Bills Digest No. 19  1999-2000 States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1999

Numerical Index | Alphabetical Index

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.


Passage History
Main Provisions
Concluding Comments
Contact Officer & Copyright Details

Passage History

States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1999

Date Introduced: 30 June 1999

House: House of Representatives

Portfolio: Education, Training and Youth Affairs

Commencement: On Royal Assent


This Bill amends the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Act 1996 and gives effect to initiatives announced in the context of the 1999-2000 Budget.

Its provisions include:

  • $36.3 million in the year 2000 for increased funding under the Literacy and Numeracy Programme to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for students in the early and middle years of schooling
  • $26.4 million to extend funding for the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools (NALSAS) strategy for the year 2000
  • the continuation of previous capital funding arrangements for non-government schools, and
  • contingency funding for struggling non-government schools in the transition to the new system of funding for non-government schools.


The additional funding for literacy programs in this Bill reflects the continuation of the Government's concern with the literacy and numeracy achievements of Australia's school students.

In March 1997 Commonwealth, State and Territory Education Ministers agreed to a national literacy goal:

That every child leaving primary school should be numerate, and be able to read, write and spell at an appropriate level.(1)

and agreed to the adoption of a national literacy plan.

There are two strands to Commonwealth funding for literacy programs which give effect to the plan:

  • Grants to schools to foster literacy and numeracy development, targeting educationally disadvantaged students, and
  • Grants for national literacy and numeracy strategies and projects.

The proposed legislation will increase funding generally for the National Literacy and Numeracy Plan, and specifically support new initiatives targeting students in the middle years of schooling, ie. students in upper primary and secondary school through to Year 10.

The additional capital grants funding for non-government schools is a continuation of the Government's commitment to maintain funding at current real values. The previous Labor Government had provided additional capital assistance for the years 1993 to 1996. When the Coalition came to office it gave effect to its election commitment to continue to provide additional funding each year of its first term of government to maintain capital grants in current real terms. This latest allocation is a continuation of that commitment.

The additional funding for short term emergency assistance for non-government schools is a contingency fund intended to assist those schools which will receive increased funding under the new funding system announced in the 1999-2000 Budget(2), but which may have difficulty surviving until the restructure takes effect.

For information about the NALSAS Strategy, the reader is referred to Bills Digest, no. 20, 1998-99.

Main Provisions

Schedule 1 amends the amounts payable under various Schedules of the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Act 1996 and makes provision for the technical amendment of headings in that Act to reflect the change in the name of the Literacy Programme to the Literacy and Numeracy Programme.

Items 1, 7 and 8 provide for technical amendments to reflect the changed name of the Literacy and Numeracy Programme.

Items 2 to 5 increase capital grants for non-government schools for the program years 2000 to 2003 from $74.537 million to $84.670 million each year.

Item 6 increases the amount of short term emergency assistance for non-government schools from $614,000 to $2.501 million for the program year 2000.

Items 9 to 11 provide for increases in grants under the Literacy and Numeracy Programme for the program year 2000. Grants to foster literacy and numeracy in government schools are proposed to change from $111.749 million to $135.028 million and, for non-government schools, from $43.270 million to $48.669 million. Grants for national projects to foster literacy and numeracy are to be extended into the program year 2000 with $7.629 million allocated.

Item 12 extends funding for the NALSAS strategy for the program year 2000 by increasing funding under the Languages program from $17.308 million to $43.750 million.

Concluding Comments

In recent years the middle years of schooling have become a focus of pedagogical concern. The middle years of schooling have been defined as 'a phase of schooling that bridges the conventional primary/secondary divide with a view to responding more effectively to the specific developmental needs of young adolescents'.(3) It is recognised that students make the least amount of progress in learning in years five to nine and the gap between high and low achievers increases markedly. The middle years of schooling coincide with a period of rapid physical, emotional and intellectual development for adolescents who, at the same time, are confronting various societal pressures and influences. As reported in the final report of the Commonwealth's National Middle Schooling Project,(4) school systems are acknowledging the particular needs of this age group by developing alternative approaches to curriculum delivery and pedagogy. The report also articulated a set of specific needs and principles of middle schooling.

To date Commonwealth literacy programs have focused on the early years of schooling and, through the Full Service Schools program, those students in their final years of schooling who are at risk of not completing school or who have returned to school as a result of the requirements of the mutual obligation provisions of the youth allowance. The new literacy funding which targets those students between these two groups is a continuation and completion of the policy focus on literacy and is an acknowledgment of the current pedagogical concern with the middle years of schooling.

Literacy standards are of paramount importance to the current education policy agenda. There is widespread acceptance of the need to improve literacy levels and recognition that literacy outcomes are critical to future success, as substantiated by a number of reports in recent years.(5) However, there has been less consensus with regard to the motives and methods of the Government's policy reforms.

Most recently, the debate has become focused on the development of national benchmarks and the testing of student outcomes against those benchmarks. Earlier this year Dr Kemp, Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, stated:

National comparable reporting is vital in improving the effectiveness of all Australian schools. Better reporting and better accountability are crucial in providing parents and the community with the information they need to make informed choices about schooling.(6)

At the same time he also referred to a government commissioned report, yet to be released, which expressed parents' desire for standardised reporting that would facilitate their evaluation of both their children's and a school's performance and that would enable them to make informed choices about their children's schooling.

Some educationalists question the feasibility of standardised testing against national benchmarks and what it will achieve.(7) Apprehension has also been expressed about how the test results will be used and fears have been provoked that the Government is planning to withdraw funds from poorly performing schools, with reports that this idea has been canvassed in a discussion paper commissioned by Dr Kemp.(8) It is arguable that this idea is reminiscent of policies currently in place in the United Kingdom where legislation provides for the closure of failing schools and their subsequent reopening with new heads and teaching staff.


  1. Dept of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Literacy for all: the challenge for Australian schools: Commonwealth literacy policies for Australian schools, Canberra, 1998.

  2. Hon Dr David Kemp MP, Choice and equity: funding arrangements for non-government schools 2001-2004, 11 May 1999.

  3. Jim Cumming, ed., Extending reform in the middle years of schooling: challenges and responses, Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Deakin West, ACT, 1998, p. 5.

  4. Robyn Barratt, Shaping middle schooling in Australia: a report of the National Middle Schooling Project, Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Deakin West, ACT, 1998.

  5. For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics report, Education and training in Australia 1998, released earlier this year, confirmed that both labour force participation rates and unemployment rates were strongly linked to literacy skill levels.

  6. Hon Dr David Kemp MP, 'Outcomes reporting and accountable schooling', speech to the Curriculum Corporation's Sixth National Conference, May 1999.

  7. Brian Cambourne, 'Politicians can take up toxic tool to beat teachers', The Australian, 20 July 1999, p. 6.

  8. Catherine Armitage, 'Question marks plague Kemp scheme', The Australian, 19 July 1999. p. 4.

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Marilyn Harrington
2 August 1999
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services

This paper has been prepared for general distribution to Senators and Members of the Australian Parliament. While great care is taken to ensure that the paper is accurate and balanced, the paper is written using information publicly available at the time of production. The views expressed are those of the author and should not be attributed to the Information and Research Services (IRS). Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion. Readers are reminded that the paper is not an official parliamentary or Australian government document.

IRS staff are available to discuss the paper's contents with Senators and Members
and their staff but not with members of the public.

ISSN 1328-8091
© Commonwealth of Australia 1999

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Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1999.

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