13 March 2013
Ms BIRD ( Cunningham — Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills ) ( 11:17 ): It is my great pleasure to stand to support the Australian Education Bill 2012, which is before the House today. Having spent a lifetime working in the education sector—as, indeed, you have, Acting Speaker Grierson, coming from a similar background to mine—I see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to address the issue of ongoing school funding in this nation. So I particularly endorse the bill before the House.
A core Labor value is giving every Australian student the chance for a world-class education. Like many in this place, I was the first in my family to go to university. We well understand the importance of making sure that each child has the capacity to reach their full potential and to achieve their goals in life. Every child should have this chance, no matter where they live, what their family background is or where they come from.
For a student, a great education should not depend on the income of their family, what school they attend or the personal circumstances of the young person. Every Australian student should have the chance to secure a great job when they leave school and be able to contribute to their community in the immediate and long-term future. This will help our economy stay strong. The Australian government, as shown in this education bill, believes in the power of education—and high-quality education at that. A highly skilled and highly educated community strengthens our workforce, strengthens our economy, increases productivity and leads to a greater prosperity for all. Who would not want that?
Australia is a prosperous nation, and countries in our position need to lead the way in education. Our schools must continually improve and offer equity in schooling so that our nation will continue to prosper. We need our students to engage with the region and we need to provide social, economic and cultural opportunities for this engagement to happen, particularly with our Asian neighbours.
New evidence based methods of teaching and learning—using the opportunities that the digital age, in particular, offers—will help successful reforms in education that will take us into the 21st century. Indeed, prior to my current position, when I chaired the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications—one of my wonderful colleagues who was on that committee is with us today—one of the interesting things that we found, when we were looking at utilising fast, ubiquitous broadband as it becomes available in the nation, was the capacity for it to transform education. A particular example we saw was with young people who wanted to study Asian languages but who came from a small school or a school without a critical mass that would support the employment of a teacher. Through online, video based classes with a high-quality teacher they were able to continue to engage in learning an Asian language, which may have been denied to them previously.
We saw examples of students in classrooms in Australia linked to partner schools in Asia. Indeed, two schools with enormous distances between them were doing joint science experiments. The young people in those classrooms had a common enthusiasm for exploring science and experimenting. So, there are real opportunities in the new century to drive that sort of reform in our schools.
We need to develop strong communities in which partnerships are formed across that broader community that engage parents and teachers, families and employers. Our National Plan for School Improvement is the next step in the education reform agenda and provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the way our schools are funded and to provide our children with a fair and high-quality education system.
The Australian Education Bill 2012 states that the objects of this act are, firstly, to acknowledge the matters I have just referred to and, secondly, to set out the following goals for Australian schooling to address those matters: firstly, for Australian schooling to provide an excellent education for school students; secondly, for Australian schooling to be highly equitable; and, thirdly, for Australia to be ranked by 2025 as one of the top five highest-performing countries based on the performance of Australian school students in reading, mathematics and science and based on the quality and equity of Australian schooling.
The government wants to ensure we fund reforms we know will work to lift the standards and the results of all students. Under the national plan, we have set an aspirational goal to be in the top five countries in the world in maths, reading and science by 2025. This plan will introduce a new way of funding schools based on the needs of the students. The government has put in place the My School website—and I acknowledge the Prime Minister and the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Mr Garrett, are at this very moment talking about the most recent update to that website—which provides greater transparency and accountability of school performance. NAPLAN data allows us to focus on student achievements in literacy and numeracy and provides both contextual and financial information about each school. Our government aims to drive continuous improvement and improve school performance and educational outcomes. We will provide significant additional funding to do so. Quality education will be at the forefront of our educational plan.
Our government also wants to reward great teachers. We all have had great teachers in our lives. I think everybody has a story of a particular teacher who left an ongoing impression on their life. Teachers need to have the skills and the support that they require to both improve continuously their own performance and deliver teaching of a high quality to their students. The Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework will be introduced across New South Wales from 2013. Teachers who, after participating in annual appraisal processes, are seen to be doing well will be encouraged to apply for certification at the 'highly accomplished' or 'lead' teacher levels. Teachers will be rewarded, and rightly so.
There will be more support included in our program for students with disabilities, Indigenous students, students from lower income families and students with limited English skills. The extra funding will be provided to assist teachers in schools to improve the education of students, helping them to move towards a job or further education. Support will be offered in the form of health specialists such as occupational therapists in schools, curriculum tailored to students' needs and assistive technologies in the classroom. There will be extra funding for every student in the poorest half of the community, for Indigenous students and for students who need help with their English skills. Programs will be introduced—and there are some wonderful examples of these around already, but they will be further supported by the reforms—in the form of breakfast clubs, homework centres and personalised learning plans for students. We will put more power into the hands of school principals and provide more information about school performance for parents and the community. We will invest nationally to empower schools to make decisions at the local level, and additional funding will be provided for additional support for teachers in the form of training and professional development.
The Australian Education Bill 2012 has had great support in the Illawarra region. My office has received a lot of support for the bill and encouragement to continue with courage and tenacity to reform the funding model across Australia. On 24 April last year, the minister for school education, Peter Garrett, joined parents, principals and members of the community at Wollongong's Smith's Hill Selective High School to discuss school funding and the future of Australian schooling. The event was one of many to be hosted in the Illawarra for us to speak with school communities about the recommendations of the report. My colleague the member for Throsby and I met with P&Cs and school groups, as have many of my colleagues in this place. It was a great opportunity for us to share ideas about the issues and challenges facing Australian schools and to provide information about the government's school improvement reforms.
The Illawarra has already benefited from the record investment in school education. We have seen some 7,835 computers delivered to senior high-school students at 17 schools, and seven schools are receiving funding for a school chaplain or welfare worker to look after the social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of students. In every school I visit, I hear from principals, teachers, students and parents about the terrific new facilities they now have, thanks to the Building the Education Revolution program. There have been 143 projects at 66 schools in my electorate. It would have meant an awful lot of lamington drives if those schools had been individually trying to raise funds for those particular projects. The government has invested more than $114 million in school infrastructure in Cunningham. We have great schools in the Illawarra, but this government wants to make them even better, to ensure that every local student will have access to a world-class education.
We have also had investment in innovative science outreach programs, with the launch of a mobile planetarium. This was created by the Science Centre at the University of Wollongong. The mobile planetarium will capture students' imagination and enable them to expand their knowledge of the sciences. It is vital that young Australians develop an understanding of science, and the mobile planetarium will expose students to new ideas in science and technology, potentially leading to an interest in a career in the field. The study of science is integral to the long-term prosperity of the nation, and being exposed to world-class curriculum in the sciences will be an investment in and asset to our society.
I want to very briefly mention a number of other important investments that have happened in schools in my region under the Labor government. Just to give the context: there are 66 schools in my electorate and around 24,000 students. There have been 143 BER projects, costing just over $115 million in total, and they have included building or upgrading 27 classrooms, 16 libraries and 27 multipurpose halls. Numerous times I have sat at schools where they have persevered with their annual presentation day, with their band playing and the kids coming up to get their awards, in less than ideal weather conditions. I can say that, at the end of last year as I went around and did all those awards, they were particularly pleased to have the wonderful new halls and facilities in the schools. As I indicated, over 7,800 computers have been installed under the Digital Education Revolution and almost $5 million was approved for two trades-training-centre projects, which benefited four schools across my electorate and that of Throsby. There are four schools participating in the Smarter Schools National Partnerships and there are nine schools eligible to receive funding for chaplaincy and student welfare services in my electorate.
Our National Plan for School Improvement has already delivered in the Illawarra, but importantly it needs to continue to improve and deliver quality teaching in every classroom as supported by the bill before the House. This Australian government is prepared to discuss significant investment in our schools and we will provide more support for schools and students who need it most. We will provide more power to local school principals, more information about school performance for parents and the community and, finally and most importantly, a fair school funding system based on the needs of every student in every classroom to lift the wellbeing of all students across the nation. I commend the bill to the House.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms O'Neill ): I thank the member for her contribution. I know that she has a longstanding commitment to education.