PARLIAMENT, CANBERRA: I rise to speak on the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011. This Bill removes the requirement that the national curriculum for the non-government schools must be implemented by 2012. The practical effects of the bill will be, in essence, to do what the Coalition has been asking of the government since last November, and that is, firstly, to delay the start of the implementation of the national curriculum on the basis that it is simply not ready and, secondly, to ensure that the non-government schools can also implement the national curriculum to the same timetable as the government schools.
We asked for a delay last November in a motion put to this Parliament by Christopher Pyne, the Shadow Education spokesperson, and seconded by me. We then further moved an amendment to the Schools Assistance Bill in March, to ensure that non-government schools would be able to implement the national curriculum at the same time as government schools. We moved these motions and amendments not because we wanted to be obstructionist with regard to the government’s policies and plans, but simply because the national curriculum was not ready. Every single stakeholder knew this. The school principals did, the education authorities did, the teachers did, and the parents did. We could see as plain as day that the national curriculum was not ready. But of course the government did not see this and not only voted against our motion last November, but then also against our amendments in March.
It is worth reflecting on some of the stakeholder comments back in 2010. If you look across the board, almost every single stakeholder has said that the national curriculum has serious flaws and that more time was needed for its implementation. For example, the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals has described the national curriculum as being:
not up to scratch, drowning in content, overlapping subjects such as science and geography and contains no agreement as to how it would be assessed.
The Australian Council of Deans of Science wrote to Minister Garrett asking him to delay the implementation of the science curriculum. The President of the Science Teachers’ Association, Anna Davis, said there needs to be another round of consultation which includes teachers, which was not included in the first round.
The Mathematical Association of New South Wales claimed the maths courses proposed for years 11 and 12 were too difficult for students with learning difficulties but too easy for those who were gifted students. The History Teachers Association had also written to the Minister expressing concern about the national curriculum—and I could go on.
We then had the problem that the government was willing to defer the implementation for the government schools sector but not for the non-government schools sector. For many, many years under both the Coalition and Labor governments, we have had an implied principle that every school policy that is introduced would apply equally to the government schools and the non-government schools, be that national testing, National Safe Schools Frameworks, the My School framework, school starting ages, et cetera. The only area where there is not consistency between the non-government schools and the government schools is in the area of funding. So amendments earlier in the year were simply to defer the starting date for the non-government schools sector and to bring it into line with the government schools sector. But of course the Labor government voted against that one also.
So it comes as somewhat of a surprise, but also a welcome surprise, that this amendment is put to the parliament now.
Wyatt Roy: They have seen the light!
Mr TUDGE: They have seen the light, as the member for Longman just pointed out. This amendment does give the discretion to the government to defer the implementation of the national curriculum for as long as is required and to ensure that the implementation start date will be consistent between the non-government school sector and the government school sector. We hope on this side of the House that they will defer it until the national curriculum is ready. It is a fairly simple proposition. We just simply ask that they defer the start date until the national curriculum is ready.
The national curriculum is not ready now and it may still take some time before it is ready. We suggest that the government not rush this process, that it takes its time and gets it right, unlike many other things which it rushes and gets wrong. This is a very important measure which they are trying to introduce. It has great impact across 10,000 schools across the country so we simply suggest that the government spends the time, does the work properly, consults with the appropriate groups and gets the national curriculum right before they try to introduce it.
I must say, I have never been enamoured with the concept of a national curriculum. I have always believed that we should have national consistency in our curriculum but not necessarily that we have to have exactly the same curriculum across every single school in the country. However, if we are going to proceed down this path then we need to get it right. I still have some serious concerns with the current draft as it exists at the moment. For example, there is little by way of an overarching framework or a clear direction for the curriculum as it stands. The curriculum has a heavy—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! It being 1:45 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, and at that time the honourable member for Aston will have leave to continue his remarks.
When I was interrupted, I was outlining some of the concerns that we on this side of the House still have with the proposed national curriculum. In the first instance I was referring to our concern about the lack of an overall framework, which governs the national curriculum, and the lack of clear direction, which underpins it. I was then moving on to talk about the fact that the curriculum has a very heavy emphasis on Asian and Indigenous culture but does not give a similar weight to our British heritage or our Judeo-Christian traditions. I advise the House that they should read the IPA’s monograph on the national curriculum. It is called The national curriculum—a critique. It noted that Western culture and civilisation are:
virtually absent from the national curriculum as it is currently conceived.
I think that is an area which needs to be re-examined, relooked at and incorporated into the national curriculum in terms of our overall British and Western heritage and our Judeo-Christian heritage, which we inherited, as well as Asian and Indigenous culture.
Some of the other concerns that we have raised are over the lack of appropriate resources which will be attached to the implementation of the national curriculum. There many other issues which Christopher Pyne, the Shadow Minister for Education, has raised.
We are moving two amendments to enhance the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill. The first is to ensure that schools are provided with appropriate support to implement the national curriculum. One of our criticisms has been that there has not been that support in the form of professional development training for teachers to implement the curriculum.
The second is to ensure that there is a clear representation of the non-government school sector with respect to decision-making processes for future time lines of the national curriculum. Again, one of the problems I was referring to beforehand was that the non-government school sector was out of sync with the government school sector. I think part of that has come about due to the fact that the non-government school sector has not been at the decision-making table. These amendments would ensure that they are always at the decision-making table on issues which affect their schools. Given that they make up a third of all school students in the country, it seems to be a very sensible thing to do.
Let me conclude by saying that, like many things the government has touched, the national curriculum has involved delays, bungles and under delivery against the government’s rhetoric. This national curriculum was supposed to be finished and implemented by January 2011. Of course it has not been and now probably will not be implemented until 2013 or 2014. It was supposed to be a smooth process but it has not been anything of the sort. In fact, every single stakeholder group has, in some respect, complained about the drafts that have been presented and asked for significant changes.
Finally, it was supposed to have been delivered already according to the Prime Minister’s own words of July 2010 when she said:
This nation’s talked about national curriculum for 30 years. I delivered it.
She has not delivered it. It is nowhere near being delivered. It will be several years late from when she claimed she delivered it, but I suggest she takes that time and gets the national curriculum right because it will have a significant impact across all schools in our community. It needs to be properly thought through, properly considered and the government needs to get the content right.
As I have mentioned before in this House, we ideally should have bipartisan support, at least in relation to the broad framework of the national curriculum, so that schools in the future can have confidence that it will not be chopped and changed but, rather, there will be a consistent framework governing the curriculum going forward.