Grievance Debate: Schools, Language Programs


Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (15:29): Today, I would like to talk about the importance of language education in our schools, and the government's announcement last week of their language strategy was welcome. It was playing catch-up, of course, given that in August the opposition announced a series of language policies which the government seems to have read in detail because a number of their announcements virtually copy things the Liberal Party had committed to in August, but we welcome them.

We welcome them doing that, just as we welcome the government in their announcements of their truancy policy. More than a year after the Liberal announcement of our truancy policy, the government has finally caught up with some of the key things—even to the point of the Liberal Party's proposed increase in truancy and attendance officers from 22 to 33, which the Liberal Party identified as a need in the department. The government has now come to us a year later and said, 'Yes, we do need to increase the number of truancy officers,' and they have come up with the same number—33. If they had accepted the Liberal Party's policy a year ago, those truancy and attendance officers could have been already working in schools, but we are glad they got to the party late.

Of course, our literacy guarantee, a significant policy announced by the Leader of the Opposition, Steven Marshall, in May this year, included a particular focus on literacy, making sure that students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties are supported with extra support and literacy coaches. In their announcement of the public education plan last week, the government also picked up on many of these. I note that the academy they are proposing will work in very well with many of our proposals in the literacy guarantee, and we look forward to taking the work they are starting now, finally after 15 years in government, and applying our policy to it in due course.

It is actually excellent news for the children of South Australia that the Labor Party has started taking note of all these Liberal policies and I look forward to them doing so further. In terms of languages, this is very important because the government's document, which they released last week, Languages Strategy for Public Education, notes:

While many students have access to quality languages education, this is not the case for all students. There are still a number of schools that struggle to offer a language program across all year levels and some have difficulty sustaining a quality program in the long term.

When students do have access to classes, often the way these are delivered means that there are insufficient time allocations for effective learning. Having sufficient time on task and continuity is essential for student achievement in learning another language.

A little further on the document states:

Languages participation rates declined considerably in the senior secondary years, with approximately 5% of students continuing to study an additional language up to year 12. This decline is not limited to South Australian government schools. In many schools, particularly those in low socioeconomic areas, declining participation affects the viability of classes.

But it goes on to say:

In 2016, just 20 South Australian government schools offered language subjects in year 12.

That is a disgrace. That is a disgraceful outcome. After 15½ years of this Labor government it is a disgrace that just 20 South Australian government schools offered language programs in year 12 this year, but the good news is that some steps are being taken to address that. I will quote from the Liberal Party's document that we released several months ago:

For 15 years the State Labor Government has overseen a decline in second language instruction in South Australia, as highlighted by the low number of students now taking language subjects at a year 12 level.

When Labor came to power in 2002, 11.8% of Year 12 students undertook language studies.

One in eight year 12 students undertook language studies; now it is less than one in 20. That is the outcome of this Labor government's appreciation of and failure to support languages in schools. The Liberal Party put money forward to ensure that there were going to be great opportunities for language outcomes in schools. It is worth noting that more than 1,000 fewer students are doing languages to year 12 in real numbers—more than 1,000 fewer—than in 2002 when the Labor Party came to power.

The Hon. J.M. Rankine interjecting:

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I need to remind the member for Wright of the standing orders.

Mr GARDNER: There are a number of strategies in the Labor Party's languages document that are lifted directly from the Liberal Party's policy, and I congratulate the government on this: support for ethnic schools; support for student school of languages holiday programs; scholarships for teachers to improve language schools; improving professional development; working with the university to ensure that there is a flow of language teachers going in the areas that we need; innovative program grants for language teachers; scholarships to attract more language teachers into specialities, including master's scholarships for 40 teachers; and additional support for ethnic schools to deliver SACE language subjects. These are all from the Liberal policy—well done the government. Now there is a whole range of other policies we are just waiting for you to take on so that you can deliver a better government during your last four months.