Monday, 1 September 2008
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and the Minister for Social Inclusion. What steps is the government taking to lift literacy and numeracy results of Australian students to boost long-term productivity?
I thank the member for Parramatta for her question and note her deep interest in all matters related to education, and particularly school education in her electorate. The more than decade of neglect of our education system by the Howard government is over, and not a moment too soon. I regret that I have to advise the House of some very disturbing statistics emerging from the National Report on Schooling in Australia 2007. These statistics show what happens when you have a national government that engages in more than a decade of neglect of education, as the Howard government did. For six of those long years the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition had the education portfolio. This report shows that numeracy achievement across the years of primary school actually goes down—that is, the number of students who fail to meet adequate benchmarks increases the further that they go on in primary school.
I know it is going to be complicated for the member for O’Connor to understand, but if he would just try to stay with the program. Year 3 students are showing a result that 93.2 per cent of them are achieving the numeracy benchmark. By year 5 that falls to 89 per cent, and by year 7 it falls to 80.2 per cent.
I think I am being asked: whose fault is it? You might want to have that conversation with the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition—the people who served as education ministers in the Liberal Party for the last six years.
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order which goes to relevance. I did think the member from her side asked what the Rudd government was going to do about education. We have listened long enough to some issue of history. In fact, the issue of benchmarks that she refers to did not always exist.
I am pointing to the need to lift numeracy standards because we are seeing results like that. Then, having seen results like that, we are also advised of some of the things that would make a difference to numeracy attainment. The National Numeracy Review commissioned by the Council of Australian Governments and released in July this year concluded that the systematic teaching of numeracy in the early years of schooling, in maths lessons and in the wider curriculum, is essential to numeracy development. It went on to recommend that all jurisdictions should work towards a minimum of five hours per week of mathematics for students in all primary schools.
That important piece of information is joined by new research from the United Kingdom in the form of the 2008 Independent Review of Mathematics Teaching in the Early Years Settings and Primary Schools. The United Kingdom report recommended that every primary school should have a specialist mathematics teacher. So there we have the problem defined: numeracy standards and the number of students obtaining benchmarks going down over their years in primary school. We have work which suggests that more focus on numeracy development and specialist teaching can make a difference in primary school.
I am pleased to advise the House, and I am sure this will please the member for O’Connor, that the Rudd Labor government is responding to the lack of maths teachers in our schools. We made an election commitment, which we delivered in the recent budget, to halve HECS for people who got maths or science qualifications and then went teaching. On the weekend it was my pleasure to announce that we have expanded that program so that it also covers primary school teaching. If maths graduates from our universities in particular choose to go teaching, they will experience a 50 per cent HECS reduction. That can be worth $1,500 each year to them. This is part of dealing with the numeracy challenges that face this country when we are returning statistics like that.
Of course, no one thing fixes this challenge entirely. It takes quality teaching. It takes quality schools. It takes a new focus on disadvantage. It takes a new focus on transparency. It takes a new investment in making sure that we have teachers in our schools who have the kinds of skills that we need to ensure that we see numeracy formation. The Rudd Labor government are engaged in a series of practical steps to make a difference for Australian students because we want to see a quality education for every Australian child. We want to see every Australian child able to read, able to write, able to count and able to do numbers. Unfortunately, the legacy of the former government’s neglect is that we do not see these standards in Australian schools. We are getting on with the job of fixing it and getting the basics right.