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Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
4 February 2021

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran): I rise to speak to the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020, which is a bill that makes a number of amendments to the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 relating to the powers and functions of the Victorian Institute of Teaching. These include increasing the duties and functions of the VIT in relation to approving programs of study that lead to qualifying as a teacher; providing the VIT with new powers; revising their processes for investigating conduct, competence and fitness to teach; and making changes to teacher registration.

Just a bit of background—in 2017 the Victorian selection framework established two core requirements to be used for the selection of candidates for initial teacher education programs. They were around the introduction of a minimum tertiary admission rank for school leaver applicants—that was 65 in 2018 and 70 in 2019—as well as an assessment of the suitability of the candidates’ personal attributes for teaching. The two most significant changes proposed in this bill are that it strengthens the institute’s oversight of the Victorian selection framework by regulating pathways, programs and continuing education programs—it establishes the institute’s power in undertaking quality assurance of pathway programs completed by those seeking to enter initial teacher training programs—and it empowers the institute to endorse through a voluntary framework continuing education programs for teachers. This is aimed at ensuring our teachers have access to quality continued professional development throughout their careers, which is absolutely critical to really both improving teacher quality and keeping teachers in the profession.

I want to join with other previous speakers and other members of this house in acknowledging the incredible performance of our teachers at all our schools, our TAFEs and our kinders as well throughout the pandemic, and particularly in supporting students learning from home during 2020. In the conversations that I have had with local principals, teachers rallied to the cause and responded really quickly to adapt their lesson plans and adapt to students learning from home, so a massive thankyou to all our teachers in Victoria and in the Prahran electorate for your dedication, your professionalism and your efforts.

What I really hope will come out of this pandemic, and I think we already see it, is an even greater sense of appreciation for people who work to look after others, for our teachers and our support staff at our schools. I think that is something that is really going to come out of this pandemic. The closure of schools shed a light on a lot of the inequalities in our society and the barriers to quality education, particularly for the most marginalised in our community. Teachers really went above and beyond to meet the needs of those students. In reality we need more teachers and we need more support staff, and they need to be better paid, and I think that is actually the best way that we can demonstrate our thanks for their work over the past year.

As a key part of our state’s recovery from COVID, as part of the economic recovery, it needs to involve an investment in the education sector that would increase the number of teachers and increase the number of support staff in our public schools, which would allow class sizes to be reduced and more support for disadvantaged students. I was really pleased to see the government significantly increase funding to support students with a disability, which will also employ more support staff. That is just the sort of investment we need—good paying government jobs in education but also in health and social services—to recover from this pandemic.

One area where we can improve is attracting more people to teaching professions and attracting the best high-performing candidates. I was really interested in the Grattan Institute’s proposal that they put out over the last couple of years about how to attract high achievers to teaching. Their survey of young people with an ATAR of 80 and higher found that more of them would take up teaching if it offered new career paths and higher top-end pay. What the Grattan Institute proposed was the creation of a new level of teacher, masters and instructional specialists within schools, that would be well paid, around $180 000 a year and $140 000 a year, which would be well above the highest standard pay rate for teachers. That would I think bridge a really important gap between teachers—of course moving beyond that you have got those who move into principal and administration roles—allowing that for those high-achieving teachers to be able to then assist other teachers and be able to improve classrooms. I think that is a really important initiative that should be looked at by the government—you know, attracting the best and supporting them to be the best teachers throughout their career. We know what the power of a great teacher can do to a young person’s education.

I have welcomed the increased disability funding, I have welcomed the provision of the allowance of students keeping their laptops and devices throughout the pandemic. That is something I raised with the minister many times at Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearings, that the pandemic really exposed a real digital divide of those students who did not have access to a computer or the internet at home. And whilst that was important and of course they had to have them during the pandemic, in reality outside the pandemic we cannot have this divide where some students have access to computers and the internet and some do not. So I would really encourage the government to not just continue on with allowing students to keep the devices that they were loaned but now look at how that can be provided across the entire school system, because we cannot have a situation again where thousands of students are going without access to laptops and the internet at home.

On education funding, historically Victoria has actually been the lowest funding state for public education. That is still the case today, even despite the recent agreement with the federal government. We will become one of the last states to reach the agreed funding rate of 75 per cent for states, and at the end of 2028 with that funding agreement we are still going to be short around $1 billion a year for what would be the full Gonski funding.

The impact of that underfunding is real. Your local school, no matter where you live, whatever your circumstances, whatever your background, should be a great local public school and should meet the needs of its students. Our schools will not be able to do that until public schools are fully funded to the Gonski student resource standard. It is in particular those extra loadings for disadvantaged students so they can get the individual support they need that will make sure that all schools can meet the needs of their students, which will not occur under the current state-federal deal.

Not only is it impacting on the classroom, on our students, but it is also impacting on the cost to parents. The Victorian Council of Social Service recently, as they often do at the start of the school year, pointed out the significant cost to parents of actually sending their child to what should be a free education. Free education is now costing somewhere in the order of about $3000 and $6000 in Victoria. This is on books, on fees, on uniforms and on computers, on top of voluntary fees. State Schools Relief is doing great work in supporting students, but I think we now need to have a commitment from the state government to reaffirm that a public education is a free education, and if we are continuing on the basis that it is costing thousands of dollars to send a student to a public school, that is not a free education.

So we need a commitment from the government that public schooling will be actually free, and we can do that by ensuring the full Gonski funding. We can do it by ensuring that students and families have access to laptops and devices that they can use at home. We can look at reducing transport costs and the costs of extracurricular sports and excursions. Just imagine what we can do when we finally get that full Gonski funding that has been talked about for so long—100 per cent of what is required to meet their needs. That will have a massive impact in the classrooms and on educational outcomes but also a really big impact on reducing the costs that parents are facing in sending their child to what should be a free education.

With that I will conclude my remarks. I will support this bill. It provides some regulatory and some quality-assurance changes. We support it. We support changes to improve teacher quality. But there is more to be done in Victoria when it comes to education. I note that—and this was discussed in the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee—the initiatives announced in the budget still sit within the envelope of the current Gonski deal that has been done with the federal and state governments, so whilst they are new initiatives, they do not actually add to the current funding envelope. So I would really encourage both the state and federal governments to sit back down together and work out how they can actually get school funding to 100 per cent as soon as possible—not 90 per cent by 2028. As I said, that will leave our school system around about $1 billion short every single year. The benefits that that extra funding can bring for all our schools—you have got a good local school, preferably, hopefully, within walking distance of your house, although that is not always possible—

Ms Britnell: Not in the country.

Mr HIBBINS: No, not in the country but in many parts of metropolitan Melbourne and in cities. So we need to make sure that funding goes to the needs particularly of those students from disadvantaged backgrounds so they can get the support in the classroom and so our public schools can support all our students.

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
4 February 2021
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