2010 Federal Election: What you need to know for your child’s education
When it comes to education, Labor, the Coalition (Liberal and National parties) and the Greens all share the same belief that access to a high quality education is fundamental to Australia’s future. However, there are significant differences in how each party believes this can be achieved.
This article looks at some of the key education issues and the policies of the major political parties, and the potential impact on Catholic schooling in the Diocese of Parramatta.
The Education Revolution
In her first address to the nation, Prime Minister Julia Gillard reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to the ‘Education Revolution’, promising ‘to do even more to make sure that every child gets a fair go in life and a great education’.
To date, this has involved funding for school infrastructure such as multi-purpose halls, libraries, language centres and science labs, the provision of computers for students in Years 9 to 12, and the building of Trade Training Centres in high schools in order to increase access to vocational pathways for students.
Funding in these areas was not confined to government schools, and Catholic systemic schools throughout the diocese have received funding for the Building the Education Revolution (BER) stimulus program.
All schools in the diocese received funding of up to $200,000 for minor upgrades and refurbishments; all primary schools received up to $3 million to build multi-purpose halls and learning spaces; and four secondary schools each received $1.97 million to build language learning centres.
McCarthy Catholic College, Emu Plains, and Loyola Senior High School, Mt Druitt, received approval and funding to build Trade Training Centres (TTCs). McCarthy opened with its first enrolments this year, offering students the opportunity to complete the Higher School Certificate while commencing qualifications and training in their chosen trade. Loyola will open to its first intake of students in 2011.
Both the Coalition and the Greens are opposed to the provision of TTCs in schools. The Greens have stated that vocational education and training ‘should be primarily provided through the public TAFE system’.
The Coalition believes that the additional $1.7 billion being spent on TTCs is an unwise use of taxpayers’ money. The Coalition has also proposed to cut spending on the Computers in Schools program, which has delivered 300,000 computers to students in secondary schools over three years.
The Coalition has also announced changes to the BER program by proposing to redirect unspent funds away from state education departments and instead give these funds directly to each school to decide on their own infrastructure; to self manage projects and to let schools keep any leftover funds for other projects.
Another major policy of the Labor Party has been the introduction of a national curriculum. The aim is to ensure all Australian children will be taught from a world-class curriculum regardless of the state or territory in which they live or the school they attend.
The first stage of the K-12 draft curriculum for English, Mathematics, Science and History has been released for consultation and must be implemented (K-10) by 2013.
All three major parties agree on the need for a national curriculum in order to raise educational standards, although there is some disagreement over the nature and amount of content that should be covered in the curriculum.
The Greens have also called for assistance for teachers to implement the new curriculum. The Coalition has promised a review of content in the national curriculum.
For more information on the national curriculum and what it means for your child visit the website www.australiancurriculum.edu.au
Merit-based pay for teachers
The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has released an ‘Action Contract’, including a commitment to raise standards in education: ‘The Coalition will work with the states to give principals the right to pay the best teachers more.’
The Coalition aims to provide incentives and recognition to teachers to move to high standards of professional performance, which improve student outcomes.
The Australian Council for Educational Research conducted a study on the introduction of performance-based pay for teachers and while its research shows the possibility of positive student outcomes, it also emphasises the necessity of fair, valid and rigorous systems for evaluating teacher performance.
The Labor Party, through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), has committed $550 million to the Smarter Schools – Quality Teaching National Partnership (NP) to achieve significant gains in school leadership and teacher quality including new professional standards, recognition and reward for quality teaching, and a framework to guide professional learning for principals, teachers and school leaders.
The Greens believe that a properly funded career path for teachers providing opportunities for advancement and promotion based on skills, experience and teaching, is a better alternative to performance pay.
My School website
Earlier this year, the Australian Government launched the My School website, which provides detailed information about almost 10,000 schools, including national test data, and enables schools with statistically similar populations to be compared easily.
The Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (ACARA), established under Labor, will continue to make enhancements to the My School website including: school financial data such as sources of funding; nationally comparable senior secondary information; national satisfaction survey data; growth data on literacy and numeracy; actions to minimise misuse of My School data.
The Greens agree to provide ‘rich information to parents and the community’ but see the need to tighten protocols to ensure national test score data published on the My School website is not used to create simplistic league tables.
The Coalition will instigate a revision of the My School website to ensure it primarily publishes ‘overall school improvement, rather than the raw test results’.
In relation to funding for non-government schools, including Catholic schools, the Australian Bishops Commission for Catholic Education has recently called on the Prime Minister and the Labor Party to match the Coalition’s assurances to continue to fund Catholic schools from 2013.
In a statement, the Chairman of the Commission, Bishop Greg O’Kelly, said ‘Catholic school authorities will particularly welcome the undertaking by shadow education minister, Christopher Pyne to ‘enhance funding arrangements’ for Catholic schools from this time if the Coalition becomes our next government.’ The Education Minister, Simon Crean, has reiterated promises made by Julia Gillard that ‘no school would lose a dollar in funding from 2013, in the sense that their school budget per student would not reduce in dollar terms.’
However, Bishop O’Kelly is seeking clarification that there will be no funding shortfalls for Catholic schools following the review of funding by the Australian Government.
‘Basic school running costs increase by at least 5 per cent per year,’ Bishop O’Kelly said. ‘The actual outcome for hundreds of Catholic parish and regional primary and secondary schools is that their funding maybe frozen in ‘real dollar’ terms.’
The Greens believe that funding to non-government schools should be reduced by prioritising funding to government schools.
The Greens’ education policy states that the ‘federal schools funding policy should prioritise the public education system... [and] schools funding to be placed on an equitable footing by reversing the excessive increases in Commonwealth funding to non-government schools.’
The Greens’ policy does not take into account the role of Catholic schools in educating about 20 per cent of Australia’s children and, despite popular belief, Catholic schools operate at about 85 per cent of the resourcing level of government schools when taking into account government funding and parent contributions.
Parents and politics
With politics and education so closely linked, it is crucial that parents are aware of the educational policies each party is proposing. Parents, and older students, have influence over how their child’s school or their own school will be resourced and funded, which impacts on the quality of learning and teaching.
Danielle Cronin, Executive Director of the Council of Catholic School Parents (CCSP) NSW/ACT, believes all parents have a responsibility to be aware of the education policies that affect their children’s schools.
‘Each of these educational issues has the potential for significant consequences for all schools, including Catholic schools,’ Danielle said. ‘As parents, we have a vested interest in how these and any future policies are developed and implemented to ensure the best possible outcomes for children.’
Governments are increasingly open to broad community consultation over education policies and parents are encouraged to take up these opportunities to shape the development and implementation of policies that will affect our schools and, ultimately, our children.
Parents and politics – getting involved:
- Attend school parent association meetings and read school newsletters to learn more about the broader educational issues;
- Consider joining organisations like the diocesan Parents Representative Council or the Council of Catholic School Parents NSW/ACT or visit their websites, which are good sources of information for parents and school parent associations interested in education policy issues;
- If you become aware of government policies that you believe will have a negative impact on your child’s schooling, make the community aware – write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or a metropolitan newspaper, or write a letter to your state and federal Members of Parliament expressing your concerns;
- Visit the websites of the major political parties and see what they have to say about education – there may be forums on these sites for you to contribute to, such as the ‘Education, have your say’ section of the Liberal Party’s website.
NB: Policy positions current at time of publication.
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