It’s a pleasure to attend your second annual national conference and to deliver one of my first speeches as the Minister for Education.
The IEU is an important and valued voice in the debate about education.
And I recognise its concern about the future of the sector – and especially the work of independent schools and the role of teachers.
Can I also acknowledge that Saturday 5th of October is World Teachers’ Day – even though here in Australia, due to the timing of our school holidays, we celebrate our teachers on the last Friday of October.
This year World Teachers’ Day in Australia falls on October the 25th, and I would urge parents and students to take a moment on that day to acknowledge the incredible and lasting impact a great teacher can have on a child’s life and future career.
The Federal Government’s policy on schools is achievable, affordable and believable.
It addresses all the elements that make up a good education system, not just funding.
And it’s in tune with the Coalition’s values and the broad direction we’ve mapped out for government in the coming years.
The Prime Minister is leading a stable, methodical, “no excuses” government – one that promises only what it can do, and will do what it promises.
By re-establishing a productive, diverse economy, we’ll foster an Australia where people can create opportunities and – ultimately – fulfil their potential.
A Students-First Policy
Our plan for school education is unapologetically a “students-first” policy.
Every aspect is directed at better educating young Australians – giving them the tools to succeed in their chosen field of endeavour and to flourish in the world.
So much of recent debate on education has been about funding.
On that topic, the Coalition’s election policy was crystal clear – we’ll match the previous government’s funding envelope over the next four years.
And – over that period – we’ll work with the States and Territories to secure stable and sustainable school funding into the future.
We’re also committed to improving the consultation process with the non-government schools sector.
Under the previous government consultation was often very secretive, and the Coalition recognises many stakeholders have felt that they were left out.
We have long believed that a broader consultation process is needed on matters that are considered by the Standing Council for Education.
In particular, I have long been committed to improving how the non-government schools sector can be best represented on the Australian Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs Senior Officials Committee – or AEEYSOC.
Currently, there is no non-government sector representation on the AEEYSOC.
The non-government school sector representatives also don’t have access to the committee papers.
Considering the non-government sector educates more than one-third of all students, it seems only fair that it is treated by government as a genuine partner in education.
That’s why I’ve commissioned advice from the Department of Education on how the current arrangements can be improved so that the non-government schools sector has appropriate representation.
This Coalition Government has an obsession with raising standards and lifting student outcomes.
We have a plan for sensible reform, and we’ll work with the States and Territories – and the non-government sectors – to bring about continuous improvement in student outcomes.
And this will allow students and schools to compete with the world’s best.
A Stronger Say For School Communities
My five years as Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training have given me an enormous advantage coming in to the education portfolio.
I’ve spent the past five years visiting a huge range of schools, right across the country.
And – most valuable of all – I’ve listened and talked to countless students, parents, teachers, principals and other members of school communities.
These conversations instilled in me a belief that the views, ideas and practical solutions put forward by these communities have been underappreciated.
And I’m convinced that they – and especially school principals – should have a stronger say in how their schools are run.
Under the Coalition, you’ll see the end of the “command-and-control” regime that has emanated from Canberra.
We’ll amend the Australian Education Act to remove those provisions that allow Canberra to dictate what States and Territories must do in their schools.
The Government believes, for example, that if public schools want to become Independent Public Schools, they should be free to do so.
Such schools have proved a terrific success in Western Australia – allowing locals to set their own priorities and make more day-to-day decisions about important matters.
The Government will soon establish a $70 million Independent Public Schools Fund to encourage schools to be more empowered, and to take on more autonomy and responsibility.
Implicit in the Coalition’s support for greater autonomy is the recognition of two indisputable facts.
The first is that States and Territories – plus the non-government sectors – run schools, not the national Government.
And the second fact is that – in our federal system – there isn’t one school system, but more than 20 different systems when you include Catholic and independent schools.
So there will never be a one-size-fits-all approach from the Coalition.
Another field in which you can expect to see a stronger focus is teaching standards.
Indeed, this is one of the areas in which a Federal Minister for Education has the most scope to bring about change.
From my experience – and I suspect from yours, too – school teachers are among the most influential and inspiring people in a young person’s life.
Domestic and international studies have consistently shown that the quality of teaching has the single biggest impact, within a school, on student outcomes.
Teachers do outstanding work in Australia, and the Government is here to support them to become the best professionals they can be.
The new Coalition Government wants to be the best friend teachers have ever had.
We do think that concerted action is required to lift the quality and status of the teaching profession.
Such action doesn’t start in the classroom, but earlier on – when teachers are gaining their qualifications.
The Government will improve admission standards for university teaching courses.
And the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership has already started this work.
We’ll establish best-practice guidelines to encourage universities to base admission not just on academic achievement, but on the personal qualities that make good teachers.
And by this I mean being truly motivated to teach and work with children, exhibiting good communication skills, and having a record of community service.
We should be admitting to university courses people who have marked down teaching as their first or second preference, not their last.
Establishing more flexible pathways into teaching is another initiative the Government will explore in an effort to attract more high-quality candidates into the profession.
That is why the Government will set up a Ministerial Advisory Group to look into initial teacher-education courses and to then advise improvements.
This Group will consider the teaching methods imparted, the trainees’ knowledge of the school subjects to be taught, and the adequacy of “in-school” training opportunities.
Overall, the Government wants to work with universities to make teaching courses more rigorous and attractive.
Strong, capable leadership is vital at schools, and it’s absolutely essential under the less tightly controlled Coalition model.
The Government recognises the demands faced daily by principals in managing all aspects of running a school – such as administration, finance and human resources.
Providing principals with greater support will be critical if more autonomous models of schooling are to succeed.
In line with this, the Government will work to develop a new school-leadership programme – modelled on an MBA-style executive education programme – focussing on world-class techniques and approaches.
The Government will work with the government and non-government sectors to ensure this programme is the best in Australia.
I’m all for teachers, and I’m all for them being the best at their job they can possibly be.
That’s why I’m all for them having improved training and professional development.
The third area of education reform under the Abbott Government is curriculum.
Australia is moving towards the implementation of what needs to be a highly robust national curriculum.
We’ll review the Australian Curriculum so that it delivers what parents expect, and presents a balanced view of Australia’s history and government structures.
We’ll make sure the content equips students with the knowledge and skills they really need, without being rigid or unduly prescriptive.
And we’ll restore the focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics in primary and secondary schools.
The Government will also ensure these subjects get more attention when teachers are being trained.
We’ll maintain funding of two highly successful science education programmes – Primary Connections and Science by Doing – that were threatened with cuts under the previous government.
We also plan to work with States and Territories to encourage a greater focus on science, technology, engineering and maths – with a view to increasing the extent to which they become compulsory in senior secondary years.
Finally, the Government will refocus the work of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.
By transferring to the Department of Education all data, reporting and compliance functions not related to curriculum, the Authority will be free to develop the highest possible standard curriculum.
The Authority will also develop rigorous benchmarking processes that will allow Australia to compare its curriculum against the highest international standards.
As I suggested at the start, the Government’s education policy is a fresh, responsive, practical new approach.
There are many other areas I haven’t had time to touch on today.
But I can assure you again we’ll be taking a methodical, no-surprises approach to government.
We believe students are the single most important people in education, and we will be putting them first.
We’re not for taking over anyone or anything.
And we don’t subscribe to the “command-and-control” philosophy.
Our style is characterised by respect for school communities, productive relationships with States, Territories and the non-government sector, and a determination to lift standards.
The end result of our efforts must be, of course, a better education for young Australians.
It’s been a pleasure to present to you today.
I wish you all the best for this conference this afternoon and tomorrow.
And I look forward to continuing our conversation – to the ultimate benefit of Australian children and Australian families.