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Some differences between the commonwealth and states on education

By Brendan Nelson - posted Wednesday, 2 June 2004

I am sustained in public life by the view that ultimately truth and commonsense prevails.

Since its election in 1996, the Howard government has driven an agenda in relation to the basics of education – literacy and numeracy in particular.

By the mid-1990s, a concern had taken root that children were being taught everything under the sun except basic reading, writing and arithmetic.


An initial investment of more than $730 million of your hard-earned money was made in developing, implementing and testing against basic literacy and numeracy benchmarks.

The states were asked to report to parents the results of their children’s attempts to meet the national reading and numeracy benchmarks in years three and five. Initially Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT came on board. Victoria joined last year, but Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia stayed out.

When I met them all last year to have another go on behalf of Australia’s parents, they passed a resolution put by me that all jurisdictions would report to parents against national benchmarks by 2004. As the resolution went through, I specifically asked whether NSW and SA would now report to parents.

The South Australian minister said: “Well, we haven’t said we’re against it.” The NSW minister replied: “We’ll get back to you.”

So I then started work on a modest but different approach to put power in the hands of parents. It would be in the form of a tutorial coupon to purchase 17 hours of tutoring for year three students who had not passed the national reading benchmark.

The parents of the 8,000 students who had not met the reading grade in those four jurisdictions reporting to parents will get a $700 voucher for the national trial.


Now the NSW minister screams it is not fair on the 7,700 NSW children who did not meet the benchmark last year. I agree. But how can I deliver a voucher to parents kept in the dark about the fact their children can’t meet the minimum national standard?

A tuition coupon could be redeemed either at the school or with a qualified tutor.

Recently some teachers turned up at my office to protest in support of public education. Had they gone to Macquarie Street to protest against the NSW state government which has responsibility for state schools in NSW, I would have joined them.

Bob Carr increased funding to NSW schools in his last budget a paltry 0.8 per cent. Commonwealth increases were 5.7 per cent. NSW gives 92 per cent of its schools budget to 68 per cent of the kids in NSW. The federal Government gives 70 per cent to the other 32 per cent.

Add them together and nationally the 68 per cent in state schools get 76 per cent of the public funds.

Abbotsleigh Girls School in my electorate of Bradfield in Sydney receives $2.7 million to educate 1,387 students. Killara High School receives $13.9 million to educate 1,200. Were Abbotsleigh to shut its doors, the taxpayer would be looking for another $11 million. Parents make up the difference to deliver a quality education in both schools.

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About the Author

Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson is a former federal Minister for Education, Science and Training and is the Liberal Member for Bradfield (NSW).

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