Grievance Debate: NAPLAN Results

Mr GARDNER ( Morialta ) ( 15:12 ): It grieves me, in fact, to report that South Australia this week has not done as well as we should in our NAPLAN results. While the NAPLAN results cannot be used as a judge of a class or a teacher in an individual case, it is a signpost that says how an educational system is travelling. It is of sincere concern to the Liberal Party, the opposition in this state, that for six years now we have been travelling at the back of the class. 

We have had the least positive results in NAPLAN for six years. In 19 out of the 20 categories measured—through the NAPLAN tests across years 3, 5, 7 and 9, in five categories each—South Australia has performed at below the national average. In fact, in 2016, in 10 of those 20 categories not only were we below the national average but we had the weakest results of all states in Australia. This is not something that has just happened once. This is not a blip on the radar in 2016 that has come out of nowhere and that we could not have seen coming. 

This is the way it has been ever since the Premier, in fact, was the minister for education. In September 2010, when we had weak NAPLAN results then, it turned out that in 19 out of 20 categories, when we had results below the national standard, below the average, the Premier had an explanation and he had an answer that the current education minister is still rolling out today and was still rolling out on the television news last night. I am quoting from the Premier who was on Channel 7 news in September 2010: 

South Australia has a high number of students in lower socioeconomic status , so therefore one would expect us to be around the middle. 

If only we in fact were at the middle rather than the bottom. The explanation itself is a disgrace. It is an excuse for lack of achievement. It is an excuse for poor governance, for poor policy settings and the mistakes of this Labor government. 

Of course, we know that the Premier himself is the architect of this system of having Families in with the education department—a system that has proven to be catastrophic for child protection and a failure for the education of our young people, as has been found by the royal commissioner who came out with interim measures a couple of months ago so that this could be removed as soon as possible. That is something that still has not happened, of course, as she is about to hand down her final report 

The Premier who is the architect of the system is personally, in my view, to blame for much of the failures that have been as a result of this system. It is he who insisted on it. When all of the stakeholders were insisting that this was no good, and finally when the royal commissioner herself added her weight to it, all of the stakeholders, education unions, principals' authorities, public servants, and the opposition who took to the last election a policy that would have removed the families department from the education department, the Premier is the one who pig-headedly and stubbornly refused to have that removal happen. 

NAPLAN results this year have continued to be a failure, but the opposition has policy settings that will help, and we ask the government to take these suggestions seriously because they are very important suggestions. They are positive agendas, they are things that we put forward in our 2036 document, and we think that the people of South Australia supported many of these policies at the last election, leading to 53 per cent of those people voting for this side of the house to be in government, and we urge the government to take them up. 

I refer to things like removing Families from the education department, as they have committed to doing but as yet have not; things like giving principals more autonomy to have management of the schools, not just in ordering the budgets that are actually mostly constrained by the EBs that are handed down from above, but in fact by giving them the powers to make decisions that are necessary at their local level to get the best outcomes for their students. 

We need to see year 7 moved into high school so that those year 7 and year 9 students sitting their NAPLAN can do so with the benefit of having had specialist and expert teachers in their subject areas as described by the Australian Curriculum. We need to see targeted plans to tackle truancy because kids cannot get a good education if they are not at school, so we need to see truancy taken much more seriously than has been done by the government over its period in office. 

As we saw today, this government is the worst performing government in getting student teachers to sit literacy and numeracy tests. This is something that they have agreed to do as of 1 July this year but are refusing to implement so that so far only 8 per cent have sat the tests, unlike full cohorts in New South Wales and Victoria. The government needs to take positive action in this area.