What does a person-centred education system look like?

Providing high-quality education is critical for the future prosperity of our nation. The kind of education we need includes more than just preparing young people to join the workforce. Our vision is for a comprehensive education for every Australian. In addition to teaching us about the world, a good education helps us reach our full potential, leads us to being well-informed and engaged citizens, helps us to understand how we might live a physically and mentally healthy life, and gives people a stronger sense of belonging. Australia’s current national focus on performance-based benchmarks can do more harm than good, putting needless stress and pressure on young people, which has the unfortunate and paradoxical effect of being detrimental to learning. Our party will keep the focus on providing equitable access to quality education, creating healthy and supportive places of learning which aim to bring out the best in people.

Here are a few ways the Australian Mental Health Party will manage the Education portfolio.

Funding

Right now, the allocation of Commonwealth funding for schools is inequitable. As part of the 2008 Education Revolution, the ‘School Resource Standard’ (SRS) formula for funding was developed to resource schools based on need. Recent figures show that despite these measures, the funding gap between public and private schools has widened. Furthermore, although it is clear that supporting the mental health of staff and students in schools is critical to successful educational outcomes, this has not been factored into the SRS formula.

Our party is calling for change. If elected, we will recalibrate the SRS formula with educational equity and opportunity as our goal.

Early Childhood Education

Good education starts early, but it’s not just about preparing for school. In our view, early learning experiences need to focus on the development of the whole person. Our party supports fair access to pre-school education, with an emphasis on the quality of engagement.

Australian Curriculum

Australian school children receive very little education about mental health. Under the current national curriculum, mental health is only taught as one small part of the health and physical education area of study. We believe that mental health and well-being deserve a much broader focus across the curriculum. Helping young people to learn about how to manage emotions, build healthy relationships, identify mental health problems, and seek appropriate help when required has enormous potential to support positive mental health later on in life. On that basis, our party believes that mental health should be included as a cross-curriculum priority in the Australian curriculum. Similarly, our view is that teacher training should include programs focused on self-care, positive coping skills, and building resilience for this challenging and demanding area of work. We need to retain and inspire good teachers to bring out the very best in young people.

National School Chaplaincy Program

Previously, schools had the option to employ a secular support worker. Since 2015, only people of a specific faith in religion are eligible to provide services under the National School Chaplaincy program. Our party is driven by inclusive and humanistic values. In our view, support programs need to encourage all people to reach out when they need to, not just those who come from a particular religious background. We will push for changes allowing schools to choose a secular support worker if that is most suited to the needs of their school.

In addition, we recognise that our schools need better resourcing for other types of high-quality support services, including qualified counsellors, psychologists, social workers and nurses. At present we see school counsellors split between multiple schools, attending each for just a day or two. Students, teachers, and families need access to support when issues arise, not several days later. Our party will look to better resource these positions and build stronger connections between school-based and community-based support systems.

Vocational Education and Training

Australia needs a system that can build stronger partnerships between training institutions and workplaces. It is vital to ensure that on and off-the-job training can generate experiences for trainees which produce a well-rounded and highly skilled workforce. We will also call for national consistency for standards of training about mental health in the workplace. At this level of training, it is crucial that young Australians are mentally job-ready and well-connected with any supports or resources they might need to draw from as they begin their career.

Higher Education

Learning at university can be an amazing experience, but it comes with significant pressure and new challenges, which are overwhelming for some. Our party is calling for proactive development of mental health strategies for staff and students as a mandatory component of TEQSA registration. We believe it should be a national priority to develop young bright minds and new thinkers for future generations to come. Australia can only achieve that aim if we look after the mental health and well-being of people as they begin to identify with their chosen career path.

Diversity and Inclusion

Optimal learning means a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment for all. Our party places significant value on human diversity and a sense of belonging. In order for our society to really flourish, we need to bring together the strengths of every individual. Our educational policies will build connection across cultural and linguistic diversity, including the needs of youth with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origins.

We also recognise the need for both students and staff who identify as LGBTI to be welcomed and included in a learning environment which is free from discrimination. Positive school experiences for young people characterised by a focus on inclusion, respect for others, and consideration of different perspectives, will help us build a more tolerant, fair, inclusive and well educated society.

Small changes like these have the potential to make a big difference. Our party will improve the education system by helping students find their strengths, gain relevant experience, and access timely support when it’s needed. A vote for our party is a vote for a better educated and inclusive Australia.