“A National Plan for School Improvement”, Speech to National Press Club, Canberra
MON 03 SEPTEMBER 2012
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Today, I am here to talk about our children, their education, their lives and their future.
As I speak, more than three million children are at school and millions more will follow them in the years to come.
On their behalf, I call on you to join me in a national crusade to give those children a better education and a better future.
Education transforms lives. I know because it transformed mine.
The story of my parents' lives is a story of education denied.
My parents were born around the time of the Great Depression and their earliest memories are of World War II.
My father, despite winning academic prizes and scholarships, left school at fourteen. His family couldn’t afford not to have him working. My mother suffered ill health as a child and her schooling suffered too.
Despite their schooling history, both are intelligent and well-read and have lived successful and happy lives.
But born in a different era, or into different circumstances, my mother and father would easily have succeeded at university and pursued professional careers.
As an adult, I understand their stories aren’t unusual for their generation.
But as a child, their stories were my world, the backdrop of my life.
Because my parents had hungered for education, they wanted their daughter to enjoy all its benefits.
And so as a young girl, I was painstakingly taught to read by my mother before I went to school. As luck would have it the public schools I was zoned to attend were great schools.
I liked school and succeeded at it. I had some great teachers, a group of friends focussed on doing well, a family ready to support me in every way.
But even in great schools like Unley High, I was conscious of the kids who struggled, who got left behind. Indeed achievement and underachievement were obvious – due to streaming and stigma.
I was in the top class, others were in classes routinely and cruelly referred to as ‘veggie class’. We were marked for success – they were marked for failure.
And in the days before it was commonplace for children with disabilities to be mainstreamed into schools, the one girl with a disability led a lonely life. I have frequently reproached myself for not spending more time with her.
My parents' life stories are of education denied. And I saw education’s full power denied to some of my school mates.
I have always been conscious of being the lucky one – my life story is of education’s transformative power.
So from my earliest years, the life changing unfairness of being denied a great education has struck me as a moral wrong.
For me, eradicating that moral wrong is what drove me into politics and drives me still.
All these years later, from the perspective of the Prime Ministership, I understand much more about what makes and what denies a great education than when I first started protesting against cutbacks to university funding as a student activist at Adelaide University.
And today, I want you to see what I see when I look at our nation’s schools – I want you to hear what I hear when I talk to business leaders and the leaders of nations around our region.
Above all, I want you to share my passion and adopt my plan of action for improving our schools and our children’s lives.
I fought a ferocious battle as Education Minister to create My School and to get each of us, all of us, more information than we have ever had before on the education of our children.
On my first day in Government, no one in this nation could have given you the list of our best performing schools or our worst performing schools.
I was told that couldn't be fixed. I was faced with political resistance from all sides.
But now you can get more information than our nation has ever had before on Australian schools on your smart phone.
I was determined to win the My School battle because I always believed that the more we knew about our children’s education, the more we would be driven to improve it.
Now we have the information from My School and other sources like international tests across the OECD, we must face up to the truths it is revealing.
The first truth is we have to aim higher for every child in every school.
Four of the top five schooling systems in the world are in our region and we aren’t in that coveted top five.
To take one telling example, the average 15 year old maths student in Australia is two years behind a 15 year old in Shanghai.
The second truth is we particularly need to improve the education of our poorer children.
By year three, 89 per cent of children from the poorest quarter of Australian homes are reading below average.
These are not children raised in extremes of violence, neglect or disadvantage.
Just kids whose parents pack their lunch, take them to school on the way to work and expect they’re being taught to read and write while they’re at school. And they’re not.
Today, unless those kids from the poorest quarter are brilliant, they are getting below average results in reading.
And once they are behind, far too many of them stay there.
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.
I see the faces of these kids in the school across the road from where I live in Altona.
We shouldn’t be letting them down.
And the third truth is we are failing our indigenous children.
There are about 18,800 indigenous school children in very remote Australia.
Today in very remote Australia the average indigenous child is still reading below a year three level in year nine.
And for any one tempted to shrug their shoulders and say ‘that’s bad, but I don’t have school-aged kids, so it’s someone else’s problem’, contemplate this – we cannot have a strong economy and prosperous future if the skills of our workforce lag behind the skills of our competitors.
Leaders of Asian nations tell me when I meet with them of their relentless focus on education, of how, even as they drag people out of poverty, they are determined to shape their future economic success by driving their children to the top of the class.
We mightn’t want to replicate the methods of their schooling systems but you have to admire their drive for results.
Business leaders tell me about skill shortages today and how the future will demand higher and higher skill levels.
Put bluntly, our businesses will be unable to compete if our children’s education keeps falling behind.
To win the economic race, we must first win the education race.
For our children to get the jobs of the future, we must give them a great education now.
And we can get it done. Change is possible.
I can prove it to you because we have already created change.
Take Cowra Public School. A rural primary school in the central west of New South Wales with around 370 students – nearly twenty per cent of the kids are Aboriginal.
The 2009 national testing scores showed Cowra’s year three kids were at best level, and sometimes behind kids from comparable schools.
The Government ensured the school had that information but it was only the starting pistol.
The principal Brad Tom, the teachers, the parents and the kids were the ones who had to run.
The Kindergarten teachers used phonics to teach reading.
The school hired 6 extra School Learning Support Officers to run individual reading tutorials.
They sat with every struggling child, every day, for half an hour.
One on one, side by side, uninterrupted, their fingers running along under the lines on a book, sounding out words, patiently and practically teaching how to read.
The whole school community got stuck in.
And it worked.
In 2010 and 2011, Cowra’s kids went from being level with or behind kids at comparable Australian schools to catching up – and often being in front.
Step by step, year by year: this is school improvement.
Or take Braybrook College in Melbourne’s West.
A thousand kids from a disadvantaged district, with parents and grandparents from every part of the world, more than 600 from families in the poorest quarter of Australian homes.
A battling school community that knew it could do better for the kids who need school the most.
So we gave Braybrook targeted funding to support their improvement plans.
Four extra literacy lessons every week in year seven and eight.
Seven hundred and twenty two computers plus funding for external staff to help the teachers use them well.
We brought the school library into the digital age – and Building the Education Revolution gave Braybrook a new science lab.
And it worked.
Now, the school’s mean VCE score is above the state average – up 6 points, to 30.1, in eight years.
Last year, almost seventy per cent of Braybrook's year 12 students were offered a place at university.
This is school improvement.
When I went there with the local Member Nicola Roxon and the Education Minister, Peter Garrett, the week before last, the principal Geraldine Moloney told me that having us there was the second most exciting day in the school’s history.
The most exciting was last year – when for the first time ever, Braybrook had two kids get perfect scores in a VCE subject.
These are two quick examples.
There are so many more.
Take Glenala State High at Ipswich, St Mary’s at Warren in New South Wales, or Beechboro Christian School in Perth.
Where what we have done – new buildings and computers, national curriculum and better quality teaching, more empowered principals and whole school improvement plans, a greater focus on literacy and numeracy – and more money – has made a difference.
Where every day these schools are showing change is possible – and transforming lives.
And in thirty or forty years' time, maybe one of their students will stand here as Prime Minister and tell their story.
In the meantime – perhaps you could invite a few of our Teach for Australia alumni to speak – the highest performing graduates who have gone teaching in schools like Katherine High School, Manor Lakes College and Calwell High School and transformed children’s lives.
But ten or a hundred or even a thousand great examples are not enough.
We don’t need a warm inner glow or an inspirational movie plot – yes I liked Mr Chips too, though when I think of a great teacher today, I’m more likely to think of Jihad Dib at Punchbowl Boys High School – what we need is improvement in every single one of our nine and half thousand Australian schools.
I want each of you, the whole of our nation, to join me in this crusade.
First, I want our nation to dedicate itself to an education goal we can measure, a goal that will galvanise us, a goal we will work together to achieve.
Second, I want our nation to commit to a National Plan for School Improvement, which will achieve that goal for our children.
Third, I want us to commit to fund Australian schools in a way that puts a child’s needs at the heart of our funding decisions.
So how high should we aim for our nation’s children?
Every day in classrooms and homes around the country, we ask our children to aim high. We set goals for them, we test and measure their progress towards achieving that goal.
They are the kids, we are the adults. How can we in all good conscience impose such discipline on them if we aren’t prepared to impose it on ourselves?
This is why I announce today that before the end of this year, I will introduce a bill to our Parliament: To enshrine our nation’s expectations for what we will achieve for our children, our vision of the quality of education to which our children are entitled and our preparedness to put success for every child at the heart of how we deliver and fund education.
By 2025, I want Australian schools to be back in the top five schooling systems in the world.
By 2025, Australia should be ranked as a top 5 country in the world in Reading, Science and Mathematics – and for providing our children with a high-quality and high-equity education system.
Currently, Australia is ranked 7th on Reading and Science and 13th on Mathematics and is rated about 10th on providing a high-quality and high-equity education system.
So today I am setting an ambitious goal. I have set our sights on 2025 because that gives us thirteen years – the time it usually takes a student to complete his or her schooling – to make Australia among the best in the world.
The Parliament and the people will become accountable to this generation of children and every generation to follow.
It was an Act of our Australian Parliament that truly created Australian citizenship: when the Nationality and Citizenship Act came into force in 1949 Ben Chifley was the first to receive a citizenship certificate.
The Australian Education Act will establish our nation’s support for a child’s education as one of the entitlements of citizenship – it will state our great aspirations for school education reform.
It will be the most important Bill of 2012 and the most important Act of 2013.
It is the gift of the Australian people to our children.
To reach our legislated national goal, today I am also announcing that the Government is committed to a National Plan for School Improvement.
We will take everything we have learned about getting better results for our children to every school in Australia.
We will ask the States and Territories and Catholic and Independent schools to sign up to new requirements:
• Lifting teacher quality, including requiring more classroom experience before graduation and higher entry requirements for the teaching profession.
• More power for principals, including over budgets and staff selection.
• More information for parents through My School.
These are practical improvements you can touch, see and feel.
Nothing matters more to the quality of a child’s education than the quality of the teacher standing in front of the class room.
I want that teacher to be someone who loves the job, who is of the highest calibre, who got the best training and support as a new teacher, who continuously hones their skills, who is delighted to have their skills measured and areas for improvement highlighted.
Under our plan, you will need to be at the top of your class to get in to a university teaching course.
I want our nation to resound with the voices of parents saying to their teenage children: "Hadn’t you better start hitting those books – after all you want to get in to teaching."
Instead of new teachers floundering or drifting away from teaching, they will be equipped for the classroom though 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.
And all of our teachers will be reviewed annually in their school, a thoroughgoing assessment of their skills and where they need to improve.
Every school will have a school improvement plan and will be held to account against it.
We ask the children at school to face up to being measured and urged to improve, we are going to ask the adults to do the same.
Under our plan, children will be able to able spend longer in the school with breakfast clubs and after hours activities.
Reading, writing, maths will be the foundation stones, taught, tested, improved.
Every child falling behind will get a personalised learning plan.
Principals will be empowered to lead their schools, making decisions that get improvements unencumbered by stifling bureaucracy.
Over the months ahead, we will legislate for our goals and for the framework for delivering the National Plan for School Improvement in schools.
And we will always respect that change is actually brought about day by day, minute by minute, on the ground in schools by principals, teachers and parents.
So as we negotiate the detail of school funding and agree to the details of school improvement, we will harness the great insights of principals, teachers and parents around the nation.
There’s no button you press for school improvement – schools are human organisations – but the change makers need to know you’re on their side.
And I am – prepared to fight alongside them and for them, to fight for change.
One of the biggest fights we had in creating My School was ensuring the site not only gave you details about a school's community and its results, but also about how much money each school gets.
I fought that fight and won it because I understood that funding mattered.
Not as an end in itself but as a means to an end – to improving schools.
It always seemed clear to me that if we could lay out transparently before the Australian people examples of schools teaching similar children but getting wildly different amounts of money and wildly different results, people would start asking the right question: "Can we make sure as a nation that every child’s education is funded appropriately so they can succeed?"
I think we've done that – and now the Independent Review of Funding for Schooling has helped us answer this question.
Today I announce that the Government will adopt the Review’s core recommendation that every child’s education should be supported with a benchmark amount of funding: a new Schooling Resource Standard based on what it costs to educate a student at the schools we know already get strong results.
And that extra needs should be met through a system of “needs loadings” – extra funding, per student, to help students from low SES backgrounds, indigenous students, students with disability and students with limited English skills, as well as to help with extra costs for small and remote schools.
Funding should recognise that children are individuals, not standardised widgets.
This is not just about disadvantaged kids, not just about gifted kids, it’s about all students.
The resources needed to get a great quality education for children vary.
And improving every child’s education will need more resources in the future than have been available in the past.
The Government has not accepted every aspect of the Gonski model: above all because we want funding for all schools to continue to rise.
But we agree with that broad standard plus loadings structure and that is the new model we will adopt for funding all schools.
It is a model that strips away all the old debates about private versus public and puts children at the centre of the funding system.
Children with their individual strengths and needs.
Children in whatever school their parents have chosen for them. Children in every part of the nation.
It is a model that I will now take to the States and Territories, to Catholic and Independent schools, in order to win their support.
Currently, the Federal Government provides about thirty per cent of the public funding to schools and the States and Territories fund about seventy.
So, it is a model that challenges all of us, the Federal Government and State and Territory Governments to change and to find more resources for education.
Specifically, the Independent panel challenged all Governments to provide an extra $6.5 billion annually in today’s money.
Should this be done?
I believe as a nation we should aim to make new money of this order available to our nation’s schools, provided we can ensure that every dollar of the money makes a difference by having an appropriate transition to the new system and tying the money to improving schools.
In addition, everyone in our schools and State and Territory Governments must be prepared to play their part for change.
There should be no blank cheques.
The money should be for better results for our children not more jobs for bureaucrats.
State Governments must put in their fair share.
No sleight of hand, no fiddling of the books to substitute Federal funding for cuts by the States.
And we should take the time necessary to get the right result.
We’re proposing a six year transition to the new system and a thirteen year goal for the education of our nation’s children.
Change of this scale takes time. Our schools are already funded for next year so the beginning of change will be in 2014.
New funding will be contingent on States and systems agreeing to and delivering school improvement – and school improvement takes time.
This is not a reform to a regulation through a stroke of a pen.
This is improving the performance of nine and a half thousand Australian organisations, our schools. Lifting the skills of hundreds of thousands of teachers.
And then actually teaching children.
How long that takes is never simply a question of will, or of resources.
Inherent to the task is time – not just to get it right, but just literally to get it done.
Education is a patient investment.
Improving our schools will require our patience and determination.
It will also require some tough budget choices, for all levels of Government.
I am prepared to make those choices but I want the Australian people to understand that today I am asking them to support not just our goals for school improvement but the tough budget choices that go with that.
Governing is and has always been about setting priorities – and I want to make very clear this is not just one of my priorities, but one of the country’s priorities.
As a Government, our minds will focus on keeping our economy strong and delivering jobs for working people and help for their loved ones while our hearts will beat strongly for our nation’s children and Australians with a disability.
Head and heart will combine in a stronger and fairer future.
Those children with a great education will become the deliverers of prosperity in a high wage, high skill future.
Australians with disabilities will be included in our nation’s life and workplaces.
Together, as a nation, we can and will be good at this.
Making the right choices, even when they are hard. Being fair to each other. Building the future.
Look at the tough choices we have already made to fund our Labor priorities.
We got rid of the dependent spouse tax offset.
We got rid of tax breaks for golden handshakes.
We slashed tax concessions on super for high income earners.
We ditched the millionaires’ dental scheme and fringe benefits loopholes for executives away from home.
We means-tested the private health insurance rebate.
Big controversy, big headlines, big criticism the right thing to do, the Labor thing to do. And you’ll see more of it.
And you’ll see me asking the States and Territories to share my passion for improving our schools and putting our children first.
I will personally lead these discussions and my aim is to settle the funding model through COAG processes.
I want to conclude these discussions by the time of the first COAG meeting next year.
But I won’t be held to ransom by States who aren’t genuinely committed to reform – and I am prepared to work quickly with those States and systems who share my commitment to school improvement.
And as I pursue this work, as the Government drives for change, the centre of our plan will be the children, their schooling, their future.
So the girl standing alone in the corner of the playground is noticed and the boy sitting silent in the back row learns.
So words of encouragement and community applause are heard as often for the stars of mathematics as they are on the sports field and in the music hall.
So the principal knows every student by name ... and every parent knows their child’s teachers’ names.
Our plan will ensure that the humane goals of education will remain supreme.
From a little boy’s first book to a decade later when he first finds an unexpected irony in a Shakespearean sonnet.
From a little girl’s first times-table to a decade later when she realises that a curve she’s mapping describes a real world behaviour she’s observed, but never understood.
In a study group, unearthing a new fact about our past … and sharing new opinions on the historical controversies of today.
And our plan will make our competitors in the region sit up and notice.
Our kids catching Shanghai’s kids.
More patents, more clever exports, another Nobel Prize.
Our schools in the top five in the world.
A national crusade, a chance for change, education transforming the life of every child.