What are the main parties promising on education ahead of the Victorian election?

By Dr Jim Watterston
Dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education

Tagged:

education; politics; election; policy Education; Politics; Election; Policy

Main points

Coalition promises:

  • An evidence-based review of school curriculum, to “prioritise core competencies and content”.
  • Removal of the ‘Safe Schools’ gender and sexuality program introduced by Labor
  • $400m for Catholic and Independent schools for capital funding words and new schools
  • $16m to target early language and literacy programs in areas where children are at risk of falling below their peers
  • A review into vocational education

Labor promises:

  • Record investment on education since coming to power four years ago
  • Yet to deliver on promise to improve literacy and numeracy performance of school students
  • $400m commitment to Catholic and Independent schools for capital funding words and new schools
  • $5b over the next decade to deliver 15 hours of three-year-old kinder
  • $76m to enhance vocational education and training in secondary schools

Greens promises:

  • All students should have the opportunity to study at university and TAFE regardless of their private capacity to pay for their education
  • Smaller class sizes throughout public education
  • More teachers to educate children with special needs, in schools and pre-school centres that suffer socioeconomic disadvantage.
  • Increased support for LGBTIQ students.

Analysis

Since winning the 2014 election, the Labor Government in Victoria claimed the adventurous title, the ‘Education State’, as they developed and prioritised their education reform program aimed at lifting student performance across the board.

The Opposition has challenged the Government’s blueprint as they launched their School Education Values Statement earlier this year in an attempt to articulate their alternative direction for Victorian education.

Heading into the November 24 election, both major parties are focussed on key education commitments.

Literacy and numeracy performance in schools

One of the challenges across the nation over the past decade has been the stagnation of literacy and numeracy performance outcomes despite significantly increased funding and numerous high profile reviews, recommendations and recipes for success.

Improving school and system performance requires time to embed evidence-based strategies, ongoing professional development and support of teachers and leaders. The cyclic short-term thinking brought on by elections that requires new initiatives and populist commitments, for many, creates teacher resistance to reactive, ongoing change and constant reprioritisation.

It is therefore important to monitor the current and emerging suite of education election initiatives through the lens of whether they form a key element of a coherent, long-term plan or whether are they are aimlessly launched as one-off vote catchers.

Despite record education investment since coming to power almost four years ago, Victoria’s Education Minister James Merlino has yet to see his Labor government’s ‘Education State’ blueprint bear immediate fruit. However, the comprehensive re-vitalisation of regional teaching and learning services along with extensive leadership support after cuts during the Ballieu/Napthine Coalition Government may require consolidation before results start to head in the right direction. Nonetheless, the Minister will be disappointed that stronger evidence of system regeneration has not been conclusive.

The Liberal/National education manifesto sets out a pathway that aims to improve performance by reducing a perceived curriculum overload. The plan also seeks increased choice and more diversity for schools as it also calls for the removal of the ‘Safe Schools’ gender and sexuality program. The perennial ‘removal of red tape’ is in there along with greater autonomy for principals and “meritocracy and the belief that ability, effort and achievement must be properly promoted and rewarded.”

Early childhood education

Labor has focussed heavily in this election campaign on the early childhood sector as a lever for improved school performance through early intervention. The commitment to invest $5b over the next decade to deliver 15 hours of three-year-old kinder, with the rollout beginning in 2020, could be a game changer and comes after the recent commitment by the Federal Labor Party to fund a similar national three-year-old program.

Providing access for all children to attend kinder for two years prior to Foundation is essential in making a difference to long term education and life outcomes especially for those from disadvantaged areas. In addition to this universal commitment, Victorian Labor have also announced a $17.9m early childhood commitment to provide at least 3,000 children attending state-funded kinders with the opportunity to learn a language other than English. This initiative is part of a larger $60.8m investment to address the growing demand for kinder places. We can only hope that this opportunity will be afforded to all kinder students in the longer term as our future generations compete for jobs in a more globalised world.

The State Liberal/National Coalition has been critical of the Labor Government’s early childhood announcements believing that the commitments do not do enough to address the inadequate kinder provision in rapidly growing suburbs of Melbourne. They have announced a $16m commitment to target early language and literacy programs to areas where children are at risk of falling below their peers. This allocation complements their $80m ‘Brighter Futures Fund’ which is targeted at better support for parents and children in the early years. The fund will enable the provision of integrated education hubs that provide full service early childhood centres inclusive of allied health, maternal and child health services.

School infrastructure

Another key election issue is the recognition of the need to comprehensively invest in school infrastructure, which has been underfunded since the 1960s when the state built the majority of post-WW2 educational institutions in the form of light timber construction which were not originally seen as long term solutions. The Labor Government has allocated $1.25b in their 2018/19 budget to build and upgrade schools across the state. This allocation includes 12 new schools, upgrades and allied improvements such as asbestos removal and better disability access.

The Liberal/National coalition have announced a $90.25m commitment across the Geelong region as part of their plan to “build a state of cities and ease the population squeeze”.

Catholic and Independent Schools

Both the Government and Opposition have neutralised each other with a $400m commitment to Catholic and Independent schools for capital funding to upgrade and build new schools, as Victoria’s population continues to rise faster than other States and Territories. One could question the logic in allocating state capital to non-government schools when the need in the state system is so dire.

Free text books

Other issues to arise during the campaign so far include the Opposition Leader Matthew Guy announcing a ‘Free School Books for Students’ program which will have some appeal, but may prove problematic to implement across all three sectors where costs wildly fluctuate. The Labor Government has recently announced a $9.8m ‘Anti-Bullying and Mental Health Initiative’ to complement the great work that most schools are already prioritising in relation to cyberbullying, physical threats and verbal abuse. Student mental health issues are a growing epidemic and require expert services and support for teachers to be able to manage the diverse needs of all students.

Sport

The Coalition, in their ‘Grassroots Sports Fund’, have allocated $39m to open up playing facilities around the state, including schools, for community use. It makes sense to get the most use out of assets that are often not used on weekends, but it requires ongoing maintenance funding, provision of changing facilities and ongoing support. Fund it fully and schools will be right on board.

Lastly, is the most recent announcement by the Labor Government that the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) will now provide evidence for each student of their literacy and numeracy standards. Students who do not pass either test will have NOT DEMONSTRATED noted on their VCE. This initiative comes with a $187m commitment to provide 700 additional expert teachers who will provide two hours of weekly tutoring to students who are at risk of not meeting the standards before the end of Year 12.

While this initiative is slightly different to schemes previously implemented in WA and NSW, there is some evidence from those locations that there has been an increased early school dropout rate as students fear not passing the test. Well done to the Government for the significant support provided to those senior secondary students with learning difficulties. However students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 have been previously tested through NAPLAN, so additional high stakes testing again will, for some students, fuel their anxiety, erode their self-esteem and perpetuate sense of failure. Why stamp their work passport (VCE) with this failure there for all to see? At the very least, an indicator of NOT DEMONSTRATED could come with free resources post-school for further employment-based support and mentoring. Give our most vulnerable students hope, don’t send them out into the world with the system having failed them over 13 years of education.

The $22m program from the Government that will enable rural and remote students the opportunity to study VCE subjects online through video conferencing, messaging, chat rooms and virtual whiteboards is a 21st Century initiative that is well overdue and is to be applauded.

Vocational education

The Labor Government has also focussed on Vocational Education, with $26m to enhance opportunities in schools and an additional $50m to provide up to 1,700 ‘Head Start’ apprenticeships and traineeships in 100 Secondary Schools. This could be a revolutionary way to better integrate the benefits of apprenticeships and senior secondary education, however it will need to be innovatively crafted because school-based apprenticeships have not been done well enough across the board in the past. Let’s hope this is a new and better-accepted way forward.

The Coalition has promised to hold a review into vocational education to look into funding to train workers in high priority areas.

The Greens

The Greens have produced a wide ranging educational policy statement based on a platform that providing a strong public education system is key to investing in a fair, successful and cohesive society.

The Greens plans deal with principles and aims which range across early childhood, schools, training and higher education. It is very ‘public school’ focussed, calling for such changes as the scaling down of federal funding to private schools in accordance with the Schools Resource Standard. They also state that all students should have the opportunity to study at university and TAFE regardless of their private capacity to pay for their education and that there should be smaller class sizes throughout public education. The Greens call for more teachers to educate children with special needs, in schools and pre-school centres that suffer socioeconomic disadvantage in addition to increased support for LGBTIQ students.

Image credit: Flickr/COD Newsroom

Coalition - Primary Policy Documents

Schools Free Books Rural & Regional Schools Early learning Support

Labor - Primary Policy Documents

Schools TAFE Kinder Early Learning Languages

The Greens - Primary Policy Documents

Early Education School Facilities TAFE

Tagged:

education; politics; election; policy Education; Politics; Election; Policy

Election Watch: Past Editions