Young children struggling to learn to read should get the help they need earlier with the government’s $1.2 billion boost to school funding.
The extra funding over three years from 2018 – part of a $73.6 billion education package in Tuesday’s federal budget – comes with conditions on the states and territories, including literacy and numeracy checks for children in Year 1.
A million children are at risk of falling behind in reading and writing, Education Minister Simon Birmingham says.
“We cannot allow this to continue,” he told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.
“If they don’t learn to read effectively in the first couple of years of schooling then they will fail, quite likely, at every other area of their schooling and school will be a miserable experience.”
At the other end of schooling, there will be minimum standards for students to pass Year 12 and all students wanting a university entrance score must study an English or humanities subject as well as maths or science.
Schools must have a certain proportion of literacy and numeracy specialists and teachers will be paid according to competency instead of length of service.
“We’re going to ensure that the money goes where it is needed most, so that kids who need the most support get it as early as possible,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.
He and Senator Birmingham said this was “in absolute alignment with the principles of Gonski”.
But shadow treasurer Chris Bowen described the government’s proposal as “pathetically inadequate”.
The government trotted out the “money doesn’t matter” line every time it wanted to justify not adequately funding schools, he told ABC TV.
“You tell that to the teachers who are struggling in under-resourced schools … that what the results they get doesn’t depend on the funding they get. You will be laughed out of the classroom,” he said.
Labor has pledged to fund the full $4.5 billion promised for 2018 and 2019 in the Gonski deal.
“(The government) have taken bucketfuls of money out of schools; now at the last minute before an election they want to replace it with a cupful,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said.
Mr Turnbull said his government’s plan was actually affordable.
“We can pay for it without jacking up taxes,” he said.
Savings would be found in other parts of the budget.
The education union labelled the government’s offer “cash for grades” and predicted states would not be impressed.
Federal president Correna Haythorpe agreed it was important to identify students who were struggling, but said that was no use if schools didn’t also have the resources to help them.