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NAPLAN breakthrough eases pain over schools

Posted on 21 October 2018
NAPLAN breakthrough eases pain over schools

A breakthrough on NAPLAN has been signalled by the new federal Education Minister after a lengthy conflict between the states and Canberra over how to use the national school test threatened to destabilise the Coalition and prevent an agreement on funding for basics such as teachers' salaries.

In an exclusive interview with The Australian Financial Review, Education Minister Dan Tehan said there had been some "incredibly important discussions" at the September meeting of the Education Council in Adelaide in relation to National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy.

At the time, the Financial Review reported the critics of NAPLAN - which include not only Labor states Queensland and Victoria but also Coalition-held NSW- appeared to have the upper hand in trying to do away with the test In his interview late last week Mr Tehan said the Education Council had made a lot of progress in putting in place a Unique Student Identifier (USI). This is a number that would be given to every student which would allow teachers and education departments to track their progress wherever they went to school and regardless of how many times they crossed state boundaries, etc The USI would allow a record of students' progress over twelve months.

"So what were seeking to do is, we have NAPLAN. Important But also we have now an ability to build further on NAPLAN through the reforms we agreed in Adelaide.

"I think that has been under-sold and I don't think people quite understand the importance of that next step because that will give teachers, schools and parents the ability to be able to map how their student is progressing.

And as we know, not all students will progress equally, but what you'll be able to ensure is that every student is getting a 12-month progression."

"I see it as building on NAPLAN," he said. "I think it is something we need to strongly develop. And to get the support of all education ministers in Adelaide to move down that path was an incredibly important development and something I think has been lost a little bit in the debate and discussion about NAPLAN itself."

Conflict on NAPLAN has been one of the obstacles to signing off on a new long-term funding agreement between the states and the Commonwealth which must be put in place by January 1 so money can be available for teachers' salaries and school utility bills.

Mr Tehan told the Financial Review he was confident of getting the agreement signed by December 31, having had one-on-one discussions with all education ministers in the past 10 days and given "everyone wants to put the education of Australian children first".

"I remain confident that we will be able to get agreement And I'm looking forward to continuing to work with them to get agreement," he said.

Critics have also argued the My School website works against NAPLAN by giving parents a tool to compare schools, when the test is meant to reveal individual performance only.

Some state ministers have said if My School was shut down it would remove many of the objections to the exam.

Mr Tehan disagreed. "Parents want an ability to compare. We should never shy away from transparency, so my view is that is an important part of NAPLAN."

Since the September Education Council meeting, the federal government has removed another of the "barnacles" holding it back electorally by injecting $4.6 billion of additional funding into the Catholic and independent schools sector. Immediately this was announced the three biggest states pushed back saying they would not sign up to the National Agreement on School funding unless there was a deal that treated government schools equally.

Mr Tehan said the Commonwealth was providing record funding to all government schools in every state.

"The rate of growth in our funding for public schools is higher than what it is for non-government schools. And one of the reasons why I was very keen to make sure we could also get an arrangement with Catholic and independent schools was that I wanted to make sure that, consistent with the growth in the government we also were going to see continued growth in the non-government sector."

One of the special-funding features that especially angered the major states was a $1.2 billion allocation for nongovernment schools in drought affected regions. Despite this, Mr Tehan said the agreement was equitable and created affordable choice.

"As someone who comes from a rural electorate, my view is I want parents to be able to have that choice. So if s not something that is limited to capital cities. That is one of the reasons why I think what we've done is fair."

The Financial Review pointed out that Professor John Halsey, who carried out the recent review into regional, rural and remote education, said 80 per cent of education in rural areas was done by government schools, which made it less explainable that so much money should be given to the Catholic and private sector.

"Not at all. Because the way that funding occurs is that the states and territories are the predominant funder... I want to make sure that when it comes to regional and rural schools we continue to put the money there and, as the predominant funder, state and territory governments need to be doing their fair share, like the Commonwealth is, as the predominant funder of nongovernment schools," Mr Tehan said.

He said he was confident that at next year's federal election he would be able to face the electorate and say there is equality between government and Catholic schools.

On another conflict zone for the government controversy over the Ramsay Centre's proposed university course on Western Civilisation, the minister said he wanted to make sure freedom of speech remained an absolute priority.

He said since coming to the portfolio he had left it to the Ramsay Centre and the universities to work the issues out In his own experience of doing two master's degrees, the ability of lecturers to speak their minds and for students to hear guest lecturers on a wide range of issues was an essential part the university experience.

He rejected the claim that one of his recent ideas of charging student protesters the cost of security at a demonstration itself compromised freedom of speech.

"I've got no issue with people who want to protest but where that protest deliberately seeks to go beyond peaceful protest to put a deliberate cost on those holding an event then that's a different level of protest.

To get the support of all education ministers was an incredibly important development.

From: Australian Financial Review, Australia  by Robert Bolton

15 Oct 2018
General News 
Tags: ACARA

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