KBates.gifPresident’s comment 21 March 2012 

Can do education? Not likely

With only a few days before polling day, it seems the Queensland LNP has made the last of its education announcements judging from the fact it is now publishing documents online which package the full set of policies.

More may emerge with the LNP’s release of its costed promises, but, in the meantime, here is a brief analysis of their education announcements – and pronouncements – so far. These comments are made on the basis of the LNP’s response to our education issue questionnaire, and on LNP policy announcements.

Unfortunately QTU members have not been able to find out much more about the LNP attitude towards education, since no LNP candidate attended any of our education forums, and most LNP candidates have declined to meet with delegations of our members.

To the pronouncements first.

Every time the LNP leader Campbell Newman has issued a media release or policy statement about education, he has banged the NAPLAN drum, claiming “Queensland children are languishing at the bottom of the nation for literacy and numeracy”. Leaving aside the inappropriateness of using point-in-time NAPLAN data to label the entire Queensland education system as “failing”, a system in which only year 3 students have had the same number of years of formal schooling as students in most other states, the statement is not even true.

Yet the LNP is not above twisting the available data and misrepresenting it as “evidence” of failure. For example, in its “Getting the basics right – literacy and numeracy” document, there is a bar graphEducationLiteracy1-2.gif allegedly showing Queensland students lagging far behind other states and territories in year 5 reading NAPLAN mean scores. There is no scale, so a minimal difference is presented as a massive gap, and the score for the Northern Territory, which has similar school demographics to Queensland, is not shown. If the LNP wanted to use statistics to celebrate rather than condemn, it could have looked, for example, at year 9 writing, in which Queensland students’ mean score was above or statistically the same as that for students in New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

Then there is what is not said.

For some reason, Campbell Newman consistently fails to mention teachers in his long list of “frontline workers”.

He failed to mention teachers in his opening address at the “great debate” on 19 March; on that same day, in an exclusive interview with brisbanetimes.com.au, he said: “We need to also have more frontline police, ambulance officers, nurses and doctors.” [Link to interview with Brisbane Times]

The LNP’s announcements aren’t much better. Some are blatantly flawed – for example, giving 75 per cent of additional schools capital funding to non-government schools in their “Building our future schools fund”, and the appalling “Independent public schools” policy that is a rehash of the equally appalling “Leading schools” proposal of a former Coalition government. Both policies show that the LNP does not place a high priority on a state government’s responsibility to provide state education.  [links to the "Building our Future schools fund" policy  and the "Independent public schools" policy]

Other announcements sound positive on the surface but fail closer inspection.

On 16 March, the LNP announced it would provide an extra $26 million over four years to state primary schools “so Principals can select and deliver tailored help for our school children to improve their reading, writing and mathematics skills”. [link to 16 Mar announcement] 

There are more than 1030 state primary schools in Queensland; so the total amount available to a school would be just over $6000 per year, not enough for any significant change. The LNP does say the money “will be targeted to areas and schools with the greatest need, such as those in areas of disadvantage or with larger classes”. Yet it also claims that “the LNP will work directly with school Principals to deliver programs”, and not via “the central bureaucracy”

Without central data, how will the LNP know which are the neediest schools? Will principals have to vie with each other for a slice of the funding? Or, given the line about the LNP working directly with principals, does it mean only their 120 “independent public schools” will be eligible? (Even then, schools would receive a maximum of $50,000, not enough for a single new qualified teacher to reduce one single class’s size.)

Compare that approach with the one taken to deliver $398 million in federal funds, plus State Government funding, over five years to Queensland schools through the National Partnerships, where extra funding is based on a school’s centrally-evaluated SES status and NAPLAN results.  [link to National Partnerships document]

The LNP announced $54 million over four years to give 600 prep classes "the equivalent of a full-time teacher-aide in their classroom for all hours that they are at school". With 1600 prep classes just in state schools, and the LNP funding to be split between government and non-government schools, this policy does not go far enough in relieving pressure on the majority of prep teachers, and does nothing to fund more qualified teachers to reduce class sizes in the early years of education. [link to LNP policy document]

There have been a few other education-related announcements such as iPads for special schools and $1 million more for school chaplains, but none will have much influence on the state education system in broad terms.

In the end, any LNP election promise will be dependent on the Commission of Audit that Campbell Newman has said will be undertaken in the first 100 days if there is an incoming LNP government.

Kevin Bates