Monday 28 June 2010
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Government Estimates Committee B (Thorp)
Output group 1
Pre-Compulsory and Compulsory Education

Mr FINCH - Minister, just on this page of the sheet that you gave us, and I am referring to page 3.8 at the moment, I notice that in the early years section you have here some nice dark greens with excellent on them and then when you go to overall progress, I am assuming it is back down to a green with good.  There is some excellent there and some highs and trends up, but I am just wondering whether you could explain that to me.  Is that of concern or is that still okay?

Ms THORP - That is still okay.

Mr FINCH - Even though we were excellent in 2008?

Ms THORP - Was that around attendance, that one?

Mr FINCH - It is readiness for school, early literacy and early numeracy.

Ms THORP - That was on those three there?

Mr FINCH - Yes.

Ms THORP - The excellent refers to trending up.  If something is already pretty good but it is going up, that is excellent; if something is pretty good and staying pretty good, that is good.

Mr WING - If it is constant.

Ms THORP - Yes, if it is constant, that is good.  These things are looked at pretty regularly to make sure that they do reflect adequately what schools are actually doing.  If a school was getting up to 95 per cent in any particular category, rather than drop it from excellent to good you might leave it at excellent because there is nowhere else for them to go.  They are getting as good as they can get.

Mr FINCH - Yes.  Just the way it reads there it looks as though there is some diminution there rather than holding at excellent.

Ms THORP - Yes, that is why you need to cross-reference with that table there about trending up, stable or trending down.  If something is really good, it is going really well in this school and it has been for some years, that is called stable and under the current rate it would get good.  If it is coming from a pretty high position anyway but still improving, that gets excellent.

Mr FINCH - Then the other one there that is a concern with a red is that issue of student attendance.  It was an issue in 2007-08.  It is a concern in 2009 and you have it trending down.

Ms THORP - That was the swine flu one.

Mr FINCH - Was that the swine flu the one you were talking about?  It was in 2009 but it has still been an issue over a few years, has it not?

Ms THORP - The secretary just reminded me that it is an issue because we set such a high standard.  We want our kids to be at school every day because I think the old catch cry is 'every day matters.'  So it is not acceptable for parents who have had a late night and cannot be bothered getting up and sending the child the school.  It is just not on.  One particular issue that I am really hoping we can spend some time and effort on is emerging patterns of absenteeism amongst our junior primary school kids.  I am of the belief, I may not be right here, that if you put some time and effort into investigating absenteeism amongst grade 1s, 2s, 3s, you may well be able to detect patterns such that, if you can sort them out early, you may not be dealing with a kid who is missing two days a week by high school.  Once again it is trying to work with the issues you have that are current and present but also trying to get in early and avoid problems before they grow.  But we do set ourselves very, very high standards.

Mr DEAN - So every absentee is checked out closely.  Is that right?

Ms THORP - Well, yes, they are followed very well.  There are lots of things in place to record absenteeism and what the reasons are.  Most absences are explained absences, either the child is accompanied by a note when they come back to school or there is a phone call and the absence is explained.  But there is a small proportion of absences that are not, and they are the ones we need to focus on.

Mr FINCH - It is monitored strongly in the State?

Ms THORP - Absolutely but that is not to say there is not more that we do at all.  We want to spend time and effort on attendance - yes.

Mr FINCH - Is it worse in this day and age than it has been in eons back if we went back over time?

Ms THORP - We are certainly better than many of our counterparts interstate.

Mr FINCH - I am not just thinking about the last couple of years though, Minister, I am thinking about over decades.  Are times changing?  Is there a reflection of life pressures on families more or that kids are not getting scrutinised in respect of their attendance at school from home?

Ms THORP - I would argue that there is more scrutiny now than there has been in the past.  I suspect that, particularly when you are looking at high school, in the past where a child who has been problematic at school is absent a lot of people have breathed a sigh of relief.  But that is not accepted by any of our school communities now at all.  They really do care about those kids.

Mr FINCH - Thanks.  If I can go to a reference on page 3.8 in the 3.2 table and note 9 on the early years funding states:

'… transfer of the Australian Government funded Achieving Universal Access to Early Childhood Education program to In School Education.'

I am wondering whether, Minister or Ms Gale, somebody could give me some assessment of who is paying for what.  What happened there; what was the total of the funding; and what has changed?

Ms THORP - It was the money that came to us from the Commonwealth, and that has now gone into school resource packages.  Is that correct?

Ms GALE - Previously we were funding kindergarten students for 10 hours a week, and every kindergarten student in the State had 10 hours a week.

Mr FINCH - We were - the State?

Ms GALE - The State Government was funding that, which included teacher time as well as teacher aide time for every student.  The Commonwealth is now funding some schools in the State and it is being rolled out and will have full implementation by 2013.  So the Commonwealth is paying for the additional five hours, both for teacher time and teacher aide time.  So the funding that is in the budget figure will be the current allocation for the number of schools that are being funded for 15 hours at the moment.  So they have been rolled out from last year through to 2013.

Mr FINCH - Thanks very much.  There seems to have been these big structural changes in State policies for the early years.  I suppose we have seen the reflection from previous years and that is why the structural changes have needed to be made.  Minister, did you want to make a comment on that?