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EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 11/02/2010 - EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS PORTFOLIO - Cross Portfolio

Estimates & Committees
Sarah Hanson-Young 11 Feb 2010

 CHAIR -Senator Hanson Young has questions on those two, I think.

Senator Hanson Young -Thank you, Chair. You mentioned 26 schools have asked for their index to be reviewed?

Dr Hill -That is correct. That is as of yesterday.

Senator Hanson Young -As of yesterday. So in terms of the comparisons of the like schools does ACARA, or even the broader department, accept that there are some mistakes? We have seen numerous examples right around the country, even in my home state of South Australia, including Prince Alfred College, one of the most elite, selective schools in the state, compared with the East Murray Area public school, which is basically a school that has nowhere near the same access to resources that PAC does and yet they are compared.

Prof. McGaw -That is an interesting question. I have had ones like that. I do not know the South Australian case, but I will give you what I take to be a parallel from Western Australia, where I lived for a period. A journalist phoned and said, 'How come Dalkeith Primary School is apparently more elite than these elite private high schools in Perth?' The answer in that case is that Dalkeith is a small, elite residential area from which the students go to the local primary school, and they take with them all the privilege from their community.

Many of those students would go to these elite private schools-what the journalist was calling the elite private schools-but they also take students from families where both parents are working to pay the fees to send their kids to the school. They are less advantaged than the ones who live in Dalkeith. There would be some there on scholarships. In that case, the data did not line up with his expectations, but the journalist's expectations were wrong, and I think the data are right. We are not comparing the schools. We are not saying these schools are like one another in size, in locality, in physical resources; we are saying the families from which the students in these schools come are equivalent.

Senator Hanson Young -I have got two points. My first question is: do you accept that there are any mistakes with the current website in terms of the comparisons?

Prof. McGaw -Yes. I think there is a possibility, and we are open to look at cases when schools raise them, but I am persuaded that this is an extraordinarily robust indicator. It is world's best. It is certainly better than the one New York uses; it is certainly better than the one the UK uses.

Senator Hanson Young -My second question relates to the explanation you have just given. The feedback that we are getting, even from the principal, say, at the Prince Alfred College in South Australia, is that he was surprised. You are suggesting that these comparisons of schools are not about comparing the schools per se but about comparing the index. Yet the way the department, the government have promoted this website is to compare schools. It is not, 'You compare this index and we have taken all these other things out.' Parents are totally surprised when they see Murray Area School, which is a unit of transportable classrooms, compared to the lavish grounds of Prince Alfred College. They do not believe that is a fair comparison. So whether or not your assertion is right about the index I think the government needs to clarify that that is not the comparison that parents are making.

Prof. McGaw -Let us be clear about what we are saying. We are saying, as an authority, that we are comparing schools which have students from similar backgrounds. We are not comparing schools which have similar facilities. If students from similar backgrounds are doing better in one school than another, then you can ask what is it about those two schools that creates that difference, and it is not always the physical resources. You can find, as I did when I looked, private schools that have advantaged communities that are performing above the national average, but that are doing less well than other schools with similar students, among which are some non-fee-paying government schools which have similarly advantaged students but which, educationally, are outperforming the private schools.

Senator Hanson Young -I think you would struggle to convince the parents who send their kids to the Murray Area School in South Australia that their kids have access to the same resources in terms of being able to access the educational advantages to complete the NAPLAN test-

Prof. McGaw -I am not trying to persuade them of that.

Senator Hanson Young -That the PAC school-

Prof. McGaw -All I need to-

Senator Hanson Young -And that is what they think they are comparing.

Prof. McGaw -But, Senator, all I need to persuade them of is this, that-

Senator Hanson Young -It does not make sense. Why would you try and compare an elite private school that is not compared then to those similar schools in its own area. PAC in South Australia is not compared, on the website, to the other private boys schools who are just down the road.

Prof. McGaw -But you can do that.

Senator Hanson Young -They are being compared to a school that is 300 kilometres away from Adelaide.

Prof. McGaw -We took the 60 closest schools in social background. All I need to persuade those parents of in that community is that they are educationally and socially not different from the parents of the other school-not that the schools are not different. That is what our measure is.

Senator Carr -And is it not a surprise, Senator, that such a result can be reported? I know that in some quarters it is popular to run down a local state school, but what we are actually demonstrating here is just how well state education is doing for many, many communities in this country.

Senator Hanson Young -That is not how the parents at that school feel.

Senator Carr -I am just making the point to you that in terms of the campaign that has been run against this initiative by the government, this is actually proving to be enormously successful in highlighting the success of public education. If we are ever going to make real inroads into developing support for public education, there have to be greater efforts in persuading middle-class families about the value of their local public school. What this website is doing, I think, much to the surprise of some of those who have, inadvertently, run down public education, is that they actually get a very good deal out of the local school.

Senator Hanson Young -The point still stands that schools are suggesting that they are not being fairly compared, and you are saying that, as of yesterday, there are at least 26 schools which have said that they believe that the comparison is wrong.

Ms Paul -Out of 10,000.

Senator Hanson Young -You are suggesting that you do not think that there are mistakes with the comparison?

Dr Hill -Could I just clarify?

Senator Hanson Young -Sure.

Dr Hill -I do not think there is a mistake in the value that we have reported, but that we will check. We will check whether the value is correct; whether the information that has gone into the index is correct; whether, for example, all the students in the schools' addresses were actually coded. Those are the sorts of things that would lead to a mistake.

Senator Hanson Young -Yes.

Dr Hill -Then the issue is, is it a valid way of comparing it, which, I think, is really what you are getting at, because you are talking about the perceptions of people.

Senator Hanson Young -There are two points: whether it is a valid way of comparing.

Dr Hill -Yes.

Senator Hanson Young -But, also, regardless of whether it is a valid way of comparing, whether that is actually the correct data that is being used.

Dr Hill -Yes.

Senator Hanson Young -They are the two points that have been raised in relation to schools that are questioning the results that are on the website.

Dr Hill -Yes.

Senator Hanson Young -There was a statement from ACARA that was published in the Sunday Mail in South Australia on the weekend, which indicated that you were launching a consolidated and comprehensive review of the source data which will be checked and cross-referenced. My question is: why, after less than two weeks, a comprehensive, consolidated review would need to happen?

Prof. McGaw -Well, Senator, there is not a consolidated review.

Senator Hanson Young -Is that statement incorrect?

Dr Hill -As I drafted this statement up, I do remember it, and it was in relation to those 26 schools that have queried their number.

Senator Carr -Senator Mason, what about a list-

Dr Hill -It is not a review of all of them-

Senator Carr -Of all the correct reports.

Dr Hill -It is just those that have asked the question.

Senator Hanson Young -Were schools given the opportunity to review whether the information used to compare their schools with other schools was actually correct before the website went live?

Dr Hill -What happened was that, for all the systemic schools, the data, which all comes from the schools themselves and from the systems, was provided by the educational systems. They have had an opportunity to verify the data. We sent the entire database to each system for them to review it. In the case of the independent schools, we made it available to their various organisations to review it, too, and we invited each of the systems to identify any instances where they felt that they had evidence that the ICSEA index did not properly categorise the school.

Ms Paul -As in the example that Professor McGaw gave about Carlton Primary. In other words, much of that work has already been done.

Dr Hill -It has all been done.

Ms Paul -Which is one reason why we know it is such a robust index.

Senator Hanson Young -In terms of the time frame, what was the opportunity to review?

Dr Hill -That was done before Christmas.

Senator Hanson Young -And how long did those schools get to verify their data?

Dr Hill -In fact, the systems have had the data before Christmas, and they were still making observations right up until almost the last minute. I would say that, really, they have had probably four to five weeks in which to review.

Senator Hanson Young -Could you take on notice-I would really like that time frame, if you could forward that, please?

Ms Paul -Sure.

Dr Hill -Sure.

Dr Bruniges -Senator, I can probably add something to that. The state test data that is on the website would have been in jurisdictions and parents' hands when results were reported in systems each September.

Senator Hanson Young -Yes.

Dr Bruniges -From a jurisdiction's point of view, the data, say, for 2008 would have sat in May, processed, parents received their reports in September. The same data source would have been used by ACARA.

Prof. McGaw -That is the NAPLAN data, yes.

Dr Bruniges -The NAPLAN data.

Prof. McGaw -Not the ICSEA measure which you are asking about.

Dr Bruniges -Not the ICSEA.

Senator Hanson Young -Which is what I am asking about.

CHAIR -At this point we are going to break for lunch. I just need to advise some people about the arrangements for this afternoon. At 3 o'clock we will move to outcome 1. We will allow 1½ hours for outcome 1 and then finish outcome 1, and then we will resume with outcome 2 and finish that, and then move on to outcome 3.

Prof. McGaw -Chair, I do not know what the rules are. We both have a meeting of the board of the authority in Sydney in the morning. Do you need us this afternoon or not?

CHAIR -Yes. We will finish with you straight after lunch.

Prof. McGaw -Sure.

CHAIR -We will finish with you straight after lunch and then you will be free to go. Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 12.30 pm to 1.30 pm

CHAIR -We will resume the hearing. Senator Hanson Young?

Senator Hanson Young -Mr McGaw, I refer to the answers that you gave earlier to my questions relating to the type of access that schools got to review the information they had or the data that was being used to make these types of comparisons. Through this process how many schools were moved into different categories after the index was applied and before the site went live and on air? If you ran this review process, was there any change to the way in which schools were categorised?

Prof. McGaw -Yes, there were schools that were shifted. The consultation was not with individual schools; the consultation was with the authorities, which had the bigger picture than the individual school. There were those such as the one I mentioned in Carlton which were shifted. I do not have those figures but we can provide them. We have also undertaken to give the council of ministers a report on the extent to which there were final values that were different from the calculated values.

Senator Hanson Young -So there were some?

Prof. McGaw -Yes.

Senator Hanson Young -You are saying that you will have to take on notice the numbers. Was it a significant amount or a moderate amount?

Prof. McGaw -In some places more than 10 per cent.

Senator Hanson Young -How then can we be sure that it is now correct? If there were already those errors and the indexing is flawed-

Prof. McGaw -I would not call them errors. They were not errors. They were cases where it was clear that the home residences of the students did not well characterise the school. I have used the Carlton example to make that clear. Lots of people in the Carlton census collection district do not go to Carlton Primary School. Those that do very selectively come from the Housing Commission flats. It is not an error; it is just saying that in that case the census collection district does not provide an appropriate measure, and we were able to make the adjustment, just as-

Senator Hanson Young -There are some flaws in the indexing in that case to be able to be appropriate.

Prof. McGaw -No, that is not a flaw in the index. What we ended up with was an index value for that school that was not a simple, blind calculation from the data; it was informed by other evidence. Every school ends up with an index value that is robust and a good comparison.

Senator Hanson Young -How can we be sure though? All you need to do is to plug into the schools yourself and you will see; the one in South Australia is a stark example. I know it seems extreme but it is black and white-or red and green-on the screen. It does not make sense as to how they could possibly be like schools.

Prof. McGaw -This is the point that we discussed before. We are not making any claim that the schools are like; we are claiming that the schools are dealing with students from similar circumstances. If they have different outcomes that can be attributed to differences in the school, that is the important educational thing to note. What is it that you would need to do different educationally so that these communities that have similar students and similar backgrounds do not achieve such different outcomes?

Senator Hanson Young -Parents are seeing on the website a comparison of their children's school results with that of like schools.

Prof. McGaw -Yes.

Senator Hanson Young -The assumption of the like school is not whether or not half the kids come from the same street, or whether the street from which my kid comes is similar to the street from which another kid comes. They are comparing the schools.

Prof. McGaw -But they are wrong if they are making that comparison.

Senator Hanson Young -That is exactly my point. I believe it is misrepresentative of what the government in particular is presenting as to what the parents are comparing.

Ms Paul -The website is not misrepresentative. I know some people are eyeballing the schools that are in that statistically similar group of 60 schools. But then you have to go behind it. I am sure that ACARA would be happy to look at those two schools-Prince Alfred and-

Senator Hanson Young -The Murray area school.

Ms Paul -and explain why the index found that. For example, Prince Alfred may have a range of scholarship students, it may have a range of students whose parents have saved up a lot to send them to Prince Alfred, which I know is a very expensive school, and so on. It is possible for us to get behind that.

Senator Hanson Young -If this website is meant to be about parents being able to have all that information and being able to make the choice, as the minister put it only an hour and a half ago, the need to look behind what is on the screen is not what is being presented to parents.

Ms Paul -What the Murray area parents can see-Professor McGaw can explain this better than I can-

Senator Hanson Young -And they wonder why they are rated low in comparison to other schools. When they look at the other schools, they see that they are being compared to PAC.

Ms Paul -Sure. First, they are being shown 60 schools-30 above and 30 below-on the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage, or ICSEA, that have statistically similar school populations. That is the thing I am saying we can get behind. Let us say that they think Prince Alfred does not look too good. However, there must be another 59 that probably look okay. For those 61 schools there are the comparators for the results for years 3, 5, 7 and 9 literacy and numeracy testing-the NAPLAN tests-and that is real. Of course, the fact that they are not showing up well raises questions. If it is the case that they do not look so good, it raises questions about what is happening in that community, in that school, in the teaching or whatever it is that needs some help. That is where the national partnerships come in. I do not know whether or not this will be a school that will get extra support.

Senator Hanson Young -We are asking parents to make a judgment based on the information that is presented on that page of the website when they plug into their school. There is an understanding that schools are being fairly compared.

Ms Paul -That is right. They are being fairly compared.

Prof. McGaw -That is exactly right.

Senator Hanson Young -There is an expectation that schools are being fairly compared.

Ms Paul -That is right; they are.

Senator Hanson Young -But they are not. You are saying it does not matter whether one school has a budget that is $1 million more than the budget of another school, and resources and extra teachers. Even the numbers in the school might not necessarily match up. But as long as the students all come from a similar type of street they are able to be compared.

Ms Paul -They come from a similar socioeconomic background. The geography is not at issue.

Prof. McGaw -That is the point of the fair comparisons. It may well be-

Senator Hanson Young -But it is not a fair comparison, is it?

Prof. McGaw -I believe that it is.

Ms Paul -It might well be.

Senator Hanson Young -It does not incorporate all the other things that you-

Prof. McGaw -It invites an interpretation of the other things that might make a difference. I can show you schools in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne-

Senator Hanson Young -But that is not shown on the website.

Prof. McGaw -It is in the descriptions of the schools. Next year we will also have data on the resources available for every school.

Senator Hanson Young -Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS -Did you just mention Melbourne?

Prof. McGaw -Yes, the schools in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Lots of them were also written up in the press. If you look on the front page for a high fee, high status, non-government school you can find a high ICSEA value to show that it is an advantaged school. You see lots of green for a comparison with the national average-this is for a school that is performing well above the national average-and no-one is surprised by that. Everybody in the school community knows that this is a good school by every other measure that they have had in the past. But when it is compared with statistically similar schools for the first time they see that there is a lot of red. This is a coasting school. This is a school that is charging a lot, that has good resources and privileged kids, doing well with respect to the national average and doing poorly with respect to schools enrolling students such as theirs, among which is a neighbouring government primary school. You get those kinds of analyses. Senator, in answer to your observations about whether parents are entering the site with expectations that the site is saying something other than what it is saying, we have gone to considerable lengths to try to explain what the site intends so that they do not think we are saying that the schools are similar, but they understand that we are saying the communities are similar.

We have frequently answered questions and fact sheets and we have interpretive material on the website. On the ACARA website we have a video that explains how the site works. For example, months ago we stopped using the expression 'like schools' precisely because our focus group work with parents with school-aged children showed that when they heard the words 'like schools' they interpreted that to mean physically like and resource levels like. We said, 'Let us use "statistically similar schools", which does not have an everyday meaning and does not invite people to jump quite so quickly to a conclusion about what it means,' and we defined it.

Senator Hanson Young -So in order to avoid being caught out or accused of being misrepresentative, you have changed the language back. But how do you-

Ms Paul -No, the point here is that they did focus groups. So the whole site was tested with parents before it went up.

Senator Hanson Young -I am interested to hear that you did focus groups. It does not surprise me that the words 'like schools' meant that people thought that they were like schools.

Prof. McGaw -Yes.

Senator Hanson Young -My point is that that is still the representation. Schools are being compared when there is such a difference in the margin of error between a school that has X number of students versus schools with a smaller number of students. That margin of error must be quite significant, yet they are still being compared. The point of the Prime Minister's announcement only a week ago was that there would be an expansion of the website and you referred also to the idea of putting resources on the website. Clearly, that is reflecting the needs of parents who want to be able to compare like schools. At the moment one would have to question whether the website was offering what parents are currently expecting.

Prof. McGaw -We will not use that information on resource levels to render the schools more like. That will reveal the extent of the differences. We will only ever render the schools like on the basis of the social background of the students. If you wash out other differences between schools by saying, 'We will not take account of those' you remove important interpretive things that give you a handle to change policy.

Ms Paul -At the moment, the thing about this site is that it is genuinely and truly comparing literacy and numeracy results at years 3, 5, 7 and 9 for 2009 and 2008.

Senator Hanson Young -I accept that; I am not suggesting that the data itself necessarily is wrong. I would suggest that was has created the data perhaps is what is not being fairly compared.

Ms Paul -Those comparisons are real. You have offered one example where parents are unhappy with the result.

Senator Hanson Young -By the way, those were not the words that I used.

Ms Paul -Okay, so they are questioning the result, which is fantastic. It is fantastic that they are questioning the result because they should be. They should be saying, 'Why is it that our school has some red here,' in particular, if the school is showing some dark red. Even if they do not like the look of Prince Alfred among their 60 schools, the other 59-

Senator Hanson Young -That is not what they are asking. They are asking why their schools are being compared to the PAC. That is what they are asking. Clearly they are not getting information on the website to clarify that.

Prof. McGaw -They should be. The answer is that they are being compared with that school because they have the same level of privilege as the parents of the other school.

Senator Hanson Young -Assuming that the indexing is correct?

Prof. McGaw -Knowing that it is a powerful index that gives a powerful explanation of the differences in the achievements of schools.

Senator Hanson Young -Though you just admitted that when you had to do the review there was a change of over 10 per cent in some places.

Ms Paul -But that has all been done. That was all part of the process.

Senator Hanson Young -Yet we are still finding that there are questionable issues relating to schools that are being compared.

Ms Paul -If you talked to the parents at Prince Alfred, you might find that they saved up or that they are scholarship parents. Basically, the index is robust enough to give us, and even more importantly ACARA, confidence that the comparators are robust and will hold.

Senator Hanson Young -Will you carry out a review of those schools that asked to have their comparisons and data checked, and will you be publishing the results of that review?

Dr Hill -We will certainly do so as it will be part of our processes through our board committee. There is no problem with that at all. The comment we made last Friday was that we have received a number of requests to look at the index and to check to establish whether it is right. At this stage there are 26, which is not a very big number out of the 10,000. There may be more, which is fine. We will establish a process which means we will go through it in a rigorous and comprehensive manner, starting with the data itself to ensure that it is correct. I mentioned before the break that we had given that period, but I was not able to clarify when it was. I clarified that over the lunch period. They had from September right through to the end of December to clarify that. These are the systems.

Senator Hanson Young -This is where there is a moving of some schools from one category to another.

Ms Paul -That is right.

Dr Hill -Yes.

Senator Hanson Young -Will you take that question on notice and provide us with the number of schools that will be moved? The categories would also be good.

Prof. McGaw -Yes.

Senator Hanson Young -I refer to the $11 million that was announced by the Deputy Prime Minister to help to deal with issues in some of the schools.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS -I have one question relating to the index.

Senator Hanson Young -Go for it.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS -Professor, could you explain to me how the index deals with schools that have a significant proportion of their population from a selective program?

Prof. McGaw -It does not at the moment. At the board level we considered the possibility of not including the selective schools, for example, in particular, the selective high schools in New South Wales. We know that their student population is not entirely described by the social indicator of their students because they have had a further sieve-which is an academic selection. On balance, the board decided that we would include them on the website because other schools that are selective are not so readily named and known and that we would have left on the site.

But these schools, in their school descriptions of themselves, indicate the nature of their student body. As I said earlier, next time around we have the possibility, for the first time, not only of having the social background measure, which we will continue to use, but also their prior performance because the year 5s will have been tested in year 3; the year 7s in year 5, and so on. The only thing we have to solve in order to be able to do that is that we have to be able to identify the students, in particular, those who have shifted schools. So we are working with the authorities now. They all know who the students are and they have identifiers, but we need to get this developed nationally so that we can track the students. We can then deal with the problem of schools that are selective in either direction-either they have gifted programs or they have programs for students with learning difficulties.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS -But in that instance are you potentially looking at also tracking individual students across schools?

Prof. McGaw -Yes. You then have to face the question: to which school do you attribute the performance? How long do they have to be in a school before the school gets praised or blamed for their performance?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS -I have a further question relating to the site itself. We can compare the statistically similar schools. Is there a mechanism for comparing or understanding what your statistically similar group looks like in comparison to another?

Prof. McGaw -We were conscious that many people would go to the site with an interest in geographically similar schools.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS -And you can do the local schools too?

Prof. McGaw -Yes. But we were determined that we would not facilitate direct comparisons among schools that are simply in the same geographic region because many of those would be very unfair comparisons as the schools have different student groups. For your school we would give you a comparison with schools that were statistically similar. On the last page we help you to locate schools that are within striking distance of your school, and you can go to their sites readily and look them up. However, we do not offer any easy comparison.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS -No. I was interested only because I have looked at the eastern Melbourne description to which you referred earlier and I discovered much the same myself.

Ms Paul -It is interesting, isn't it?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS -Yes.

Senator Hanson Young -I have one final question relating to the indexing, and I then have some other questions relating to the My School stuff, in particular the $11 million. I am still not convinced. How can you put in a statistically similar category one school that has 1,000 students and their test results, compared to another school that has 86 students and their test results, when the margin of error surely will be different in both those categories, yet they are listed as statistically similar?

Prof. McGaw -It is true that the margin of error of a mean in the school performances is greater in a small group than it is in a large group. That is true for the NAPLAN results. It is less the case for the ICSEA value, as that is based on the entire census district for each of the places in which the students live. The more general question is whether you should you ever compare small schools with large schools. Should we keep sieving down so that we compare Prince Alfred only with St Peters in Adelaide, or whatever, or should we say, 'There's a bigger picture here which people should look at.' Students from similar backgrounds are going to schools of different kinds, and schools of different sizes. In my view, the comparison-

Senator Hanson Young -The whole point is about being able to compare those results with statistically similar schools. Surely then it is not just about the big picture unless you put in those other things that ensure you are not just using this quite narrow indexing and you are including those other things that have an impact on kids educational outcomes.

Ms Paul -The statistical significance in the comparison with the index is robust and correct and NAPLAN is also correct. When you get to very small schools, the really small ones were excluded for those statistical reasons. If it is on the site it means that ACARA has checked out and tested that it is statistically robust, and therefore it is.

Prof. McGaw -If you are in a country town with a relatively small school and we offer you a comparison with metropolitan schools in which the students that are enrolled come from a similar social background to your town, we are now offering you a comparison of your school with a much larger school. That allows you as a parent to answer this question: is my kid being disadvantaged because he or she is in a small school? Parents would never know that if we compared them only with other small schools. We want to compare them with other similar students.

Senator Hanson Young -But you are not denying that there is a margin of error that simply is being blind swept?

Ms Paul -Not at the level of the comparison you are talking about.

Prof. McGaw -No, and we report it on the website.

Ms Paul -They are denying that. It is absolutely robust.

Senator Hanson Young -There are schools on the website that have 1,000 kids in the metro area compared to schools that have fewer than 80 kids.

Ms Paul -And it is a statistically sound comparison.

Senator Hanson Young -Yet you are saying that the margin of error of those test results will be different based on those different schools because of the population.

Ms Paul -But it is a statistically sound comparison; otherwise it would not be on the website. There are some that are not because they are very small.

Senator Hanson Young -Could we have a list of those that are not?

Prof. McGaw -You can see those that are not. They are on the website but their averages are not reported. We put a little dash in the box. If there are fewer than-

Senator Hanson Young -What made you decide? Was that through the review process?

Prof. McGaw -No. It is a practice that has been used in Australian states in the past. If there are fewer than five students in a cell then we do not produce a mean.

Senator Hanson Young -So it is that basic?

Prof. McGaw -If the presence of an individual in a cell could lead to the identification of the individual then we do not produce it either. We worry about issues of privacy and we worry about really small sizes, so we do not publish either of those.

CHAIR -I am conscious of the time; we need to move on.

Senator Hanson Young -I have some questions relating to the announcement of the $11 million, and that is it. On Sunday the Deputy Prime Minister announced the extra $11 million which will go specifically to 110 schools that were missing out on funding from other areas. It was reported to be linked to the things that are going on in the My School website. How did you determine which of those schools they would be? Do you have a list of the sectors and the names of the schools?

Ms Paul -Sure. I defer to my colleagues.

Ms Hanlon -What you said is correct. The My School website was used to identify those poorly-performing schools. Those schools were below the national average. In addition, they were well below the average of that statistically similar group. We have a list of those schools and we have been working through that list with the states and territories. Those 110 schools are above and beyond the 2,500 schools that are currently being supported and invested in through the smarter schools national partnerships. We will work through a process for the distribution of that $11 million to those 110 schools.

Senator Hanson Young -So you have not decided how that will be split up at this stage?

Ms Hanlon -A figure of up to $100,000 has been suggested as the resourcing for those schools.

Senator Hanson Young -Obviously that is a one-off payment?

Ms Hanlon -That is correct.

Senator Hanson Young -If these are poorly performing schools and they do not have access through these other programs or through the smart schools initiatives, how will a one-off payment of less than $100,000 assist them? How will it make that much difference? It should be kept in mind that Julia Gillard herself said it would cost up to $500,000 annually to make a difference for these schools.

Ms Paul -That is a reference, of course, to the National Partnerships. There is the $1.1 billion to the low SES national partnership, the $500 million through the Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership and the funding through the quality teaching national partnership.

Senator Hanson Young -I realise that.

Ms Paul -Okay. I think that is the reference.

Senator Hanson Young -The point is: what kind of difference will a one-off payment of possibly less than $100,000 make if those 110 schools are the ones that are performing poorly?

Ms Hanlon -Senator, if you were a principal of one of those schools you would probably want to have a look at the data and at the trends to see what you were doing. You would want to have a look at the current intervention strategies that you might have in place for poorly performing students. You might also want to make contact with a school that is statistically similar and that is looking green on the map, to establish what professional learning they have for staff and what intervention programs they have for literacy and numeracy so that you can understand what works and what is different compared with how they are performing. The money is only a part of it; it is one section of it. If I were a principal at one of those schools I would look closely at realigning the existing resources that I had. I would be looking at other schools that were the same in nature but that had performed much better. There are a range of strategies that a school that has been identified as having difficulties could go through.

Senator Hanson Young -It seems fairly pitiful for those schools that have been highlighted as low-performing schools then to be told: 'You will not necessarily get the $500,000 that we are talking about, but we will give you a $90,000 or $100,000 one-off payment.

Ms Paul -An amount of $100,000 can cover a significant amount of assistance. It can cover significant professional development and it can cover significant support for, say, bringing in an expert teacher. Some of the really good strategies that are around include, for example-

Senator Hanson Young -But it is a one-off payment; it is not even recurring funding.

Ms Paul -But often these schools do their analyses really well This happens anyway on a normal rolling basis. Systems are always trying to improve results naturally, not just since this website has gone public. I am familiar with programs where, say, an expert teacher coach is brought in for a year to focus on numeracy at a certain year level, or over several year levels, depending on whether it is primary or secondary, to make an investment in the teachers in the school. You can make a significant investment in the teaching faculty of a school by bringing in support over the course of, say, one school year. It is a lasting investment because it is a 'train the trainer' sort of approach, if you hear what I am saying. However, that is just one example.

Senator Hanson Young -Why do you think that such strong concern is being expressed by the Australian Education Union and the Independent Schools Union, in particular about the way in which the My School website is being used? Both those groups have been the most vocal, but there are others such as the Principals Association.

CHAIR -You might have to ask them that question.

Senator Hanson Young -No, I am asking the department.

CHAIR -I do not think it is an appropriate question to ask the officers to give an opinion on why people think what they think.

Senator Hanson Young -Surely they have received submissions, feedback and representations from those bodies? I am asking the department what it has heard about those concerns. Why does the department think those bodies are so concerned? If the website is all tickety-boo, the indexing is perfect, there are no flaws and the statistically similar language, as opposed to the like-schools language, has resolved the issues of misrepresentation, what is it that you are hearing that is of such concern?

Ms Paul -We are aware of the concerns, but you are asking me for my opinion. I cannot really give that.

Senator Hanson Young -What is the department's response to the criticisms?

Ms Paul -We will sit down at any time-I am sure that ACARA would too-with any representative of a professional body and work through, as, for example, the Deputy Prime Minister and Professor McGaw and others did with the 150-member principal forum before Christmas, and so on. We will sit down at any time and go through what it means. The principals' forum was tremendously successful at showing 150 of Australia's principals what it really meant and what its benefits were. At any time, of course, we would be more than happy to continue that sort of consultation.

Senator Hanson Young -But the department does not have an official response to the criticisms?

Ms Paul -You asked me for my opinion. Of course, the official response to the criticisms is that the website is entirely robust. I think Professor McGaw has gone there. It is a world-leading approach to testing. The NAPLAN tests themselves are world leading because they allow you to track a student literally over those years-years 3, 5, 7 and 9-whereas internationally most countries allow the proper comparison only at year 3 and then at year 5 and you cannot do the full scale right up through all those years. But you can here. The ICSEA, the index itself, probably is world leading. I am sure Professor McGaw is too humble to talk about it, but I am sure he is well able to do so. Basically, that is the answer. It is robust and it is showing something important. For the first time ever it is enabling Australian parents to look at how their children's schools are performing on literacy and numeracy across two years and five domains compared both to local schools and to statistically similar schools.

Senator Carr -We can say, Senator, that the government takes the view that this is a very important part of the education revolution. It is about providing parents with basic rights, such as the right to know-

Senator Hanson Young -But we are only telling them some stuff, Minister. That is my point.

Senator Carr -Senator, you asked a question about the response. I am telling you that the response is that this extremely important initiative massively expands the right of parents to know what is going on. It is an incredibly important instrument in the transformation of Australian education. Frankly, the Australian Education Union is wrong. Our position is that it has just got it wrong.

Senator Hanson Young -You might be able to take my final question on notice. Now that the website is live, what is the cost of that website? That would include the reviewing process and the fact that now it is live.

Prof. McGaw -We can tell you that.

Dr Hill -Basically, we estimate the total cost of the website as $2.1 million. That includes the development costs; the costs of the geocoding-that is, converting addresses into collectors' district; security testing of the website so that you cannot hack in to it; load testing of hardware and software; legal services, in particular on privacy issues; focus groups, which we mentioned earlier; and staffing costs.

Senator Hanson Young -Thank you. So it is a total of $2.1million?

Dr Hill -That is correct.

CHAIR -I think Senator Collins has one question.

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