Address to the Australian Parents Council National Forum

ADDRESS TO THE AUSTRALIAN PARENTS COUNCIL 

NATIONAL FORUM AND INFORMATION EXCHANGE

HOBART

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Introduction

Thank you for this opportunity to speak today but first I want to convey the apologies of my colleague Senator Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Education and Training. Unfortunately Simon couldn’t be here. But he did ask me to say that he’s well aware of and appreciates, the work you do for parents and carers of children in the non-government sector.

Parenting in the digital age is not easy. But being part of your child’s learning process certainly helps them do better than they otherwise would. The evidence is very clear on this, and it’s why the government has policy and programs to strengthen parent involvement in the incredibly important relationship between the classroom and the home.

Today I will address what the Federal Coalition Government is doing to support education in the digital age.

I will also give you an insight into the Government’s current and future plans for Australia’s school education system.

Need for school funding reform

Let me start with school funding.

The Commonwealth school funding system left to us by Labor is, as Dr Ken Boston, a member of the Gonski review panel recently lamented, a “corruption” of the ‘Gonski’ model.

It is a complete shemozzle because it involves a multitude of special deals and at least 27 different funding arrangements across Australia that undermines proper needs based funding and has created inequities between sectors, schools and jurisdictions.

Consider this:

  • A Catholic primary school in regional WA can attract 66 per cent more than a comparable Catholic primary school in regional Tasmania.
  • A government school in regional NSW can attract an extra 66 per cent more Commonwealth funding than a comparable government school in regional Victoria.
  • Two comparable Catholic schools in Victoria – one can attract double the Commonwealth funding than the other.
  • A government school on the Gold Coast can attract 82 per cent more than a comparable government school on the outskirts of Perth.

I could list more funding inequities, but you clearly get the picture that we do not have a national school funding model in Australia.

There’s absolutely no doubt that we need to reform this unfair school funding system. The Commonwealth contribution must be consistent between states and territories so that disadvantaged schools and all students get the support they need.

School funding, as in other areas of public policy, must also be financially responsible, reflect current budget constraints, and be focussed on initiatives where the evidence shows actually makes a difference to student performance.

I am sure you all appreciate that despite years of real and large increases in schools funding, especially by the Commonwealth, Australia’s education performance as measured by international tests such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) has fallen.

We are now 19th in mathematics (we were 5th), 16th in science (we were 7th), and 14th in reading (we were 4th).

Similarly, NAPLAN results show there has been a plateauing of literacy and numeracy performance, with some improvements across different states and at different year levels.

The Government is responding to these challenges in three ways.

First, we announced in our Quality Schools, Quality Outcomes document prior to the recent election that future, post 2017, Commonwealth school funding will be based on the principles of being fair, stable, consistent, transparent and genuine needs based.

We are going to fix the special deals, the current inequities and the complex multiple funding arrangements, so that the distribution of Commonwealth funding is equitable. 

Second, the Government stated that post 2017 Commonwealth school funding will increase by 3.56 per cent which is based on the education specific index that reflects real education costs plus enrolment growth.

This means that the Government’s current total spend on schools over the Budget and forward estimates is a record $73.6 billion – an increase of  $4.1 billion or a 26.5 per cent increase over 2015-16 to 2019-2020!

I want to emphasise that there have been no cuts to school funding under Coalition Government since we came to office – just year on year increases.

And that is continuing in the future.

Commonwealth funding will grow from the record $16 billion in 2016 to $20.1 billion in 2020.

Third, the Government recognises that funding alone is not the answer to improve the quality of education in Australia.

The overwhelming evidence is that, it is not the amount of funding that makes a difference, but where you spend it.

Hence in our Quality Schools, Quality Outcomes document we outlined a range of evidence based, practical reforms which the states and territories and non-government sector will need to support as a condition of Commonwealth funding.

Let me briefly outline these reforms.

These reforms include:

  • a focus on phonics 
  • teacher progression linked to Australian Professional Standards for Teachers not just seniority
  •  literacy and numeracy mandated as a specialisation for all trainee teachers, and
  • new principals being certified through a new national certification process before appointment.

We will also insist that states and territories maintain their real per student funding effort.

Tasmanian education reforms

Recently, here in Tasmania, Jeremy Rockliff, the Minister for Education and Training announced an investment of an additional $100 million in teachers, teacher assistants, specialist staff to support children with a disability and improved infrastructure.

The Tasmanian government is making a significant investment in early learning, recognising that the early years are critical for the development of our children and their future wellbeing.

I understand that Minister Rockliff is speaking at your event tomorrow.

I congratulate the Tasmanian Government on these significant reforms which will enhance educational outcomes for students right across the state.

Opportunities and challenges living in the digital age

To turn now to the theme of your conference - parenting and learning in the digital age.

I appreciate that it’s not always easy to accept the constant change that is the reality of living in the digital age. We are all adjusting to new technologies.

But we do adapt. And we benefit from the opportunities of living at this time.

The advances in medicine in particular come to my mind, but perhaps something less obvious, is what it means for children’s learning.

Teachers now have online data-driven assessments. They can better analyse your child’s progress. They can reflect on their own teaching practices, and more effectively target their student’s learning needs. They can show the impact of their interventions and, reporting is very transparent. It’s great for students and it certainly helps parents see what’s being done in the classroom.

For students, the digital age offers the opportunity to engage in a global workforce. For people with disability it means more access to employment, mobility and interactive communication devices.

Today we have the unprecedented ability to literally tap into information from anywhere in the globe. Instantly.

Our children can access this wealth of knowledge from the comfort of their homes. This has advantages, but also poses risks.

I would like to now outline the Government’s initiatives in responding to these risks and how the Government is preparing students for jobs of the future.

Online Safety

In supporting our children and their parents to navigate the online world safely the Government established the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner to help young people have safe, positive experiences online.

The Bullying No Way! website has cybersafety resources and information for children, parents and  teachers.

The Student Well Being Hub, is a one-stop shop for information and resources on safety and wellbeing for entire school communities including parents, teachers and students.

Education prepares students for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) workplace

The fastest-growing industries will require workers skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

So it’s critical that our children become proficient in STEM subjects, and the earlier the age the better.

In December 2015 the Australian Government released the National Innovation and Science Agenda (the Agenda/NISA). Under the Agenda’s Inspiring all Australians in digital literacy and STEM measure, almost $65 million has been allocated for a suite of initiatives aimed at increasing the participation of school students in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) and improving their digital literacy.

In response to the Chief Scientists Report Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics: Australia’s Future, all of Australia’s education ministers agreed to a 10-year National STEM School Education Strategy 2016-2026.

The strategy identified five areas for action:

  1. Increasing student STEM ability, engagement, participation and aspiration 
  2. Increasing teacher capacity and STEM teaching quality 
  3. Supporting STEM education opportunities in schools 
  4. Facilitating effective partnerships with tertiary education providers, business and industry; and
  5. Building a strong evidence base. 

As well as rigorous content and skills in the STEM learning areas of science, mathematics and technology, the Australian Curriculum sets out underpinning general capabilities necessary for the learning of STEM.

The Digital Technologies learning area articulates how students can use computational thinking and information systems to define, design and implement digital solutions, including computer programming or coding.

What this means is that by the end of next year, coding will be taught in most of our classrooms. It means that we are boosting students’ digital literacy and supporting education that uses digital technologies.

The Government is undertaking a number of initiatives to support teachers and students understanding of STEM.  Key examples of these initiatives are:

  • The 2016 Digital Literacy School Grants will support innovative methods to drive digital literacy across the curriculum.
  • Massive Open Online Courses in Digital Technologies, so teachers develop skills in this area. 
  • ‘Digital Technologies Hub’, a suite of resources promoting best practice teaching in coding and computational thinking activities.
  • ReSolve: Mathematics by Inquiry, a $7.4 million suite of innovative mathematics curriculum resources for Foundation to Year 10 primary and secondary school students and teachers.
  • Cracking the Code, teachers will have on line support to deliver classes in coding. From 2017 this event will be open to all students in Years 4 through 12.
  • Support for STEM professionals to partner with schools,   primary and secondary school students and teachers will be supported to understand how STEM is applied in the real world.
  • P-TECH - Pathway in Technology pilot, education professionals collaborate or partner with local industries to give young people a STEM related qualification that enables them to enter the workforce job-ready.

Early Learning STEM

It’s never too early to introduce our youngest learners to STEM concepts. The early years is a time when children are most receptive to learning and therefore education can play a critical role during this important developmental period.

The Little Scientists and the Let’s Count programs are a fine example of engaging young children. Little Scientists facilitates young children’s curiosity for STEM through fun and age appropriate experiments.

The Smith Family will expand Let’s Count. This program helps educators and parents to develop maths skills by noticing, exploring and talking about numbers, counting, measurement and patterns in children’s daily lives.

The nation’s pre-schoolers will learn exciting STEM concepts through play based learning via a series of mobile apps for tablet devices.

It’s by sparking an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths in the very early years that we nurture their potential to choose these subjects throughout their schooling.

Ultimately, we hope they will acquire the skills we need to drive our country’s prosperity.

Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability (NCCD) and disabilities

Finally I want to speak on a matter that is important to the APC, which is education for students with disability.

The Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability is a fine example of how we can get real value out of education reforms.

Did you know that every state and territory has a different definition of what a disability is? A child in one state may attract extra funding, but not in another. How is this fair? How is this transparent?

By adopting NCCD – not only will this data collection tells us the number, location and the level of reasonable educational adjustment these students need, it will also help schools, education authorities and governments to gain a more complete understanding of students with disability and how best to support them. Education Council have recently agreed to publicly release high-level results from the 2015 collection. We expect these will be made available on the Education Council website next month.  

Data from the NCCD is being used to better target the extra $118.2 million for schools to support students with disability in 2016 and 2017 as announced in the Budget.

This brings total Commonwealth funding for students with disability to $5.3 billion over 2014-17.

Mainstream schools now support 90 per cent of students with disability and appropriate Commonwealth funding will continue to meet their specific needs.

Conclusion

Today I’ve tried to give you an insight into the large number of initiatives in school education currently underway by the Commonwealth Government. 

In summary, the Commonwealth Government is contributing record funding to improve Australia’s education system, we are also instigating overdue reforms that will impact in the classroom to prepare your children with the skills they need to gain rewarding jobs and to be responsible  citizens.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank APC for its efforts in advocating and raising the importance of parent engagement in education.  I wish you well with the rest of your discussion over the next couple of days.

ENDS

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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Contact

136 Davey Street
Hobart  TAS  7001

(03) 6224 3707

Senator.Abetz@aph.gov.au

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