ACT takes leadership role in education reforms

Every young person across Australia should receive the best education and opportunities we can provide, regardless of their background, location, individual circumstances or school setting.

I recently joined the Prime Minister, other State and Territory leaders and the Australian Local Government Association at the historic Council of Australian Government’s Leaders Retreat, to discuss what we need to do to make Australia fairer, healthier, more prosperous and resilient in the face of a competitive global economy.

Our agreed priorities, which will be progressed through the COAG, will provide a strong foundation for Australia's Federation into the future.

We discussed the challenges in delivering improved services and infrastructure, and most notably how we can work together to improve quality of life for Australians.

While much of the focus was on measures necessary to strengthen our health system, I was pleased that we all agreed that our school education system also warrants close attention, and that leaders will develop and consider proposals to arrest our recent slide down global education rankings.

I will lead the development of these recommendations with the Queensland Premier.

The clear recommendation from the Federation Reform expert panel was that for our kids to remain high achievers in a global society and economy, whatever field they choose to pursue, the responsibility rests largely on ensuring teacher quality.

I was the ACT Education Minister for seven years, so I know first-hand that our teachers are amongst the best in the nation and the world. As a body they are dedicated, care for their students, and work hard to give their students the absolute best start in life.

As the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians states, the education system plays a central role in building a democratic, equitable, prosperous, and just society.  It is the central goal of my Government that all ACT kids should participate in a high quality and accessible education system, no matter where they live, their circumstances, or the school they attend.

It starts from early childhood learning where the transition from a diversity of care arrangements into pre-school and then later into school is critically important.  We have been achieving good results in the ACT and it is from this benchmark we strive for even better outcomes for our students.

The education system must equip the young people of Australia with the skills, knowledge and attitudes to lead fulfilling, productive and responsible lives.

But it was concerning for all leaders that many of our students seem to be falling behind international counterparts or falling below necessary standards of educational achievement.

Working with the Queensland Premier, Education Minister Joy Burch and colleagues in Government, and key stakeholders, I will draw together a set of proposals on how we can make our national schools system more effective.

I will be highlighting, for example, some insights we made in developing our ACT Government early learning and schooling system.

In line with the Federation Reform Expert Panel’s findings, in the ACT we are committed to supporting and valuing teachers in our schools and to ensuring that our teaching workforce not just meets professional standards, but is empowered and resourced to improve student outcomes.

We need to attract the best university graduates into the honourable profession of teaching, and skill them so they can best impart their knowledge and passion for learning.

In the ACT we have established the Teacher Quality Institute to progress this important work across all education sectors. We are also taking steps to ensure that we attract, maintain and develop effective school leaders, teachers and administrators in our schools who can deliver the inspiration, leadership, support, skills and knowledge needed by students and teaching colleagues.

We have an enviable reputation for excellence and for achieving quality outcomes.  Our education system has consistently delivered Australia’s best overall NAPLAN results and we have some of the most effective educators in the country. 

As reported by the Education Minister in January 2015, more than 90 percent of the ACT’s Year 12 students graduating in 2013 were in work or study by the following year, with 79 percent of the remainder planning to study in the next two years.

Sharing the insights we have gained, and outcomes achieved from these investments and policies will help structure my proposals to COAG.

Importantly, in order to achieve an education system that enables all young people to meet their full potential, it is critical to establish an equitable funding framework.

At the Leader’s Retreat, we agreed to consider how to achieve more durable revenue arrangements and address growing financial pressures facing all governments.

I will continue to encourage Leaders to strengthen support for needs based funding for education, in line with the model established by the Gonski Review.

The Gonski review noted the achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds were larger in Australia than in comparable nations, which simply cannot continue.

The Commonwealth Government needs to reinstate a commitment to the National Education Reform Agreement, which was agreed following the Gonski Review.  Importantly, it needs to remove the growth funding cuts which are estimated to be around $7 million from 2018 onwards for the ACT.

The loss of such funding would have a direct effect on a large number of students, families, teachers and schools.

I will also be emphasising that childcare funding from the Commonwealth  needs to be put into a more stable and workable form, so that all children have the opportunity to access quality childcare, thus preparing them for their time at school.

Further, the Australian education system needs to be able to respond and adapt to the diverse needs of students who may have economic, cultural or physical challenges by increasing accessibility to support services.

It must cater to students from non‑English speaking backgrounds, as we have recognised in the ACT through investment in six special Introductory English Centres that support primary and secondary students to build their English language capabilities. 

We have powered ahead in the ACT by trialling parental engagement tools across a range of ACT schools, so we can know what works best for parents to be active participants in their child’s learning.

Every young person across Australia should receive the best education and opportunities we can provide, regardless of their background, location, individual circumstances or school setting.

The students currently in schools around our country will grow to be the leaders of tomorrow, responsible for guiding the security, prosperity, happiness and health of communities and environments in Australia and across the world.

At the Leaders Retreat we all recognised the challenge in front of us to strengthen our education system, and the responsibility we hold. Over coming months we must act to meet this challenge.