Release type: Speech


Beyond Year 12 Conference - Towards better student outcomes


The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

Our Government believes Australian students should receive a world-class education, tailored to individual learning needs, and relevant to a fast-changing world.

Students should be challenged and supported to progress and excel in learning in every year of school, appropriate to each student’s starting point and capabilities.

To achieve this, our Government is delivering real, needs-based funding and our Government is delivering real reforms to improve student outcomes.

The Federal Government will increase its funding contribution for state schools to 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) by 2023.

This is the highest level of Commonwealth investment in state schools since needs-based funding was recommended by the 2011 Gonski Review.

The Morrison Government will provide a record 309.6 billion dollars in recurrent funding to all Australian schools over the period 2018 to 2029.

This represents an extra 37.6 billion dollars compared to 2016-17 Budget settings.

State and Territory Governments, as the majority funder of government schools, will be expected to work towards contributing at least 75 per cent of the SRS for those schools.

There will be more money available for disadvantaged students, including those with a disability, those from remote and regional areas and indigenous children.

However, despite the states, territories and Commonwealth spending more money than ever before on education our performance is stagnating in parts and going backwards in others.

Over the last fifteen years,

  • Australian students dropped from 4th in the world for reading to 16th,
  • we fell from 11th in the world in mathematics to 25th, and
  • from 8th in science to 14th.

As David Gonski observed of our educational standards:

"The extent of the decline is widespread and equivalent to a generation of Australian school children falling short of their full learning potential".

Just spending more money won’t help our kids if the money being spent is wasted.

And our belief is backed by the evidence, which shows that after a certain level of spending on education, the link between every additional dollar spent and outcomes achieved diminishes.

PISA is an international comparative test that measures the performance of 15-year-old school pupils in mathematics, science, and reading.

When the OECD analysed the 2015 PISA Results it reported the following: "among those countries and economies whose cumulative expenditure per student is more than US 50,000 dollars, the relationship between spending per student and performance is no longer observed".

For example, an analysis of the 2015 PISA results by the ABC revealed that students in Korea, Estonia and Poland performed better on international maths tests than Australian students, yet Australia was spending between 12,000 dollars and 28,000 dollars per student more than those countries.

So the evidence supports what seems like common sense – that spending more money can’t be the only answer.

Instead, our Government believes that what a student achieves is as important as how much money you spend.

That is why our Government is delivering generational reform with our National School Reform Agreement.

We are ensuring every state and territory commits to the improvements identified by David Gonski and his team in the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools.

That review identified three priorities and made 23 recommendations across five areas.

The three priorities were:

1. deliver at least one year’s growth in learning for every student every year,

2. equip every student to be a creative, connected and engaged learner in a rapidly changing world, and

3. cultivate an adaptive, innovative and continuously improving education system.

It was our Government that commissioned the Gonski 2.0 Review and it is our Government that is delivering it.

But we must continue to do more.

Later this week I will take a proposal to the Education Council, which is comprised of every state and territory education minister.

As part of the Morrison Government’s education agenda, I will seek their agreement to update the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.

The Melbourne Declaration set out the aspirational goals for educating young Australians to improve equity and excellence for every student.

It was endorsed by all education ministers.

The Melbourne Declaration is now ten years old so it’s time that we again look at how we are educating our children and agree a way forward to continue improving student outcomes.

An updated declaration will need to be a big picture document – it must outline what we want for students, for society and for the economy in the future and ask how education will get us there. Clearly one piece of that big picture will be preparing young people for higher education – which is why we are all here at this conference.

This will mean looking beyond the scope of the original Melbourne Declaration to encompass education from early childhood through to higher education, vocational training and then beyond.

We must look at improving every aspect of our education system. Our children deserve alignment across policy, practice and delivery across the whole of their education.

This is an issue that should be above politics.

From the outset, I will be seeking the co-operation of my state and territory colleagues to work together to develop a new national declaration and to give our kids the education they deserve.

More broadly, it is heartening to see some of the key stakeholders in education share this starting position. The seven peak professional education bodies in Australia…

  • The Australian Alliance of Associations in Education
  • The Australian Council for Educational Leaders
  • The Australian College of Educators
  • The Australian Education Union
  • The Australian Curriculum Studies Association, which includes the Australian Primary Principals Association and the Australian Secondary Principals Association
  • The Independent Education Union, and
  • Early Childhood Australia

…made a joint statement earlier this year where they committed to updating the Melbourne Declaration, describing it as "unfinished business".

Their joint statement said: "Our learning systems (from early learning and schooling to further and higher education) will need to continue to adapt to our local, national and global environments. We need to ensure that all young Australians develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions that will enable them to thrive, to be agents of change, and to genuinely experience wellbeing."

I welcome their commitment and give an undertaking to work with any organisation that is willing to work together, to listen to the people who have our children’s best interests at heart and to set realistic and achievable goals that continue the intent of the original Melbourne Declaration of providing equity and excellence in education.

Developing a new national declaration is a long-term project. As with previous declarations, there will be an extensive public consultation process.

Every Australian has a stake in our education system and I believe that every Australian can make a contribution to improving it.

I want to hear from the students in the classroom, the teachers on the frontline, the parents supporting their school communities to succeed and the subject matter experts.

For example, we understand that preventing bullying, especially cyberbullying, is a priority for parents. This is everyone’s responsibility. I am working closely with the Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, and the Prime Minister to ensure that our parents, schools and community are equipped with the tools to keep our children safe online.

Also, I will be asking all members of Parliament to engage with their communities to find out how the education system is best serving them…and where it might be letting them down.

It will be important that we, as education ministers on the Education Council, ensure a public consultation process where anyone can provide input or feedback to inform the development of a new declaration on our education goals.

One thing that is apparent is that we need to strengthen the relationship between students, parents and educators to make sure we have high-performing school communities.

As the Gonski 2.0 Review found: "The more parents and carers engage in learning, the greater the chance that their children are engaged, motivated and confident learners".

The recent announcement from NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes to introduce a School Community Charter for state schools is commendable and worthy of further examination.

The NSW charter has a clear focus on communication and respect, but also an acknowledgement this is not a one-way street.

So teachers will be expected to take the time to speak to parents and carers about the progress of students, but also parents will be expected to show teachers respect when communicating with them.

I don’t expect that you can simply cut and paste the NSW School Community Charter into Victoria or Western Australia.

But it’s worth asking the question: can we provide the framework and the tools for schools and school systems to develop their own school charters that share universal aspirations while acknowledging local, unique circumstances?

As I have travelled around the country talking to teachers and parents, I keep hearing the same message: the curriculum is overcrowded and that means we are sacrificing quality for quantity.

Teachers tell me that there is too much being taught and we should be concentrating on developing a deeper understanding of essential content.

The Australian Curriculum has the fundamentals right and therefore a total overhaul is not required but we can maintain stability while reducing complexity.

As Mark Northam, Assistant Secretary of the Independent Education Union, wrote in a review of the Australian Curriculum: "What has resonated with IEU members (particularly those in primary schools) is recognition of the overcrowded curriculum. Our members have identified overloading of curriculum as a key issue for some time, and confirmation of the problem is welcome. It is essential that teachers play a central role in the consultation that must now occur to address this problem."

The first Australian Curriculum was created in 2010 with English, mathematics, science and history chosen as its basis. By 2015, the humanities, social sciences, the arts, technologies, health and physical education, and languages had been added.

The states and territories have been progressively implementing the curriculum over this time. 

The national curriculum was established to improve consistency and quality across jurisdictions for all students and to help teachers focus on teaching what is important.

The fundamentals of the Australian Curriculum have not changed since it was first agreed to.

In 2019-2020 the COAG Education Council will be asked to consider if the Australian Curriculum requires reviewing and refining.

It is the view of the Morrison Government that our education system must ensure that every child gets the basics right.

If you can’t read, and you can’t write and you can’t count, then you can’t continue to learn.

Australia’s chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel recently made a compelling argument for students to focus on learning discipline-specific knowledge.

As Dr Finkel points out, mathematics is a skillset that is fundamental to science, to economics, to medicine, to engineering, to geography, to architecture, to IT.

Maths, says Dr Finkel, is a "textbook example of why you need to learn things in sequence through hard work, with the guidance of an expert teacher – and the very clear message from schools that it’s a priority".

Dr Finkel argues that the hard slog that is studying mathematics becomes vulnerable if we send a message to students that "soft skills" are the keys to success.

Only deep, subject-matter knowledge is the key to success.

As Dr Finkel says: "Mastering a discipline is mastering your destiny. Focus on your discipline – then you’ll see your options expand."

That is not to say there is not a role for developing skills like problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and teamwork, but those skills cannot be applied if someone doesn’t have the basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

Our Government will never support any change to our national curriculum that diverges from these priorities.

There are many factors in a child’s education that are beyond the control of Government and education authorities – such as natural talents, home life and exposure to books.

Of the things that authorities can control, we know that teachers can make the biggest difference to a child’s education. 

A 2016 Deloitte Access Economic report identifies 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 a student’s achievements can be improved by as much as 30 per cent if they experience quality teaching.

One Australian study found that a student with a teacher in the top 10 per cent for effectiveness could achieve in half a year what a student with a teacher in the bottom 10 per cent could achieve in a full year.

So we need to look after our teachers.

A survey of 453 teachers across NSW by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health found two-thirds of teachers identified time management and having too much work as their biggest challenge, and more than half said they wanted more time for collaboration, mentoring and planning.

The teachers I speak to as Education Minister, as a rural MP and as a parent are passionate about education, and passionate about making a difference in the lives of young people.

I want to ensure that the best, the brightest and the most passionate people want to become teachers and want to stay teaching.

That is why last month I asked the House Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training to inquire into and report on the status of the teaching profession, specifically looking at increasing the attractiveness of the profession, reducing out-of-hours work and increasing retention rates.

We also need to engage the parents in their child’s education every chance we get and get communities invested in the success of their local schools.

And let’s also rediscover some common sense.

For example, student teachers need more time in the classroom as part of their teacher training. It’s like learning a musical instrument or playing a sport: practice makes perfect.

If mobile phones are distracting students in the classroom then teachers should be empowered to conduct a class without them. There is a time and place for technology in education and surely we can all agree on that.

At all levels of education, we must focus on attendance and completion not enrolment. Enrolment achieves nothing if students don’t turn up. One of the Government’s Closing the Gap initiatives targets the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school attendance compared to non-Indigenous students. Why? Because the evidence shows that around 20 per cent of the gap in school performance between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous 15 year-old students is explained by lower school attendance.

There is a similar situation when it comes to early childhood education, where the disparity in attendance between children from low socio-economic, rural and remote and Indigenous backgrounds far outweighs those from urban areas and means these children start school at a significant comparative disadvantage.

We all must work harder to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school attendance, but surely lifting the attendance and completion rates of every student will make a big difference in lifting outcomes.

Universities must be leaders and clearly communicate to school students the reality of university degrees. For example, to be a successful engineer you need to have studied mathematics. As Dr Finkel has said: "It’s unacceptable to enrol students with a level of preparation that sets them up to fail". English should always count towards an ATAR score.

We have all benefitted from Australia’s world-class education system and we all have a stake in the education of future generations.

The new national declaration will be a document for the whole nation.

I want as many people as possible to contribute to the document.

I extend an invitation to every Australian to work together to deliver a world-class education system, tailored to individual learning needs, and relevant to a fast-changing world.