Public Education Day

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (16:22): This Thursday is Public Education Day. It’s a day to celebrate our incredible public school teachers, principals and education support staff right across the country. I’m a product of public education and proud of it. Our education system is the most powerful cause for good in this country and our public education system is at the core of that. Public education brings together children from all different backgrounds, faiths, cultures and parents, with different jobs, and different incomes and different lives. That’s important because it makes our public schools a microcosm of our community. It helps to teach us a little bit about each other. It’s a big part of what makes public education so special and so important. We’ve got a good education system in Australia, but it can be a lot better and a lot fairer. There’s a lot we have to do to fix the teacher shortage crisis, a lot more we have to do to fund our public schools fairly and so much more to help the children who need help the most.

The truth is that, if you’re a child today from a poor background or from the bush or if you’re an Indigenous Australian, you’re three times more likely to fall behind in school. Fifteen years ago, the gap in reading skills between children who are eight years old from poor families and children who are eight years from wealthy families was about a year of learning. Now it’s two. A lot of those children never catch up. In fact, the reverse happens, and the gap gets bigger and bigger with every year at school. The end result of that is that a lot of those children drop out, never finishing school. In fact, the percentage of children from poor families finishing high school is now dropping. Many of those children go to public schools. This is what we’ve got to fix. The funding is part of that, but so is what that funding does—what we spend it on, what we invest it in—and that’s what the next national schools reform agreement will be all about.

I don’t want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on who your parents are or how wealthy they are or where you live or the colour of your skin, but the truth is that today we are, and the work that we as education ministers do across the country in the next 12 months is a chance to do something about that. It is a chance to close that funding gap and close that education gap, a chance to build a better education system, and a fairer one—one that doesn’t hold anyone back and doesn’t leave anyone behind. After all, that’s what public education is all about.