The Commonwealth role in education

“By any measure, Australia has a high-quality education system. It compares well against other countries on a range of education tests and benchmarks. These results, however, mask the grim reality that Australian education is not equitable.

It is the large achievement gap between rich and poor that blights Australian education – and the gap appears to be widening” (Reid, 2016).

To maintain the quality of our education system and to improve our outcomes (as judged by international standards), it is essential that we have a cooperative and national approach; only the Federal Government can facilitate this. Australia’s current national approach to education is the envy of many other countries around the world – many of who aspire to emulate it. The USA, as a case in point, is trying to move away from 50 different education systems to have a more cohesive education delivery. This is not the time for our Federal government to move away from its influential involvement; however it is the time to consolidate the excellent work of national bodies like ACARA and AITSL, which have seen significant reform in teacher education and the introduction of a national approach to curriculum and standards of delivery.

The Federal government has stated its commitment to non-government schools. Government schools still educate over 65% of all students across Australia and whilst funding can be a contentious issue, if the Federal government is going to have a role in education then it must work to benefit all students in all systems and sectors.

In 2008 all education Ministers committed to the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians for the next 10years. The Melbourne Declaration states – “As a nation Australia should value the central role of education 
in building a democratic, equitable and just society— a society that is prosperous, cohesive and culturally diverse, and that values Australia’s Indigenous cultures as a key
 part of the nation’s history, present 
and future”.If this is so, what role does the Commonwealth have in achieving this?

Issues of national importance require consistency and therefore must be driven nationally. Education is a national issue and although the States and Territories have primary responsibility for public education, Australia does not need a fragmented approach. If we are going to continue to judge our success against international benchmarks then Australia requires Federalinvolvement to influence policy and ensure cohesiveness and national consistency.

How important then is a national approach to education? Let’sdraw a parallel between education and defence. Although constitutionally the Federal government has a different role in defence it would never delegate something so important to individual states and territories. Similarly, education is a proactive form of defence that ensures our economic and social future and thus should be preserved under a national umbrella.

Federal government is essential to drive reforms that focus on improved outcomes for all students and greater equity across systems and sectors. Education reform must focus on achieving equity and real improvement in student outcomes, through consultation with experienced educational experts and targeted research – this can only work if driven nationally and implemented locally.

Rob Nairn is Executive Director of theAustralian Secondary Principals AssociationThis story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.