Skip to content

Reversing declining school standards must be a critical priority

I rise to speak today on this Matter of Public Importance on the failure of Labor to listen to students, parents, unions and teachers on school funding.

I firstly want to thank Australian teachers for the incredible work they do.

I regret that this motion has not referenced the importance of evidence-based teaching and learning, critical to turning around our declining school standards, which is now a national embarrassment.

This is the most critical issue facing Australian parents, carers, teachers and students who are being denied the opportunity to reach their best potential. Why do one in five students in year 7 have the reading ability of a grade 4 student? Why did one in three students fail the most recent their plan? These are shocking statistics. Proven teaching methods such as explicit instruction must be mandated in every Australian classroom. 

Why is this critical issue receiving such scant attention from both Labor and the Greens? The biggest disadvantage is not learning to read and write. Over the past two decades, despite a 60% increase in funding, our standards have declined. Twenty years ago, Australia ranked fourth internationally in reading, eighth in science and eleventh in maths. Now we have fallen to sixteenth in reading, seventeenth in science and twenty-ninth in maths. 

Australia has lost the equivalent of one year’s worth of learning over the past two decades. We were once on par with top-performing nations such as Singapore. Now the average 15-year-old Singaporean is three years ahead of their Australian counterparts.

In its submission to Labor’s review on the National School Reform Agreement, the Australian Education Research Organisation has reiterated the importance of reforms to ensure that proven evidence-based teaching methods are adopted in every Australian classroom, along with regular student assessment, targeted interventions and continuous database tracking of student progress.

I put on the record, under the Coalition, funding doubled from $13 billion to $25.3 billion. But this must not be a funding war, but a war to improve student outcomes to ensure the next generation of Australians can reach for the stars.

Under the Gonski needs-based funding model, the Commonwealth is meeting its current obligations, providing 20 per cent and more of the schooling resource standard to government schools.  But with the exception of the ACT, the states and territories which run schools are well below 80 per cent. Victoria is only 70 per cent, Queensland 69 per cent and the Northern Territory a dismal 59 per cent. So under Gonski, students in government schools are being short-changed by the states and the Northern Territory. All but one of these are Labor governments.

The Albanese Government was elected on a promise to deliver 100 per cent SRS funding, a pathway to full and fair funding. But Labor’s pathway has become some fanciful yellow brick road to nowhere. All we have seen is review after review from Education Minister, Jason Clare, who has delayed the National School Reform Agreement by one year, in a decision that even the Australian Education Union has called a betrayal of underfunded public schools and disadvantaged students.

In fact, the Budget papers show the Albanese Government is cutting $1.2 billion in funding to government schools over the next four years.  What hypocrisy from Labor. Where is the investment in better student outcomes or even building boarding schools for Indigenous students in East Arnhem Land and the Pilbara, which have been cruelly axed by this government? So much for listening to Indigenous voices.

The big funding challenge facing Australian schools is to ensure that we are investing in the things that will help students and teachers to excel. Evidence-based teaching and learning. Fixing the overcrowded curriculum and dramatic improvements in initial teacher education.

And I say to this minister, what about the growing teacher shortage crisis? We have a crisis in this country. So many teachers are under pressure with the administrative burden, and yet this minister has done absolutely nothing to fix the teacher shortage crisis, particularly in regional Australia. Our teachers are drowning in work. Principals cannot find teachers to teach their students. It is an absolute disgrace and in this motion today I am calling for urgent action from the government to fix the teacher shortage crisis in Australian schools, particularly across regional Australia. Thank you.

Share this