Education Funding

I rise to speak today about a subject dear to my heart and dear to the hearts of parents and teachers in the 53 schools within the electorate of Lalor. I speak of education funding reform. I wish I could talk about the impact of high expectations on student learning, on the impact of the meta analysis of Professor Robert Marzano and Professor John Hattie. I wish I could talk about the impact that had on schools. I wish I could rise today to speak about this in a real and useful way. But, unfortunately, this vitally important issue has been reduced to a mere debacle by those opposite. There have been backflips, half-pikes and half-pikes with twists used to obfuscate this critical policy area during and since the election campaign. In the process, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Education have made and broken promises, leaving school leaders in every state and territory of our nation trying to read the words, read between the lines, infer and guess what the future will be for their schools.

Let me summarise. In the last three years, while the Gillard government conducted an exhaustive education review that attracted 7,000 submissions, in his capacity as shadow minister, the member for Sturt asked just three questions about education. On release of the Gonski report, the same member took just minutes to dismiss it as a con. When Better Schools proved critical to voters, they did a U-turn and promised a unity ticket, even though it was two years and many millions of dollars short. After taking government, we heard Minister Pyne talking about the curriculum, specifically the history curriculum—yes, that old chestnut. Predictably, this stole the headlines while the undoing of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, or ACARA, went unnoticed. Next he was backflipping on the now non-unity ticket and saying he needed to go back to the drawing board—the drawing board of the previous, Liberal government. Then we had the Prime Minister saying he did not promise anything, or maybe he did and we misheard him, or maybe we all just imagined it. Anyway, the Prime Minister would only keep the promise that he had not made, that we had imagined but that no-one had heard. And then yesterday he declared he would fulfil the misheard promise that maybe had been made after all. Now he is telling us he will go one better and find the money for the state governments who have shown their contempt for student learning by putting politics over progress. But it is still not unity. It is another new promise, this time to our state premiers that they do not need to spend money on education after all.

I am tired just trying to make sense of it all, but not trying to make sense of it is not a luxury that we can afford—not for the parents of our students or the committed educators; they need to know so they can plan and implement programs to give every child the best chance in life. The most damning thing of all in this circus charading as policy is what lies behind all the shenanigans. There are a couple of giveaways: the destruction of ACARA as an independent body working with states and territories and putting in place a critical data source to tell the story of our schools and of disparity amongst them. This and Minister Pyne's assertion that Australia does not have an equity issue are the keys to this protracted mess. It tells us much about this government's plans for education. They are not interested in addressing inequity; they are acting to enshrine it by hiding it and denying it. But the My School website and the ACARA data have been available for a long time and schools have been tracking their progress against national and state benchmarks for years.

Today I want to share the story of two schools I visited in my electorate last week. Both have made good use of national partnerships money and Victorian equity funding over the past four years. The first is Westgrove Primary School. The principal is Lila Gray. In 2009, Westgrove had an ICSEA—Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage—ranking of 989 and their grade 3 students performed below average in reading, writing and numeracy. By 2012 it had an ICSEA ranking of 956. The measure of disadvantage had in fact increased, and yet the grade 3 students performed above the state average in reading, writing and numeracy in 2013. The second is Iramoo Primary School. The principal is Moira Findlay. Four years ago, this school had an ICSEA ranking of 940 and grade 5 students performed 50 points below the state average in reading, writing and numeracy. In 2012 it had an ICSEA ranking of 928.

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