SUBJECTS: The Liberals’ cuts to schools; proposed Year One test.


TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks so much for joining me at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Waterloo, a fantastic school that does wonderful work in its community. I've been really enjoying catching up with the kindergarten children and seeing them learning to read. Now we've heard a lot in the last couple of days about the new Year One phonics and numeracy test that the Government's proposing, and I have to ask once again - what is the point of a new test when this Government is cutting $17 billion from schools? What is the point of a new test to identify children who are falling behind when you're ripping out the money that would help those children catch up?

I've been visiting Our Lady of Mount Carmel for many years, and I've seen what this school has done with the early years of needs-based funding. They've invested in occupational therapists, in speech pathology, in learning support officers so that children from kindergarten, Year One, Year Two get specialist one-on-one help, really intensive help, to identify early on if they need extra assistance. That's what the early years of needs-based funding is doing. This Government says that they want to identify children in Year One who are falling behind, but at the same time, they're cutting $17 billion from school funding - the very money that would help those children catch up.

Now, I am especially worried by the huge cuts to public schools right across Australia. We know that 85 per cent of public schools only- 85 per cent [won’t] reach their fair funding level. But I'm also very worried about the effect on low-fee Catholic schools like this one. Both public schools and low-fee systemic Catholic schools will see really dud deals from the Government's new funding arrangements, while some very elite, high-fee schools will continue to see multi-million dollar increases over the next decade. How is it fair that public schools, low-fee Catholic systemic schools get a dud deal, while some of the wealthiest schools in the country actually see funding increases?

Any questions?

JOURNALIST: The statistics show that kids are getting through to year three with literacy problems that haven't been identified earlier, so why shouldn't there be an extra test in year one?

PLIBERSEK: Look we're open minded to anything that identifies children earlier who are struggling. But when I talk to teachers, when I talk to principals, they are telling me all the time that they are evaluating children constantly. And I've seen with my own children, in the move from kindergarten to year one, my youngest son's kindergarten teacher was able to tell me exactly what he knew and what he didn't know. What schools don't have at the moment are the resources, once they've identified those children who are falling behind, they don't have the resources to focus intensively to help those kids catch up. That's what needs-based funding was all about. It was about sending the greatest increases, in the shortest time, to the neediest schools, with the neediest pupils. And that's not what we're getting under this Government. We're actually entrenching a system where public schools will only ever receive 20 per cent of the cost of educating a child, and private schools will receive 80 per cent of the cost of educating a child - where a system where some very high-fee schools will actually see multi-million dollar increases and smaller Catholic schools like this one, public schools across Australia will actually see their funding cut.

JOURNALIST: What detail do we have about the test that the Federal Government is proposing?

PLIBERSEK: Not enough, really, to make a decision. We don't have enough detail about the test. We've seen a report released, the Government's had this report apparently since April so it's about time they released the report, but they haven't had full discussions with states and territories. This issue of the Year One test was on the agenda for education ministers meeting last Friday, but little or no progress seems to have been made in achieving agreement with states and territories about what form the test would take and what would be done with the information as it became available. I think the real question that states and territories are focused on though is what is the point of a new test when you're cutting the resources that would help kids catch up if they're identified as falling behind? That's what the states are asking, that's what educators across Australia are asking. There's no question that educators are absolutely committed to identifying as early as possible kids who need extra assistance. We all know that the earlier we invest in helping kids catch up, the better it is. But once you've identified those children, where are the resources to help them catch up? This Government is cutting those resources.