PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA
There is a core principle in relation to school policy that has been adhered to by successive governments, and that is when determining new policies that impact on schools we do not distinguish between the government and the nongovernment school sectors in the application of those policies. When you look through the various policies which have been enacted over the past 10 or more years you see that the application has been very consistent.
The same policies apply to the government sector as do to the non-government sector. For example, the national testing regime applies equally to each sector, school starting ages apply equally to each sector, the National Safe Schools Framework applies equally to each sector, and there are the My School requirements and the literacy programs—and I could go on. The only area, of course, where we do distinguish between the sectors is in relation to school funding.
The policy of treating the schools sectors similarly is not necessarily a formally stated policy as such, but it has become a convention of successive governments and, indeed, has become an expectation of both the government schools sector and the non-government school sector. The purpose of the amendment to the Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011, which the Hon. Mr Pyne has just moved, is basically to ensure that we abide by this policy. Without this amendment the national curriculum will apply differently to the Catholic and independent school sector from how it applies to the government school sector. The government schools would not have to introduce the national curriculum until 2013 or beyond, while the non-government schools would have to introduce it next year at the very beginning of 2012. This amendment is quite a straightforward and simple amendment. It would simply ensure that non-government schools would have until 2013 or beyond to implement the national curriculum in the same way as the government school sector has.
This amendment is not just important in adhering to the principle which I just articulated but there are also real issues at stake here. You would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the Ministerial Council of Education Ministers met at the end of last year and agreed to defer the implementation of the national curriculum to at least 2013 because there were so many issues which had to be addressed. It strikes me therefore as ludicrous that, if the actual national curriculum will not be completed until 2013 at the very earliest, one school sector should be required to implement an incomplete national school curriculum. And it is not just a requirement that is in legislation; it would be a requirement tied to their funding. Potentially billions of dollars are at stake in relation to this particular requirement.
Why did the education ministers decide to defer the timing of the implementation of the national curriculum? They did so for many legitimate reasons, including, as they outlined, that the draft curriculum covered too much content, it was overly prescriptive and it lacked clear achievement standards. These are very important principles which need to be looked at seriously and which need to be corrected. State ministers clearly recognised the need for more time to get the national curriculum right. We support those ministers, and support the government having more time to get the national curriculum right so that it can be enacted in 2013 or beyond. Equally, the non-government schools sector should have that additional time as well. It is simply ludicrous that they are required to implement the national school curriculum at the beginning of next year when it simply will not be completed, and when the government school sector does not have to implement it as such.
Question put: That the amendment (Mr Pyne’s) be agreed to.