Release type: Speech


Address to UBS dinner for Joel Klein

Thank you for that welcome.

Let me thank UBS for their generous hosting of this evening and for their hosting of Joel Klein and his wife Nicole Seligman in Australia.

It is an extremely generous and valuable gesture that we greatly appreciate – one example of how companies can contribute to the common educational good. Peter thank you so much.

And let me welcome Joel and Nicole to Sydney, another great Australian city.

Joel has already had quite an impact on our national debate through his participation in our Forum in Melbourne on Monday and at the National Press Club yesterday. The core of his message is one I agree with absolutely: that we must be determined to provide a first class education for every child in every school and every community.

As he said, it requires a focus on three things: equity, excellence and accountability.

No one who has witnessed Joel’s marshalling of evidence about the systemic improvements he’s made in New York schools could be in any doubt about the effectiveness of his approach. His message is morally compelling and intellectually convincing.

The question is – as he put it: can we summon the political will to make necessary transformational change happen?

To borrow a very contemporary American expression – the answer is, yes we can.

The reforms we are putting in place, through the National Education Agreement and the new National Partnerships being discussed at COAG this weekend and through the Schools Assistance Bill we are currently putting through Parliament are vitally important steps forward.

To improve the education of every Australian child in every school requires three things.

It means focusing relentlessly on the quality of teaching in our schools.

It means making sure that every child benefits, including through dedicated partnerships to improve results in the most disadvantaged communities.

And it means a revolution in transparency and accountability.

This agenda involves new challenges and new opportunities for schools and teachers.

But it is also a challenge to all of us.

I am certain that we will not achieve world class education in every Australian school without the active support and involvement of the business community.

Employers have a growing stake in the performance of the education system. We know that our future prosperity rests with the skills, talents and motivation of young Australians.

But let me quote Rupert Murdoch, who said last weekend in his fourth Boyer Lecture.

“Sometimes I think that because we [in Australia] are doing well enough for most people, it's easier to close our eyes to the tens of thousands of children we are betraying. We have too many people who secretly believe the gap between those who are getting an education and those who are not is something that cannot be changed.

As a chief executive, I notice that many companies devote a large part of their giving to higher education. At the very critical levels of primary and secondary education, there is much less corporate participation. We tend to leave that to government.

…But Australian business has a role, too. Companies need to take a more active part in working with government to ensure that schools are giving people an education.”

There are, of course, many examples of leading companies, large and small, being directly involved in education in Australia.

There is the Adopt a School program in which the Australian Industry Group plays a leading role.

There is the Australian Business Community Network, which has developed many important new relationships between companies and schools in recent years.

And there is the Schools First Programme announced last month by the National Australia Bank. This latest is a major commitment, not just of $15 million dollars but also a practical commitment to support and work with schools in every region of the country.

These efforts are to be applauded but I believe that we need to deepen the partnership between employers and educators as part of our Education Revolution.

I have been struck by the success of the Teach First and Teach for America programs in the U.K. and in the U.S.

These programs recruit high-achieving graduates who might be heading for law, accounting, management consulting or similar careers and trains them to work as teachers for a period before they join their corporate employer.

Many of them, it turns out, stay involved in education over a much longer period. Evaluations have shown that they have a positive impact on students and schools.

And even after they finish teaching full time, they retain an active interest in contributing to education through partnership, through the kind of social entrepreneurship that helps to develop innovative new programs.

Some of you may have heard about Michelle Rhee, the 38 year old Teach for America Graduate who is now head of public schools in Washington DC and leading a daring and ambitious reform strategy in a city that has struggled to provide decent public education for decades.

I believe a similar program could have an important role to play in Australia. It should be adapted to unique Australian conditions and make the most of Australian skills and talents.

That is why tonight I am announcing that the Australian Government will work with other Governments and with the employer community to support a national program recruiting and training high-achieving graduates to teach in challenging schools around Australia.

I envisage that this scheme will recruit committed graduates, provide them with an intensive training and mentoring package and place them in some of the challenging school environments where we are all determined to make a difference.

Earlier this week we announced that we are putting $500 million on the table at this weekend’s COAG meeting to support reforms of teacher quality. As part of this proposed National Partnership, we will be prepared to fund elements of a graduate pathway program such as the intensive training of graduate recruits and their mentoring by experienced teachers and corporate employees.

I am delighted that the Victorian Government has shown leadership in committing itself to supporting such a program in Victoria. We will work together with them to ensure it is a success and develop it in other States and Territories, including, I hope, this one.

The U.S. and U.K. experience shows that an independent, not-for-profit delivery organisation is an important component of a successful approach.

For this reason, I am calling tonight for expressions of interest from organisations or coalitions of organisations who want to play a role in making this happen for Australia.

I am aware of the important pro bono work done by the Boston Consulting Group, Macquarie University and the Cape York Institute to develop a particular concept and that the Victorian Government has shown interest in this model. I have asked my Department to examine the options for developing this model further.

The Commonwealth is prepared to offer funding to build the capacity of a delivery organisation and accelerate the development of a national program.

Details of how to express an interest in this work will be available from my Department tomorrow.

But most importantly, we need the help and partnership of leading employers.

Companies including Freehills and Corrs Chambers Westgarth are already supporting the development of this program through various pro-bono contributions.

Tonight, I want to add to that number. I want to call on you to consult your boards and to offer your participation. I know that we all face demanding economic times. But they are times that will make the education of our young people and the character of employees even more important, not less.

I am asking for you to recognise the potential of your firms to contribute both to the improvement of standards in some of the most disadvantaged schools around Australia and to the development of our next generation of leaders. Corporate leaders. Civic leaders. Educational leaders.

So I will be writing to you, following on from this event and from Joel’s visit to Australia, seeking your direct involvement, your in-kind support, to develop a program. For those who are willing to get involved, we will work with you and with the delivery partners in this initiative to make it a powerful and lasting partnership.

Let me leave you with something else Joel said at Monday’s forum.

He said that he succeeded in life because he was able to stand on the shoulders of his teachers. Joel came from a public housing estate. So he needed particularly good teachers. Ladies and gentlemen, there could hardly be a better illustration of the power of great teachers than the success of Joel Klein.

But as he pointed out, one of the gravest inequities in our education system today is that the most disadvantaged children tend to have the least access to the best teachers. We need to turn that around. We need to allow children in Doveton and Macquarie Fields and in outback schools across the Northern Territory to stand on the shoulders of great teachers too.

The program I’ve announced tonight will help do that. And I ask all of you in a position to do so to get involved.

Thank you.