Disadvantaged Students Equity Programs
The Hon. JAN BURNSWOODS: My question is addressed to the Minister for Education and Training. What action is the Government taking to support children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to learn to their potential and achieve positive educational outcomes?
The Hon. CARMEL TEBBUTT: That is a very important question. Research clearly shows that educational attainment levels are linked to positive outcomes in later life. More simply: education is the pathway out of disadvantage. That is why the Carr Government in 2005 will spend $270 million on students from disadvantaged communities to directly address the educational effects of poverty and disadvantage. This is a substantial increase in funding from when we took office. New South Wales is now the only State in Australia that has maintained a discrete program to address the educational needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
More than 152,000 students from 576 schools—more than 20 per cent of public school students—will benefit from the program. The Government is proud of its longstanding commitment to supporting the education of students from disadvantaged communities. They have been a catalyst for innovative teaching practice and significant and successful school reform programs. The New South Wales Basic Skills Test, English language and literacy assessment, numeracy tests, the Reading Recovery Program, the Middle Years Education Agenda, the Holiday Reading Program, Edassist summer schools, the Country Areas Program, the State Literacy Strategy, the Early Learning Initiative and the Class Size Reduction Program in part owe their origins and development to the Government's continued commitment to disadvantaged students and the equity programs that serve them.
I make clear that the Government recognises that family support is critical to good educational outcomes. While what happens in the education system is critical, it is not the only factor that contributes to students achieving educational success. That is why we have supported programs such as Families First focusing on supporting parents giving their children the best possible start in life. That is why, for example, we have provided a significant injection of funds to the Department of Community Services for early intervention programs to support some of the most disadvantaged families that are at risk of coming into the formal child protection system. That is why we support cross-agency collaboration.
The Department of Community Services, the Department of Education and Training, the Department of Health and other agencies work collaboratively to support students who experience disadvantage. I reject any assertion that the Government does not have a clear commitment to students who have extra support needs. There is no doubt our programs are getting results. The 2004 evaluation of the State Literacy Strategy found that 28 per cent of poorer performing year 3 students moved into higher literacy bands in the Basic Skills Test between 1996 and 2003; 33 per cent of poorer performing year 5 students moved into higher literacy bands in the Basic Skills Test; and there was a 22 per cent increase in the number of students studying advanced English for their Higher School Certificate between 2001 and 2003.
The Government is not prepared to rest on these results. A review of equity programs is currently under way to ensure that they are being delivered efficiently and to the best benefits of students—that we are getting the best outcomes for the dollars we are spending. The Government also supports children and young people who struggle with the experience of mainstream schooling, for whatever reason. We provide funds to ensure that students who have difficulty studying in the mainstream classes receive assistance to enable them to return to school or, where this is not possible, receive an educational program that meets their needs.
In 2003 the Government announced that a further eight new behaviour schools and seven new tutorial centres would be progressively established by 2007. The behaviour initiatives address the needs of students who require assistance in working co-operatively in mainstream classes. They are a vital part of the Government's commitment to students who have particular needs. There is no doubt that one of the greatest challenges that confronts our community is to improve outcomes for indigenous students, and the Government is committed to the directions of the Aboriginal Education Review. I have already outlined our actions on that front. [Time expired.]