Find out more about Labor's plan for Better Schools
The Prime Minister Introduces the Australian Education Bill:
Speaker, the Bill before the House today gives this 43rd Parliament an opportunity none of our predecessors have fully shared.
We can enshrine in law our nation’s expectations for our children’s achievements at school.
We can enact in law a plan, not only to teach them well, but to fund them well.
This Bill is the Government’s plan for the future of Australian education – our National Plan for School Improvement.
Speaker, five specific new legislative measures form the centre of this Australian Education Bill.
First, a new citizenship entitlement.
A quality education for every Australian child will no longer be a privilege extended by the State from time to time, it will be an entitlement arising from their common citizenship in our Commonwealth.
This Bill places learning at the centre of Australia’s beliefs and rights, liberties and laws.
Second, new goals for Australian education.
For Australia to be ranked as a top five country in the world in Reading, Science and Mathematics by 2025.
And by the same year, for us to be ranked as a top five country in the world for providing a high-quality and high-equity education system.
Third, a new National Plan for School Improvement.
The Bill provides for the directions for our plan: quality teaching, quality learning, empowered school leadership, transparency and accountability and meeting student need.
The Bill further sets the basis in law for agreement between the Commonwealth, the States and Territories, and Catholic and independent school authorities, to implement the plan in full.
Fourth, new principles for school funding.
The Bill provides for a new funding standard, based on what it costs to educate a student at schools we know already get strong results.
With a benchmark amount per student and extra needs to be met through a system of loadings: additional funding to help children who the evidence shows need help.
And fifth, a new link between school funding and school improvement.
The Bill provides that the Australian Government will deliver future funding on the principles legislated in this Bill, to those States, Territories and non-government authorities, which agree to implement the National Plan.
Speaker, this is a truly national plan for a matter of the greatest national import: the education of all our nation’s children.
No matter how rich or poor your parents are, the school you attend or the circumstances of your birth, our nation should provide a core level of support to your education.
There should be Australian Government support to educate every Australian child – in the poorest and most remote school – at the best known and best resourced school.
And Speaker, this is a distinctively Labor plan for a matter of the highest Labor purpose: to eradicate the great moral wrong which sees some Australian children denied the transformative power of a great education.
It’s now clear, with the information we have today, that in Australian schools, it is poorer kids who have been let down most in the past.
By year three, 89 per cent of children from the poorest quarter of Australian homes are reading below average.
By year nine, the average child from the same battling family is two years behind children from the most well-off quarter of Australian homes in reading and maths.
Just having this evidence is an achievement of this Government.
This is only now clear because under this Labor Government, we test the reading, writing and mathematics of our children and publish the results of those tests.
When Labor came to office there was no one who could say which Australian schools needed the most help.
Imagine if Treasury couldn’t tell you the unemployment rate: that was the state of Australian education policy in November 2007.
And fixing it took more than good intentions: we were told it hadn’t been done because it couldn’t be done.
The unions would never allow NAPLAN results to go on My School.
The profession would never accept greater principal powers and community involvement.
The States would never agree to a national curriculum.
Australian education has been on an enormous journey of change since then – a journey of change which has opened the opportunity for the Bill I bring into the House today.
None of it was done without opposition.
No doubt there are still voices of opportunism and negativity – and I am sure there are still some who doubt our will.
But all my determination, all our resolve, is directed toward getting this done.
Making sure no child misses out on the education which could change his or her life has been the ruling passion of my life.
Applying the power of education to preserve the Australian fair go and strengthen the Australian economy is the governing purpose of my Party and my Government.
And we have worked at this every day in office.
Speaker, the detail of this legislation – above all, the school improvement agenda and the structure for school funding – rest on the solid foundation we have established over the past five years.
My own project in Government has been to build the opportunity, to make the case, to create the model, for this plan.
I drove My School because I knew if we could measure school results and understand the backgrounds of students the nation would see the need for improvement and respond.
I drove the Low SES National Partnership because I knew if we could demonstrate that when it is used well extra funding for disadvantaged schools lifts performance, then the nation would support extending that approach.
I drove the National Partnership on Improving Teacher Quality because I knew improved teaching and getting the brightest graduates into the classroom were the most important levers of change.
I drove big modernisations: computers in schools, Building the Education Revolution, National Curriculum.
And new rigour: the Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership, new professional standards for teachers.
As Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett has driven these changes further.
I also drove our White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century – a plan to make Australia the winner in the century of growth and change in our region – because I wanted the nation to understand that to win the economic race we have to win the education race.
We have to lift quality for every child in every school and properly fund the education of every child in every school.
All this work has made a difference in schools.
For example, at Yarrunga Primary School in Wangaratta, Victoria.
National Partnership funding has helped teachers to improve their professional skills in data analysis and student monitoring so they can teach literacy and numeracy more effectively.
The school has also used specialist mathematics coaches and an After School Support Program.
The proportion of students who achieved above the national minimum standard in Year 3 Reading increased by 23 per cent and in Numeracy by 14 per cent.
While the proportion of students in the highest two NAPLAN bands increased in Year 3 Reading by 24 per cent and in Numeracy by 36 per cent.
We have looked at the results and at the evidence of student background and now we know what the factors are which show that kids need more help.
Students from low SES backgrounds, indigenous students, students with disability, students with limited English skills and students in regional schools all need additional resources and support to succeed.
With the right support, we know they can.
Take Bega Valley Public School in New South Wales.
The school used investment from our Low SES National Partnership to improve teacher skills, develop better classroom resources and offer learning support to indigenous students.
Bega Valley increased the proportion of students achieving above the national minimum standard in Year 5 Reading by around 26 per cent and in Numeracy by 21 per cent.
In that school the proportion of high performing students increased in Year 5 Reading by around 31 per cent and in Numeracy and 21 per cent.
These are examples of the kind of nation-wide innovation and improvement we have delivered these past five years.
Where we have made a difference in schools – but more than that, where we have shown what makes the greatest difference in schools.
Skilled, dedicated teachers, using data and evidence to improve their own teaching strategies, giving constant feedback to students, delivering a high quality curriculum and drawing on specialist expertise.
We know what works – when schools apply these approaches rigorously, results improve.
And we know what extra resources they need.
This is the crucial judgement the Review of Funding for Schooling has helped us form.
I asked an expert panel, chaired by respected businessman Mr David Gonski, to conduct the first comprehensive review of school funding arrangements in almost forty years.
Their national consultation process was comprehensive: the Panel received over 7 000 written submissions, met 70 education groups and visited 39 schools – as well as commissioning detailed analysis and research.
Their report is impressive and their findings are important.
The Review found that current arrangements for funding, accountability and transparency of our schools are not supporting quality outcomes for all our students.
Some schools do not get the resources they need to educate Australian children to the best of their ability.
Barriers remain to educational achievement for too many students.
This is why the Review recommended a fundamental overhaul of the way that Australian schools are funded.
This is why the Government has adopted the broad architecture of a benchmark account per student, with extra needs to be met through a system of loadings: a dramatic simplification of the way we fund schools.
And this is why the Bill before the House sets those principles in place.
The Bill before the House legislates for the Commonwealth’s funding model and the National Plan for School Improvement.
This Bill legislates for a clear link between school improvement and school funding: agree to the National Plan for School Improvement, get the Commonwealth’s funding.
And the Bill sets the grounds for a practical and working transition.
Speaker, the Bill thus provides the architecture of funding, the connection between funding and school improvement, and the directions of the improvement plan.
Let me then turn to the detail of the Bill before the House.
First, the Bill creates a new citizenship entitlement to quality education.
The preamble to the Bill acknowledges that all students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education.
Second, this Bill legislates for new national goals.
These are specific and measureable, ambitious and achievable goals which we must work towards with urgency and realism.
Third, to deliver the entitlement and achieve these goals, this Bill legislates the directions for the National Plan for School Improvement.
In the Government’s response to the Review of Funding for Schooling in September this year, I announced that the Commonwealth would work with the states and territories and with independent and Catholic authorities to introduce this National Plan.
Further, the Bill sets in law the basis for agreement between the Commonwealth, the States and Territories, and Catholic and independent schools, to implement the plan in full.
The agreements we strike will not allow fiddling the books.
We will not allow Federal funding to substitute for cutbacks by Liberal States.
Under this Bill, there are no blank cheques.
The funding flows to States, Territories and Catholic and independent schools who agree to the actions, targets and reporting for improvement which we agree under the National Plan.
Actions, targets and reporting for improvement which will deliver on the five directions we legislate today.
The Bill requires quality teaching.
All the evidence tells us that the single greatest variable in student performance is teacher quality – and that the single greatest factor in school improvement is lifting teacher quality.
Our plan will deliver it.
Under our plan, teacher trainees will be among the best and brightest.
New teachers will be more ready for the classroom – with practical experience during training and two years of support once in school.
Our young teachers will also have the support to ensure classroom discipline, to deal with bullying and cyber bullying, to prevent one or two disruptive children ruining school for all the others in the class.
Teachers will meet rigorous professional standards and be recognised for improving their skills and performance.
All teachers will be reviewed annually in their school.
The Bill requires quality learning.
I want all parents to have the confidence that their child, regardless of school or state, will be offered the highest quality learning experience.
Every Australian student is entitled to access a rigorous, world class curriculum.
A curriculum which sets out the basic knowledge and understanding they need to achieve through education and in later life.
A curriculum which lays the foundation of the skills and dispositions that support them to succeed in the 21st century and to contribute to their community.
We have delivered that world class national curriculum.
The first four subjects – English, Maths, history and science – are already being taught in Australian schools.
Under this plan that curriculum will be extended and delivered to every student in every school.
Quality learning demands even more – our Plan will deliver it.
In this digital age it means digital learning.
Through the NBN we will deliver a world class digital infrastructure for Australian students.
In the Asian Century, quality learning means learning more about the region where we live and where our future lies.
Our White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century sets the goal: all Australian students will have the opportunity, and be encouraged, to undertaken a continuous course of study in an Asian language throughout their schooling.
All schools will engage with at least one school in Asia to support the teaching of a priority Asian language, taking advantage of the National Broadband Network.
And every Australian student will have significant exposure to studies of Asia across the curriculum to increase their cultural knowledge and skills.
The Bill requires empowered school leadership.
Ultimately, improvement comes classroom by classroom, school by school, from principals, teachers, parents and communities, who have the authority not just to educate but to lead.
School-level leadership is crucial – our Plan will deliver it.
All principals will meet the professional standard – to demonstrate their leadership ability, knowledge and skills.
All principals will have the responsibility for building a culture of continuous improvement in their schools – with regular performance appraisals linked to development and training.
Crucially, our Plan will empower principals to make the right decisions about staffing and teaching in their schools.
School communities will be encouraged and supported to work with principals to deliver programs that meet the educational needs of their students.
The Bill requires transparency and accountability.
The datasets underlying the My School website are already invaluable tools for school improvement and policy development.
We are building a system of information in which local communities who want their children to do better in life and who want their local school to improve will no longer have to proceed on hope or expectation or anecdote or prejudgement.
I want local leaders to be able to act on the facts.
Even more transparency and accountability are needed – our plan will deliver it.
Students and their families will have access to detailed reports on school performance and to more information on how their school’s attendance and finances compare to other, similar schools.
Teachers and principals will have access to more data on their school’s performance.
So we can ensure that students currently falling behind, especially disadvantaged students, can be identified and given extra support.
This information about performance will hold teachers, principals and school communities accountable.
Schools which are falling behind will be given extra help and assistance to lift their standards and keep improving – but we can only do this if the whole community, Government, parents, principals and teachers are better informed about performance.
Every school will have a school improvement plan and will be accountable for delivering it.
The Bill requires meeting student needs.
That means getting extra support to every school student who needs it.
Identifying the needs of every child and delivering what he or she needs.
We now have clear evidence about how disadvantage holds many students back.
And we know that when those kids aren’t supported with the right resources, every child in the classroom misses out.
So our National Plan will see resources allocated to reflect student need.
Our Plan will deliver it.
This is not just about disadvantaged kids, not just about gifted kids, it’s about all students.
To meet their needs, I want a system which is rational, which supports excellence and which is fair.
A system of per student funding, with extra loadings based on need.
That is the model we legislate today.
Speaker, this is the Government’s approach: a national plan for school improvement and a new model for school funding.
It should now be clear to every reasonable observer that we must have a new plan for school improvement alongside a new school funding system.
There truly is no alternative.
Above all – because without the Government’s plan, the status quo will mean cuts to funding of schools.
The House should understand this point very clearly.
The existing National Partnerships are time-limited – new agreement is needed to extend the benefits of the funding they have delivered.
In other words, without new agreement, those National Partnerships simply expire.
What is more, under the current system created by the former Liberal Government, Australian Government funding for schools is directly linked to what State and Territories spend on government schools.
New analysis indicates that the impact of keeping the current funding model means schools could be more than $2 billion worse off over 4 years.
Because when the big Liberal States cut education – as they are doing today – this automatically means less funding from the Australian Government for all schools.
In every State and Territory.
Speaker, the Government rejects the politics of education cuts and social division.
Through this Bill, we assert that every Australian student is entitled to an excellent education.
And we assert that we as a nation, as a whole community, share a responsibility to deliver that entitlement.
We must accept the need for investment, the need for improvement and the need for accountability.
Speaker, another school year is coming to its close ... an education era is ending too.
For too long, education policy in this country was a playground of division and disregard.
The election of 2007 was the beginning of the end and now the Australian Education Bill 2012 rings the bell on all that.
Flag poles, culture wars, hit lists, the politics of setting school against school: that was yesterday.
This is tomorrow: national education goals, an ambitious national plan, a commitment to smarter funding; parents, teachers, authorities and Governments working together.
Higher standards, better schools, educated children, creative citizens Australia winning the education race and winning the economic race.
That is the purpose of the Australian Education Bill 2012.
I commend the Bill to the House.