mr Randall, do you have an opening statement?

Mr Randall : No, thank you.

Senator O'NEILL: It is good to see you again. Can I go straight to the languages curriculum. I have some more general questions but I will just ask a few specific ones, if I can, straight up. In relation to the 2014-15 budget, there was an initiative of $1.8 million for ACARA to improve the take-up of foreign languages. Can you provide a breakdown of how that $1.8 million has been or will be spent by key milestones for each language.

Mr Randall : At the high level there is $1.2 million in the current financial year and $600,000 in the second year to develop an additional number of languages. If you want the breakdown as to how we are spending it, I would probably take that on notice. Dr Lambert may have some of it. For the level of detail you want, it is probably better to take that on notice.

Senator O'NEILL: I note that you provided that for the Classical Greek and Classical Latin courses.

Dr Lambert : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: You indicated the costs of the developmental course at $50,000; curriculum writing, $127,000; consultation, $12,000; curriculum final release, $41,000; and the total estimated cost of developing those costs at $231,200 each. In the same format would be very helpful, Dr Lambert.

Dr Lambert : Sure.

Senator O'NEILL: You advised in response to my question of how many students were studying classical Greek or Latin that you did not actually have any data. Is that still the same situation?

Dr Lambert : Yes. We do not have that data. It is held by the states and the territories, and it changes from year to year. I cannot tell you how many there will be this year.

Senator O'NEILL: Is that the case for all languages?

Dr Lambert : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: And other subjects?

Dr Lambert : Yes.

Mr Randall : In this area we are talking F to 10 curriculum. In the senior secondary curriculum there is much more detail but again by state and territory for student enrolments, when it comes to F to 10 curriculum the states all have different standards and ways of recording it. We are not in a position to be able to bring all that together to give an answer—you would have to get that on a state-by-state basis.

Senator O'NEILL: And you are not interested in knowing how many students are participating in these courses that you are creating?

Mr Randall : That is a different thing. If I expand upon my previous answer, we know for example that in Victoria there is a policy requirement to have all students study languages across F to 10, so my answer would then be, in that policy setting, all students are studying a language. It is not a matter of a lack of interest; my answer was about how we could collect it and assemble it in a comparable, meaningful set of data. But it is contingent upon the state and territory policies around teaching and learning languages.

Senator O'NEILL: Which does vary, I will give you that. Does ACARA have any indication at all of the number of students studying 7 to 10 classical Greek or Latin?

Mr Randall : Not at the moment, no.

Senator O'NEILL: No ballpark figure? You cannot even give me rounded off numbers within 10 or100?

Mr Randall : No, not here at the moment. I am happy to look at that. The languages curriculum that we are developing was based on the research we did when we did the initial shape paper. We can go back into some of that research that is in our shape paper development, and it was on that basis, and from feedback during that process, that the list of languages we are developing is there. The next point to make is, obviously, if you have a curriculum more students are likely to study the language. What we are working to is making the curriculum available so that people can teach it, and also, consistent with other curriculum, with a national curriculum there is much more national and concerted effort to support the teaching of languages. This is all premised on our wanting students to study languages, there is a diversity of languages there on the back of a national curriculum, and we can increase the opportunity for them to do so.

Senator O'NEILL: With specific reference, though, to classical Greek and Latin, on which I do have some data from you, what was the pent-up demand that you identified?

Mr Randall : I think we have talked about that in previous questions, though I cannot remember what detail we provided. The source for that was in the shape paper process, and we could go back and make that available to you.

Senator O'NEILL: How do you anticipate the future demand for those language skills, in terms of the skills that need developing in the country?

Mr Randall : In terms of languages and classical Greek?

Senator O'NEILL: Yes.

Mr Randall : I will get you some advice on that.

Senator O'NEILL: Is that work that the Department of Education could do? Would they have data about the numbers of students who are studying these, or the need for classical Greek and Latin?

Mr Cook : Again, as Mr Randall has said, that data is held at a state level. I think the only place you could possibly find data—this would be about year 12—would probably be on the National Report on Schooling, which I think is data broken down by subject area. The states would have to give us that information and we would have to go through that process. We do not have that information on hand.

Senator O'NEILL: You have articulated in your document to me the outline of the curriculum writing process. What stage is that at, and what is the process involved with curriculum writing for classical Greek and Latin?

Dr Lambert : They have not commenced yet. We have commenced Hindi and Turkish but we are in the process of seeking writers for the framework for the classical languages, and then classical Greek and Latin.

Senator O'NEILL: Do you have a timeline for the way in which you are rolling out the curriculum development for each of these language areas?

Dr Lambert : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: Where do classical Greek and Latin sit in that order?

Dr Lambert : Our aim is to complete the curriculum by mid next year, with it being available at the end of 2016.

Senator O'NEILL: How did you prioritise the development of these curriculums relative to one another?

Dr Lambert : We identified that we needed to develop a framework first for classical languages. The current framework we have is for modern languages—

Senator O'NEILL: Hence Turkish and Hindi?

Dr Lambert : Yes. That is why we commenced with that development. While we are doing that, we are sourcing people to help us with the framework for classical languages.

Senator O'NEILL: Have you acquired external personnel to undertake that framework first before they even develop the curriculum?

Dr Lambert : We are acquiring names. We are setting up a national panel with representatives from the Classical Languages Teachers Association who will be able to identify and recommend people for that work.

Senator O'NEILL: Have you given any consideration to the selection process?

Dr Lambert : It will be the normal process, where we will seek expressions of interest and then, through the board, we will provide recommendations for the board to consider.

Senator O'NEILL: The payment for the curriculum writing is $127,000. Would that be part of the cost of the curriculum writing or would that come under consultation and feedback?

Dr Lambert : I have got the figures here, but I just need to highlight it in my iPad. Could I take that on notice? The figures are not quite here as I thought they were.

Senator O'NEILL: If you could, on notice, provide the actual breakdown of the costs of the process that you are going through, because you have indicated today something that I was unaware of—that there is a framework for classical languages that is new. Where does that fit within the costings that we have received? What would the cost of employing the curriculum writers be? If you can also provide the time line and the rationale around the selection of the way in which you are going to proceed, that would be pretty helpful.

Dr Lambert : Sure.

Senator O'NEILL: Is this the general methodology in which you would develop the curricula? Is there anything particularly different about this?

Mr Randall : No, we are following the process we have used for languages, and that follows the process we have used across the board. ACARA's curriculum development process, as outlined to you, is that which broadly applied before. If we have learnt or found ways to improve, it might have changed over time. But what we are doing for languages is what we did with the other curriculum.

Senator O'NEILL: I am interested to find out how many people were beating a path to your door saying, 'We have to have classical Greek and Latin.' Where did the pent-up demand arise from and how much request for these subjects was there?

Mr Randall : I guess that goes back to the previous question, where I said we will go back in terms of the consultation. I think we have answered previously that a lot of that is more in New South Wales and Victoria than in other places, and I think that also shows where schools are focusing on it in the senior years and the like. Again, I undertook to come back to you with some advice about the consultation we did that led to the list of languages, that led to that advice, and we will add that to the advice we will come back to you with.

Senator O'NEILL: Can I ask about the government's election commitment, which was about improving the uptake of foreign languages. The Prime Minister made pretty explicit claims that at least 40 per cent of year 12 students would study a language other than English within a decade. Do you know which agency is responsible for measuring the achievement of that outcome?

Mr Randall : No. I assume the two ways of measuring that would be the department, I imagine—and I will defer to Mr Cook—but also, once we get to years 11 and 12, the source of data is the state and territory authorities, where they do report, because it is a course based curriculum around the country and therefore that measure is easier to look at.

Senator O'NEILL: Mr Cook, can you add any more to that?

Mr Cook : That is an election commitment of the government. I think we answered a question on notice to you about the range of ways in which we were looking to achieve that. This is by the end of the decade. Obviously we will play a key role around measuring that and the progress in relation to that.

Senator O'NEILL: So the Department of Education will be the agency that is responsible for measuring the achievement of this 40 per cent target?

Mr Cook : We will certainly measure it, that is correct, but we will have to get the data from the states and territories. So states and territories will have to play a key role in actually delivering it.

Senator O'NEILL: With respect to the funding allocation to enable this, we have heard about the $600 million for improving the take-up of foreign languages. Is that the same money you were referring to before in your answer to me, Mr Randall?

Mr Randall : That is the provision to us to develop the curriculum, yes.

Senator O'NEILL: Is there any additional funding, Mr Cook, that I am not aware of to see this through to 2016?

Mr Cook : There is a range of funding, and I think we answered this in our response to your question on notice. There is funding for Teach for Australia, where they have been asked to ensure that a certain percentage of their graduates have a specialisation in languages. The TEMAG report has just been released, which recommends that language is a specialisation, which comes out of pre-service as well. So there is existing money, which would be reconceptualised in that sense, as well as additional money that we have also mentioned.

Senator O'NEILL: I want to move onto the issue of the National Trade Cadetship curriculum for ACARA. Would you give me a progress report on how that is going.

Mr Randall : The work around the year 9 and 10 curriculum through the National Trade Cadetship Initiative curriculum has been delivered and we are now doing some work to support the take-up of that. On the senior secondary curriculum work, as a result of the government's commitments and their allocation of funds, we have stopped work on the senior secondary curriculum. I said we stopped; actually, the focus of that project was in two parts. We started with 9 and 10 and we never commenced the 11 and 12 work.

Senator O'NEILL: Were you instructed by the government to pause or never commence your development of the National Trade Cadetship program?

Mr Randall : There are two points to note. The ministers' Education Council is what gives us our instructions around the work we are doing, and the 9 and 10 work and the senior secondary work were both discussed there. Then the 9 and 10 work was clear and we have proceeded in that way; for the 11 and 12 work I need to remind myself of exactly where that instruction came from, but the change of policy meant that we did not proceed with that work.

Senator O'NEILL: When you say 'the change of policy', what exactly do you mean? You have a very, very clear time line on your website about what was proposed, which would have led to the implementation of the National Trade Cadetship curriculum from February 2015. Is that no longer the case because of a policy change?

Mr Randall : No, I would expect that is 9 and 10.

Senator O'NEILL: No, that is National Trade Cadetship years 11 and 12.

Dr Lambert : It must be still on the website.

Mr Randall : That is an area that we will have to attend to.

Senator O'NEILL: I am not so worried about the information disappearing off the website—we have a snapshot of it—but the reality is that there was a change in policy, as you have just said, that meant that this program of getting the Trade Cadetships curriculum established has now been interrupted. What was the policy change and where did it come from?

Mr Randall : The funding for National Trade Cadetships was from the federal government. The work we were doing that preceded it was initiated by the previous government. With the change of government, there was a focus on and support for continuing the year 9 and 10 work. The change of policy with the allocation of the funds was not to continue with the year 11 and 12 work. I will defer to Mr Cook on the broader policy framework, but it is bound up in the vocational education policy and approaches that the government has.

Senator O'NEILL: To be clear, the National Trade Cadetship curriculum was something you were working on as ACARA prior to the change of government. With the change of government, 9 and 10 continued but the work on the year 11 and 12 National Trade Cadetship curriculum ceased.

Mr Randall : I corrected myself earlier on. The work started with 9 and 10 and—I corrected my answer earlier on—we did not commence the 11 and 12 work.

Senator O'NEILL: It never started?

Mr Randall : It never started.

Senator O'NEILL: It never started because there was a change of government?

Mr Randall : No.

Senator O'NEILL: There was a change of policy?

Senator Ryan: I do not think that is what he is saying.

Senator O'NEILL: I am trying to hear clearly.

Senator Ryan: You are asking the question again. I do not think that is what Mr Randall was saying. He did not use the phrases you have used; he is taking you through a series of events. I just encourage you to—

Mr Randall : The logic from a curriculum design point of view was always to start with 9 and 10 and then follow through with 11 and 12.

Senator O'NEILL: Is it on your forward program?

Mr Randall : It was on our work program, yes.

Senator O'NEILL: It was on your forward work program and is no longer on your forward work program?

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: And that is a result of a policy change?

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: By whom?

Mr Randall : The government.

Senator O'NEILL: Which government?

Mr Randall : The federal government—the current federal government.

Senator O'NEILL: The current federal government policy change means that work on years 11 and 12 is not going forward. Your forward program has been changed; there has been a policy change by the Abbott government.

Mr Cook : To clarify, the Education Council is the authority under which ACARA works.

Senator O'NEILL: Sorry, would you say—

Mr Cook : So the Education Council would have to support that decision and direct ACARA to stop that work because it is the Education Council that directs it.

Senator O'NEILL: Have they done that?

Mr Cook : My understanding is that, at the last meeting of the Education Council, for example, there was discussion about directing ACARA to cease all work on secondary curriculum—I think—

Mr Randall : Senior secondary.

Mr Cook : because states and territories had no interest and they have been very clear that they were not supporting continuing work by ACARA in years 11 and 12. So it is the Education Council making that decision, just to clarify.

Senator Ryan: I will take on notice what the exact decision of the Education Council was, but what Mr Cook is saying reflects my memory of the previous meeting—that the states and territories guard their autonomy in senior secondary, years 11 and 12, particularly strongly. That is reflected on both sides of politics at the state level.

Senator O'NEILL: You cannot give me an expected date for when this program might commence in some form across the states—on their initiative rather than yours?

Mr Randall : No, I cannot.

Senator O'NEILL: Can you tell me about the funding that was allocated to that? What has happened with the funding that was allocated to that work?

Mr Randall : I will take that on notice. Again, I do not have the detail you want in front of me. I will give you the detail about what was provided and I will respond on what has happened with that funding. I will take that on notice and come back to you.

Senator O'NEILL: Is the cut to ACARA's funding part of the reason that this course and its preparation did not go ahead?

Mr Randall : No, absolutely not.

Senator Ryan: What Mr Cook just explained and what I said I took on notice for you was to get the detail of the Education Council—which ACARA reports to and is responsible to—decision. I outlined my recollection, and Mr Cook mentioned his recollection, which was that the states and territories guard their autonomy and discretion in the senior secondary curriculum, years 11 and 12, particularly strongly. That was the driver of the decision. But I have taken that on notice, so you will get an answer.

Senator O'NEILL: Let us go back to the driver of the decision to establish it in the first place. What were some of the key reasons this national trade cadetship curriculum was being considered—indeed, years 9 and 10 are now underway. Why was it being considered? Maybe Dr Lambert can answer.

Mr Randall : At the time, the broad—

Senator O'NEILL: Can I ask Dr Lambert?

Dr Lambert : I was not there at the time.

Mr Randall : The broad focus of the year 9 and 10—and then years 11 and 12—national trade cadetship was a focus on work readiness as a general proposition. I will come back to you with more detail, noting that it now goes back a number of years. The proposition was taken initially to the Education Council and there was support for the focus on years 9 and 10 and we have that curriculum in place. The focus was on a combination of literacy, numeracy and work-ready skills. That curriculum draws out a focus on literacy and numeracy and giving young people a better understanding of work and work situations—work readiness.

The issue with the year 11 and 12 program—and this relates to the point Mr Cook made—was more contested. The vocational education and training programs available in states and territories vary a little bit. That is one of the reasons we got years 9 and 10 out of the way first. We then moved on to the more difficult issue of years 11 and 12. As Senator Ryan has reinforced, there were a whole lot of issues with the states and territories in that area, so we took that work slowly. With the change of government, we are having another look at vocational education and training in the senior years. That is a broad overview. It was driven by a focus on work readiness—understanding work situations—but also with a focus on literacy and numeracy. That is being delivered in the year 9 and 10 curriculum. But, having said that, I will come back to you with some of the documentation from the time.

Senator O'NEILL: With the change to the age people are required to remain in school up to, clearly there is the possibility of doing industry endorsed vocational learning programs at schools to integrate with skilled occupations. There were key areas that were going to be targeted: manufacturing, community services, health and agrifood—developing deep knowledge of vocational skills within an industry. These are the sorts of programs that were considered important for student retention in year 11 and 12—which in the past was considered 'post-secondary school' but is now a core part of secondary school. How do you think the removal of courses of this nature—the National Trade Cadetship—and the closure of Acacia is going to impact on academic performance and year 12 retention?

Mr Randall : It is not a removal, because they were not there. Part of the development, at the time of the proposals and the initial work that we were starting, was to see where these could be best placed within states and territories. Notwithstanding we have done 15 bits of curriculum in senior secondary, the chair of our board reported to the education council last year that, beyond those 15 and in other areas, the significant view around states and territories is for us not to continue to proceed in the senior secondary space.

Senator O'NEILL: Can you give me some explanation about why that is the case.

Mr Randall : I think some states and territories were of the view that this was pure duplication—for example, the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning creates a whole range of opportunities for students around the VET space—and they were seeing this as being a duplication of things that they were already doing at a state level. They could not actually see a use for that. The Queensland certificate now has a whole range of VET stuff in there. There is the VET in Schools program as well. They are arguing a similar scenario for the national curriculum in years 11 and 12. They all have their HSC or their VCE, or whatever it might be. States and territories, which is reflected in the conversation at the last meeting of the council, had a view that this was duplication rather than enhancement.

Senator O'NEILL: But it is a tool for the federal government to respond to skill shortages and have some influence on that. What happened to the early work with regard to partnerships with industry?

Mr Randall : Dr Lambert has just reminded me about what I said earlier on, when making a point about where we were up to with years 9, 10, 11 and 12. I said we had not started writing the curriculum. We had conducted a forum. We brought together groups of people to scope some of that work.

Senator O'NEILL: When was that?

Dr Lambert : 2013. But I will need to take on notice what the particular day was.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you. That would be helpful.

Mr Randall : We had started some of the conversation through that national forum about the shape and form of the curriculum. But, again, I made the point earlier on about the progress of that work, the support or lack thereof in states and territories, but also further down the track in terms of the change to the election. I do not have the brief in front of me in terms of all those time lines. I am happy to give you some advice about what we did and the time frame so that it is all on one page.

Senator O'NEILL: Thanks for that. You took on notice to get me the details about a number of matters. Could I also ask for the names of the people that you consulted and the industries that you consulted to get that advice.

Mr Randall : Sure.

Senator O'NEILL: The 9 to 10 program is seemingly not seen as a duplication, because it is a national rollout. Is that correct? Okay. How many placements with the national 9 to 10 rollout of the National Trade Cadetship have occurred, and what partnerships are established there?

Mr Randall : We will have to come back to you with some information, if we can collect it, about what states and territories are doing with that. It is not different from my answer on languages. We develop the curriculum. We are not responsible for implementing it. It is there, and then states and territories within their frameworks will make decisions about implementing it. I understand your question. We do not have that data. I will have to have a look to what extent it is available for us to bring back to you.

Senator O'NEILL: What processes do you have in place for those implementing the program? Is it implemented in every state and territory?

Mr Randall : It is available for states and territories to use. My point just a moment ago was we need to have a look at what decisions they are taking and in what time lines. I think, in a question on notice, we have given you some advice about where various states and territories are up to with things. It will be said in that context. There may be some that have not even looked at it yet. We will have to take that on notice and come back to you.

Senator O'NEILL: Can you give me particular advice about the nature of the structured work placements, because clearly that would be really important information. That is a critical part of the success of these curriculum innovations.

Mr Randall : We can give you what the curriculum has designed and outlined. You asked about numbers and take-ups—I am just being explicit there. I do not know whether I will be able to give you that data, because it is a matter of whether it is available to us.

Senator O'NEILL: As much as you can from your state colleagues would be—

Mr Randall : Sure. I understand.

Mr Cook : I think the year 9 and 10 work is more focused on vocational learning as opposed to work placements. Is that correct, Mr Randall?

Mr Randall : Again, we will have a look. There is a notion of even the use of work placement around, and how it varies. But there is some engagement in there as opposed to work placement or workplace settings. We will come back clarifying what the curriculum intended and then, to the extent that we can, the extent of take-up.

Senator O'NEILL: Going back to your annual report, on page 11, with regard to the national trade cadetships, it is written:

In May 2014 the Department of Education requested that ACARA pause all work on the Year 11-12 curriculum until further advised.

Why did the department determine that?

Mr Cook : It was the department money, in that the Australian government was the only one that put money up. I think one of the issues was that we were hearing from states and territories that the interest around developing senior secondary work in this area was not strong. So the department would not have a view it should invest money in something that states and territories may not use.

Senator O'NEILL: Could you provide me with some indication of the use of the senior secondary curriculum that you have developed to date.

Mr Randall : Yes. The status of implementation of the 15 courses in English, maths, science, history, geography—

Senator O'NEILL: Yes.

Mr Randall : Yes, we should be able to do that.

Senator O'NEILL: Generally, how would you characterise their uptake and their use?

Mr Randall : I think pretty positive, given where we are. Western Australia is one example which, I think with maybe the exception of chemistry, has adopted it—I do not know the percentage, but it is very large—as the courses are written. I know Victoria is using it as it is going through its review process, and I think in the ACT there is nothing where they are drawing directly on them. But I will expand and go round the country so I can give you a summary.

Senator O'NEILL: Could you give me a state-by-state analysis. I am a little surprised to hear that you were having a reasonable degree of uptake of your senior curriculum development and then all of a sudden it has stopped.

Mr Randall : The answer for that in some ways is that English, maths and science are some of the easier ones to do because they are a common curriculum. Around the country the extent to which you have maths does not vary a lot. Part of the debate was when you get into the other courses beyond those—the arts or some more of the humanities—that is where there is greater difference, and that is where the tension started coming back. I think it is not a surprise in some ways that people are pretty happy to work with the physics course we developed because it took account of what they were currently doing and of international practice and the like, and then built upon it.

Dr Lambert : Can I add that, because there are exit examinations around the country around senior secondary, for the states and territories it is a matter of timing. For those where the uptake is greater it was right at the time when they were redeveloping all their senior curriculum. Other states and territories will wait until it is time—

Senator O'NEILL: It is the next phase.

Dr Lambert : Yes, given that examinations are such a key element of the work they do.

Senator O'NEILL: Could I move on, unless you need to go over to Senator Ruston.

CHAIR: Senator Ruston, do you have any questions for ACARA?

Senator RUSTON: I was wondering how online had been coming along.

Mr Randall : The short answer, I think again, is 'pretty well'. That is not to understate some of the challenges. I think I would probably remind you that from our point of view there are three broad areas of work. One is getting the tests ready to run online, and Dr Rabinowitz is leading that. ACARA has a lead role in relation to that. The second key bit of work is building the capability to deliver the tests online. Work is underway through Education Services Australia, funded by the federal government, to develop that capability. Then the third bit of work is the readiness work with states and territories. There is a lot of coming together where states and territories are doing a significant amount of work to work towards it. I guess the point I would add, which is a focus for us and others, is the ministerial decision of last year that the transition would start in 2017 and we are working towards 2019, when everyone is online. The timeline has been set. The work is underway. In a moment, if Dr Rabinowitz wants to add some of our work, we have got the role to get NAPLAN ready to run online. Capabilities is the second bit and the readiness work is the third bit. Do you want to say something about—

Dr Rabinowitz : Thank you. The two points that we focusing on in getting the test ready are making sure that items themselves are computer ready; and that the device, the platform that gets built, can work with our items, is fair to all students and can handle different types of devices so that there is no single, no favourite, and you do not have a device that can run the test but still have some flexibility in which device you use from a local perspective.

Senator RUSTON: Are you, at this stage, seeing any obvious issues emerging as you proceed towards your outcomes, to 2013.

Dr Rabinowitz : There is a lot of research and a lot of work that has to be done. There is one interesting one around devices that we are dealing with now: one of the original specifications we had was that, if you use a tablet in order to preserve what I call real estate, on the tablet you needed a detachable keyboard. That made a lot of sense to us and to programs around the world. We are getting some feedback that a lot of students who use tablets do not really know what a keyboard is detachably. So we need to balance what is better: to preserve the space, to display the item or for students to be more comfortable in a mode of administration that you are used to. Those are the kind of interesting things that you think you know about, and then you get some information and you get smarter and better doing it.

Senator RUSTON: The time frames that you have set yourself for delivery, you believe, are sufficient to be able to deal unknown things that are popping up. Who would have thought—

Dr Rabinowitz : We will be ready in 2017—yes, Ma'am.

Senator RUSTON: That is great. Do you want me to go on with more NAPLAN?

CHAIR: If you have more questions to ask, you are quite entitled to ask.

Senator RUSTON: I can go all afternoon. One of the things at the last estimates was that there were some comments about the speed at which the NAPLAN results were being currently being turned around. Have we seen any improvement, any change or any work there, Mr Randall?

Mr Randall : Yes. Certainly, this year the results, as a result of—and, again, I think there was a strong imperative and challenge from the federal government on being elected and that was taken up by state and territory ministers. That has been an expectation, and we delivered last year. It varies. I think the results were available four weeks earlier than they had been. From our point of view, we achieved that. We are going this year for another two weeks.

Senator RUSTON: What time frame would that then bring it down to?

Mr Randall : We are getting back very close to the 12-week goal. I was just going to add: some states and territories did better than others, because it was a matter of them getting the results and their capacity to then get the reports out to schools. We have got some data—and again I would be happy to provide it—that indicates where each state and territory got. But there was a significant gain last year, and we are seeking to build upon that this year.

Senator Ryan: Could I just add something, Senator Ruston?

Senator RUSTON: Yes.

Senator RYAN: I would like to congratulate all those involved. Yes, there is some variation against states but the minister and the government set this as a priority. What this means—remember, this is not higher stakes testing; this is a diagnostic tool, primarily—is the achievement that has been outlined is a month extra in effectively a nine-month school year where teachers and parents have information about the strengths and challenges that children have in learning. That is a month extra that teaching can be tailored to address those issues. The further we bring it down—and remember that this is to enable parents and teachers to know where the learning challenges are and where the strengths are—it makes our education systems more responsive. It empowers teachers, and particularly empowers parents. So it is a significant achievement to get this information back into the hands of those who can use it to make a difference quicker. A month extra in a school year is a significant amount of time.

Senator RUSTON: Yes, absolutely. That was the concern raised last time, so that is fabulous news. Dr Rabinowitz, with the move to online in 2017, are we imagining or envisaging that we are going to be able to further accelerate the turnaround times on these test results?

Mr Randall : Absolutely. Noting the points that Dr Rabinowitz just made, to move it on-line the work we are seeking to realise through the design of our assessment and what we call the tailored test approach means we will get better assessment. It is going to be faster as well, because there are significant gains in on-line marking. You take out all the manual handling. From our point of view you take away some of our security risks.

We will, again, this year, distribute things in boxes around the country. There are a number of opportunities, but building upon the point that Senator Ryan made, we may get much more gains than we have been able to get under the current paper-and-pencil system and that timeline. We are talking about numbers of weeks—a handful of fewer weeks. We are not quite at the point where we can say, 'That's it; it's two or three,' but we will be working with states and territories to pursue all that, noting that in 2017 and 2018, we will have some schools in some jurisdictions still running paper while we are doing on-line. But by the time we get to 2019 and it is all on-line we will see absolutely reduced times. Then, with the point that Senator Ryan made, the data will be able to be used to drive improved teaching and learning.

Senator RUSTON: That is great news. Thank you very much.

Senator O'NEILL: Could I ask for the department to outline the framework for open learning program?

Mr Cook : That is a little later, in outcome 2. I will be here for outcome 2. It is not an ACARA issue; it is actually—

Senator O'NEILL: It is just that my question is related to money that has come to this platform for the development of the platform, that was taken from the open learning platform.

Mr Cook : Some of the commonality is about the interoperability issues—about different systems working together. This will be the key product for that. So, basically that money would have been used for interoperability, anyway. We now have a key platform—which will be NAPLAN on line—for part of that process.

Senator O'NEILL: Open learning is a different cohort that you would be interacting with, is it?

Mr Cook : Not really. The Framework for Open Learning is about a whole range of IT issues. Again, I will get our people to come and talk at outcome 2.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you. That is fine.

Can I go to the minister's announcement, in October, that $24.7 million was committed. We have been talking about that. This was part of an agreement that was made with the states and territories. Will the states and territories be contributing to this initiative? I see Mr Cook nodding.

Mr Cook : Again, that is in outcome 2, but I am happy to do it quickly now.

CHAIR: Can we save those for outcome 2, because if ACARA cannot answer—

Senator O'NEILL: I was just interested to see how the partnership was going on with the states and ACARA with regard to this.

Mr Randall : In my answer to Senator Ruston, I think I outlined the three bits. It is across all of those that we are working together. There is what we are calling an on-line assessment working group, which comprises people from the states and territories, the Catholic independent sector with ESA. I would characterise it as a very productive relationship. We are working towards that target—that timeline—and the expectation that ministers have set. So, Senator, I think it is very positive.

Senator O'NEILL: In anticipation of questions later, how much is the state contribution, or the various agencies that are coming? You have on-line testing sites. For the full roll-out you indicated that everybody would be on line by 2019. That is your goal, and things are on target—

Mr Randall : That is the goal the council has set to work towards; yes.

Senator O'NEILL: How are you going with your roll-out? What are your targets, where are you up to, and what is the forward program?

Mr Randall : We start NAPLAN on-line in 2017. Then in 2018 and 2019 we are all on-line. So, if you like, there are three years. In terms of progress towards that, we are already running some of our sample assessment program on-line. We have a strong partnership with Education Services Australia about delivering that.

Senator O'NEILL: In how many schools, in what jurisdictions?

Mr Randall : That is a sample that is drawn across the country. It is about 10,000 students in every state. So every state and territory is involved but it is a sample at the national level. I could give you some data on how many schools, and things like that.

Senator O'NEILL: That would wonderful. And tell me how you are anticipating growing that number. What is your roll-out plan?

Mr Randall : We will not grow that. That is the sample assessment program. So for 2015 and 2016 it stays there, but states and territories are using that as a source. Then we are working with states and territories for them to be looking towards 2017 as the first year when they will start taking up NAPLAN on line. We do not have this information at the moment, but we will work with states and territories during the course of this year for them to be planning that. Each state and territory will have its own plan about their transition.

Senator O'NEILL: We talked in previous committee hearings about the cuts to your funding at ACARA. Could you just give me an update on how they have been applied in ACARA.

Mr Randall : We have talked about it before. From my point of view, that there is a reduction in funding this year from last year is not a cut. It is part of the four-year plan that was agreed to. We are now in the third of our four years. We are going into the fourth of the four years, and there will be another reduction. But that was part of what the original bid was for.

So it is all part of the planned thing. I could go back and give you the document that was submitted to the Education Council three years ago. That projected. On the basis of that, the Education Council agreed to funding over the four years, and that is what we are working towards. Along the way, other programs have come in. that is in addition to this, but, as we have talked about before, I do not characterise them as cuts.

Senator O'NEILL: It is 'potatoes' and 'potahtoes'; I call them cuts and you call them reductions.

CHAIR: Was that four years ago?

Mr Randall : Three-or-so years ago the Education Council agreed to a four-year plan for ACARA. It had elements of My School development and then operation. So you can imagine that there is a spike in funding in the early years. There was curriculum development and then we are where we are now. We have finished it. You see a large amount in terms of dollars and staffing. Now that has been reduced. Then NAPLAN is in a pretty steady state. So in the budget that is there.

CHAIR: So it has run to plan.

Mr Randall : It is running to plan.

CHAIR: Who was the minister four years ago?

Senator Ryan: It was hard to keep up.

CHAIR: I know; thank you, Senator Ryan.

Senator Ryan: I am just trying to remember.

Mr Randall : Minister Garrett was the education minister at the time.

CHAIR: She set that funding plan in place.

Mr Randall : The Education Council set that.

Senator O'NEILL: Can I just check the staffing levels. I think the average staffing level was expected to reduce from 116 in 2013-14 to 95 in 2014-15.

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: Is that the reduction that you are still expecting?

Mr Randall : By the end of the year that will be the average. Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: You are on track to achieve that reduction?

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: Has there been any revision to the agency staffing level, at all?

Mr Randall : No. Those projections are still there. We are working with them but I would make two observations. One is that because we have had additional funding for programs like languages and others, the figure is in relation to the core funding. So if you came and counted the heads there would be a few more, whether it was in national trade cadetships or languages. But we are working towards that in terms of an average level.

Senator O'NEILL: Could you advise, either today or on notice, what positions have gone.

Mr Randall : Yes, I could do that--and which ones have come. It is an ebb and flow.

Senator O'NEILL: Yes; what has gone down and what has gone up—a full picture. How many redundancies have there been at ACARA in 2014-15?

Mr Randall : Again, I would need to go back and seek that. I will come back to you. There have been some because we have changed, along the way, our structural arrangements. We have decided, organisationally, priorities. I recall we did some work within the communications team and adjusted some things there. So there have been some there, which were about the operation of the organisation as opposed to any other factors. I will come back to you with that advice.

Senator O'NEILL: Could you could do a 2014-15 acquittal of redundancies—forced and voluntary—and a comparison with 2013-14, for the same matrix.

Mr Randall : I will give you, for 2013-14 and 2014-15, our staffing and the changes and the extent that those changes have been from redundancies. Yes, I can provide that.

Senator O'NEILL: Whether forced or voluntary and identified accordingly?

Mr Randall : Yes, and/or people just choosing to move on, for example.

Senator O'NEILL: Okay. The MYEFO contained—I cannot be sarcastic—more news for you about reduced funding of $400,000. That is to take effect in 2017-18.

Mr Randall : Sure.

Senator O'NEILL: When did you become aware that you were going to have this reduction imposed?

Mr Randall : I became aware of it in the lead-up to the release of the statements, but again-

Senator O'NEILL: So you were advised before the MYEFO was announced?

Mr Randall : I was aware that that would appear there. My comment, though, would be that—

Senator O'NEILL: Were you advised of the amount?

Mr Randall : I guess I am getting ahead of the question, but because we do not have an approved plan beyond June 2016 these are projections that the federal government is making. I cannot then comment on the effect because I do not have an approved plan to comment on. So I was aware that it was there, but there is no approved plan, no activity that we are doing. I am not assuming there will not be, but we are now in the process of coming through to the Education Council during the course of this year to come up with the next four-year plan, for 2016-17 and beyond. It will be in that context that I would imagine, as we are working with the federal government as well as the eight state and territory governments, that will be taken into account.

Senator O'NEILL: But you will have 400,000 less?

Mr Cook : They may not. ACARA may come in under budget, which is a million dollars less than their current budget. So what Mr Randall is saying is that ACARA has not put its budget to the Education Council yet. There is a standard funding line in the Commonwealth budget for ACARA. ACARA does not have a budget for those years. If ACARA puts in a budget that is a million dollars less—

Senator O'NEILL: Yes. Is that standing budget what is being reduced by $400,000?

Mr Cook : Within 'quality outcomes—other'. That is where that money is from. So it is not from ACARA's budget per se, because they have not submitted a budget at this point.

Senator O'NEILL: But there will be less money for them to do their work, ultimately.

Mr Cook : It depends on what they put in as a budget. If they put a budget in that is a million dollars less than they currently have, then there is no cut to what they are being asked for at all. There is no reduction at all.

Senator O'NEILL: Yes, it is which comes first and which comes second, but there will be less funding to do the work of ACARA than—

Mr Cook : Well, there may not be because—

Ms Paul : It depends on what the work is.

Senator Ryan: It depends what work they determine to do.

Mr Randall : That is right.

Senator O'NEILL: So you don't think this is going to have any impact on your operations?

Mr Randall : I have to go through the council and work out what the Education Council wants us to do first. So that is what we start with. We will go through a process during the course of this year to develop a work plan. So I cannot comment on that in any meaningful way, because it does not make sense in some ways because we do not have the plan. We do not have the budget.

Senator O'NEILL: Okay. Could I take you to the coalition's policy for schools. It is one of those blue documents, Students first, which we have had quoted to us many times here. In it the government committed to refocusing ACARA and ensuring it focused on developing the highest possible standard curriculum, transferring all data, reporting and compliance functions back to the Department of Education. Has ACARA actually been refocused? Have all the data, compliance and reporting functions been transferred to the department?

Mr Randall : No.

Senator O'NEILL: No? So this says:

We will transfer all data, reporting and compliance functions that are not curriculum related back to the Department of Education …

But that has not occurred?

Mr Randall : That is correct.

Senator O'NEILL: So what data, reporting and compliance functions does ACARA still retain?

Mr Randall : Those that we started a number of years ago, those functions that the Education Council has agreed that we will do. I could give you a more compete answer by referring to our work plan and things like that to say 'here is what we do', but largely the data collection and reporting functions are linked to our work around My School and they are linked to our work around the collation, development and issuing of the National report on schooling.

Senator O'NEILL: So you are still doing the same work that you were doing before?

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: That is quite a significant thing to say, given that there was going to be a refocus and a massive change.

Ms Paul : I think Mr Cook is going to clarify the situation.

Mr Cook : Just to assist with the question, a review of ACARA is required under the legislation, the ACARA Act. The minister considered that and, based on that, the review has now begun. The outcome and the finding of that review will inform the government's commitment around refocusing ACARA. They will be two of the same, so to speak, rather than two separate disjointed processes. The review, which requires the independent reviewer to consult with states and territories and a whole range of stakeholders, is happening at the moment. The other thing we will have to take into consideration, as well, is the federation white paper process.

Senator O'NEILL: There was a lot of talk in the lead-up the election about low standards of curriculum development and questioning of the curriculum, which led to the curriculum review. How would you say that has gone?

Senator Ryan: First of all, I will say that you have assigned a particular motivation for the curriculum review. It was a promise of the then shadow minister, now minister. If you want to question the status of where that particular program is, that is fine, but I am not going to let your asserted motivation stand untested and unchallenged.

Senator O'NEILL: I think you might have to look at some of the material that went out during the election. I think you would find that my claim is pretty valid. Mr Randall, how would you characterise ACARA's response to the curriculum we have?

Mr Randall : The curriculum review is a report to government. I will leave it to the department to answer questions about that.

Senator O'NEILL: So, the report to the government about the curriculum review, considering it is about curriculum, should have led to some rather significant changes to the work of ACARA, if we believe anything that the minister said in the lead-up to the election about how the curriculum needed serious review.

Senator Ryan: I think I can clarify the time line here. The report went to the government and then the government announced its response to the report. It went to the Education Council. ACARA was asked to report on elements of the government response and that report will be tabled, I understand, at the next meeting of the Education Council, which is coming up very shortly. So, I think, given ACARA's responsibilities across the state and Commonwealth ministers, that it is only reasonable that that report be tabled by the Education Council in the first instance. Until that point we will take questions on notice, but I understand that the next Education Council meeting, when this is coming up, is in early March.

Senator O'NEILL: So, early March is when we should expect a more full response to that curriculum review?

Ms Paul : That is when state and federal education ministers will consider ACARA's response to some parts of the review, as the parliamentary secretary says, as requested by them.

Senator Ryan: The Education Council requested that ACARA make this report.

Senator O'NEILL: What were the council's instructions to ACARA?

Mr Randall : The recommendations of the council—and I stand to be corrected in terms of the detail—asked us to provide some advice around four themes: one theme was resolving the crowded curriculum; another theme was about providing curriculum for students with disability; the third was about engaging parents; and the fourth was about rebalancing the curriculum. They asked for that advice back so, as has been stated, we have provided that advice, and ministers will consider it at this next council meeting.

Senator O'NEILL: You have given me the list of four items—were they given to you in writing, in terms of reference, in a letter?

Mr Cook : That is a decision of the council. There was a council paper, and council agreed to that paper. The areas that Mr Randall is talking about—those four themes—are part of the five themes that are in the Australian government response, as well as the recommendations that relate to each of those four areas. It was quite directive for ACARA: the council has asked them, in relation to the recommendations that relate to each of those four themes, to provide advice back to council about those recommendations.

Senator O'NEILL: Is there any public documentation around this?

Mr Cook : The communique would cover that off, I would imagine.

Ms Paul : Yes, I think it would.

Mr Cook : The council communique would have mentioned this.

Senator O'NEILL: I would appreciate a copy of that. I do not have that to hand.

Ms Paul : Yes, sure.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you very much. Have you provided that advice yet, given that the meeting is imminent?

Mr Cook : Yes.

Mr Randall : Yes.

Senator O'NEILL: When did you provide that advice?

Ms Paul : It would have been sent to the secretariat. It is just a transmittal of paper, presumably.

Mr Randall : It is a paper. It is developed by the board and then goes through to secretaries as a first step, and it has been distributed through the Education Council secretariat.

Senator O'NEILL: Was it developed by your board?

Mr Randall : By us, and our board has approved it, yes.

Senator O'NEILL: Your board has some pretty eminent people on it, doesn't it?

Mr Randall : Yes—I think so!

Senator O'NEILL: They have served ACARA very well in terms of keeping abreast of national curriculum developments over many years, from what I can recall. What is the nature of that paper? Is it a public document?

Mr Randall : It is advice to the council, so it is council-in-confidence.

Senator O'NEILL: Will the council make it available, do you believe?

Ms Paul : It is up to the council. They normally do not release their papers. They nominally release a communique.

Senator O'NEILL: That is a summary of their deliberations?

Ms Paul : Of the resolutions of their meeting—that is right.

Senator O'NEILL: They release that afterwards but not a detailed analysis of ACARA's view of the elements of the curriculum.

Ms Paul : But what ministers will do with this paper, of course, is at this stage entirely unknown.

Senator O'NEILL: In your preparation of that paper, what did you take into account? I know that we had the curriculum review, the Wiltshire-Donnelly review, which we had significant discussion about in our last meeting. What else did you take into account, or was that it?

Mr Randall : I think Mr Cook said a moment ago there was the paper that went to council. We are certainly aware of the Wiltshire-Donnelly report. I would also point out that we had some advice. We have been looking at the curriculum. We have had sources of feedback. So the four themes were what we were asked to respond to. For example, responding to the crowded curriculum was one that has come up through the review. It is one that we are aware of and our own board has discussed it. So we have taken account of a range of sources, and then there is the experience and expertise of the board itself in providing advice to the council. So there is a wide range focusing on the themes the council asked us to provide advice on.

Senator O'NEILL: Could you provide us with an outline of the reports, assessments and research that underpinned the report that you are providing—where you got your information?

Mr Randall : I expect I can give you a summary, an outline of that, yes.

Senator O'NEILL: There were so many submissions that had very different evidence within them. There were hundreds of submissions that did not inform the Wiltshire-Donnelly review. If you went to them, I am wondering what other sources there were. I would really be interested to see how broadly you went, because I think your sources could be a lot broader than the Wiltshire-Donnelly review—that is for sure. How many of the government's curriculum review recommendations is ACARA not further investigating?

Mr Randall : We have been asked to provide advice in relation to the four themes, and that is the nature of the advice. So we are responding to those four themes that I have just mentioned.

Senator O'NEILL: How many recommendations were there?

Mr Randall : Thirty, I recall.

Senator O'NEILL: There were 30 recommendations and you are following up on four themes.

Mr Randall : No, that is not what I said. The council paper that led to the decision for us to provide advice said, 'Give us advice on four themes.' Mr Cook referred to the five themes of the federal government's initial response, so I want to acknowledge the fifth one, which was in relation to governance. But there are those four themes that I have referred to, and that is how we have framed our advice.

Ms Paul : They cover multiple recommendations, obviously. So there is not a direct one-to-one relationship between a recommendation and a theme. I think that is the point that Mr Randall is making, in part.

Senator O'NEILL: Of the 30 recommendations from ACARA, which ones are you taking on board and making adjustments to your work based on?

Mr Randall : I am happy to come back to you. I understand your question. That has not been the focus of our work. As the secretary said, there is a relationship there. I am happy to provide some advice to you about that relationship. Our focus has been on the issue of the crowded curriculum. There are a number of recommendations in there, so we could do that association, but the focus has been on those four themes. That is what the board has talked about, that is what the board was asked to do, that is the focus of the board's discussion and that has framed the advice to the council.

Senator O'NEILL: You would have to say that there was not an overwhelmingly warm reception to curriculum change at the state level based on the Wiltshire-Donnelly report.

Mr Randall : I would not necessarily make the assertion otherwise.

Ms Paul : Indeed, all ministers decided to refer four of the Commonwealth's five themes to ACARA for consideration.

Senator Ryan: This was agreed at education council.

Senator O'NEILL: I will go on to the next part. Review of ACARA was mentioned a little while ago. What is the time line on that? I know it is to happen this year.

Mr Randall : The department can talk about that quickly.

Mr Cook : Senator, just to help you with that: 8 December is when the review was caused to begin, as required under the act.

Senator O'NEILL: So 8 December 2014 the review commenced?

Mr Cook : That is right.

Senator O'NEILL: Who is actually completing the review, and who determines that?

Mr Cook : Mr Grahame Cook, PSM.

Senator O'NEILL: Who determines the person who undertakes the review?

Mr Cook : The department does that.

Senator O'NEILL: And how did you determine, that it was Mr Grahame Cook who would do this job?

Mr Cook : I think that was part of an RFQ we put out, or a request for quote.

Senator O'NEILL: And did you have many respondents?

Mr Cook : I would have to take that on notice, Senator—I am not sure; I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator O'NEILL: Would you be able to indicate—if you can, on notice—the people who did express interest and the criteria in which Mr Cook was determined the most suitable candidate?

Mr Cook : Sure; happy to take that on notice.

Senator O'NEILL: And the cost of undertaking that review.

Mr Cook : Happy to do that as well. Just to answer the rest of your question, this is actually in the act itself: the review must start six years after the act—which is 8 December 2014—and it must be completed within six months.

Senator O'NEILL: Do you believe that you will be able to bring it in on time?

Mr Cook : Absolutely.

Senator O'NEILL: And the terms of reference of that review?

Mr Cook : The terms are actually in the act itself.

Senator O'NEILL: The publication of the review—when do you expect that? Is it ahead of schedule, is it going to be earlier than June?

Mr Cook : Some of that would depend on the stakeholder and the availability of stakeholders to actually have the consultation. I have no reason to believe it will be late, but it is within the six months requirement of the act—I would imagine it will take that long.

Senator O'NEILL: Is there a requirement in the act for the publication of that review?

Mr Cook : It says:

The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be laid before each House of Parliament within 15 sitting days after the Minister receives the report.

That is what is required under the act.

Senator O'NEILL: How does ACARA intend to contribute to the review?

Mr Randall : The board chair, all of the current board members and I think former board members have all participated in a meeting with Mr Cook. I have participated in an interview with him, so we have been invited to provide advice and comment on it. But, as I understand it, then on the basis of that, Mr Cook has been engaged by the department to prepare the report in the manner that Mr Cook has outlined.

Senator O'NEILL: So your consultation will be as requested by Mr Cook?

Mr Randall : As he seeks information from us or seeks views—and as I said he has talked to a large number of people, the board members, current and past—or if he wants some more information from us we will provide it.

Senator O'NEILL: So his work has well and truly commenced with you?

Mr Randall : Mr Cook outlined the time line when he started, and I understand there has been a great number of meetings that have occurred already. I do not know all of the people he is meeting with but I know I have met with him. I know various board members have met with him, so I think that is well underway.

Senator O'NEILL: And what sort of things is he interested in learning about?

Mr Randall : The terms of reference are how it is all framed. My experience was I was invited to comment in relation to those terms of reference, and then he asked questions, probed and dug down into points. There was a bit of discussion about alternatives and he asked my opinion on some matters—the challenge now will be for Mr Cook to draw all that together and provide the advice through to the department.

Senator O'NEILL: And did you have a similar experience to Dr Rabinowitz and Dr Lambert?

Mr Randall : They have not been interviewed.

Senator O'NEILL: So who is selected for interview? Is there a process around that?

Mr Cook : My understanding is that there are approximately 40 to 50 different stakeholder groups. As Dr Randall said, it will be ACARA; it is up to Dr Randall to decide who within ACARA—he is the CEO—will be part of that interview process. I understand it will be all board members, all past board members, all state and territory departments of education, all non-government organisations, I imagine it would be parent associations—it would be the normal education stakeholder group that we would consult with, who would be affected by curriculum matters.

Senator O'NEILL: I am not familiar with Mr Cook.

Ms Paul : Mr Cook was a senior public servant in the Australian Public Service He was a deputy secretary in two departments that I have been secretary of: the Department of Education, Science and Training; and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you. He is undertaking this work as a consultant?

Ms Paul : He retired several years ago from the Public Service—he retired out of my department; it would have been Education, Employment and Workplace Relations at the time—and since that time I understand he has undertaken a range of consulting and other work.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you very much. Those are my questions for ACARA.

CHAIR: Are there any more questions for ACARA?

Senator WRIGHT: Can I take you to a report in the Daily Telegraph about an increase in formal withdrawals across all age groups?

Senator Ryan: Do you have copies of that?

Senator WRIGHT: No, I do not, I am sorry.

CHAIR: Have you got the date and maybe the secretariat can—

Senator WRIGHT: I do not even have the date. I can try and get that for you. That would be helpful.

Senator Ryan: The only thing I will say is this: if officials cannot see the article, you can ask them questions, but we have to put on the record that without seeing the context of the article I do not it want it to be attributed as a response to the article. It is a response to your question.

Senator WRIGHT: Okay. I have some specific questions about the data that I presume ACARA will have. I appreciate that it would have been helpful; I did not think of that. Because ACARA will have data about withdrawal rates from the NAPLAN test, I am interested in knowing if the change in withdrawal rates has been higher in any particular state or states.

Mr Randall : I think we have got data in front of us at the national level. If you are asking for us to provide you a state-by-state breakdown, I would take that on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. Do you know, off the top of your head, whether it was higher in some states than others?

Dr Rabinowitz : Yes, it has been higher in some states than others.

Senator WRIGHT: Can you tell us which states it was higher in—not necessarily the numbers? Do you know?

Dr Rabinowitz : Certainly in the Northern Territory and in at least one other state, which I do not recall. I will submit that as Mr Randall has suggested.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. I understand that—and correct me if I am wrong—an extra 1,000 students in each of the tested year levels formally withdrew in 2014 compared to 2013. Is that figure right? Do you have the national figures there?

Dr Rabinowitz : The rate went up from less than two per cent to slightly over two per cent. One per cent is about 2,000 students, so it is about half of that. So you are in the ballpark.

Senator WRIGHT: When you say 'in the ballpark'—

Dr Rabinowitz : I do not have the exact number but that sounds about right.

Senator WRIGHT: You do not have that figure with you?

Dr Rabinowitz : Not with me, no.

Senator WRIGHT: Was that in each of the tested year levels?

Dr Rabinowitz : It was highest in year 3, second-highest in year 9 and years 5 and 7 were relatively low compared to those two.

Senator WRIGHT: So approximately 1,000 students. That was correct for years 3 and 9—around that figure? Percentages do not necessarily mean much. I am just trying to imagine how many students that is.

Dr Rabinowitz : I will get you those numbers.

Senator WRIGHT: The 1,000, though—that less than two per cent I think you said—was that—

Dr Rabinowitz : The difference from last year to this year at year 9 was 1.7 per cent and it then became 2.3 per cent, so it is about a half a percentage point.

Senator WRIGHT: An increase from 1.7 to 2.3 per cent in year 9. Is that what you are saying?

Dr Rabinowitz : Yes, that is the number now.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. That is year 9. Do you have the figures for years 3, 5 and 7?

Dr Rabinowitz : Yes. In year 3 it was 2.3 per cent up to 2.7 per cent. That, as I said, was the highest. In year 5 it was 1.8 per cent up to 2.1 per cent, and in year 7 it was 1.3 per cent up to 1.6 per cent. One per cent would be about 2,500 kids, so half of that is about the 1,000 that you are talking about.

Senator WRIGHT: I am just trying to do the maths in my head. In year 3, this year it was 2.7 per cent of students who withdrew. One per cent is about 2,500 kids; is that right?

Dr Rabinowitz : One per cent would be about 2,500 students.

Senator WRIGHT: So 2.7 per cent would be more than double that, would it not? If 1 per cent is about—

Dr Rabinowitz : It is about 7,000 kids.

Senator WRIGHT: Yes, in year 3.

Dr Rabinowitz : That is not the increase; that is the total.

Senator WRIGHT: No, that is the total. The increase is 0.4 per cent in year 3, is it not?

Dr Rabinowitz : Across all four year levels.

Senator WRIGHT: I understand what you are saying; I am just wanting to be clear on that. So, it is about 7,000 children being withdrawn in year 3, and a little less than that in year 9.

Dr Rabinowitz : Yes.

Senator WRIGHT: So between 6,000 and 7,000, I guess.

Dr Rabinowitz : That is about right, yes.

Senator WRIGHT: This is testing my maths! So, about 5,000 in year 5, and less than that in year 7. Thank you for that—just so we get a sense of the numbers of children who are being withdrawn from the tests.

Dr Rabinowitz : Across all year levels it would be about 23,000 students.

Senator WRIGHT: The overall information that I am checking shows that there has been an increase across the board but more in some year levels than in others.

Dr Rabinowitz : Yes.

Senator WRIGHT: What do you attribute the growing withdrawal rate to?

Mr Randall : There are a range of reasons. I guess some of it is because there has been a bit more increased awareness and publicity about withdrawing. There has certainly been some increased attention about participation in NAPLAN, so I would imagine they are there the causes. What I would do is just reinforce the points that we have expressed. We are still talking about a million students participating across the four years. Our view is that any increase in withdrawals is of concern to us, because we believe, therefore, the teachers and the parents are not getting the valuable information that comes out of NAPLAN. But the answer to your question was: increased awareness and some of the publicity that is around at the moment.

Senator WRIGHT: The increased awareness about the rights of parents to withdraw their children?

Mr Randall : I think so. I think there is more engagement as people—

Senator WRIGHT: So that is what you mean about awareness?

Mr Randall : Yes, I think so.

Senator WRIGHT: What do you mean by 'publicity'?

Mr Randall : I am going to say the stories that go around on the media about it, because, again, around the time of NAPLAN, we hear more about, if you like, the concerns or issues than all the things that go smoothly and the positive engagement with it. So that is what I mean: what we have read in the press.

Senator WRIGHT: Do you think that to some extent some parents who are becoming more aware of their right to withdraw their children are actually responding to their own experiences, as opposed to stories that they are hearing from others?

Mr Randall : Undoubtedly that would be there as well. But if you looked at the year 3 one—it depends. I cannot break that down. Your example would be: if there are some year 3 withdrawals, it is because they have had older children go through it. Some of those year 3s will have parents who are coming to it for the first time. I think it is broadly that combination of those two things.

Senator WRIGHT: Yes, that very likely, but that may also be a response to the way the schools are handling or working towards a NAPLAN test. I guess you are saying that there are all sorts of reasons.

Mr Randall : There is a whole range.

Senator WRIGHT: I know ACARA is on the record as saying that the test is about how an individual student is doing compared with the last time they set the tests, but NAPLAN tests are being used for much more than that. Do you agree with that?

Mr Randall : I hear some cases for it. The NAPLAN tests were designed to give some information that is available at the individual, school, state, and national level for us to see how we are going in these fundamentally important areas. The difference between NAPLAN and other tests is that NAPLAN does give us that national comparison. It gives us that ability to look that whole picture. Mums and dads get a report sent home to see how their son or daughter is going and how that compares to others. I do not think there is any question in terms of the research about the value of that comparison base. So I think it is being used to help identify individual kids' needs. It is being used for school planning and other reasons. People will then say—and I am happy to come back to your question in a moment—it is used for other reasons. And often, when I say, 'What are those other reasons that are causing the concern?' I hear some cases, as we have talked about here before. I have said when we have been here before: if people have concern about how it is being used, let us know and we will do what we can. If we think it is an inappropriate use, we will do what we can to follow it up.

Senator WRIGHT: I certainly know that you have said that and you have welcomed that. I suppose the fact of increasing withdrawals might be another way of sensing that parents have a problem with it and they are voting with their feet, in a way.

Mr Randall : Sure. And what we will do, as we have done before—and we will do it again this year—is continue to provide information about the intention and the intended use and the value that we clearly see, because there are a great many stories, cases, of individual mums and dads with individual students, schools, departments and others using this information, so we will continue to promote them as meeting the intended purpose of this assessment program.

Senator WRIGHT: Do you agree that there is a feeling and a concern from some, and a perception, that NAPLAN is operating as a testing regime rather than an assessment regime?

Mr Randall : Again, I could say yes, where you qualified it with 'some'. Also, on testing and assessment, it is a matter of me understanding what you mean when you draw that difference. If I infer into that that the assessment is the positive thing, and that is where we are using the information to drive teaching and learning, that is what we want to use it for. I think absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, that that is what the great majority of it is being used for. There are some cases where it is a test—again, I am attributing meaning to what you said—which will not be. It will almost be where it is a test and they just do it and then they do not use the information and the like. That goes to that point about wanting to reinforce the purpose of the program and share where we see it is making a difference, because, as I have said here previously, there is absolutely no doubt about the individual cases, the students, classes and schools, where they have used this data to bring about change which has led to improvement in kids' learning. That is what this is about.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you.

Dr Rabinowitz : Senator, may I add to that?

Senator WRIGHT: Yes.

Dr Rabinowitz : We had a wonderful opportunity to share which I am seeing many schools taking advantage of. That is the tracking of the first cohort of students that started in 2008 as year 3 NAPLAN students and now are year 9 NAPLAN students, seeing the progress of students, seeing schools go from cohort to cohort and seeing how well they are improving, addressing the needs of individual students and the entire student population. So I think that is focusing on the value of having these comparable national data—no student has any high stakes attached to that, as we designed the test—so being able to track that progress and look at those populations. Next year we will have the second cohort. How does that change? Having that annual snapshot and then being able to track across and within groups is a remarkable thing that we have.

Senator WRIGHT: That might go some way to answering my next question, so thank you for that. I acknowledge that this is an issue we have discussed many, many times across the estimates table. Each time, or often, there has been a warning from ACARA that schools should not be conducting boot camps or cramming sessions. But I guess the fact that we are still having this discussion, and the fact of the withdrawal rates going up and so on, shows that it is still a live issue. You have already indicated in one part of your answer, I think, what can be done to address community concern, these concerns that people and parents have. You have just given an example of showing the positive use of the assessment regime. What other things can be done?

Mr Randall : I was asked earlier about how the move to NAPLAN online is going. In working with states and territories to continue to drive that, communication is a key part of it. We would acknowledge the opportunity to improve the program also in various ways. I would cite two examples. When we move online, in the time lines we talked about a moment ago, the assessment is going to be much better because, instead of everyone doing one test, with the challenges that that brings some students who are, if you like, the lower achievers—they get into the current 'one test fits all'; they get through a few items; and then maybe they do not find it as engaging. On your point about testing versus assessment, the design that we have got—the work that Stanley is leading within ACARA—that we are working with states and territories on, the tailored test design, means that we will be able, with those young people, to drill down and, we think, engage them.

Senator O'Neill talked to me earlier about feedback. When I have been out and others have been out to see young people do online assessment, the sample assessment, they are much more engaged because it is actually a medium that they are more used to, so we are improving it. On the tailored test approach, even this year we have sought to make another change around writing. Last year we decided not to declare the writing because, consistent with our message, it is not a matter of trying to second-guess the assessment; teach them the curriculum. This year, instead of one writing prompt, which has been the pattern for a number of years, as we have looked at it—and we continue to do it—we have said that, instead of one prompt for 3, 5, 7 and 9, we will have a prompt for years 3 and 5 students, a more primary-age prompt, and then for years 7 and 9 students a secondary-age prompt. You do not do rapid change all the time, but it is part of a continual improvement program that we have in train to pick that up. So I think it is two things. It is reinforcing the message about the program but also the continual improvement of the program.

Senator Ryan: Can I add that ACARA have undertaken a lot of work in this regard over many years, and we have just heard Mr Randall outline more recent work, but the truth is that there are some people who will not be convinced. There are some people who misrepresent what NAPLAN is. It is not high-stakes testing, as we have heard; it is a diagnostic tool. And, quite frankly, there are some people who do not vaccinate their kids despite the evidence being overwhelming. So I think we have to accept that ACARA have a very comprehensive plan to put people's fears at ease, but there are also the occasional irresponsible voices who try and whip up fear, and there are some people who may have an ideological view against it.

Senator WRIGHT: It is interesting that you talk about 'irresponsible voices'. Isn't the proof of the pudding in the eating, and isn't it actually how it is used to market certain schools? Isn't it in fact, arguably, in some cases, educators themselves who are using it and creating the perception that it is a valid test; it is a way of measuring the effectiveness of a teacher or the effectiveness of a school? That is happening too, isn't it? It is not just parents getting hysterical.

Senator Ryan: I did not use that term at all, Senator Wright. I just want to make that clear.

Senator WRIGHT: No.

Senator Ryan: The point I am making is that—

Senator WRIGHT: 'Irresponsible voices'—who are they?

Senator Ryan: I am making an irresponsible voices claim because, despite the ongoing efforts of ACARA, there are occasionally—I read—comments about people accusing it of being high-stakes testing and the constant claims that the tests can be misrepresented. Well, I can misrepresent just about any fact or statistic that is presented; any of us can. The point I am making is: let us give them credit for the work they are doing. But, for example, just because certain neighbourhoods in Melbourne have vaccination rates that are dropping does not mean that the work that our people who support vaccination are doing, with all the evidence, is somehow wrong, because people can make wrong decisions and there are people who whip up fear or misrepresent something. There are people who are ideologically opposed to NAPLAN in principle. Fine, parents have a right, but let us not judge the whole program, and the success of this tool that is being used by the overwhelming majority to improve education in core skills, because there are some people, a small number, who have an issue with it or a small number who misrepresent it. That is the point I am making.

Senator WRIGHT: I am certainly not wanting you to imply that that is what I feel. My concern is: to what extent can we look at the causes of the concern? In some cases, it is clear that the NAPLAN test is being used not by parents but by educators, by schools or by marketers as a shorthand way of judging the value or the worth of the particular school. Are they some of the 'irresponsible voices' that you are talking about there?

Senator Ryan: Do you know what? It is not the role of us, me here or you there, to seek windows into people's souls and judge why they choose a particular school for their child. Our job, in my view, is to ensure that they have information and that they have an element of choice.

Senator WRIGHT: Absolutely, I have no—

Senator Ryan: My point is that we cannot seek windows into why people are saying things or why people are doing things. My point is solely that, just because people are upset, it does not mean that everything that is humanly possible is not being done to ensure that NAPLAN is properly represented and used. Some people misrepresent it—like occasionally, Senator Wright, some people might misrepresent your and my comments.

Senator WRIGHT: Would you agree, Senator Ryan, that there are policy settings for which governments are responsible which can facilitate misrepresentation of what a test like NAPLAN sets? For instance, the fact that it can be used as a way to rank schools means that it is easier for parents who are, if you like, misled into thinking that it is a silver bullet, that it is a particularly reliable way of judging the efficacy of a particular school. Those policy settings are something for which the government is responsible. My point of asking these questions is: if it is an important assessment tool and people are withdrawing—and that is incontrovertible because we have heard that evidence today—then there is an issue that needs to be dealt with. Suggesting that maybe those parents who are withdrawing are the irresponsible voices, or that other people who are talking about that are, is not helpful. If you are looking at facilitating the uptake of the assessment, wouldn't it be also useful to look at the policy settings which lead into the perception that it is a one-size-fits-all test?

Senator Ryan: The point I am making, Senator Wright—that is not what I was saying—is that one can be making every possible human effort, which I think is being undertaken. The My School website, when I have used it and looked at schools in my neighbourhood because I have a young son, does not bring up what are commonly referred to as 'league tables'. But, at the same time, if someone wanted to go to the trouble with a pen and paper and write down scores for different schools, the only way of stopping them doing that is to not have the information out there.

We as a community—and the other major party in politics supports this as well—have made the point that we think parents should have information. It is also made clear on that website and in every communication that I have seen that it is not to be a rank of schools; it is not to be perceived that way; it should not be represented that way. Indeed, the way the data is presented makes it almost impossible to do that unless you are really dedicated to it and do it manually. You could not do it by a web crawler, I understand. The technology prohibits that.

So the point I am making—you are right, Senator Wright; I appreciate that your concern is genuine—is that we may have slightly different perspectives on some of these issues, but, just because people are pulling out, it does not necessarily mean ACARA are not doing everything possible. I use the vaccination example as one that I feel very strongly about only because there is no question about the evidence of that, yet we do see in some of our suburbs, in the wealthier parts of our cities, that vaccination rates are going down. Now, that is not a reflection on the good work of local councils, doctors and maternal nurses.

Senator WRIGHT: No, and I am not—

Senator Ryan: The point being—

Senator WRIGHT: I am not sure why you are being so defensive. I am not actually suggesting that ACARA—

Senator Ryan: I am not being defensive. I am simply saying that—

Senator WRIGHT: are at fault as such.

Senator Ryan: No.

Senator WRIGHT: I am just saying: what are the factors? What can be done about it? What is it about the public perception, and do we take the public perception seriously and not just dismiss it?

Senator Ryan: I think they outlined that they do.

Senator WRIGHT: I have heard their evidence, and I have another question for them, if I can ask that. That is really, I suppose: if a couple of per cent of students choose not to sit the test, is that such a big concern? Does it really threaten the integrity of the results?

Mr Randall : It does not threaten the integrity of the results. But, as we have said, we would be disappointed at those parents, those mums and dads. At national level it does not. If it were down at a school level or something, it might, but again we cannot necessarily drill down to that. Our concern would be—and, again, we have gone through the logic here before—that literacy and numeracy are fundamentally important. Schools do a fantastic job of doing it. What NAPLAN does is provide us with that common assessment across the board and the national reference point, and it is really important in education to be able to compare the local to some external to make sure that you are in the ballpark, so to speak, exceeding or whatever. NAPLAN does that.

As I have now read, Dr Rabinowitz was interviewed there, and, as he said, we are disappointed with that withdrawal. It is not because it is threatening the integrity but because we think that those parents, those mums and dads, and those young people are missing out, and that is because we believe in all the resources we put into it. But we also know enough examples—we know enough of these; we have read about them in the paper—where bringing home the NAPLAN tests has caused mum and dad to go and talk to the school and has created that conversation, fuelled that conversation. As a result of that, something has changed, and it has made a significant turnaround for those young people. I do not have them all physically in front of me, but I have heard enough of those. So it is not the integrity of the assessment, not at these rates, but at a school level it might be. But fundamentally the concern is about the access and the use of what we believe is important information. If I can just continue a bit more, where I come back to is that we are going to improve the quality of that information as we improve the assessment over the next few years, so it will be even richer than it currently is.

Senator WRIGHT: If I can turn to just one question on MySchool: I understand that the newest version of the MySchool site will go live on 5 March.

Mr Randall : My public statements are early March, mainly because the board has not agreed to that.

Senator WRIGHT: So you are neither denying nor confirming that?

Mr Randall : Let me step back. That is our target date. We are not broadcasting that publicly. That is the one that we are working towards, but there have to be a few decisions taken by the board yet to release it.

Senator WRIGHT: Will the updated version of MySchool look significantly different or have any significant changes to the features?

Mr Randall : No.

Senator WRIGHT: I understand that ACARA commissioned a review of the MySchool website. What did you find from that review, and how will you be acting on it?

Mr Randall : I would not couch it as a review. As part of our ongoing work we sought a evaluation. We commissioned some work, which was interviewing parents and other stakeholders around that. That is giving us some feedback. One, it reinforced the point that I just made about the importance of parents and the like—they appreciate information. We are using that to guide some work and, in fact, as I look ahead—and I answered some questions earlier on about the next four-year plan—we will use that sort of information to inform the advice that we will bring through to the Education Council ministers about where MySchool could continue to evolve and build from its current base.

Senator WRIGHT: Will there be any additional information on the new site—different attributes of a school?

Mr Randall : That is the discussion that is going on. I would not leap to that yet for two reasons. One, we have not even had the ongoing discussion. I have to engage the board on that and the like. Then we have to go through the process of taking it through the Education Council—a process that you are familiar with. At the moment, because we have had MySchool for a number of years now and people are using it in a whole bunch of very positive ways and ask questions like where you are going—yes, there are some ways where people would like some additional features, but it is too soon for me to say, 'Here's what they might be.'

Senator WRIGHT: So in terms of the new version, there are no significant changes then?

Mr Randall : In relation to the version that is there, we did update MySchool last December, where we added some attendance data. MySchool will now have some school attendance data on it twice a year. It had it once a year, but as a result of the Education Council that will now be updated twice a year. We had the first release of that information last December. What you will see in early March is that that information is still there; but you will see later this year that we will update the attendance data.

Dr Rabinowitz : It is also broken down by Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Mr Randall : That is it, because it gives a bit more information about the participation and attendance of young Indigenous and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Senator WRIGHT: So is the new version that may be on 5 March just a look and feel and colour sort of thing? What changes will there be?

Mr Randall : There are none. That was my earlier answer.

Senator WRIGHT: I thought that, but I was just wondering if there is any further—

Ms Paul : Just be clear, the request through education ministers for ACARA to get school attendance updated twice a year originated in COAG.