Despite a 60 per cent increase in schools funding over the last two decades, we have continued to see a decline in school standards. Making sure the education system is well resourced is vital, but, sadly, this is not translating to higher student performance. A focus on student outcomes is vital. We need to make sure that children are able to read and write at an early age. This is the best way to combat disadvantage. We need to provide intervention and support when they need it. We need to ensure that all children and teenagers have the opportunity to be their best selves. Under this Albanese government, there’s evidence of an acceleration of decline in school standards. According to the OECD’s PISA tests, the average 15-year-old today is at least 12 months behind in their learning compared to where they were in the year 2000. In mathematics, the slide is even greater, at 14 months. With each passing year, this gap widens.
It is absolutely unacceptable that 20 per cent of students starting year 7 have the reading ability of a year 4 student, as found by the Australian Education Research Organisation, which, I have to say, is doing a range of incredible work—a very important initiative of the former coalition government. The budget papers show that the number of year 3 students in the bottom two bands for reading in NAPLAN has increased from 8.6 per cent in 2018 to 11.2 per cent in 2022. For numeracy, the percentage of students in the bottom two bands of NAPLAN has gone up from 11.5 per cent to 14.6 per cent. These are big jumps in poor student outcomes.
So, while the Minister for Education, Mr Clare, talks a big game about lifting standards, what has he actually done? All we hear from this government is that it is running review after review. We do not hear about any action. It is critical right now that we adopt as a nation evidence based learning, such as explicit instruction and the teaching of phonics, in every Australian school. Many schools have stepped up and are doing a remarkable job, in this respect, but we know that these methods work—the research is beyond dispute—and that every Australian student deserves the very best methods of teaching.
I do want to congratulate the Tasmanian Liberal government, which has a plan to mandate these methods of explicit instruction, but where are the other states and territories? As I said, parents do not want to hear about any more reviews. Parents have lived through the era of what I call loose learning—inquiry based learning—which does not work and which has seen Australian students falling further and further behind. This is embarrassing. Parents deserve action, and our students across this nation deserve a better way of learning.
So the minister needs to step up and take responsibility for the state of education in this country. He has had over a year to take responsibility for education, but he continues to shirk his duty. We have seen no plan of action. We have only seen review after review, and this is not good enough. It’s not good enough for students, teachers, schools and parents, who want to ensure that their children get the very best education.
On behalf of the coalition, I will continue to fight for parents and their children, who deserve a quality education comparable with the best countries in the world that will prepare them for the future—an education which will stand them in good stead when they apply for jobs and enter the workforce and an education which will ensure that we are very much a clever nation. Without a proper grounding in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, our children will suffer, our schools will suffer and our economy will suffer. So, as I said, we need action right now from the Minister for Education and from the Albanese government. I call on the minister to stop the talk and implement the much needed urgent action.