Schools Reforms

I spoke in parliament yesterday about the government's school reforms.
Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011
22 August 2011

We all come to this place to make a difference, to leave a mark and hope that by being here we have made a contribution to a better future—a better future for our children, communities, constituents and this country. That is why I am speaking in support of Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011. This bill is part of the passion and purpose this government has to provide a better future for our nation through providing our children with quality education for the next century, an education that prepares children for a life where they have the skills to adapt to the jobs of tomorrow and the building blocks of lifelong learning.

Consider, for example, the job of a mechanic. As one OECD official put it, 'in 1930 all the coded information for a General Motors car could be captured in 230 pages. Now a single car involves some 15,000 pages of coded knowledge which workers need to access, manage, integrate and evaluate.' As electric cars replace petrol ones and self-drive cars replace the ones we have today, the job of a mechanic is going to steadily change. That is why we need to provide learning opportunities and lifelong skills in an education system that gives all Australian children the same grounding to embark on a future that we can only imagine from its edges. The Australian curriculum is a big step towards such an educational system. (Quorum formed)

When I visit schools in my electorate of Fraser I am always inspired by the passion the children have for the future and by their enthusiasm, energy, imagination and ideas. I would like to pay tribute to the dedication and passion of the teachers who nurture and support the aspirations and goals of the students. Our schools are the places that teach creativity, instil a love of learning and impart critical skills such as literacy and numeracy that form the foundations of our future productivity and prosperity.

Under the Australian national curriculum all Australian children will be studying the same curriculum in the four key subjects of English, mathematics, science and history—key areas that will provide children with the confidence and skills they need for a great education. Developments for a national curriculum in geography, languages and the arts are also underway. As part of the curriculum reforms parents and teachers will be able to go to the Australian curriculum website and view what teachers are expected to teach and the quality of learning expected of students in the four learning areas.

In the ACT the government and non-government schools already commenced the implementation of the curriculum this year. I am pleased to say that schools in my electorate are among the first in the country to start teaching the Australian curriculum. Most other states and territories are using this year to prepare and trial the curriculum before commencing its implementation next year. Teachers are using the time to familiarise themselves with the curriculum and to prepare their teaching programs. In Western Australia schools are trialling the curriculum with a view to commencing implementation once final adjustments are made. In both Queensland and Tasmania the schools in the government, independent and Catholic sectors will introduce the English mathematics and science curricula next year, with history to start in 2013. By amending the Schools Assistance Act 2008 the implementation of the national curriculum will be able to be undertaken by states and territories in a manner that enables government and non-government schools to coordinate this according to an agreed time frame.

Under the National Education Agreement the states and territories have agreed to use resources for the professional support of teachers linked to the curriculum. We are providing support through the national digital resource collection managed by Education Services Australia. Schools and teachers will have access to over 5,000 resources aligned with the Australian curriculum with more to follow. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership is to deliver professional development through its Leading Curriculum Change professional learning flagship program which aims to build the capacity of teachers to enhance implementation of the curriculum. The government also has a major schools reform agenda, a digital strategy for teachers and school leaders, an improving teacher quality national partnership, a national partnership agreement on literacy and numeracy and a major national partnership for school reform in up to 1,500 low-socioeconomic status schools across the country. The last of these is a reform that I am particularly familiar with having been seconded to the Australian Treasury in 2008-09 to work in part on this national partnership. I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedicated Treasury officials in the Social Policy Division. These and the Australian curricula form part of the record investment of $66 billion in education over four years, investment that every parent, every teacher and every member of the school community will have seen on the ground as they visited Australian schools.

We on this side of the House take education seriously. We know that a great education is critical to raising productivity and living standards and that by boosting the quality and quantity of education we can increase innovation in the economy, provide the skills and do the jobs of the future. We are committed to this reform agenda which is based on Labor values: fairness, quality, accountability and transparency. But we have to compare this to the actions of those opposite. They want to cut $3 billion from our education system and that still does not help them with their $70 billion budget black hole. They do not have an alternative plan for education and they want to cut trade training centres. They want to reduce funding for improving teacher quality. They want to scrap online tools for parents. They are against My School 2.0, which provides an unprecedented level of transparency and information to Australia's parents.

Without a vision for education, you do not have a vision for the nation's future. Standing in the way of the Digital Education Revolution denies thousands of children access to new technology, to the tools of the future. Without the Smarter Schools program disadvantaged students miss out on support to improve their attendance and boost their learning once they arrive at school. Without a Reward for School Improvement program we will not see schools in disadvantaged communities get the recognition and rewards from continuing to improve their school and their education.

Mr Tudge: Mr Deputy Speaker, I have a point of order on relevance. This bill concerns the national curriculum not coalition policies on a variety of other areas.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): I call the honourable member for Fraser.

Dr LEIGH: What about the online diagnostic tool for parents and teachers? Under the coalition the schools would not benefit from the additional information and resources parents and teachers are now able to access. It is clear the coalition do not and will not stick up for students or schools. They are bereft of ideas, of passion and seemingly bereft of the desire to provide the best possible start to life for all the young Australians through education.

It is exactly this kind of hard work of education reform that we on this side of the House got into politics to achieve. Education is the best antipoverty vaccine that we have and provides the foundations on which Australians can build the life of their choosing. Education means that a child from Ilfracombe can become the first female member of the Queensland bar and our first female Governor-General. The Schools Assistance Amendment Bill brings Catholic independent schools in line with government schools so that all schools will have the same curriculum and the same curriculum implementation timetable. It provides certainty to non-government schools and treats all schools the same. The proposed amendment allows for a more certain legal framework for the non-government sector to implement the Australian curriculum and allow future editions and revisions of the curriculum to be made more efficiently each time it is updated.

The government recognises and respects the role of the non-government schools as part of the great education system of partners in our children's and our nation's future. I have had the privilege of visiting many of these non-government schools and government schools in my own electorate and I have seen with my own eyes the education reforms that are happening there and the great contribution that the Gillard government's school agenda is making. The Australian curriculum will deliver a national standard to all Australian children in English, mathematics, science and history, and making sure that we successfully implement it is absolutely critical.

At the start of the speech I talked about the need for our education system to prepare children for a life where they have the skills to adapt to the jobs of tomorrow and where they have the building blocks of lifelong learning. The amendment to the Schools Assistance Act 2008 is an important step towards providing greater certainty and alignment for all schools in the implementation of a national curriculum in key learning areas. The quality of our education system is our future. Studies have shown that countries with higher maths and science scores grow faster, innovate more, and have stronger economies.

This government takes educational opportunity seriously and we take reform seriously. We want every young Australian to have the chance to fulfil their potential and to be able to meet the demands of a labour market that will change as much in the next 50 years as it has over the last 50 years. I commend the bill to the House.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.