I AM happy to answer the questions posed about the impact on Catholic education of the Government’s package of reforms and proposals, ‘Queensland the Smart State – Education and Training Reforms for the Future’ (Reform plan upsets Catholic education, CL 17/3/02).
As the Government has previously acknowledged to Joe McCorley and other stakeholders, the circumstances leading to the release of the package were exceptional. Because of the nature of the reforms, and the importance of securing total support across the Government, I decided Cabinet approval should precede discussions with stakeholders.
I explained this on March 4 to a meeting of stakeholders – held shortly after the Cabinet meeting, but before the public release of the document. Joe was at this meeting, and he has since met with and received correspondence from the Education Minister, Anna Bligh.
It is important to bear in mind that no decisions about either preparatory schools or the school leaving age have been taken. These reforms are subject to trials and public consultation.
The Queensland Catholic Education Commission will be represented on a reference group established to oversee Education Queensland’s work on early education.
The commission has accepted an invitation from Anna Bligh to take part in the new Ministerial Council for Education Renewal, which will oversee the school leaving age issue.
The Government also anticipates that Catholic education stakeholders will take a significant role in consultation surrounding the school leaving age.
As detailed in correspondence to Joe, the staffing costs associated with the prep school trials will be met through the Government’s election commitment to increase teacher numbers. The Queensland Catholic Education Commission will be welcome to use funds flowing from this commitment to join in the trials.
If the trials succeed and we introduce the prep year statewide, extra recurrent funding will become available to the Catholic education sector through the agreed basket nexus arrangements.
The Government’s preliminary costings include provision for capital funding for the non-government education sector to assist with the costs of introduction of a full-time preparatory year. I am committed to further consultation with the sector around the potential funding implications of this proposal.
Any recurrent funding increases linked to increased retention rates would be subject to the basket nexus formula.
The Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) package will also benefit Catholic students and teachers. It is estimated that $1.2 million will flow through to the non-government sector in 2002-03. This will rise to $1.4 million from 2003-4 onwards, on an ongoing annual basis.
The minister has discussed with the Queensland Catholic Education Commission the potential to join forces and maximise buying power when purchasing ICT equipment. This could result in capital savings for Catholic schools.
In conclusion, the Government values the Catholic education sector, and is prepared to learn from its successes. Some Catholic schools have already taken the lead by introducing a full-time year of prep schooling. The sector can also take pride in its record of improving retention rates.
I assure you we will continue to work and consult with the sector. We will look forward to receiving the sector’s considered input on our reforms and proposals.
I am passionate about improving education and training opportunities for this state’s children and young people – regardless of where they attend school.
I believe children in the Catholic system will benefit from ‘Queensland the Smart State – Education and Training Reforms for the Future’, and I look forward to working with the sector to optimise the benefits.
PETER BEATTIE Queensland Premier Brisbane, Qld