Please note the final comments regarding the presentation by CaSPA representatives Angus Tulley and Loretta Wholley, by the Greens spokesperson on Education..
INTRODUCTION BY ANGUS
Mr Tulley: I also recognise the Ngunnawal people and pay tribute to their elders past, present and future. In some ways I am going to reflect on my college. I am also here representing CASPA, but I am actually in Canberra, and I have been in Canberra for almost 50 years. I have been principal at St Francis Xavier College for the past 15 years. St Francis Xavier is about 12 kilometres from here. It is a 7 to 12 co-educational Christian school in the Catholic tradition, with 1,163 students. St Francis Xavier is a low-fee inclusive school that is open to all; 5.4 per cent, or 63 of the 1,163 students, have disability and/or diverse learning needs. Ten per cent of our families receive assistance with fees. As you wander our corridors you will see refugees and the sons and daughters of refugees. You will see between 30 and 40 of them. Some of them are very obvious.
Over the weekend my students played sport, but not for the school; they played for the community, because that is what my children do. School funding is being used as a political football, and it is about time we as a nation got it right. Catholic principals stand in solidarity with the Catholic education systems, and they support system funding and the co-responsibility that goes with it. We want to participate in a funding model that has equity and clarity of detail for all children and families in Australia. We do support needs based funding. We believe in fair funding for all.
As I said, my students are mostly from Belconnen, and they represent the full range. I have highly academic students, those who desperately want to pursue a trade and those who struggle to get to school each day and for whom the school is the still point in a turning world. As I have been quoted as saying, the parents are bureaucrats, bakers, butchers and panelbeatersand perhaps some were even belly dancers.
As I mentioned, 5.4 per cent of our students have disability. We spend more than twice what we receive in support of our students with disabilities. Our SES is 115, the same as Geelong Grammar. A quick comparison of websites will tell you that we are quite different schools. The SES measure does not quite work for Canberra. Parents in Canberra do not tend to be well represented in the low and very high income brackets and this has a detrimental effect on our SES. In comparing St Francis Xavier College to other schools, we would have more in common with the local government schools than the high-fee independent schools.
I have been a teacher for 35 years. I love working in schools but I would like to do it with the support of the government, both federal and territory. The proposed funding model brings with it inequity and division. The existing system is not perfect but the way forward is not to rush through something that shows so little understanding of systems and schools. Thank you for listening.
FIRST PART IN RESPONSE TO A QUESTION BY SENATOR JACINTA COLLINS
Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Aside from some of those issues, I suppose the main issue in terms of public education in particular is the earlier point that has been made about the transition period and that really only 10 per cent of the funding is in the forwards. That is a lot of transition to occur in the out years; probably far more significant than what, for instance, Labor had been criticised for with respect to the six-year transition. Do you believe a greater proportion of the funding should be brought forward into the forward years? Perhaps that is a question for each group.
Mrs Wholley: The Catholic secondary principals would be looking to roll the existing arrangements over whilst the SES model is reviewed, and that a new model that accurately calculates parent's capacity to pay be researched and replaced, in consultation with principals, system leaders, parents and school communities. In addition, we would like the committee to focus on long-term bipartisan planning for education in Australia that is based on what is best for our students and not on electoral cycles, and that genuine consultation with principals to help plan a future for Australian education that is focused more than on standardised testing, and of course that we look at reduced teacher contact time in classrooms to enable more school based professional learning and professional collaboration as a required part of teacher work, which of course is where it is shown to have that the best student improvement.
SECOND PART IN RESPONSE TO SENATOR HANSON YOUNG REGARDING AN INDEPENDENT BODY THAT IS LOOKING INTO SRS AND SES
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Would either the Catholic or the independent sector like to comment on the idea of an independent oversight body?
Mrs Spiller: We would also give our support, qualified only by understanding the terms of reference and the criteria, but we are very keen to support that.
Mrs Wholley: It would be the same for us. We would also like to make sure that we had representatives that were here to be able to have some consultation into any terms of reference that would go into an independent body.
Mr Tulley: Perhaps if it were part of a review as well, so that actually provided some time
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: There are the issues of the SES you have raised, from both the Catholic and independent sector. But then I think that these issues of accountability measures and what they look likeI would imagine, if you were going to invest in establishing some kind of statutory independent body, ideally that would be part of their terms of reference in some form.
Mr Johnson: ASEPA would support that as well.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Great. Thank you.
Mr Nairn: Qualified support from us. We do not want just another bureaucracy. If there is a specific role, a specific purpose and firm terms of reference of what the body is there for, then we would have to look at that.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: A quick question before we move on: overall, we are faced, as senators, with the challenge at the moment, because the government have said, and they confirmed in Senate estimates last week under questioning, that they are going to write to all the states and say that the agreements that were previously signed will end at the end of this year. I do not think it is particularly acceptable just to junk a deal that you originally suggested without some type of grandfathering or reinvesting of that money in a smarter way, albeit that is what this government has said, so we are left with the package that is on the table. We can either vote it down and reject it or try to improve itif it can be improved. I know it is a difficult question. You have all raised issues that you would like to see improved, but, if push comes to shove, is a step forward in terms of needs based and more funding better than the status quo?
Mrs Spiller: From AHISA's perspective, absolutely. We definitely are very keen to support every student in Australia getting their SRS entitlement, so we are very keen to support the 2.0.
Mr Bowen: It is a step in the right direction. I think we can always modify and improve, but we need to make that move.
Mr Tulley: Our response would be that there is a need for further consultation because, basically, as has been said, Gonski 2.0 puts us on the cliff and will push us over. I have some anecdotes from parents who are saying that they have their first child in school and they do not think they will be able to afford to get the others in there, and they still want choice.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Even though, overall, money to the Catholic system is going to increase?
Mrs Wholley: Not in the ACT.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Not in the ACT.
Mr Tulley: I do not actually know if everyone understands the implications and whether, in fact, once things do go through people will actually realise that the devil was in the detail. We certainly would prefer that things were on hold and that there was proper consultation.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you accept that the status quo is not genuine needs based funding, though?
Mr Tulley: Yes. We do believe in needs based funding. I use the example of my schoolit does not work.
THIRD PART IN RESPONSE TO THE CHAIR SENATOR BRIDGET MCKENZIE ON EXCELLENCE IN SCHOOLS and MEASURING IT
CHAIR: Do we already know what works, or do we need to make it clearer and more part of our reporting mechanisms?
Mr Tulley: I think we are putting the cart before the horse. If you want to improve student outcomes, you actually have to improve the working conditions for principals and teachers. I am reading from a work by Dr Phil Riley from the Australian Catholic University on principal health and wellbeing, where he makes exactly that point, although he has quoted from Leithwood 2006. In terms of the health and wellbeing of principals and teachers and morale in schools, the funding debate is not helping. It is actually putting more stress on the whole system. In your opening comment you did mention the life of a principal. Being a principal is the best job in the world, with some of the worst days imaginable. I hope the outcome of today is positive and therefore it does not fall into that category. Thank you.
FOURTH PART IN RESPONSE TO THE CHAIR SENATOR BRIDGET MCKENZIE ON EXCELLENCE IN SCHOOLS
CHAIR: The OECD report that came out last year basically says, 'Yes, we need to get the SRS funding,' but there is a point of diminishing returns when we are not targeting the funding at things that we know work in classrooms: staff not being in front of the class all the time, doing the peer-to-peer coaching and all those things we know make a fundamental difference to the quality of teaching going on in our schools. How important is it to, yes, address the funding issue but also to have that second piece of data, that review, into educational excellence and to really drill down on what is working well where, and how we can build that and grow that in our schools right across this country? Who wants to have a go?
After others had their say
Mrs Wholley: I would like to say that we are not going to find a solution from Finland. We are not going to find a solution from South Korea. We are not going to find a solution in Singapore.
CHAIR: Or Shanghai!
Mrs Wholley: The solution is in Australia, with teachers at the grass roots and the culture of the Australian people. That is what we need to tap into, and that is where the best practice is. That is what is essential to look at.
CHAIR: To identify that.
FIFTH PART IN RESPONSE TO THE CHAIR SENATOR BRIDGET MCKENZIE ON NEEDS BASED FUNDING AND THE AEU RESPONSE
CHAIR: These are all the things that I hope you will all be feeding in to Mr Gonski's second review. Other than the Catholic Education principals here today, everybody across the board is in broad support of moving forward with the next iteration of a needs based national system as outlined in this bill. How would you then account for the strong opposition that we heard on Friday from the AEU and the New South Wales Teachers Federation? We had the parents of state school students in full support, and very articulately so; we have principals in varying degrees of support of the new model; and yet the AEU and in particular the New South Wales Teachers Federation are a blanket 'no'. Am I missing something?
Mr Tulley: It could be that they have it right on this occasion.
CHAIR: I think you are the only one at the table today saying so, Mr Tulley.
CONCLUSION ANGUS AND I WERE PRETTY CHUFFED TO THINK WE WON OVER SENATOR HANSON-YOUNG FOR A FEW MINUTES
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You have given us a lot to think about. Mrs Wholley and Mr Tulley, across all sectors your articulation of your sector's position is the clearest I have heard yet. I do not know if it comes from you being principals and being on the ground and understanding it, but I thought you were much clearer than your predecessors. I think you should take that on board. If, after you leave here, there are things that need to be made clearer, please do not hesitate to contact us. We have a busy few days coming up to deliberate on recommendations.