Education Overhaul Will Open Door of Opportunity

The Age

By Hutch Ranck
Chairman
BCA Education, Skills and Innovation Task Force

When it comes to setting out a new social agenda for Australia, there appears to be a lot of common ground between business leaders and the newly elected federal government. This is especially evident with education and training.

The Business Council of Australia has called for the economic prosperity debate in Australia to take a different turn. We need a greater focus on using our economic prosperity to achieve social objectives, including by making sure the many Australians who continue to be isolated from the opportunities that sustained economic growth are given the capabilities and skills they need to improve their lives. A key to achieving this is to reform the education system.

Over the past year, the Labor Party has laid out several important elements that business regards as necessary to build a 21st-century school education system.

These include rewarding excellent teaching, introducing a new national curriculum in core subjects, investing in pre-school for all four-year-olds and increasing the completion rates for Year 12.

These are all important initiatives and business looks forward to seeing more detail on the individual proposals and how these will form part of a comprehensive strategy to improve the quality and relevance of education for all students.

Only by improving the quality of education for every student can we effectively begin to give disadvantaged sections of our society the foundation they need to participate fully in the workforce and in community life. Realising this objective will produce social, health and economic benefits not only for the individuals themselves, but for the nation.

The new government’s announcement that it is moving immediately to implement its commitment to ensure all students from Year 9 to 12 have access to a computer as one of its first priorities is a significant and welcome step.

The provision of computers, combined with the government’s commitment to ensure broadband is available to schools, will make a practical and vital contribution to preparing young people for modern workplaces.

Recent research conducted for the BCA has identified problems with Australia’s school education system.

One problem is that many young people fall behind in their learning during their earliest school years, become disengaged and then never catch up.

As a result, they achieve only minimal results.

Second, our secondary school completion rates are lower than those countries with which we compare ourselves. The BCA regards a substantial training qualification as the equivalent of completing Year 12.

Nevertheless, even when this is taken into account, there are still tens of thousands of young Australians every year who do not complete Year 12 or the training equivalent.

There are now more than 300,000 people aged between 15 and 24 who are either unemployed or are working part-time and would like more hours and who are not in full-time education. As far as business is concerned, in a time of economic prosperity we are failing this group of young people.

Third, there is a serious shortage of young people with the knowledge and skills required for many areas of demand in the Australian workforce.

Further problems include outdated facilities and an outdated structure to support schools in achieving better results.

Successfully tackling these problems will require a focus on providing the tools students need, such as computers and access to technology – together with a fundamental improvement in the quality of teaching – that allow students to achieve better results, particularly those who are disadvantaged.

That is why the BCA has identified five priorities to improve education. They are:

  • Recognising and rewarding the very best teachers with substantially higher pay.
  • The introduction of a governance framework that provides principals with greater autonomy.
  • The introduction of a nationally consistent, engaging and flexible curriculum that can be customised to the individual learning requirements of students.
  • Early intervention to prevent students falling behind.
  • Greater investment in education and training in return for the achievement of the other reforms.

While a comprehensive approach is needed, research consistently shows that the single greatest influence on levels of school achievement is the quality of teaching to which students are exposed.

Excellent teaching is the key to increased student engagement and higher levels of achievement, regardless of student backgrounds.

This is why the BCA has proposed a new pay framework that would give the best teachers the opportunity to earn up to double the average teaching salary – a salary of $130,000 – in return for meeting the specified criteria for an outstanding teacher.

The BCA views lifting education outcomes as part of a workforce and community participation agenda, which is a dynamic new social agenda for the nation.

If we get it right, ultimately, this would also be the most effective and sustainable economic policy we can put in place.

We look forward to working with the federal government and with state and territory governments on a comprehensive strategy to lift the learning outcomes for all students and to make certain that all young people have the opportunity to enter and enjoy a successful and rewarding career.