Speech to Sydney Morning Herald Schools Summit

Speech
  • Minister for Education

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Every Australian child, no matter where they live, should have access to a world-class education.

It shouldn’t matter if you go to Ultimo Public School just down the road or Tibooburra Outback School in the north-west corner of New South Wales.

A quality education should be available to everyone because education changes lives.

Education gives you power over your destiny, helps you understand the world around you, and gives you the tools to participate in your community.

And Australia is a nation of communities.

Two-thirds of us live in a capital city, and some 2.5 million of us live in rural Australia.

But no matter where you live you are part of a community.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than one million students are enrolled in schools outside major cities.

There are more than 4,400 non-metropolitan schools, which account for 47 per cent of all schools in Australia.

Of the Australian schools with fewer than 100 enrolments, 80 per cent are in rural, regional and remote locations.

Why do I raise this? Because the reality is that where you are born will have a large determination on your educational outcome because the facts clearly show that the further away from a metropolitan area you go to school the more challenges you will face getting a quality education.

Since 2008, NAPLAN results have consistently shown students in major cities perform better than students in remote and very remote areas. This gap is wider when comparing results for remote, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

An analysis of results from the international TIMSS test found that as distance increased from metropolitan centres Australian students demonstrated lower scores for Years 4 and 8 levels of Mathematics and Science.

The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre’s Educational Disadvantage Index records educational disadvantage increasing the further children live from major cities, with a large jump in the prevalence of children experiencing one or more developmental vulnerabilities in very remote areas.

It should come as no surprise that students who are disadvantaged during their school education are less likely to pursue a higher education.

There are more than twice as many young Australians, aged 25 to 34, with a university degree living in major cities than living in regional areas.

To put this in simple terms: if you go to Ultimo Public School you are twice as likely to receive a higher education degree as someone who goes to Tibooburra.

A review of three university outreach programs to rural areas, reported that some rural students had not contemplated a university education because they have had limited exposure to higher education, while others believed that people like them don’t go to university.

We are a country that prides itself on the fair go.

A place where students can aspire to be whatever they want to be, and that can mean doing a trade, starting a business or going to university.

But we have failed every kid in Australia who gets to the end of year 12 and believes that people like them don’t go to university".

There are many wonderful schools, teachers and principals in rural and remote Australia providing a high-quality education.

And there are many engaged students who live in the country and are taking advantage of their education to follow their dreams.

We should learn and be inspired by their examples.

But we also need to acknowledge the unique challenges faced outside the cities.

Regional schools tend to have fewer students – which means more multi-year classes, less specialisation among the teaching staff and no economies of scale.

They have trouble attracting and retaining teachers and principals, and those teachers and principals in rural areas are often isolated from professional support and development opportunities.

Rural schools can also face challenges with technology, such as a poor internet connection.

The Federal Government is working to ensure that every Australian child, no matter where they live, should have access to a world-class education.

We should be under no illusion that this task will take time and focus.

Today, I will address three areas of focus for the Morrison Government aimed at improving educational outcomes for rural, regional and remote students:

  1. Indigenous attainment
  2. School reform, and
  3. Improving teacher quality

 

We recognise the value of improving educational outcomes to close the gap.

As the Prime Minister said: "every child that gets into school and stays in school is a victory".

Since 2008, there have been improvements in schooling outcomes.

The biggest improvement over the past decade has been in Year 12 or equivalent attainment, with an almost 18 percentage point jump in the proportion of Indigenous Australians achieving this target.

Likewise, we must also acknowledge the low attendance rates for Indigenous children in remote areas – particularly Very Remote Areas – up to 16 percentage points lower than the rates for Indigenous children in other areas.

In his Closing the Gap address to Parliament, the Prime Minister announced a package of measures that focussed on closing the gap in education.

As the Prime Minister said, "If you can’t read, if you can’t write, there is no possible way you can share in the prosperity of Australia".

We will waive all or part of the HELP debt for 3,100 students who commit to teach and stay teaching in very remote areas.

Our Government will provide an extra 200 million dollars to give more Indigenous students the support and mentoring they need through their secondary studies.

And we will work with individual communities and individual schools to invest 5 million dollars for projects that support and promote school attendance.

Just as importantly, the Prime Minister announced the Closing the Gap targets will be redeveloped in partnership with Indigenous Australians for the first time, with a direct focus on education.

Working directly with the communities to improve the educational outcomes in those communities is consistent with the data and is an approach that should be adopted, not just with Indigenous communities, but across all rural, regional and remote Australia.

The Productivity Commission’s 2016 report into Indigenous Primary School Achievement set it out succinctly:

"For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to be successful, a culture of high expectations in schools, strong student-teacher and community relationships and support for culture are particularly important—all underpinned by strong school leadership."

The improvements announced by Prime Minister Morrison support work already being done to improve Indigenous education outcomes, and broader work in Indigenous communities to improve health and support for families.

Our Government is also providing more money to Indigenous students, more money to rural, regional and remote students and more money to every student at an Australian school.

Right now, the Federal Government is providing the highest level of financial support in its history.

We are providing an additional 5.3 billion dollars to support more than 224,000 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students through the Indigenous loading component of our schools funding package.

This includes an additional 1.4 billion dollars to support more than 73,000 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students in NSW.

This additional funding for Indigenous students is part of our Government’s commitment to deliver real, needs-based funding.

But delivering real, needs-based funding is only half the job and that is why our record funding is matched by national reforms to the sector that will drive better results and outcomes – in particular in the regions.

Which brings me to the second area of focus for the Morrison Government: School reform.

We are providing record funding for state schools, for Catholic schools and for Independent schools.

This means 307.7 billion dollars in recurrent funding to all Australian schools to 2029, and 92.8 billion dollars for New South Wales schools.

That’s an extra 36.7 billion dollars nationwide and 11.6 billion dollars in New South Wales.

Under our Government’s Quality Schools Package, there will be more Commonwealth Government money for disadvantaged students, including those from remote and regional areas, those with a disability and Indigenous students.

Our Government recognises there are additional costs to educate students attending school in rural, regional and remote areas.

We will provide an estimated 69.8 billion dollars for remote loading — where the more remote a school, the higher its loading.

Total Commonwealth funding for students in regional and remote Australia will increase by nearly 62 per cent.

This money will benefit more than 436,000 primary and 299,000 secondary students attending the 3,357 schools that attract remoteness loading. 974 schools in New South Wales will attract 17.8 billion dollars.

Our Government is focussed on targeting support in education to where it is needed most.

And we understand that parents want to know that the money being invested on educating their children is delivering results.

Record money flowing into schools won’t improve one student’s education if that money is not invested wisely.

That is why school funding goes hand-in-hand with education reforms.

Our record Commonwealth funding is tied to states and territories delivering reforms recommended by David Gonski in the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools.

Our Government has signed a National School Reform Agreement with every state and territory government. This agreement is a national endeavour that commits all governments to providing the best opportunities for students and support for teachers in every school.

The three key areas of responsibility for the Federal Government are:

(1). Enhancing the Australian Curriculum so that teachers can identify each individual student’s learning needs. This will enable teachers and schools to better target their teaching of the curriculum to meet the unique demands of their students and community, and that means in country schools as well metropolitan schools.

(2). Creating a unique student identifier – so that students can be better supported no matter where they live. This will enable us to track the performance of rural and regional students to provide a clear indication of where students may be lagging and what can be done to address that.

(3). Establishing a new national evidence institute to drive improvements in teaching practice, school systems and policies. The institute’s work will identify "good practice" in our classrooms, and translate that into practical tools so that it becomes "common practice" throughout Australia’s teaching profession – benefiting all students, including rural and regional students.

The work being done on school funding and school reform is underpinned by the educational goals that were set out in the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.

The Melbourne Declaration was endorsed by all Australian education ministers – Federal, state and territory – and set out a shared vision for education in this country.

Central to the declaration were two goals.

Goal 1 stated that Australian schooling should promote equity and excellence.

Goal 2 said all young Australians should become successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens.

From these two goals, a nationally agreed action plan was produced and cascading from that has been much of the innovation and activity in education over a decade.

Last Friday, in Melbourne, we began the process of updating those goals.

Over the last ten years, major economic, social and technological changes have been reshaping employment, the economy, society and individuals.

Given these upheavals, it’s timely to have a frank discussion and to ask questions like: is our education system delivering the results we want? What are the results that we want? And are the opportunities to achieve those results being distributed equitably?

Updating the declaration will chart the course for everything we do in education over the next ten years.

It must address rural, regional and remote education.

Updating the Melbourne Declaration will involve an extensive consultation period and I want to hear the voices of all Australians, including those in rural, regional and remote communities. I want to hear from the people who have first-hand experience.

I will now address the third area of focus to improve outcomes for rural, regional and remote students: lifting the standard of teaching graduates.

Teachers are critical to a successful education. That means listening to them as we update the Melbourne Declaration.

It also means, supporting them to succeed and ensuring the next generation of teachers are of the highest quality.

A 2017 Deloitte Access Economic report identified teaching practice as the most influential school quality factor driving student outcomes.

This factor is at least twice as important as any other school quality factor in explaining student outcomes when compared to all other observed drivers.

Research by respected education academic John Hattie indicates that up to 30 per cent of differences in student achievements can be explained by differences in teaching.

The Federal Government doesn’t employ a single teacher but we are responsible for the national accreditation system for the universities and institutions that provide teacher training.

Through the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership — AITSL — our Government is implementing the reforms recommended by the 2014 Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group.

These reforms are being delivered in collaboration with states and territories, higher education providers, teacher regulators and the non-government sector.

The Morrison Government is ensuring the next generation of teachers will be better prepared to provide a top-class education from day one. No matter where they teach.

Before they can graduate, every teaching student must now pass a test that puts them in the top 30 per cent of the adult population for literacy and numeracy.

Starting this year, trainee teachers will also be required to pass a teaching performance assessment before they graduate.

Like passing a driving test before being allowed on the road, teachers will be assessed on things like managing challenging behaviour and how they teach literacy and numeracy, before they’re allowed in the classroom.

The Government’s TEMAG reforms are lifting standards across the board.

I would argue, however, that when it comes to rural, regional and remote schools, the preparation and recruitment of teachers should be more targeted and nuanced.  

Every regional school, as well as the community in which it operates, will present unique challenges for a teacher, and the evidence suggests that acknowledging and addressing those unique challenges during training and recruitment delivers better outcomes.

This was a common theme identified in an analysis of 44 innovative strategies implemented in small rural, regional and remote schools.

The authors of the analysis, Professor Helen Wildy and Dr Simon Clark, argued for the adoption of what they called a "rural lens" during training that encourages teachers to envisage their time in rural/remote postings as a career-long prospect.

Professor John Halsey made a similar recommendation in the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education, where he said preparing teachers for rural jobs should be "about foregrounding the challenges, demands and the rewards of teaching in Regional, Rural and Remote schools and communities and engaging teacher education candidates in a consideration of them as part of selection procedures."

To be accredited, providers have to demonstrate their initial teacher education programs prepare education students to teach across the curriculum and in diverse environments, like rural, regional and remote areas.

Accredited programs are also required to provide authentic practical placements.

In response to the Halsey review, our Government further tasked AITSL to research best practice approaches to teacher and school leader training, professional development and support for regional, rural and remote settings.

AITSL has significantly progressed this work and will put forward action items to Education Council this year regarding next steps in teaching and school leadership professional development and principal preparation.

We know that if medical students from rural and regional backgrounds train in those regions, they are more likely to stay and practice in rural and regional areas when they become a doctor.

Surely the best way to develop a rural lens in teachers is to train teachers who come from rural and regional communities. That is why I am opposed to any policy that would restrict Indigenous, rural and regional students from studying teaching. Supporting non-metropolitan students to become teachers is essential to address the needs of rural, regional and remote communities. That is why I strongly believe we need to keep our focus on producing quality teachers by the end of their degree not at the start.

Likewise, I hope the work done by AITSL will be used in conjunction with national accreditation requirements to guide the people who employ teachers to develop more relevant, place-based training and recruitment programs that better prepare and support teachers in rural, regional and remote schools.

To summarise, the Federal Government is providing record funding to rural, regional and remote schools; we are leading important national reforms to our education system to lift the standard of learning and teaching, and we are ensuring our next generation of teachers are of the highest quality when they finish their degree and ready to hit the ground running from day one. We are further focussed on the unique requirements of Indigenous education and working with the Indigenous community to close the gap.

Within this framework, there must also be scope for individual teachers and individual schools to respond to their individual circumstances working with their local community.

As Professor Halsey observed:

Central to successful schooling are leaders, teachers and support staff who are dedicated to a place and its people, and who have the ingenuity and resources to take fundamentals for a quality education like curriculum and assessment and bring them to life in ways that are highly engaging. Doing this kind of work requires bespoke preparation, ongoing support and recognition that what is being done is valued locally and further afield.

Which is very similar to the factors the Productivity Commission said led to success for Indigenous students: high expectations, strong school leadership and strong relationships between students-teachers and community.

Going to school at Tibooburra should present you with the same opportunities as going to school at Ultimo.

Growing up in the country should not be a disadvantage.

Every Australian child, no matter where they live, should have access to a world-class education.

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