Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (17:26): I am very proud to rise to speak to the government's response to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee report Teaching and Learning—Maximising our investment in Australian schools. I was one of the senators, with Senator Back and others, who contributed to this report. As Senator Back's contribution noted, this was not a blue-sky report; it was a report where we spoke to principals, where we spoke to teachers and researchers and actually got to the very heart of what makes a difference to teaching and learning.
The inquiry was on the back of the committee's trip to China in the wake of the PISA results, and particularly the Shanghai school systems results. The committee wanted to understand more fully how China were getting the results they were within those international tests, and whether there were any lessons for us to learn—particularly given the prior government's fascination or fixation on ensuring we were in the top five PISA results. And Senator O'Neill, through you, Chair, as an educator I am sure you would appreciate that international tests are not a good education barometer to understanding the quality of an education that goes on within classrooms and within schools and within communities. And yet that is what the former Labor government chose to hold up as the measurement of a quality education, through their so-called Gonski reforms.
Senator O'Neill rails in some faux outrage that this report was handed down in May 2013 to the former Labor-Green's government but that it is our government who are actually responding; however, hers did not. This is despite the fact the great Gonski report was handed down in December 2010 I think, and yet, there they were, running around the country, traipsing behind premier after premier in great haste, in September 2013 in an effort to actually realise the principles that Gonski underlined. And yet we did not end up with the model that Gonski wanted. The government that actually delivered a national, needs-based school funding model that was sector blind was not the Gillard government, was not the Labor-Green's government; it was Christopher Pyne and the Abbott government that delivered that. No matter how you want to paint it, they are the facts. The department has confirmed that fact for the committee in a hearing during recent months—that is, that a sector blind, needs-based national funding model was delivered by the Coalition government and not by the former government. Indeed, there is actually an increase of investment in school funding from the Commonwealth over the forward estimates.
I just want to put that on the record for all those fabulous Australians listening to the Senate this afternoon. In looking at the government's response, I realised why the government has decided just to note so many of the recommendations. It is because underlying our recommendations was the recognition that state governments are responsible for the delivery of school education. Many of the recommendations we made went to the heart of that, so our issues have been referred to the appropriate place for the discussions to take place.
One thing we realised in talking to principals, teachers and students about what makes for excellent learning outcomes is that it is about—and all the research bears this out—the teacher in the classroom. Again, I refer to Senator O'Neill's contribution in which she made it sound as if the teacher in the classroom does not make a difference to student outcomes. At the very least she made it sound as if it is not the most important thing in making a difference. But it is. It absolutely is. Our government is committed to putting taxpayers' dollars where they are going to make the biggest difference for our students—not for the AEU or the NTEU but for Australian students who attend state schools, Catholic schools or private independent schools.
The setting up of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group, or TEMAG, was fundamental to addressing many of the recommendations in our report. It went to the heart of the key questions. What does make a great teacher? What is the role of the deans of education across this country in ensuring our teacher training programs turn out the kinds of graduates who are not going to leave the profession after five years, who are going to understand what is required to be a great teacher and how to deliver lessons in a way that not only engages young Australians but also ensures they actually learn something? A good science lesson does not mean you get to watch MythBusters 24/7. You actually have to understand the principles of teaching science.
It is about pedagogical approaches that work and it is about ensuring that our teachers graduate with core subject knowledge—that they are experts in the classroom. Yes, they facilitate students to understand the content within a certain context, but they have to be the experts in the room. You cannot leave it to Wikipedia. It is also about professional experience—and we understand that it is about ongoing learning by teachers, including through ongoing conversations about education and through learning communities. That is something our government has very much understood. The TEMAG report is in and I am looking forward to the government's response to that and to seeing how we are going to ensure that, in the years ahead, every Australian student has quality Australian teaching in their classroom and therefore maximises their opportunity to learn.
Another great initiative of the government in teaching and learning is the appointment of Professor John Hattie to AITSL. He is widely respected within the profession and very focused on ensuring that there is evidence behind what we do in the classroom—on making sure that it is really going to make a difference for all students, not just middle-class white kids. He is about making sure that everything we do in a classroom is based on research and evidence. I think that is going to be very powerful and transformative for teaching. One of the recommendations we made was about the development of online resources. That is one of the key components of AITSL's work—gathering those online resources that teachers can use in the classroom.
Another recommendation we made was about Closing the Gap. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, is in the chamber today. I congratulate him on his initiatives. Whilst the figures on closing the gap in educational attainment for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people are not where we want them to be, his very practical and pragmatic approach to solving this problem through his officers working in the communities with families to ensure young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are heading into the schools is going to be the first step towards ensuring that we do close that gap. You have to get them in the door.
Another focus of Senator Back and mine, because we do both have a mathematical and scientific bent, was on STEM—
Senator Jacinta Collins: Me too!
Senator McKENZIE: And Senator Collins—fabulous, a unity ticket there. We are all focused on the importance of STEM subjects in the curriculum, ensuring that those teachers who are experienced and expert in the teaching of STEM are available right across the school system. That is so important. We made a variety of recommendations to that effect. That is why I am very proud not only of our government's response to the report but of the policy initiatives we are implementing right now through our competitiveness agenda—not to mention Minister Pyne's own personal commitment to ensuring that mathematics, science and technology are a key focus of our government and our education policy going forward.
I commend the report. I enjoyed working with Senator Back on this report—and, Senator Marshall, we do miss you! I appreciated the bipartisan approach the former committee had to all things education. It is a great report and I am very proud of a government that is putting students first in teaching and learning. We are investing taxpayers' money wisely to give effect to that. I look forward to the recommendations of this report bearing fruit in the decades ahead.