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The Department of Education’s purpose, as identified in our Corporate Plan 2018–19, is maximising opportunity and prosperity through national leadership on education and training.

Education maximises life choices for every Australian—of all ages and at every stage of life. By creating and strengthening access to quality education for all Australians and for international students, the department maximises opportunity through learning. Through opportunity, individuals, families and communities are encouraged to maximise their potential, participate in the social and economic aspects of their communities, and contribute to national and global prosperity.

Early childhood education and care

Early childhood education and care plays a vital role in the development of Australian children and their preparation for school, and in enabling parents to participate in the workforce.

On 2 July 2018, the Government introduced a new child care package. The new package represents the most significant reforms to the early childhood education and care system in 40 years. Under the new arrangements, the Child Care Subsidy provides the highest rate of subsidy to those on the lowest income levels and more hours of subsidy to those who work the most. Families’ entitlement is based on income and activity tests, and is reconciled at the end of the year following the lodgement of tax returns. Change of this scale is complex, and in the period leading up to implementation, the department, in close collaboration with the early childhood education and care sector and other government departments, undertook significant planning and communication efforts to ensure a successful transition for families and their child care providers. By 2 July 2018, more than one million families and more than 6,000 providers had successfully transitioned to the new arrangements.

Throughout the year, the department continued to work closely with the sector and other government departments to ensure the package delivered its intended outcomes. Well over $7 billion in subsidies were paid in 2018–19, helping support more than 1.6 million children and 1.1 million families. For the first time, the number of Indigenous children using approved child care reached more than 50,000.

As part of the new package, the Child Care Safety Net was introduced to give vulnerable and disadvantaged children a strong start, while supporting their parents into work. It includes the Community Child Care Fund, the Additional Child Care Subsidy and the Inclusion Support Program. The Community Child Care Fund is providing $327 million over five years, of which $104 million was allocated in 2018–19 to more than 850 early learning and child care services to support sustainability and improve their capacity to include disadvantaged, Indigenous, and rural and remote families. Seventy per cent of the funding supports services in regional and remote areas.

On 13 December 2018, the new Child Care Finder was launched, replacing the MyChild website. The Child Care Finder complements the new child care package and is one of several ways families are assisted in accessing child care. It provides up-to-date information on services’ vacancies, fees and opening hours, plus their ratings against the National Quality Framework. Since June 2019, families have also been able to subscribe and receive vacancy alerts that match their requirements.

Over 2018–19, the department continued to work closely with agencies across all levels of government to deliver a broad-ranging compliance program to ensure the integrity of child care subsidy payments. In 2018–19, the department carried out 2,651 compliance checks, cancelled 62 services, and suspended 21 services. As a result of the department’s compliance and fraud activities, the payment accuracy of child care fee assistance was 96 per cent in 2018–19.

The Government also invested in extending funding for preschool, providing an additional $449.5 million in Commonwealth support via the National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education for 2020, with the extension bringing the current Government’s investment in the National Partnership to $2.8 billion since 2014. This investment has driven real improvements, with around 340,000 four- and five-year-old children enrolled in preschool in 2018, compared to only 206,000 before the first National Partnership agreements were signed in 2008. Nationally in 2018, 95.6 per cent of Indigenous children, and 94.2 per cent of vulnerable and disadvantaged children, were enrolled in 600 hours of preschool in the year before full-time school.

Schools and youth

Quality school education helps drive economic growth and increase wellbeing. Providing children and young people with opportunity through learning supports them to achieve their personal ambitions, while also contributing to social cohesion and economic prosperity.

The department leads the Government’s school education improvement efforts, bringing together a policy agenda aimed at lifting school performance and maximising student outcomes, supported by record levels of Australian Government school funding that is distributed on the basis of need.

The Australian Government collaborates with government and non-government education authorities to deliver school education reform. First Ministers signed the National School Reform Agreement in 2018, which sets out the following three national reform directions and eight national policy initiatives that will help improve student achievement and school performance.

1. Supporting students, student learning and student achievement

  • Enhancing the Australian Curriculum to support teacher assessment of student attainment and growth against clear descriptors
  • Assisting teachers monitor individual student progress and identify student learning needs through opt-in online and on demand student learning assessment tools with links to student learning resources, prioritising early years foundation skills
  • Reviewing senior secondary pathways into work, further education and training

2. Supporting teaching, school leadership and school improvement

  • Reviewing teacher workforce needs of the future to attract and retain the best and brightest to the teaching profession and attract teachers to areas of need
  • Strengthening the initial teacher education accreditation system

3. Enhancing the national evidence base

  • Implementing a national unique student identifier (USI) that meets national privacy requirements in order to support better understanding of student progression and improve the national evidence base
  • Establishing an independent national evidence institute to inform teacher practice, system improvement and policy development
  • Improving national data quality, consistency and collection to improve the national evidence base and inform policy development

These initiatives were informed by the recommendations of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools. State- and territory-specific initiatives that align with the national reform directions are set out in bilateral agreements and include activities to support improved outcomes for specific cohorts of students, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

The Australian Government provided approximately $38 million to non-government representative bodies in 2018 to support implementation of national reforms in non-government schools as part of the Non-Government Reform Support Fund.

The Education Council is reviewing the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians to develop a contemporary national declaration to guide reforms over the next decade.

To help enable school systems and schools to improve outcomes, the Government provides consistent and transparent needs-based funding to education authorities across Australia to support quality outcomes for every eligible student. In the 2018 calendar year, the Commonwealth provided, under the Australian Education Act 2013, approximately $7.4 billion in recurrent funding for state and territory government schools, and, through state and territory governments, approximately $11.4 billion to non-government schools. These funding arrangements are informed by the Schooling Resource Standard, which includes a base amount for every primary and secondary school student plus additional loadings to target disadvantage. The Commonwealth also provided $150.9 million to block grant authorities for capital projects in non-government schools.

Schools-related performance targets are based on national targets agreed with states and territories under the National School Reform Agreement and as measured under the national Measurement Framework for Schooling in Australia.

Higher education, research and international education

In 2018–19, the department progressed work to improve opportunities for regional, rural and remote students, providing more choice and access to pursue higher education. The measures build on the Australian Government’s response to the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education (the Halsey Review). Regional students have been supported through the expansion of the Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships Program and the Regional Study Hubs initiative.

The Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships Program improves access to, and completion of, any course from Certificate IV to PhD for people from regional and remote Australia. Regional Study Hubs typically support regional students to study courses locally, delivered by distance from any Australian university, by providing greater access to study support and infrastructure.

The Destination Australia Program, announced in the 2019–20 Budget, will provide scholarships for Australian and international students to study at higher education and vocational education and training providers in regional Australia. The program will support regional Australia to continue to experience the transformative potential of tertiary education, by boosting enrolments and growing capacity in regional education institutions. It will also help to ensure the regions share the social, cultural and economic benefits of Australia’s $35 billion international education sector. The program will be implemented in time for the 2020 academic year.

A Regional Education Expert Advisory Group, chaired by the Hon Dr Denis Napthine, was established to develop a National Regional, Rural and Remote Education Strategy for the Government to increase tertiary education participation and outcomes for regional, rural and remote students. A final report incorporating the National Regional, Rural and Remote Tertiary Education Strategy was provided to the Government at the end of June 2019. The strategy will be important in informing the Government’s ongoing efforts and the forward policy agenda to improve regional, rural and remote education.

Ensuring the sustainability of the tertiary sector, including that it remains affordable for students and the community, is a priority for the department. To support this goal, a new schedule of Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) repayment thresholds was introduced, including a reduction in the minimum threshold, from 2019–20. This is the first annual report that has accounted for the impact of these new thresholds, with the debt not expected to be repaid decreasing from the previous year.

Strengthening the quality and sustainability of the higher education sector was the focus of an independent report developed by an expert panel, chaired by Professor Paul Wellings CBE, on performance-based funding reforms for Australia’s higher education sector. The report, which was released in August 2019, recommends that four measures should be used to assess the performance of universities—graduate employment outcomes, student success, student experience and equity group participation. Linking funding growth to performance outcomes will encourage universities to provide a better student experience and introduce new initiatives to improve their performance.

Graduate employment outcomes continue to improve steadily, with 87 per cent of undergraduates employed within four months of completing a degree in 2018, consistent with improvements in the overall labour market. Employment outcomes also improved for research postgraduates, from 91 per cent in 2017 to 92 per cent in 2018. Employer satisfaction with graduate skills remained high at 85 per cent—direct supervisors remain highly satisfied with graduates.

Skills and training

Vocational education and training (VET) provides training to around 4 million people each year to gain the skills or meet the certification requirements they need for employment. The department has continued to lead work with the states and territories and industry across a range of areas to strengthen the quality and raise the profile of VET.

In the current system, student satisfaction results are strong, with almost nine out of 10 graduates surveyed in 2017 by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) satisfied with the overall quality of the training they received. Outcomes for VET graduates are also positive, with 85.4 per cent either being employed or enrolled in further study after completing training.

VET is a training system of choice for many employers, with employer usage of the VET system at 54.4 per cent. Employers using VET were highly satisfied—82.2 per cent of employers were satisfied with nationally recognised training and 77.5 per cent of employers with apprentices and trainees were satisfied with them. Overall, the survey results demonstrate that employers continue to find VET a quality option to upskill or reskill their employees.

The recently implemented VET Student Loans program is meeting its objectives by enabling Australians to undertake training relevant to employment or further study. In 2018–19, the proportion of students surveyed studying for job-related or further study reasons was 80 per cent.

The department also managed the Adult Migrant English Program and the Skills for Education and Employment program, which provide Australians with support to gain language and literacy skills needed for employment. During 2018–19, 78,767 people participated in these two programs, and 96 per cent of those who undertook a progressive assessment showed an increase of one or more levels against the Australian Core Skills Framework of learning, reading, writing, oral communication or numeracy.

In 2018–19, in recognition of the achievement of the six participating state and territory governments (in the National Partnership on the Skilling Australians Fund), over $145 million funded around 30,000 apprenticeship, traineeship and employment-related training opportunities. This funding enabled Australians to obtain the skills they need for employment in occupations in high demand, in sectors with a reliance on skilled migration, in future growth industries, and in rural and regional areas.

To ensure that the VET system is well positioned to deliver a skilled workforce for employers now and into the future, the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, and Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, then Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education, announced an expert review of the vocational education and training system, led by the Hon Steven Joyce, in November 2018. Mr Joyce delivered his report, Strengthening Skills: Expert Review of Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System, to the Government in March 2019.

The review found that VET has an important role in meeting the needs of the labour market and future workplaces, but the system architecture needs a refresh if it is going to deliver the skills required by Australian business and workers in the future. The review made recommendations aimed at:

  • strengthening quality assurance
  • speeding up qualification development
  • simpler funding and skills matching
  • better careers information
  • clearer secondary school pathways
  • greater access for disadvantaged Australians.

In response to the Joyce Review, the Government announced its $525.3 million Skills Package, Delivering Skills for Today and Tomorrow, as part of the 2019–20 Budget. Since the Budget was released, the department has been progressing implementation of the measures in the Skills Package.

The Skills Package lays the building blocks for reforms identified in the Joyce Review, placing industry at the centre and raising the profile of VET as a career pathway of choice. It takes steps towards longer term funding and governance reforms to help ensure the VET system is responsive, respected and flexible into the future.

Towards the end of the financial year, the department had commenced implementing the Skills Package measures. Collaboration and co-design with key stakeholders, such as the states and territories, and industry, will be central to the successful delivery of the Skills Package and the achievement of better outcomes for students and industry.