PARTIES OUTLINE EDUCATION POLICIES

Liberal/National Coalition

Adrian Piccoli
Minister for Education

Minister for Education Adrian Piccoli

Since April 2011, the Baird Government has transformed the education system in NSW with evidence-based reforms in early childhood education, schools and vocational education and training that are delivering better student results. The NSW Teachers Federation is a key source of educational advice and the strength of our relationship is not necessarily built on agreement but rather on honesty. Whilst we don’t always agree, frank advice has always been sought and welcomed.

The Baird Government has recognised the importance of needs-based funding by committing to fund the NSW contribution for years 5 and 6 of the Gonski agreement. It is worth noting that the new Victorian Labor Government has made changes that undermine the Gonski reforms in that state. The Baird Government believes the Gonski funding agreement is an essential reform that should be fully implemented and will continue to advocate to the Commonwealth Government to fund years 5 and 6.

It should also be remembered the former Federal Labor Government let down public education by not fully funding its share of the Gonski reforms and the current Federal Labor Party remains silent on what it will do about years 5 and 6. The only Government in Australia which has made the tough decisions to fully fund and commit to the full six years of the Gonski agreement is the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government. We have delivered on our commitment to public education, including the Baird Government’s most recent announcement of the $1 billion Innovative Education, Successful Students package, which will deliver up to 1600 new or upgraded classrooms in public schools across the State. This huge investment is on top of the Government’s $2.7 billion investment into school facilities over the next four years to provide innovative, flexible learning spaces for students.

This supports reforms including Great Teaching, Inspired Learning, designed to raise the status of the teaching profession; our commitment to improving literacy and numeracy in primary schools where it is most needed through Early Action for Success; and the enhancements to rural and remote education in NSW as shown by the flow of RAM dollars and the Rural and Remote Education: A Blueprint for Action.

The NSW Government has continued the previous Labor policy of 2.5 per cent salary increases, with greater increases subject to employee-related savings being achieved. In 2012, the Department of Education and Communities entered into a Staffing Agreement with the NSW Teachers Federation until term 2, 2016. Under the Staffing Agreement:

  • class size policies remain;
  • schools are able to fill at least every second vacancy by local choice once incentive transfer applicants and Aboriginal employment applicants are placed;
  • incentive transfers not only remain but they have been given greater priority;
  • nominated, compassionate and service transfers remain;
  • permanent teachers retain tenure.

The Baird Government has committed an additional $36 million in 2015 to support students with disability in NSW public schools. We ensure specialist support provisions and facilities are available to support students where learning is impacted by disability. Education and training prepares students for the jobs market and in four years the Baird Government has created more than 126,000 new jobs and made NSW the number one economy in the nation. We need a skilled workforce so NSW can continue to lead the country. TAFE NSW is vital to this mission and will continue to be the backbone of the training system in NSW. The Baird Government’s vision for TAFE NSW is for a state-wide inclusive service, offering a broad range of courses, delivering skills critical to the economy, leading quality, innovation and customer focus in service delivery. The 2014/15 Budget provided $2.3 billion for vocational education, (including $1.86 billion for TAFE NSW); this is 11 per cent higher than under Labor. Under our Smart and Skilled reforms, we’re creating more than 60,000 extra student places in 2015 than would have been the case without these reforms. Generous fee concessions and exemptions are available. Fees in NSW are lower than the maximum fees in other states.

The Smart and Skilled Quality Framework is a guarantee of quality for qualifications funded by the NSW Government. All approved training providers will charge the same fee when offering a Smart and Skilled government subsidised place so there can be no race to the bottom as in other states.

Competition between training providers is not new. TAFE NSW has been competing very successfully with private training providers for 20 years and remains the dominant provider of vocational education and training in NSW. Under the Smart and Skilled reforms, the percentage of the NSW Government’s total VET budget that is contestable is comparatively small at around 19 per cent in 2014/15. The Greens have announced they are happy to see that increase to 20 per cent and Labor has said they are happy for it to go to 30 per cent.

Federation comments

Gonski: Unquestionably, the NSW Coalition’s most significant and commendable action was signing up to the Gonski schools funding agreement.

It accepted the findings of the Gonski review and agreed with the Commonwealth to establish a needs-based funding model. It is vital, therefore, that the Coalition continues to pressure its federal counterpart to honour the Gonski agreement in the fifth and sixth years.

TAFE: In contrast to its support for Gonski, the Coalition’s policies on vocational education and training threaten the future of TAFE.

By pushing ahead with its so-called Smart and Skilled changes, the Baird Government is enacting more of its privatisation agenda. In addition to increasing fees, cutting courses and slashing staff positions, the Coalition’s contestable funding policy hands revenue raised for public education over to private, for-profit training companies.

Despite their claim that contestable funding currently sits at 19 per cent, the Coalition has not moved to cap it at this level. Without such a limit, TAFE will be increasingly
privatised.

School staffing: The Coalition deserves credit for maintaining the staffing agreement that ensures equity for students through the supply of qualified teachers to all parts of the state, permanency for teachers and protection of class sizes.

The Coalition’s late election pledge to invest $224 million for primary executive teachers to support colleagues’ professional development is welcome. Federation will press to have this allocated as executive release time in the school’s teacher staffing entitlement, as currently applies for secondary schools.

Schools’ teacher staffing entitlements, however, are not secured yet. Federation has called on the Coalition to include them in the staffing agreement.

Beyond the school fence, Local Schools, Local Decisions has gutted the Department. This has been exacerbated by budget cuts forced by the “labour expense cap”.

Salaries: The Coalition changed industrial legislation to lock-in a salary cap of 2.5 per cent a year and deny public sector unions an independent hearing of a work value case in the Industrial Relations Commission.

This unjust treatment ignores important action by Federation to lift the status of the profession — negotiating a salary scale aligned to the Australian Standards, embedding these standards in the new performance and development framework, and advocating higher entry requirements for teacher education courses.

Special education: Increased funding of $36 million from the Gonski loading for NSW public school students with disability is welcomed. This is not enough, however, when 100,000 students with disability have been identified nationwide as not receiving any additional support.

The Abbott Government has compounded this neglect by reneging on its commitment to increased funding for these students. This must be pursued by the NSW
Coalition.

School buildings and facilities: Premier Baird claims that any additional funding for infrastructure must come from the sale of electricity “poles and wires”.

While the Coalition’s increased investment for capital works and maintenance is welcomed, it should not be funded from privatisation.

The Coalition pledge to spend $2.7 billion over the next four years will help close the capital works funding gap that Gonski identified, namely, that independent schools spend three times and Catholic schools spend two times as much as governments spend on public schools.