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Federal education bill doesn't fit the bill

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Thursday, 29 November 2012


Yesterday's tabling in the federal parliament of the ALP government's Australian Education Bill 2012 represents a momentous and important occasion.

So says the Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, who, in an interview on ABC radio said it was a "big day for us" and that education was the "smack bang, central core business for this government".

Ignored is that the education bill, some two years after the Gonski review of school funding was established and some 11 months after the government received the final report, says nothing about the quantum of funding available to schools or how such funding will be distributed.

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The reality is that the current socioeconomic status model expires at the end of 2013 and non-government schools are desperately trying to finalise financial plans for 2014 and onwards in an environment of uncertainty and doubt.

Also ignored is that the bill simply repeats a long list of motherhood statements about lifting standards, improving performance, making schools more accountable and ensuring that children reach their full potential – all of which have been stated again and again since the election of the Rudd-led government in 2007.

ALP inspired documents like the Federalist Paper 2: The Future of Schooling in Australia, the series of issues papers published leading up to the 2007 election and the Melbourne Declaration (that provides a road map for Australian schools) all employ the same hollow rhetoric and grandiose promises.

Take the promise that by 2025 Australian students will be ranked "as one of the top 5 highest performing countries" in reading, mathematics and science. Much like Bob Hawke's promise, when Prime Minister, that no child will live in poverty, the sentiment is noble but, impossible to achieve and totally unrealistic.

The model of education enshrined in the government's legislation is inherently contradictory. On one hand, the ALP government promises to empower schools by allowing school leaders "to make decisions and implement strategies at the local level to obtain the best outcomes".

At the same time the government threatens to force every school in Australia, government and non-government, to abide by its National Plan for School Improvement or lose funding. Notwithstanding the platitudes about local control, schools will be forced to implement the government's plans to raise standards, improve school performance and make the curriculum Asia-centric.

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One only needs to look at the government's record in education to date to realise that there is little, if any chance, of the bill's goals being met. The Building the Education Revolution, apart from turning playgrounds and sporting fields into concrete and cement, wasted millions on often redundant and poorly designed infrastructure.

The promise to give every senior school student a computer, while largely being met, is now dogged by the complaints about computers being obsolete, schools lacking the necessary IT resources and infrastructure and teachers not being supported with the necessary professional development.

The promise to raise literacy and numeracy standards, via the National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy (LNNP), is also in doubt as proven by the Auditor – General's Report No 41, where the statement is made, "However, ANAO analysis of NAPLAN data from 2008 to 2011 indicates that the LNNP is yet to make a statistically significant improvement, in any state, on the average NAPLAN results of schools that received LNNP funding".

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About the Author

Dr Kevin Donnelly is Director of Melbourne-based Education Standards Institute www.edstandards.com.au . He can be contacted at kevind@netspace.net.au. He is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars available to purchase at www.edstandards.com.au

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