Welcome – February newsletter
Parliament has well and truly resumed for the year. It began with a church service on Tuesday morning just a stone’s throw from Parliament and there are many hot issues that have already been debated.
At present, things are fairly quiet regarding faith-based schools. At the start of the week, Greens’ Senator Janet Rice publicly stated that she believed legislation on discrimination within schools would be passed within a week. However debate on the topic didn’t even take place.
Last week, I presented with our colleague Mark Spencer, from CSA, at another Senate Inquiry into Discrimination in faith-based schools. This time the inquiry was chaired by the Government.
The report of that committee was due to be released on Monday but it was delayed until the end of the week, meaning that the topic has been pushed forward and is now extremely unlikely to be decided before the election in May as the Senate doesn’t sit next week. The key findings of the report are below, along with a couple of other updates.
On a different note, we have heard that a couple of schools have received less than they expected in funding at the start of the year, from the federal government. If you are in that position and don’t know why, please let us know, giving as much detail as you are able, by emailing email@example.com.
We have been praying for you as the school year has commenced. It is wonderful to think of the many children and families being served by your work. Thank you.
Yours in Christ,
Erik (and the AACS Board)
Report from the latest Senate Inquiry
The Senate Inquiry into the Wong Bill that was introduced to the Senate last year has been tabled. You will recall that the Wong Bill was seeking to change the Se x Discrimination Act, removing exemptions that give schools important clarity that they can teach according to their beliefs; and manage school life and students behaviour in accordance with their beliefs.
The Bill had a swathe of amendments attached to it from the Government, the Greens and the Centre Alliance Party, all trying to pull the Bill in a direction that would make it either more or less restrictive for schools and churches.
The Inquiry recommended that the Bill should not be passed but that it, and all the amendments, should be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission.
The Labor members of the committee issued a dissenting report which reaffirmed the commitment of the Oppostion to remove discrimination against students and teachers. They recommended that the Senate should amend the Bill to clarify the scope of educational institutions (e.g. to ensure the Bill doesn’t make it impossible for churches to preach a traditionally held view of marriage) but that there should be no other amendments beyond that, and the Bill should be passed.
The Greens also issued a dissenting report that urged for the Bill to be passed with their parties amendments, and for the Fair Work Act to also be looked at to ensure it doesn’t allow discrimination.
Importantly, Senator Rex Patrick from the Centre Alliance Party—the Senators who held the deciding vote on the Bill last year and who sent it to committee—participated in this committee and was able to hear all the arguments from AACS and other groups who submitted.
The Inquiry received over 1,000 submissions in total.
It is now very likely that this issue will remain unresolved until after the election in May. The issues however, will not go away, so it is important for schools to be thinking through these issues and their response to them, as the matter will no doubt re-emerge.
Click here to download the report
Government letter to AACS
A number of schools have had letters from their local MP in response to the communication they made at the end of 2018, regarding changes to the Se x Discrimination Act. AACS has also received a number of letters from both sides of Parliament, in response to our advocacy.
Attached is the latest letter we received from the Attorney-General, which he asked us to share with all our schools. The Government’s position on this has not changed, though they are again suggesting further work needs to be done to establish how best to resolve this issue.
Click here to read the letter from Attorney General, Christian Porter.
Productivity Report into School Education
The Productivity Commission releases a report each year on Government Services, and included is a chapter on School Education. That chapter provides a while range of statistics about government-funded education in Australia (private and public).
Some of the findings of the report are:
- 3 percent of schools are government owned and managed.
- Governments spend $57.8 billion on school education nationally and $14 billion of that goes to non-government schools.
- There are 3.8 million full time students enrolled across Australia.
- Non-government schools have a roughly similar proportion of students with disability to government schools, however they have far fewer students from a low socio-economic background and far fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
- The proportion of school leavers fully engaged in education or work is higher across Australia in 2018 than it was in 2014-2017, however there are strong variables between states. In the Northern Territory and Queensland the statistics have gotten worse, but they are significantly improved in South Australia and Tasmania.
There are a range of interesting statistics in the report that are worth a look. Click here to download the chapter on schools.
The Australian Government has signed an agreement with all states and territories to continue the National School Chaplaincy Programme.
The Federal Government will provide $247 million to continue supporting the programme through to 2022. About a third of Australian schools make use of the programme at present and the Government has received significant encouragement from families and schools, asking for it to continue.
Chaplains are used to provide pastoral care services within school communities. The focus for the next stage of the programme is anti-bullying and the Minister for Education, Hon. Dan Tehan MP has said “School chaplains will be required to undertake anti-bullying training provided by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.”
Anti-bullying and eSafety are priorities for the government at the moment. The Government has also announced $10million in grants for NGOs to do work on equipping children to be safe online.
Click here to read the Government media release.
Closing the Gap
Yesterday, the 11th Closing the Gap report was handed down to Government. It found that we have not hit the vast majority of our goals for improving education, employment and life expectancy outcomes for indigenous communities.
The report found that education targets are generally not on track. Attendance rates for Indigenous students have not improved since 2014 and is as low as 63% in very remote areas. Literacy and numeracy among indigenous students has improved, though not as much as was hoped for. There has been good progress made on the number of Indigenous young people attaining Year 12 or equivalent.
As the report was released, the Prime Minister took a focus on education, saying he wants to work with indigenous leaders to reshape some of the targets and to focus on education as a key way of making change for future generations.
“Education is the key to skills, to better health, to jobs,” said the Prime Minister.
He announced three initiatives to address the challenge of education for indigenous Australians.
Firstly, 3,100 scholarships will be given to teachers who commit to working in the most remote schools for 4 years. Teachers who do that will have their HECS debt wiped.
Secondly a support programme will be created to help Indigenous students receive support and mentoring through their secondary years.
Thirdly, $5 million will be spent in remote and very remote areas to address the lack of school attendance.
Commitments were also made to support Indigenous businesses.
Click here to read the Closing the Gap Report
Click here to read the Prime Minister’s Media Release
New SES Model and the Choice and Affordability Fund
At this stage there is still nothing more to announce regarding the Choice and Affordability Fund and how it will be used and administered. We have made enquiries with the Minister’s office but have been told this matter is yet to be resolved.
Erik will be attending a consultation meeting next week, looking at the new model for calculating parent’s ‘capacity to contribute’ and therefore what their SES level should be. This work will be very important for the funding future of schools and will be a significant focus for the Department of Education this year.