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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Underpinning prosperity: our agenda in education, science and training

Brendan Nelson
Australian Government Minister for Education, Science and Training

Education, science and training now, more than at any other time, are crucial to Australia's future economic growth and social well-being. The links between sound public policy in these areas and strong and sustainable economic growth have never been more apparent – nor of greater importance.

The Government’s policies provide a blueprint for continued improvement and change in education – this work is underpinned by the key themes of consistency, quality, equity, sustainability, diversity and choice.

The programmes and initiatives now being put in place will create an Australian education, research and innovation system that will be marked by an unprecedented degree of national consistency, diversity and quality across the entire education system.

Let’s take a look into the future and imagine an eight year old boy being able to transfer easily from a school in Victoria to one in New South Wales, knowing that what he learns in the classroom will be consistent across state borders.  Perhaps later he will choose a school-based apprenticeship, opting for a trade from which he might build a thriving business enhanced by world class Australian technology. Years later he may decide to study commerce at university and find it is an easy transition to make. He will be typical of a new generation of lifelong learners looking for a system that doesn’t differentiate between study pathways, but focuses on choices which enable a fulfilling and challenging working life.

This is a vision the Australian Government hopes will be shared by all Australians, as we work to implement the Government’s fourth term agenda in education, science and training.

The Government’s vision for education has been very much influenced by the aspirations of the Australian community:

  • Parents want to be confident that their children will be able to read when they leave primary school
  • Businesses want to see more young Australians with high quality technical and vocational training, especially in the trades.
  • Australians want greater flexibility in moving between vocational education and university
  • Universities want to be able to compete on a level playing field when it comes to engaging in commercial activities
  • University graduates want to know that they have attained a degree from a world class higher education system – one that is thriving in a globally competitive economy
  • Members of our highly mobile defence forces need to be able to move interstate without impeding their children’s primary and secondary schooling; Indigenous students participating in Australian education and employment
  • All school educators and career advisors want to be assured that every student at risk of dropping out of school is supported to stay engaged and on track to complete Year 12 or its vocational equivalent
  • Researchers want to deliver innovation in a system where the very best research can be easily identified and appropriately funded.

In these early years of the 21st century, where so much that lies ahead of us is unknown, it is absolutely critical that our education system becomes more responsive. Responsive to economic needs and to parents’ and students’ expectations.  Our education system will need to be more diverse; and yet less divided between sectors. It will need to be more nationally consistent; and yet offer greater choice. If we cannot achieve this, we risk compromising our future prosperity.


Within my portfolio, the schools sector has the greatest reach and some of the most significant challenges. Schools enrol 3.3 million students, employ 250,000 teachers and consume $26 billion of taxpayers’ money each year. Apart from parents, schools exert the greatest influence on our children’s development.

The key priority in schools is to raise the quality, professionalism and status of our teachers. Quality teaching is by far the most important factor that influences the educational outcomes of our children, accounting for up to 60% of the variation in learning outcomes. Despite this, however, there are structural problems with enhancing teaching quality. Teachers are poorly organised professionally, there are doubts over the quality and adequacy of university education faculties, and teacher salary structures are so outdated and lacking in flexibility that it is no wonder that many turn away from the profession in frustration. Any profession must have the ability to train, recognise and reward its best and brightest performers. 

The Government is determined to tackle these challenges. One of the most important initiatives that we are undertaking in the portfolio is the establishment of and initial $10 million investment into the National Institute for Quality Teaching and School Leadership. NIQTSL is an organisation managed by the teaching profession for the teaching profession. Its mandate is to promote the profession, to conduct professional learning and research and develop nationally consistent standards for teachers and principals. Through this Institute, teachers and school leaders will finally have some control over their professional agenda.

There are undoubtedly problems in the training of teachers in some universities. I have seen research indicating poor standards and I understand anecdotally that not all education faculties are up to scratch. In the future, NIQTSL will have a role in accrediting teacher training courses. However, I have also asked the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Training to inquire into the quality and adequacy of teacher education faculties. If, as I suspect, there are issues in the way in which our teachers are trained, then this Inquiry will be equipped to identify them and propose solutions. Other initiatives to support teacher quality include an investing of $159 million into teacher professional development and an additional $110 million for teacher practicum. 

Providing a nationally consistent schooling system is also one of our key priorities. Last year, 84,000 school-aged children moved interstate – they might as well have moved to a different country. Our goal is to ensure that standards are equally high regardless of where a child resides. We have an ambitious agenda in this area. We are insisting, as a condition of funding, that school starting ages will be the same across the country by 2010. We are introducing common testing standards in key subject areas; we are driving consistency in curriculum outcomes and a common information system for the transfer of student data when students move interstate. Most importantly, we are beginning the work to implement an Australian Certificate of Education as the key year 12 certificate. Of course we are proud of our state origins, but we live in an increasingly mobile and globalised world and it is time that our schooling system caught up.

The Government is also ensuring that quality information about their child’s progress and about the performance of schools is made available to parents. I am determined to put an end to school report cards that are meaningless and full of jargon. Parents want to be told in plain language how their child is performing against objective measures and against others in their year. Additionally, it is time that schools became more transparent in how they are performing so that parents have objective data when selecting schools and specific information against which they can judge schools and hold them accountable.The Schools Assistance legislation implements these objectives.

Other priorities in the schools sector include ensuring that school principals have more power over the running of their schools. Of particular importance in this area is the power over staffing. Without some control over the day to day running of their schools we cannot expect principals to be accountable for their school’s performance.

I also believe that it is crucial that Australian values are explicitly taught in schools, and that special programmes to assist boys and to stamp out school bullying are implemented. Education is as much about building character as it is about transferring skills, knowledge and the thirst for learning. Our national values education programme will commit almost $35 million over the next four years to support values education and civics and citizenship education programmes in Australian schools.

Of course we will continue to work on the basic building blocks of schooling. Literacy and numeracy initiatives will receive a major funding boost. The new overarching Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs Programme, introduced this year, targets the most disadvantaged students, including students with disabilities.  Over this quadrennium it will receive funding of $2.1 billion, representing an increase of $445 million or 28% over the previous four year funding period.

In addition, we are providing $700 tutorial vouchers to the parents of children who did not meet the year 3 reading benchmark in 2003.

All schools will continue to be funded at record levels:  $33.0 billion will be provided to schools over the next four years, a massive $9.5 billion increase over the previous four year period.  This includes the extra $1 billion committed during the election campaign for school capital infrastructure.


The benefits of an outstanding education system are not just seen in our domestic economy. Australia is already recognised as having an internationally competitive education and training system. In 2004, some 270,000 international students enrolled in 320,000 courses of study in Australia. Another 100,000 students are studying for Australian qualifications offshore and this provision is expanding. The challenge is to make sure our system continues to keep ahead of our competitors. The rest of the world is not standing still. 

If we are to protect our successful education industry and ensure that Australia’s education and training sectors remains well positioned to meet the requirements of a competitive global environment, we must engage in further reform designed to keep us at the forefront of international competition.

The preceding extract is taken from a speech by Dr Brendan Nelson at the Sustaining Prosperity Conference at the University of Melbourne Thursday 31 March 2005. The full speech, covering the issues of Indigenous education, higher education, innovation and science, and vocational education, is available as a media statement from the Minister's office.

Subject Headings

VET (Vocational Education and Training)
Transitions in schooling
Tertiary education
Teaching profession
Teacher training
Teacher evaluation
Lifelong Learning
Educational evaluation
Education policy
Education philosophy
Education finance
Education and state
Education aims and objectives
Economic trends
Aboriginal students