|Eidos In The Media - November 2009|
EDUCATION Minister Julia Gillard yesterday launched a strong attack on critics of the government's plans to publish school test results, accusing them of focusing on non-academic skills and wanting to produce "happy, illiterate, innumerate children".
In a speech to the Eidos Institute policy think tank, Ms Gillard rejected "the chorus of complaint" that the plan to publish the results of national literacy and numeracy tests failed to reflect "school spirit or non-academic outcomes".
"I do not believe it is controversial to expect that every child in this country should master literacy and numeracy," she said.
"To those who say people will teach to the test, I say if the test is appropriately integrated and testing the curriculum, then learning how to do well in literacy and numeracy tests is not a bad thing.
"To those who say we aren't measuring the whole of a child's character development, I say I agree. But I don't believe our aim is to have schools full of happy, illiterate, innumerate children.
"Our aim is to have happy, confident children who are getting the skills they need for work and life, like reading, writing and maths."
Ms Gillard's comments follow a two-day forum in Canberra with about 160 school principals from around the nation, at which she unveiled a preview of the website on which every school's characteristics and test results would be published from January next year.
Principals, teacher unions and some political parties have been running a public campaign against the publication of school test results for fear they could be used to compile "league tables", ranking schools on student performance.
Opponents of publishing school test results say the information is already available to teachers and principals, but Ms Gillard said it should be available to parents and there was no reason to assume education departments, academics or policy-makers had "a monopoly of wisdom" over parents in interpreting the data.
"The beauty of transparency, while it may make us all uncomfortable at times, is the pressure it puts on decision-makers to strive for improvement and to justify greater investment," she said.
Ms Gillard supported governments replacing principals who fail to lift a school's performance.
"I don't employ any principals, but to the people who do, I would be saying we've got a responsibility to work with people to lift standards, we've got a responsibility to give that a red-hot go," she said.
Ms Gillard ruled out any more taxpayer subsidies for childcare, saying parents would face only "modest" fee increases to fund tough new quality standards. The Australian revealed last week that parents could pay up to $50 a week more for the reforms, to be approved at next month's Council of Australian Governments.
Ms Gillard said the federal government reimbursed half parents' out-of-pocket childcare costs, on top of means-tested subsidies.
Proposed fee rises - needed for extra and better-qualified staff in daycare centres - would be phased in over time.
Ms Gillard said all childcare centres would be rated on their quality, which parents could check on a government website.
She predicted "disquiet" when the government publishes results next month of its first Australian Early Development Index, which will map where children are "developmentally at risk".
Other related media:
Sydney Morning Herald: Gillard defends assessment program