EAST HOTEL, CANBERRA
MONDAY, 29 FEBRUARY 2016
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I acknowledge the traditional elders of the land on which we meet – the Ngunnawal people – and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
I also want to acknowledge the principals and leaders here today.
Through your work as representatives and advocates, you are leaders of leaders.
Your experience and your counsel is something that I – and the Labor Party – value and respect.
Being a primary school principal is a great privilege, and a great responsibility.
You see first-hand the life-changing opportunities and possibilities that a quality education can provide. And you work every day to provide that foundation for all Australian children.
There are few others who would understand so acutely what a difference a good start can make to a child’s life.
But to make the biggest difference possible for every child, you need to be supported.
Supported to lead, supported to drive change, and supported to inspire.
This means governments have a responsibility to fund your schools properly, and to distribute resources so they meet the greatest need first.
It means listening to you, trusting you, and working with you to improve our schools.
It means giving you the professional support and development you need to be your very best.
It means liberating you to focus on educational leadership – so every principal can make the biggest difference possible.
It does not mean cutting your budgets. It does not mean simply asking you to do more – or more with less.
And it does not mean increasing the administrative burden that falls on your shoulders, at the expense of being a leader of learning.
YOUR CHILD. OUR FUTURE
Today, I want to say clearly to principals and teachers: Labor has your back.
We will invest in our schools – and in our future.
That’s why Bill Shorten recently announced Labor’s positive plan for our schools: Your Child. Our Future.
A $37 billion commitment to our schools over the next decade.
Labor will reverse all the Abbott-Turnbull school cuts and deliver the Gonski reforms on time, and in full.
Meaning an additional $4.5 billion for Australian classrooms in the 2018 and 2019 school years alone.
We have recommitted to sector blind, needs based school funding.
After commissioning the most comprehensive review of our school funding system in 40 years, and implementing those reforms –
And after so many teachers and so many principals have worked so hard as champions of the reforms –
Labor will not sit back and let this once-in-a-generation opportunity pass our school system by.
We do not want to see the Gonski reforms dumped at the half-way mark by a government that simply does not believe in equality of opportunity, or in the transformative power of education.
THE ONGOING NEED FOR REFORM
Friends – as all of us here today know, the need to address inequality and improve outcomes in our schools is more urgent than ever.
We know the facts.
Disadvantaged students are almost three years behind.
Country students are as much as two years behind.
There is as much as two years difference when we step across state borders.
The gap between high and low performing students is bigger than the OECD average.
And a student from a low socio-economic background is five times more likely to be a poor performer than a student from a socio-economically advantaged background.
While Australia's education system performs well in international comparisons, student achievement has not significantly improved over the last 15 to 20 years.
Over this same period, a number of countries in our region have invested in their education systems and pursued reform.
They have seen improved student results, and they have climbed the international rankings.
In 2000 only one country outperformed Australia in maths and reading.
In 2006, only two countries outperformed us in science.
By 2012, 16 countries outperformed us in maths. Nine countries are now ahead in reading, and seven in science.
In Australia, over the same period, the number of low performers increased – and the number of high performers decreased.
Too many children were missing out because of their postcode.
Too many young Australians were having their opportunity limited by their parents’ circumstance.
Quite simply - too many students were not getting the fair go they deserved.
THE GONSKI REFORMS ARE ALREADY WORKING
But we have reason for optimism – not pessimism.
In many schools across the country, Labor's needs-based funding reforms are targeting resources to the schools and students with the most to gain.
Principals are using those resources for one-on-one support, new programs, and evidence-based interventions.
I've spoken to many principals – including some here today – who have told me about the difference this is making to student results.
I've seen first-hand the students for whom English is a second language, get genuinely excited about their futures – because their new literacy coach has helped them catch up with their peers.
One student I recently met used to think he would not make it to university.
Now he is making plans for his career as a pilot.
I've spoken to teachers who say that improved access to speech pathologists has helped students who are years behind in their reading – catch up in a matter of months.
And I’ve seen early intervention programs in primary school that deliver timely, targeted, one-on-one attention for students – so they keep up, stay engaged, and love learning.
It’s absolutely critical that these improvements continue.
It will take some time for these changes to be reflected in results – particularly at a national level.
But I have no doubt they are a new foundation on which more opportunities and higher standards are already being built.
And they are the motivation for finishing the full six years of the Gonski reforms. So every student in every school has the same basic equality of opportunity.
A PLAN FOR JOBS AND GROWTH
As primary principals you will know from experience –
One in five Australian children starts school not meeting key developmental milestones.
In short, they start behind.
But if there is one thing that motivates me to keep up the fight for investment in our schools, for needs based funding, and for equality; it is the knowledge that with the right help, these students are not destined to stay behind.
Recent analysis by the Mitchell Institute has illustrated clearly: no matter where a student is in their school career, it is not too late for them to catch up.
And if they catch up in school, they will catch up in life.
They will have the skills and confidence they need to land a job, start a business and participate fully in society.
Labor knows education is an investment, not a cost.
An investment in every individual’s future, and an investment in our shared potential.
Your Child, Our Future is not only a plan for our schools; it is a plan for jobs and growth.
The OECD has found that if Australia can equip all our secondary school graduates with the basic skills needed for the global economy by 2030, it would be the equivalent of adding 2.8 per cent to our GDP.
In today’s dollars – that would be a $44 billion addition to the economy.
If we are serious about seeing these benefits, we must make sure that opportunity is extended to every student.
No matter what school they go to, where they live, or their circumstance.
For the second year in a row, the OECD’s Going for Growth report has called on Australia to address educational inequality.
Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is key to economic productivity.
The variation in student results in Australian schools is significantly higher than the OECD average.
So is the link between socio-economic background and school achievement.
I think many Australians would be shocked by this. It’s hard to get a fair go in life, if our education system isn’t giving students the leg-up they need.
This is such a serious economic issue that the OECD has classified it as a ‘structural weakness’ in the Australian economy.
A drag on future productivity, growth and living standards.
But we have the solution right in front of us – and it’s not a surprise.
The OECD recognised the needs-based Gonski reforms as key to addressing inequality.
TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Our school system is one of the most powerful economic levers we have.
But to improve results and make sure every student in every school gets the same opportunity, state and federal governments must work together.
Your Child. Our Future cements the role of the federal government in our school system.
It also puts transparency and accountability at the heart of school funding.
There is no point the federal government investing in our schools, if states are not also pulling their weight.
Over the last two years, we have seen the consequences of the Abbott-Turnbull ‘no strings’ approach to school funding.
Some state governments have used federal investment in schools to prop up their own budgets – undermining the impact of Labor’s additional federal needs-based funding.
Colin Barnett has ripped over $200 million from Western Australian classrooms.
And the Country Liberals have cut 550 jobs and $82 million from education in the Northern Territory.
These cuts are nothing short of a gross misappropriation of investment in our children’s future.
In contrast to the Liberal’s irresponsible approach, Labor will take accountability and transparency seriously.
Federal money will not be used to prop up state budgets, and states will be required to co-invest in our schools, not cut them.
The distribution of money by school systems will be transparent, needs-based and sector neutral.
So taxpayers can have confidence that funds are reaching classrooms, driving reform and delivering evidence-based programs.
And so parents can see at a local level how needs-based funding is being directed to programs and resources that improve student outcomes.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL LEADERSHIP
The role of a principal is much like that of a ship’s captain.
A school navigates by your light and guidance.
And no program, no goal, and no reform can succeed without your leadership, commitment and determination.
It’s an incredibly important role.
Investing in our schools means investing in you – and in your skills and capabilities.
That’s why Your Child. Our Future sets out strong ambitions for a national approach to identifying, developing and supporting school leaders.
Now is the time for coordination and strategic investment in our principal workforce.
71 per cent of principals are over 50, and many will retire in the coming years.
We owe it to the next generation of principals to make sure they are well prepared for the job.
Because as I am sure you all can attest – your role is becoming more complex and more challenging.
This means identifying potential principals early, and providing structured pathways to leadership.
So the next generation of principals is equipped for the job from the first day they take charge of a school.
It means working with the states – and with principals’ associations – to put in place a national approach to qualification, certification and recognition.
Because as principals, you deserve a better professional framework – to support you in your incredibly important work.
And it means implementing a system of ongoing support and professional development.
So you are equipped with the best tools, as your responsibilities grow and change.
This includes ongoing partnerships with universities and educational researchers – to more quickly and effectively support the translation of research into practice.
Labor values the professionalism and experience of principals. We want to work with you towards an excellent national system of professional development and support.
We are on the cusp of an exciting step-change in Australian schools.
It is within our grasp to make sure you have the resources and support to amplify the life-changing work you do every day.
Implementing the Gonski reforms, targeting resources to need, and empowering principals to make the best decisions for learning.
That is what Your Child, Our Future is about.
Bill Shorten and Labor believe unequivocally in the importance of education – in its ability to transform lives and build our shared future.
For this reason, we very deliberately started this election year by announcing Labor’s unwavering commitment to every child, every school, every teacher and every principal.
But to secure this bright future we need to avoid the devastation of Malcolm Turnbull’s $30 billion school cuts.
For the sake of all students, we need to change the Government’s policy, or change the government.
Because there is no point talking about the importance of school leadership, if the only job the Government really wants to you to do, is work out what to cut first.