Motion Accorded Priority
Mr MATT KEAN
(Hornsby) [3.22 p.m.]: I move:
That this House supports the Government in delivering on its election commitment to give decision-making power back to local schools and school communities.
Earlier, in urging the House to accord this motion priority, I said there can be no higher priority for members of Parliament than improving the education system in New South Wales and delivering world-class education for our students. I say that knowing that members of this place are engaged in many important endeavours, such as rebuilding the State's economy, reforming the delivery of health care and fixing our transport system. Our success in all such endeavours begins, not when a businessman comes up with an idea, or when a nurse or doctor does the rounds; our futures are determined each and every day that our children enter the classroom. There can be no greater priority than improving our education system. We owe that to our children and to our future.
This reform will revolutionise how we deliver education in New South Wales. The Coalition Government believes decisions ought to be made by those closest to the people affected by the decisions. This Government trusts school principals, teachers and communities to decide what is best for them. That is why the Government is delivering on its election commitment to return decision-making power to the schools and school communities of New South Wales. Earlier I touched on the Gonski report, which flagged problems in our education system. This reform is necessary. The former Minister for Education and Training did not have the courage to deliver this reform, and she failed to do so. She did not have the courage to stand up to her paymasters in the union movement. This material reform will effect a change that this State needs.
Increasing school autonomy is a cornerstone of real reform in education. A good example of the importance of increasing local autonomy was seen in the Building the Education Revolution [BER] program. Government schools were not given the same opportunity as were non-government schools to manage their projects. Evidence from the Federal Government's own Building the Education Revolution task force shows that government school buildings constructed under the program cost two or three times more than did similar constructions delivered in the non-government school sector. It is an indisputable fact that involving principals and schools in their own projects results in greater value for money.
That constructing school buildings cost two or three times more in government schools than those built by non-government schools meant that the extra money spent could have gone to improving programs, improving teacher training and student learning—spending the money where it should be spent, on improving student learning outcomes by improving the ability of teachers to teach. I spoke with the principal of Asquith Public School, which provides an example of the failure of the Building the Education Revolution program. The school wanted a covered learning area. The cost was $200,000, which was $100,000 more than was left in the school's original budget. That denied the school a covered learning area.
A local quote for those works was $60,000. So the school could have funded and built a facility that would have made a material difference in learning outcomes in the school community of Asquith had it been able to organise that project locally. It is important to recall why the Building the Education Revolution debacle occurred. Essentially, it was because local schools were not trusted to manage their own projects. The Coalition trusts schools to make their own decisions over infrastructure, with appropriate support. Trusting local school communities and granting them greater autonomy will encourage more community involvement and truly revolutionise teaching and learning.
I am in favour of any program that will give schools more control over staffing, programs and the spending of the schools' resources. That will allow them to better accommodate students' needs and respond quickly as things change. The Coalition trusts principals. We believe in treating staff like adults, and we believe in engaging school communities and building school pride. All the evidence suggests that learning outcomes are improved by devolving power on the making of decisions to people who are closest to those who will be affected by those decisions.
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT
(Marrickville) [3.27 p.m.]: I move:
That the motion be amended by leaving out all words after "That" with a view to inserting instead:
this House calls on the Government to confirm that no school in New South Wales will lose funding or have to increase class sizes as a result of the Local Schools Local Decisions reforms.
The Government said this is one of the "most significant and far-reaching reforms in a decade". Those were the words used by the Government in its announcement. Well, forgive us for being sceptical, but the Coalition Government has a history, in the short year it has been in office so far, of overpromising and under-delivering reforms in education. No matter where one looks, time and again we see evidence of the Government overpromising but under-delivering. Given the way the reforms were announced, one can understand why there has been so much criticism of them. There was no consultation with the key stakeholders responsible for implementing the reforms. Teachers had no briefings on the reforms, despite the Minister saying time and again before the election that he was committed to working constructively with teachers.
No costings were given regarding these reforms. The "most significant and far-reaching reforms in a decade", according to the Government, came without costings, without detail and without framework. All of that will be provided down the track. Education is really important to the parents of New South Wales—those who trust that every day their children go off to school the teacher will do the right thing by them, and trust that the Government will get the right policy settings to support our hardworking teachers. The parents, students and teachers in New South Wales deserve a bit better than a four-page document that is supposedly the "most significant and far-reaching reforms in a decade". If they are the most significant and far-reaching reforms in a decade why is there no detail? Why are there no costings? Why did the Minister not consult with teachers? Why did the Minister not consult with key stakeholders?
The Opposition is looking for three very clear and simple commitments from the Government with regard to these reforms. First, the Government must clearly say that no school in New South Wales will lose funding as a result of these reforms, and there are very good reasons why the community is sceptical with regard to the Government's record in this area. To date we have seen time and again the Government penny-pinching in the Education portfolio. First and foremost, the Government has introduced preschool fees. Government preschools are now being forced to charge fees, which has never been done before. Secondly, the Government is reaching its hand into school bank accounts and taking back the interest. Thirdly, just at the weekend we saw that the penny-pinching has got so bad that schools are now going to have to pay to print the certificates for the Premier's Reading Challenge. That is how mean-spirited this Government is.
We seek very clear commitments that no school will lose funding and that class sizes will not increase as a result of these reforms. The Government speaks very proudly of the benefits of the devolution pilot operating in 47 schools. Let us not forget that the New South Wales Labor Government established that pilot, and we all know that that pilot has been successful because those schools were given additional funding to buy in the extra support they needed. So when the Government talks about a new careers adviser or an extra teacher here or extra support there, those 47 schools were provided with additional funding to do that. There has been no promise of additional funding with regard to these reforms.
Secondly, we call on the Government to sit down and consult with the teachers over these reforms. Teachers are raising many questions about the reforms and they deserve answers. Thirdly, and most importantly, the Government has to outline how these reforms will improve the focus on teaching and learning in our schools. Giving principals greater autonomy is all very well, but if it is greater autonomy over a shrinking budget and if it is greater responsibility to pick up the functions from head office that are no longer being done because of the staff cuts imposed by this Government, that is not in the best interests of students. We call on the Government to make those three commitments.
Mr JOHN FLOWERS
(Rockdale) [3.32 p.m.]: As a former teacher I am pleased to speak in debate on this motion accorded priority on the Local Schools, Local Decisions reforms. These are by far the most significant reforms to the New South Wales education system in more than a century. The hardworking Minister for Education has done more for schools in his first 12 months as Minister than the Labor Government did over the past 16 years. The Coalition Government is delivering on its election commitment to give decision-making powers back to our schools and school communities, who are best equipped with the knowledge of how to manage resources. What could be more important than giving New South Wales government schools the opportunity to respond to the needs in their local areas rather than formulas and forms dictated to by one large centralised bureaucracy?
When I was teaching it was always the case, as it still is, that the school community understands its students' needs much more than does head office. School budgets will be managed by the school principals, and this includes both staffing and non-staffing resources. Schools will manage more than 70 per cent of the total public school education budget. Currently, schools directly manage less than 10 per cent of the total public school education budget and manage up to 600 separate line items and small program budgets. Managing resources efficiently and effectively is critical for our schools, and the new resource allocation model, which will be developed by mid-2012 for staged implementation from 2013, will fund schools directly. That funding will reflect not just the student numbers but also the complexity.
Principals will now be free to make more local decisions for purchases up to $5,000. Schools will be able to call upon local contractors, thereby supporting the local community. These changes will eliminate many wasteful practices. The reforms will remove the unnecessary bureaucratic processes and red tape which have hindered schools for years. This education reform is about students, it is about the school community and it is about quality education. Local Schools, Local Decisions is giving decision-making power back to schools. This Government is listening and it is delivering.
Mr GUY ZANGARI
(Fairfield) [3.35 p.m.]: How about the verbiage from across the table today. I state at the outset that I support the motion as amended by my colleague the member for Marrickville. There is no doubt that this is about government cost-cutting. The leaked Treasury documents state that the Government is cutting between $500 million and $700 million of recurrent funding out of the New South Wales Department of Education budget. Let us talk about how we will not lose funding for literacy and numeracy programs and how we will improve the literacy and numeracy of our students. No-one has mentioned anything about the programs happening in schools—the programs for gifted and talented pupils or the special needs programs. I will address the issue of special needs programs later when I speak about the way in which the Minister treated students with disabilities earlier this year. I notice that the Minister, who is sitting opposite, is smirking.
What about technology programs? What about programs supporting first-year-out teachers and those teachers who are working very hard in schools? There has been no mention of vocational education and training programs and no mention of increased class sizes. We all know that increasing class sizes is detrimental to teaching and learning, and the member for Riverstone should know that because he was a part of the Diocese of Parramatta. Students need a learning environment where teachers do not have the distraction of having to teach a large class. Yesterday the Minister said there are no costings. It is amazing that the Government claims that this is the biggest educational reform in New South Wales, yet the Minister does not even have any costings available. Let us look at the Government's performance so far in 2012. First, 750 schoolchildren were left on the kerbside, out in the cold, on the first day of school. Then there was the introduction of public preschool fees.
Mr Kevin Conolly:
Point of order: My point of order relates to relevance. The member for Fairfield has only three minutes in which to speak and he has veered right off the subject matter.
The DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! I have heard the point of order and I uphold it. I draw the member for Fairfield back to the leave of the motion.
Mr GUY ZANGARI:
I will get back to the motion because as we are discussing looking at the amended— [Time expired
Mr MATT KEAN
(Hornsby) [3.58 p.m.], in reply: I appreciate the input from the member for Marrickville and the member for Fairfield. It was one of the more bizarre and interesting works of fiction that I have ever heard. These conspiracy theories may work in the Australian Labor Party but in the real world people work off the facts, and the facts on the record are—
The DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! The member for Fairfield has made his contribution.
Mr MATT KEAN:
—that there will be no funding cuts. The Education budget will be unaffected by these reforms. There will be no change to class sizes, contrary to the view put forward by the member for Fairfield. The member for Fairfield forgets what this reform is about. It is about putting students at the centre of decision-making, empowering them and improving learning outcomes. The former Minister for Education and Training, who is present in the Chamber, did nothing to improve student learning outcomes and had no zeal for reform.
Mr Nathan Rees:
Point of order: The greatest change in education in this State in the last half century was the increase in the school leaving age.
The DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! That is not a point of order.
Mr MATT KEAN:
Blaxcell Street Public School is a real-world example of a school that has been positively impacted by this policy. This school has employed an additional teacher to establish a year 1 class to assist students who have not met kindergarten exit levels due to late school entries or new arrivals from overseas. This has led to improved student outcomes on the kindergarten to year 2 literacy and numeracy continuum. The school also created an additional executive position to mentor and support 42 new scheme teachers across the board. This led to an improved capacity of new scheme teachers to meet the individual needs of their students.
The purpose of this reform is to improve learning outcomes for students and improve the way that teachers teach. I am delighted to support anything that will improve learning outcomes for students because education is the key to our future. Our future success as a nation will be determined by the policies that we implement today. Members on this side of the House recognise the challenges that we face in education. They have been outlined in the Gonski review. Over the last decade education standards have declined. This reform seeks to redress the imbalance. We will not adopt the do-nothing approach that was taken by our opponents in their 16 years in government. This is a material reform. Those opposite pay lip-service to empowering local communities, but we must look at what they do and not at what they say.
Question—That the words stand—put.
The House divided.
Mr J. D. Williams
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
The DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr Thomas George):
Order! It being before 4.00 p.m. the House will now proceed with Government Business.