Schools will become very different places over the next decade due to significant funding and curriculum changes being promised as part of the Rudd Government’s brave new Education Revolution.
The Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, says a substantial and growing body of international research has revealed that investment in human capital – in educational programs from early childhood through to mature age workers – offers substantial social and economic returns for economies as well as for individuals.
‘Investing systematically in the capabilities of our people, throughout the lifecycle, can multiply the opportunities to build on our existing economic strengths and compensate for decline in traditional areas of economic activity,’ Mr Rudd said.
‘To be ‘good enough’ is no longer acceptable for Australia’s national performance.
The government also plans to invest $1 billion over four years to turn every government, Catholic and independent school into a ‘digital’ centre for learning. Using a new National Secondary School Computer Fund, the Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Education Minister, Ms Julia Gillard, said the government would give every Australian student in Years 9–12 access to their own school computer. The fund will allow secondary schools to apply for capital grants of up to $1 million to acquire new, or to upgrade, their information technology equipment.
So what do the education leaders have to say? We asked some of the leading education associations and parent groups to comment on the promises being made by the new Labor Government so far.
Independent Schools Council of Australia
The Independent Schools Council of Australia is hoping to build a cooperative relationship with the new Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Ms Julia Gillard.
However it has warned that over regulation of schools is a concern to the independent sector and it also plans to lobby for more equitable funding arrangements for students with a disability.
The ISCA has also expressed some concern about how the Rudd Government will pursue its schools agenda though conditions attached to general recurrent grants. But in general the ISCA Executive Director, Mr Bill Daniels, said he looked forward to working with Ms Gillard.
‘We acknowledge the Labor party’s shift in approach to education policy which now recognises that all schools – irrespective of whether they are owned by governments or community groups – make an important contribution to the education of young Australians,’ he said.
‘We also welcome the ALP’s election commitment to continued stability in funding arrangements for the non government sectors until at least 2012 and its promise of capital support for trades skills centres and ICT capacity in all schools.
Australian Primary Principals Association
The Australian Primary Principals Association has also welcomed Labor’s commitment to an Education Revolution and claims it is looking forward to a cooperative relationship between the Commonwealth and the states and territories.
But it wants the Government to pay far more attention to the Primary school sector in order to make a real difference to the quality of educational outcomes.
According to the association, for too long primary principals have felt like spectators at a tennis match watching the blame game being played between the Commonwealth and the state and territories while serious problems in primary education were sidelined.
‘Labor’s intentions for primary schooling prior to the election excited our members,’ Association President, Ms Leone Trimper said.
‘Their commitment to a greater investment in primary, including closing the gap between spending on primary and secondary, increased resources for students with disabilities and the uncluttering of the curriculum, was music to our ears.
‘But unfortunately when the Education Revolution story unfolded, the chapter on primary schools went missing, much to our disappointment.
‘If the Education Revolution is to succeed then we believe the Labor Government should avoid using the big stick approach and understand that one size does not fit all because our research has clearly shown that schools vary in their capacity to get the job done.’
Australian Secondary Principals’ Association
The Australian Secondary Principals’ Association has conducted a national consultation of its membership and identified five main educational priorities which will demand attention from the new Labor Government.
The priorities are to develop a consistent and comprehensive approach to improving the intellectual, physical and mental health of all young Australians, to implement a national curriculum framework for all Australian schools, to ensure the adequate supply, training and well-being of teachers and school leaders, to guarantee school buildings, infrastructure, environs and management practices are environmentally sustainable and to establish a National ICT Framework for Schools.
ASPA President, Andrew Blair, said the priority of greatest importance to principals was the third point about ensuring an adequate supply of teachers.
This issue was a very high to extremely high priority for 94% of all principals surveyed.
Parent feedback . . .
Australian Council of State School Organisations
Australia’s peak school parents’ body has praised Kevin Rudd’s decision to make education a key issue for the new Government.
The Australian Council of State School Organisations’ President, Jenny Branch, said Kevin Rudd recognised that educational reform was central to Australia’s future economic and social prosperity.
‘We are impressed that Kevin Rudd sees education as an investment not just a cost burden,’ Ms Branch said. ‘International benchmarks have shown that Australia is going backwards in terms of investment in tertiary education, early childhood and productivity. Now is the time for change.
‘Kevin Rudd’s tax break for computers and other school equipment is also welcomed. Labor’s $2.3 billion initiative provides parents on Family Benefits with a 50% tax rebate worth up to $750 for primary students and $1500 for secondary students. Equipment eligible for the rebate includes laptops, internet connection costs, printers, educational software and school text-books.
‘It is a smart way to help those families battling to meet increasing education costs to make computer literacy available to all.’
Ms Branch said that parents were looking forward to the day when all students, rich or poor, could use computers equally well with the same access to learning both at school and at home.She said the Rudd plan had accepted that computers were the 21st Century equivalent of the work and education toolbox.
Australian Parents Council
Ian Dalton the Executive Director of the Australian Parents Council said that APC generally supported the thrust of the Education Revolution and it is looking forward to negotiating with the Government.
‘Improving the capacity of Australian schools to integrate digital technology into their teaching practices is the first step being addressed and we have already been represented at a meeting to progress this initiative,’ he said.
‘We believe the success of the initiative will be determined by how well the individual needs of each school community are assessed and met and the level of professional development that can be provided to teachers to develop and upgrade their professional skills in respect of digital technology.
‘While the initial focus of the Digital Education Revolution is years 9–12, there will also be a need to ensure that schools can also do good things in the earlier years to ensure consistency and sustainability and that any benefits for students in Years 9–12 can be maximised.’
Mr Dalton said that APC was pleased that the Rudd Government would retain the current model for funding non-government schools, at least for the next four-year funding period.
‘While it is not perfect, it is the best schools funding model that has been developed in Australia to date,’ he said. ‘We believe it is also important for the Rudd Government to negotiate with the State and Territory Governments to achieve cost sharing contractual arrangements to provide adequate public funding for all Australian students and to reverse the declining commitment of the States and territories to the funding of school education.
‘We also support Labor’s decisions to bring early childhood care and education together under one umbrella and to significantly increase the focus on the provision of quality early childhood learning.’
APC also welcomed the commitment to provide universal access to early learning programs and to enshrine this in law.
Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations of New South Wales
Schools across the nation will be better off under a Labor Government, according to Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations of NSW President, Dianne Giblin.
She said placing the Deputy Prime Minister Elect, Julia Gillard, as the Minister for Education, Science and Training demonstrated not only the emphasis the new government is placing on Education – it showed the faith placed in her to fulfill the campaign promise for an ‘education revolution.’
‘This shows the Rudd Government’s resolve to follow through on this promise by giving it such great priority,’ Ms Giblin said. ‘While some have expressed concern over the dual portfolio for Ms Gillard of Education and Industrial Relations, many are hopeful that her appointment indicates the weight of importance placed on this issue by the new Labor government.
‘Criticism of the funding models supported by the Labor government for both government and non-government schools has already started to arise and addressing these concerns will be one of the first issues facing Gillard.
‘The Australian Anglican Schools Network has come out vocally calling for a review of the ‘no losers’ model of funding for private schools and Greens MP John Kaye has shown disapproval of the newly elected government for supporting ‘the same flawed system of funding’.
‘Yet many see the failure of the funding model adopted by the Labor government not in the extent of its means-testing of private schools but in its failure to prioritise ongoing sustainable funding for public schools before delving into issues on the periphery.’
Mrs Giblin has also spoken out about the entire tax rebate system. She said that while extolling the ‘equality of choice,’ the system fails to change the affordability and inclusiveness of private schools and it fails to make public schools the pride and focus of Australia’s educational system.
The Education Minister – a long haul to see improvements in performance
The new Federal Education Minister, Ms Julia Gillard, says she is trying to overcome more than a decade of neglect and that it will be a tough job to make real improvements in the education sector.
She blamed the Howard Government for a decline in the literacy and numeracy standards of Australian students.
Ms Gillard was responding to a study which examined the classroom performance of 400,000 15-year-old students in OECD nations between July and September 2007. The study showed Australians performed above the OECD average but have slipped in two of three main academic areas.
‘Obviously we are trying to overcome more than a decade of neglect and I’m not going to pretend that that’s going to happen overnight; it’s not, it’s going to be a long job,’ she said.
‘What people can rely on is that they will see our Government deliver the things we’ve promised – we have promised an education revolution.’