Education and Training portfolio
This chapter summarises certain key areas of interest raised during the
committee's consideration of additional estimates for the 2014–15 financial
year for the Education and Training portfolio. This chapter of the report
follows the order of proceedings and is an indicative, not exhaustive, account
of issues examined.
On 25 February and 5 March 2015, the committee heard evidence from Senator
the Hon Simon Birmingham, Assistant Minister for Education and Training, and
Senator the Hon Scott Ryan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for
Education and Training, along with officers from the Department of Education
and Training (the Department) and agencies responsible for administering Education
and Training policy, including:
Tertiary Employment Quality and Standards Agency;
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority;
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership;
Australian Research Council; and
Australian Skills and Quality Authority.
Machinery of government changes
In light of machinery of government changes since the consideration of
supplementary estimates in late 2014, the committee began by seeking
clarification as to which early childhood services remained the responsibility
of the Department, and which had become the responsibility of the Department of
Social Services. The Secretary, Ms Lisa Paul, advised that childcare
responsibilities had moved to the Social Services portfolio, while preschool,
research and early languages would remain within Education and Training. Ms
Paul suggested 'the way that you could frame it is that anyone under four is
with [the Department of Social Services] and preschool remains our
The committee subsequently discussed the impetus for the machinery of
government changes. The Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Senator
the Hon Simon Birmingham, while noting that questions about overall government
and departmental structure would be best directed to the Department of Prime
Minister and Cabinet, advised that the changes reflected the most appropriate
way to manage certain functions and programs.
In particular, the Minister drew the committee's attention to the distinction
between educational aspects of early childhood services and those to do with
childcare and family assistance.
Ms Paul noted that the Department maintains close connections with other departments
on education matters, and will continue to do so in relation to early childhood.
Higher education advertising
The committee discussed a government advertising campaign about higher
education fees and the HECS-HELP scheme. The committee heard that the campaign sought
to address misconceptions about the future of the HECS-HELP scheme, raise
awareness of higher education support mechanisms and reassure prospective
students and their families about potential reforms to the higher education
In response to questions about whether an advertising campaign may be carried
out if the related legislation has not been passed by the Parliament, Ms Paul
advised the committee that current and past guidelines allow it and she had
certified similar campaigns in the past.
The committee also heard evidence about research, evaluation and
monitoring undertaken in conjunction with the campaign. Jacqueline Gleeson,
Acting Branch Manager, People, Communication and Legal, described the
preliminary results of the first two weeks of the campaign:
They seemed to suggest some decreases in the prevalence of
myths and misconceptions about the higher education system and also some slight
increases in awareness of the reforms. Further, campaign activity shows to be
positively correlated to a correction in audiences misconceptions of the
reforms. There was an increased awareness of government support for higher
education and the mechanisms that will remain in place into the future and some
increases in perceptions that the reforms will be beneficial to Australia.
Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)
National Trade Cadetship
The committee heard evidence that the National Trade Cadetship (NTC)
curriculum, which covers both literacy and numeracy with a particular focus on
work readiness, has been delivered for years 9 and 10 and ACARA is working to
support its take-up by states and territories.
The committee queried the development of a curriculum for years 11 and 12 and
was advised by the Department that work had not commenced on the curriculum and
it would not be proceeding.
National Assessment Program –
Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing
The committee discussed preparations for online NAPLAN testing. Robert
Randall, Chief Executive Officer of ACARA, advised that the work is underway
with a transition to online testing scheduled to begin in 2017.
Stanley Rabinowitz, General Manager, outlined the two key foci of preparing for
... making sure that items themselves are computer ready; and
that the device, the platform that gets built, can work with our items, is fair
to all students and can handle different types of devices.
The committee also sought information about withdrawals from NAPLAN
testing, which have increased from less than two per cent to slightly over two
Asked what the increase in withdrawals could be attributed to, Mr Randall
suggested that there had been increased publicity about NAPLAN participation
and greater public awareness of the ability to withdraw students from testing.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator
the Hon Scott Ryan, indicated that the success of the NAPLAN program should not
be judged by the small number of people who have an issue with it.
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership
Teacher quality and course entry
The committee asked about proposed literacy and numeracy testing for
undergraduate teaching students. The committee heard that a field trial of the
test, involving 1 300 teaching students from a range of institutions across
Australia, had been completed and the results used to develop a benchmark.
Mr Cook explained that satisfactory completion of the test, once implemented,
would become a mandatory requirement of teacher registration by way of the
national standards accepted by each state and territory.
Australian Research Council
Future Fellowships scheme
The committee discussed the discontinuation of the Future Fellowships
scheme. Professor Aidan Byrne, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian
Research Council, explained that the scheme was created as a terminating
scheme, with funding provided for a fixed five year period (followed by a one
This period had expired without provision being made for further funding, and
consequently no Future Fellowships were available for the 2014–15 financial
year. However, both Professor Byrne and Ms Paul noted the government's
intention to make the Future Fellowships scheme ongoing, subject to the passage
of legislation before the Parliament.
Tertiary Employment Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA)
Provider registration assessment
The committee heard evidence about TEQSA's revised approach to provider
registration assessment. Nicholas Saunders, Acting Chief Commissioner,
explained that from the existing 42 provider registration standards, seven have
been designated as core standards; low-risk providers seeking re-registration
are assessed only against those core standards.
All 42 standards are applied to higher risk providers and new providers seeking
Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA)
Registered Training Organisations
The committee discussed ASQA's oversight of RTOs, including Vocational
Education and Training (VET) providers. Christopher Robinson, Chief
Commissioner, explained that ASQA oversees RTO registration, undertakes audits
and investigates RTO compliance in response to complaints or other concerns,
using a cost-recovery fee model.
The committee was advised that in 2013–14 there were a total of 7 600
registration applications of which 180 were rejected: 44 initial applications,
33 renewal applications and 103 change-of-scope applications.
Mr Robinson provided the committee with examples of serious noncompliance that
might lead to rejection, including unqualified teaching staff and poor or
invalid assessment processes.
The committee heard that approximately 1 400 complaints are lodged with
ASQA each year.
In relation to complaints, Mr Robinson informed the committee:
The whole VET regulatory reform strategy is about taking the
information that comes through from complaints and other intelligence from the
industry and using that to address poor-quality RTO provision at a much faster
rate than we would if we had continued with the system that we were using before,
where the placement of an application to get re-registered or the like would be
the main trigger for our regulatory scrutiny. We are now wanting to
re-prioritise our work to deal more quickly with the worst-quality providers.
Higher education funding reform
The committee asked the Department about proposed reforms to higher
education funding, covering topics such as fee deregulation, projected changes to
student enrolment and the effect those changes might have on the cost of higher
education to government and the public, and the operation and future of the FEE-HELP,
VET FEE-HELP and HECS-HELP schemes.
The committee also heard evidence in relation to the National Collaborative Research
Early childhood education
The committee heard that all states and territories agreed to the
national partnership for universal access preschool funding in 2015.
Mr Cook confirmed that there is an overarching national partnership agreement,
under which each state or territory has its own bilateral agreement with the
Universal access funding is contingent upon states achieving agreed benchmarks
in areas such as enrolment and attendance.
The committee and the Department also discussed the Productivity Commission's
report on early childhood education and care.
Independent Public Schools
The committee discussed independent public schools, which are based on five
key 'domains' that provide greater independence and autonomy for the principal
and the school.
The Department explained that the Minister for Education and Training wrote to
his state and territory counterparts inviting them to participate in a national
IPS scheme, with each state or territory determining their own approach to the
five domains in consultation with the Commonwealth.
Ms Paul described some of the benefits of the initiative:
I think what you will find parents see is things like their
teachers and principals getting professional development in how to be more
autonomous. Parents and families will see school councils being more active or
set up—if they have not been set up before. They will see some schools taking
more accountability for on staffing and hiring decisions and so on.
Mr Cook stated that seven jurisdictions have signed up to the program;
negotiations continued with Western Australia, while the change of government
in Queensland had caused a delay in that state.
Students with disabilities
The committee sought information about additional funding for students
with disabilities. Mr Cook advised that students with disabilities identified
through state and territory processes receive a disability loading from the
The committee heard that this loading has been in place since 2014 but will be subject
to refinement based on a national dataset to be released in August 2015.
Ms Deb Efthymiades, Group Manager, Schooling, explained that classifications of
need are based on the amount of adjustment a student requires, from 'extensive'
to 'no adjustment required', rather than the nature of their disability.
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