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Secretary's review

image of Dr Michele Bruniges AM Secretary
I am pleased to introduce the Department of Education Annual Report 2018–19. The department had a productive and successful year, delivering on the Government’s education agenda.

During the year, the department continued to deliver and implement a range of significant reforms in child care, education, training and skills. Our focus has been on building capability across the department, ensuring we are agile and able to deliver government policy that equips students with the right skills for our future economy and labour market and supports their wellbeing.

The department’s purpose, as set out in our Corporate Plan 2018–19, is to maximise opportunity and prosperity through national leadership on education and training. This reflects our wide and varied role in developing and delivering education policy. It also provides a sense of clarity and purpose to all staff. They know that regardless of the policy or program they work on, they contribute directly to the educational outcomes of all Australians, which in turn contribute to national prosperity.

National leadership to deliver record school funding

Commonwealth funding of $310.3 billion in total school recurrent funding will be provided to all Australian schools over the next 10 years to 2029. The investment is provided through the Quality Schools package and funding will increase by $14.9 billion over 2018 to 2029 (from a 2017 base).

Under the new arrangements, Commonwealth funding is consistent, transparent and based on the needs of students, with funding to states and territories linked to national reforms that will drive improved student outcomes across Australian schools.

The National School Reform Agreement commenced on 1 January 2019 and sets out three reform directions and eight national policy initiatives that will be progressed collaboratively with states and territories through the Education Council.

These reforms are informed by the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, which was led by David Gonski AC, and the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education, which was led by Emeritus Professor John Halsey. Both reviews aim to lift student outcomes and help every child reach their full potential.

States and territories have entered into bilateral agreements with the Commonwealth that set out state-based reforms that support the national reform directions and state funding contributions for government and non-government schools. For further information on these agreements, please visit education.gov.au/national-school-reform-agreement.

The first year of the new Child Care Subsidy

On 2 July 2018, the department led the introduction of the Government’s new child care package, representing the most significant reforms to the system in 40 years.

The new system focuses on supporting parents to access affordable early learning and child care so they can work, train, study or volunteer. It does this by combining the two previous subsidies into a single payment—the Child Care Subsidy.

The system pays the highest rate of subsidy to those who earn the least and provides more subsidised hours of care to those who work the most. Since rolling this out, the Government has paid more than $7 billion in subsidies, helping support more than 1.6 million children in more than 1.1 million families.

The package also supports disadvantaged communities through the Child Care Safety Net, of which the Community Child Care Fund is part. Over the course of 2018–19, $104 million was allocated under the fund.

To better support parents when it comes to making child care choices, the new Child Care Finder website was launched in December 2018. It provides parents with a one-stop shop when it comes to seeking information on high-quality child care when and where they need it.

During the course of the year, the department also continued to deal with non-compliance in the family day care sector.

Our relationships with stakeholders and the sector remained strong and we actively worked with the child care sector on early childhood education and care policy and program implementation.

Strengthening the foundations for higher education reform

Strengthening the sustainability and quality of Australia’s tertiary sector was a continued focus of work for the department during the year.

The Australian Government provided $17.4 billion on higher education and research in 2018–19. There was an increased focus on transparency and accountability of the university sector and providing additional funding for regional higher education.

In the first half of 2019, the Government received the report of the Independent Review of Freedom of Speech in Australian Higher Education Providers (the French Review), the Wellings Report on performance-based funding for the Commonwealth Grant Scheme, and the National Regional, Rural and Remote Education Strategy prepared by the Regional Education Expert Advisory Group.

These reviews will help drive policy direction and ensure the sector is able to respond to the challenges it faces— now and in the future.

Improving opportunities for rural, regional and remote students was a priority during the year. As well as leading the response to the Halsey Review, the department delivered additional support for students through the Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships Program and continued to expand the Regional Study Hubs initiative.

Vocational training

On 1 July 2018, the National Partnership on the Skilling Australians Fund commenced, with six state and territory governments participating for a four-year period. The six states implemented projects that contributed to Australia’s economic productivity and growth by providing more opportunities for Australians to gain the skills they need for jobs in demand.

A $525 million skills package was announced as part of the 2019–20 Budget in response to the Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System (the Joyce Review). The department worked to begin the implementation of the package.

The package aims to offer Australians with the opportunity to grow the skills needed to succeed in a changing workforce while giving employers access to highly qualified workers. It recognises the need for the sector to adapt and change as the economy and labour market evolve. It also seeks to raise the profile of vocational education and training as a high-quality career pathway.

Following machinery-of-government changes announced following the 2019 federal election, responsibility for delivering the skills package transferred to the Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business portfolio.

Responsible and efficient use of taxpayer funds

The department continued to manage taxpayer funds efficiently and effectively, delivering the Government’s priorities while ensuring program compliance.

We take seriously our responsibility for ensuring public resources are used appropriately, and in 2018–19 we introduced a new fraud control framework to better support the management of fraud risk.

The department continued to deliver a comprehensive child care compliance program. In 2018–19, working closely with state and territory government agencies, the Australian Federal Police, and other Commonwealth departments, we took effective action against fraudulent and noncompliant providers in the family day care sector.

The VET FEE-HELP scheme closed on 31 December 2018 after a transition period to the new VET Student Loans program. VET FEE-HELP is no longer available for any units of study from 1 January 2019.

In addressing the past non-compliance in the VET FEE-HELP scheme, the department continued to work closely with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in progressing litigation against a number of providers.

Creating an agile and adaptable culture

The department made building its capabilities and culture a key priority in 2018–19. Staff have embraced our key cultural traits for success—look forward, collaborate, work smarter, communicate openly, and trust.

The department’s corporate plan, People Strategy 2018–2021, Reconciliation Action Plan 2018–2020 and Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2017–2019 provide us with guidance and support as we seek to embed and strengthen these cultural traits. We will continue to invest in our culture and capability to ensure our dedicated and professional departmental team continues to deliver the Government’s priorities.

Dr Michele Bruniges AM
Department of Education