Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011

Bills Digest no. 21 2011–12

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WARNING:
This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

Marilyn Harrington
Social Policy Section
15 August 2011

Contents
Purpose
Background
Financial implications
Main Issues
Key provisions


    Date introduced:  22 June 2011
    House:  House of Representatives
    Portfolio:  School Education, Early Childhood and Youth
    Commencement:  Day after Royal Assent.

    Links: The links to the Bill, its Explanatory Memorandum and second reading speech can be found on the Bill's home page, or through http://www.aph.gov.au/bills/. When Bills have been passed and have received Royal Assent, they become Acts, which can be found at the ComLaw website at http://www.comlaw.gov.au/.

    Purpose

    The purpose of the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011 (the Bill) is to amend the Schools Assistance Act 2008 (the Act) to change the arrangements for the implementation of the Australian Curriculum in non-government schools.

    The Act provides Australian Government funding for non-government schools and sets the conditions for that funding. The Bill proposes to repeal the Act’s current implementation date for the Australian Curriculum, 31 January 2012, which was the anticipated implementation deadline at the time of the Act’s original drafting.[1] A substitute arrangement is proposed whereby implementation dates for the various phases of the Australian Curriculum, as agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), will be provided for by regulation. The Bill will thus allow for the staged implementation approach to the Australian Curriculum that now exists and, as the Minister states in his second reading speech, will facilitate future amendments to the Australian Curriculum.[2]

    Background

    The development of a national curriculum—a brief history

    Attempts to establish a national curriculum, or a national consensus about curriculum development, date back to the 1980s. However, the early attempts stalled with the Commonwealth acquiescing to state and territory demands that they retain prime responsibility for the development of their own school curricula.[3]

    The policy focus on a national curriculum came to the fore again under the Howard Government. First there was the development of Statements of Learning.[4] Then, following three reports which had highlighted the problem of curricula inconsistency across the country,[5] a proposal for a national curriculum was presented to the April 2007 meeting of the then Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA).[6] The Government’s proposal was not accepted; instead, the meeting decided to ‘develop nationally consistent curricula that will set core content and achievement standards ... starting with English, mathematics and science’.[7] In response, the Government, through a 2007 Commonwealth budget measure committed to developing core curricula standards in particular subjects for Years 10, 11 and 12 and making the adoption of these standards a condition of the Australian Government’s funding for school education.[8]

    The Australian Labor Party (ALP) endorsed a national curriculum in the lead-up to the 2007 federal election. Its policy document, New Directions for our Schools: Establishing a National Curriculum to Improve our Children’s Outcomes, committed to establishing a National Curriculum Board (absorbed into the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) from May 2009) to develop, as a first step, a national curriculum in mathematics, the sciences, English and history, and to ensuring agreement by all education ministers to this national curriculum, by 2010.[9]

    Developing and implementing the Australian Curriculum

    The Australian Curriculum, managed by ACARA, is being developed in three phases, each of which will have its own implementation schedule:

    • 2008–2010:   Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum for English, mathematics, science and history developed (senior secondary curriculum in these areas continues to be developed in 2011)
    • 2010–2012:   Foundation to Year 12 Australian Curriculum for geography, languages and the arts to be developed and
    • 2011–2013:   Foundation to Year 12 Australian Curriculum including a focus on health and physical education, information and communication technology, design and technology, economics, business, civics and citizenship to be developed.[10]

    The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, in its submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment’s inquiry into the Bill, has advised that a ‘flexible approach’ to the implementation of the Australian Curriculum has been adopted in recognition that ‘flexibility in implementation will be needed to give state and territory education authorities time to address the particular issues that may arise in each jurisdiction’.[11] The implementation timeframe for each phase of the Australian Curriculum is a matter for agreement by all education ministers through the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA).[12]

    The December 2010 meeting of MCEECDYA endorsed the content of the first phase of the Australian Curriculum for Foundation to Year 10. Education ministers also agreed to a number of steps towards achieving ‘substantial implementation’ by 2013, including finalising its approval of achievement standards and any content changes by October 2011.[13] The implementation schedule for the other phases is yet to be finalised.

    Committee consideration

    The Bill has been referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment for inquiry.[14] At the time of writing, there is no publically available information regarding a reporting deadline.

    Financial implications

    The Bill’s measures will not incur any additional outlays—funding for non-government schools under the Act is provided in the forward estimates. However, if a school fails to meet the required implementation dates for the different phases of the Australian Curriculum, the Commonwealth is empowered under section 27 of the Act to require repayment of funds, reduce the amount of funding or delay making payments to the school’s authority.[15] 

    Main issues

    The development and implementation process for the Australian Curriculum continues to raise concerns and, as a result of reported possible implementation delays, the future of the agreed implementation schedule for its first phase is uncertain.

    The major non-government school stakeholders agree with the Bill’s measures and the staged approach to the Australian Curriculum’s development and implementation.[16] However, both the National Catholic Education Commission and the Independent Schools Council of Australia, in their submissions to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment’s inquiry into the Bill, raised various concerns about the Australian Curriculum’s development and implementation process. These include the representation of the non-government sector in the development and consultation process, adequate support for the implementation process, and consistency in requirements across the government and non-government school sectors.[17]

    Similar concerns have been raised by other stakeholders. The Australian Primary Principals Association response, for example, sums up many of these concerns, including the progress of the implementation schedule, the lack of ‘a properly considered and cohesive national implementation plan’, adequate resourcing to support the curriculum’s implementation and the need for ‘appropriate consultation with relevant stakeholders’.[18] The issue of support for teacher professional development has been highlighted by a number of teacher associations.[19] The Australian Government Primary Principals Association in its position paper on the Australian Curriculum has also called for a nationally coordinated implementation strategy and federal funding for professional learning to support the implementation of the curriculum.[20]

    With the latest announcement from the NSW Government that it will delay its implementation of the first phase of the Australian Curriculum for Foundation to Year 10 until 2014, the implementation schedule is now in some doubt.[21] The Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, has refuted the NSW Education Minister’s claims of inadequate federal government support for the Australian Curriculum’s implementation and considers that there is no ‘justifiable reason’ for the back down.[22] There is also a question whether other jurisdictions, particularly Victoria, will follow NSW.[23]

    Further, the position of the Federal Opposition is uncertain, with the Shadow Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, stating earlier this year that the Coalition would not sign up to the Australian Curriculum in its ‘current form’.[24]

    Key provisions

    Schedule 1 of the Bill proposes to repeal section 22 of the Act, which currently requires, for non-government schools and non-government school systems, an implementation date for the national curriculum of 31 January 2012.[25]

    The Schedule proposes to substitute a new section 22, which will allow implementation dates for the Australian Curriculum to be prescribed by regulation. This proposed amendment will accommodate the need for future additions and revisions to the Australian Curriculum as its various phases are implemented or changes are made.

    In particular, proposed subsection 22(2) would allow the regulations to incorporate, as the national curriculum, new versions of the Australian Curriculum as authorised by COAG’s Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood from time to time.

    Members, Senators and Parliamentary staff can obtain further information from the Parliamentary Library on (02) 6277 2414.


    [1].       Explanatory Memorandum, Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011, p. 3, viewed 10 August 2011, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/legislation/ems/r4603_ems_9191d10a-09c4-45f7-b864-eb4bce15d846/upload_pdf/356966.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf

    [2].       P Garrett, ‘Second reading speech: Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 June 2011, p. 6821, viewed 10 August 2011, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/genpdf/chamber/hansardr/d78cdc58-c20e-4fbf-a147-88f30644229d/0008/hansard_frag.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf

    [3].       For this early history of the national curriculum debate in Australia, see J McCollow and J Graham, ‘Not quite the national curriculum: accommodation and resistance to change’, in B Lingard and P Porter, eds, A national approach to schooling in Australia? Essays on the development of national policies in schools education, Australian College of Educators, Canberra, 1997, pp. 60–75.

    [4].       Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA), ‘Statements of Learning’, MCEECDYA website, viewed 9 August 2011, http://www.mceecdya.edu.au/mceecdya/statements_of_learning,22835.html

    [5].       K Donnelly, Benchmarking Australian primary school curricula, Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST), Canberra, 2005, viewed 9 August 2011, http://dpl/Books/2005/DEST_BenchmarkingCurricula.pdf; Australian Council for Educational Research, Australian Certificate of Education: exploring a way forward, DEST, Canberra, 2006, viewed 9 August 2011, http://www.dest.gov.au/NR/rdonlyres/DEAB7529-F499-448E-B353-E7835DB68180/10319/AustCertificateofEdu2006_WEBPublication.pdf; and G Matters and G Masters, Year 12 Curriculum Content and Achievement Standards, DEST, Canberra, 2007, viewed 9 August 2011, http://www.dest.gov.au/NR/rdonlyres/BEBED234-E6F9-43C0-AF0F-0975DCFEE39B/15412/curriculum_content_achivement_standards1.pdf

    [6].       K O’Brien, ‘Interview with Julie Bishop and Stephen Smith’, The 7.30 Report, transcript, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), 28 February 2007, viewed 10 August 2011, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query%3D(Id%3Amedia%2Ftvprog%2Fxgdm6);rec%3D0;

    [7].       Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), ‘Information statement’, 21st MCEETYA Meeting, Darwin, 12–13 April 2007, viewed 10 December 2011, http://www.mceecdya.edu.au/mceecdya/21st_mceetya_meeting,18933.html

    [8].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2007–08, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2007, viewed 9 August 2011, http://www.budget.gov.au/2007-08/bp2/html/expense-09.htm

    [9].       K Rudd and S Smith, New directions for our schools: establishing a national curriculum to improve our children’s outcomes, Australian Labor Party policy document, 2007, viewed 8 August 2011, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/library/partypol/VSPO6/upload_binary/vspo63.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22curriculum%22

    [10].     Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, ‘Australian Curriculum development timelines’, Information Sheet, viewed 9 August 2011, http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Information_Sheet_Australian_Curriculum_development_timelines.pdf

    [11].     Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, [Submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment, Inquiry into the Schools Assistance Bill 2011], p. 3, viewed 9 August 2011, http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/ee/schoolsassistance/subs/sub02.pdf

    [12].     Soon to become the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood.

    [13].     MCEECDYA, ‘Communique’, Seventh MCEECDYA Meeting, Canberra, 8 December 2010, viewed 10 August 2011, http://www.mceecdya.edu.au/verve/_resources/C07_Communique_8_Dec_2010.pdf

    [14].     Details of this inquiry are at http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/ee/schoolsassistance/index.htm

    [15].     Explanatory memorandum, op. cit., p. 1.

    [16].     National Catholic Education Commission, [Submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment, Inquiry into the Schools Assistance Bill 2011], viewed 9 August 2011, http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/ee/schoolsassistance/subs/sub01.pdf and Independent Schools Council of Australia, [Submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment, Inquiry into the Schools Assistance Bill 2011], viewed 9 August 2011, http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/ee/schoolsassistance/subs/sub03.pdf

    [17].     Ibid.

    [18].     Australian Primary Principals Association, National curriculum must be implemented properly, media release, 24 June 2011, viewed 10 August 2011, http://www.appa.asn.au/images/news2011/mediareleasenationalcurriculum20110624.pdf

    [19].     D O’Keeffe, ‘Teachers criticise lack of curriculum support’, Education Review, June 2011, viewed 10 August 2011, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/library/jrnart/875570/upload_binary/875570.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22teachers%20criticise%22

    [20].     Australian Government Primary Principals Association (AGPPA), Position paper: Australian Curriculum, AGPPA, 2011, viewed 10 August 2011, http://www.agppa.asn.au/content/view/24/9/

    [21].     A Piccoli (NSW Minister for Education), NSW to delay implementation of Australian curriculum, media release, 9 August 2011, viewed 10 August 2011, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/990328/upload_binary/990328.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22curriculum%22

    [22].     P Garrett (Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth), Delay in Australian Curriculum will disadvantage NSW students, media release, 9 August 2011, viewed 10 August 2011, http://www.deewr.gov.au/Ministers/Garrett/Media/Releases/Pages/Article_110810_110948.aspx

    [23].     A Piccoli (NSW Minister for Education), NSW and Victorian Education Ministers tread carefully in the move to a national curriculum, media release, 8 July 2011, viewed 10 August 2011, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/920143/upload_binary/920143.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22curriculum%22

    [24].     C Pyne (Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training), Coalition won’t sign up to curriculum, media release, 31 January 2011, viewed 10 August 2011, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/522436/upload_binary/522436.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22Pyne%20curriculum%22

    [25].     The non‐government school sector includes independent self‐governing schools and systemic schools, which are groups of schools administered by a central organisation, which usually has a particular religious or philosophical focus. M Harrington, Australian Government funding for schools explained, Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2011, p. 9, viewed 10 August 2011, http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/BN/sp/SchoolsFunding.pdf

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