Question Without Notice – Education

Ms MURPHY (Dunkley) (14:48): My question is to the Minister for Education. What action is the Albanese Labor government taking to close the education gap, which has worsened over the last decade, and why is closing that gap so important?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (14:49): I thank the awesome member for Dunkley for her question. We’ve got a good education system, but it can be a lot better and a lot fairer. The fact is that a lot of the big challenges we face in education have got worse over the last 10 years. Teacher shortages have got worse. In the last 10 years, there has been a 12 per cent drop in the number of young people becoming teachers. School attendance rates have got worse. They’ve dropped from about 93 per cent10 years ago to 87 per cent last year.

The gap in reading skills of children from poor families and wealthy families has got worse as well. Fifteen years ago the gap in reading skills of eight-year-olds from poor families and eight-year-olds from wealthy families was about one year of learning. Now it’s two. The fact is most of those children never catch up—in fact, the reverse happens; the gap gets bigger and bigger.

The result of that is this: in the last six years we’ve seen a drop in the percentage of young Australians finishing high school, particularly poor kids and particularly in public schools. In 2017, 83 per cent of students in public school finished year 12. Last year that was 76 per cent. This is happening at a time when nine out of 10 new jobs require you to finish school and then go on to TAFE or to university. It is at a time when we need more people to finish school, not less—rich and poor, city and the bush, black and white. This is what we’ve got to fix.

In two weeks time, education ministers will consider major reforms to the way we train our teachers to teach literacy and numeracy and classroom management, and better prepare them for the classroom. A few months ago we made major changes to NAPLAN to raise the bar, lift the minimum standard that students are expected to meet and more clearly identify the children that need additional support. The next step is to provide them with that additional support. We’ve committed to work with state and territory governments to make sure all schools are put on the path to full and fair funding. That funding is important but so is what it’s spent on, what it’s invested in, what it does and the difference that it makes. We’ve got to close that funding gap and the education gap. That’s why I’ve said the next National School Reform Agreement will set targets and tie funding to the sorts of things that will help children who fall behind and make sure that more children finish school.

On election night the Prime Minister talked about opening the door of opportunity wider for more Australians. That’s what this will do. That’s what education does more than almost anything else. Making our education system better and fairer is the key to opening that door for more young Australians.