$540m schools scheme fails to boost literacy, numeracy

A $540million government scheme to to lift numeracy and literacy rates has made little difference, an audit of the program has found.A $540 million government scheme to lift numeracy and literacy rates made no discernible difference to the results of the schools taking part, an audit of the program has found.
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The Australian National Audit Office said the effectiveness of the program, which has so far delivered $322 million to the states and territories in facilitation, reward and research payments, had been ‘‘mixed’’.

Across Australia, about 10 per cent of government and non-government schools – about 1050 in total – took part in the literacy and numeracy national partnership (LNNP).

It was one of the first times the government tried tying performance targets to financial incentives. But, the audit office said today, it was far from clear the money had been well spent.

”ANAO analysis of NAPLAN data from 2008 to 2011 indicates that the LNNP is yet to make a statistically significant improvement, in any state, on the average NAPLAN results of schools that received LNNP funding, when compared to schools that did not receive funding,” it said.

The audit also found that states were paid before they had lifted the results of students in targeted schools.

”The first tranche of facilitation payments occurred prior to the signing of the bilateral agreements,” the audit, by Auditor-General Ian McPhee, found.

”DEEWR [the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations] advised that payments were made at this time so the implementation of the LNNP was not further delayed.”

Nor were ”explicit records” kept of the process undertaken to approve spending proposals, as required.

”Nonetheless,” Mr McPhee found, ”payments made under the LNNP were soundly based.”

He said the education department did not take a structured approach to its negotiations with the states and territories, which were required to implement the program to qualify for funding bonuses.

Because of this, Mr McPhee said, ”there was significant variability at a state level in the coverage of the LNNP and performance indicators used, and reward targets were not necessarily demanding”.

In April a Council of Australian Governments report said that despite flaws in the program, the LNNP had lifted literacy and numeracy rates.

But in NSW, reading and writing scores for year 3 and year 5 students dropped, and the state missed out in $35 million in funding for literacy and numeracy programs after it failed to meet its targets under the partnership.

A spokeswoman for education minister Peter Garrett said today’s report found there were significant strengths in the department’s administration of the program.

“The report acknowledges that this was one of the first National Partnerships ever implemented, so there were few guidelines and processes in place at the time.

“DEEWR has gained valuable experience from the implementation of the LNNP which helped develop formal guidance for other departments when subsequent national partnerships were developed.

The spokeswoman said the government would take the report’s recommendations on board.

However, opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said continuing to fund a program for years that failed to produce results was “a terrible indictment on Labor’s education credentials”.

”The report says the process of ensuring the co-investment required from the states under the partnership is highly contentious with some states receiving payments, approved by the federal minister, without meeting their co-investment obligations.

“Put simply this means that the Auditor has found evidence of cost-shifting between the Commonwealth and some states with respect to investment in literacy and numeracy programs.”

Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU

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Odd tales and bizarre images collide

Mock sinister: Steps by Tochka.Japan goes abstract at this year’s Melbourne International Animation Festival.
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THINK of Japanese cartoons, and a host of stock images will likely spring to mind: giant robots, futuristic cities, strange beasts. Yet alongside the flourishing anime industry, Japan, like many countries, has a tradition of ”fine art” animation permitting freer experiment with style and content.

This year, the reliably wide-ranging Melbourne International Animation Festival is devoting two sessions to new developments in this area – one focused on students of the University of Tokyo course taught by the famed animator Koji Yamamura, the other on a group of young artists who call themselves the Calf Collective.

Both sessions are uneven but worthwhile, showing how animation has a special ability to shift rapidly from narrative to abstraction and back again – whether hinting at social or psychological disturbance, or for the sake of pure play.

Mirai Mizue’s lighthearted Playground suggests a throwback to the work of pioneer avant-garde filmmakers such as New Zealand’s Len Lye.

Brightly coloured, hand-drawn forms mutate and combine into creatures resembling bacteria, birds or sea anemones, accompanied by a ”neo-primitive” percussive score that even includes what sounds like a didgeridoo.

More formally rigorous in its way is the mock-sinister Steps, a brief skit in which the hapless hero is plagued by a tricksy demon rendered as a luminous stick figure.

Credited to a duo known as ”Tochka”, this is one of the most technically innovative films in the program – transforming a human actor into a puppet through stop-motion, while using long-exposure photography to record the trail left by a penlight ”drawing” in the air.

Other filmmakers favour deliberately elusive forms of narrative, dramatising mental processes that block and distort as much as they reveal. In Masaki Okuda’s Uncapturable Ideas, black-and-white visual fragments evoking enslavement to routine are interrupted by blasts of chaotic colour and noisy jazz that register as threatening rather than liberating.

Writhing like fish in a net, the abstract ”ideas” that haunt the hero are given just enough personality to again resemble demons – or at least giggling poltergeists.

In Kei Oyama’s comparably grim Consultation Room, a medical diagnosis triggers a wave of traumatic fantasies, portrayed in greyish pencil drawings that waver as if left out for too long in the rain.

A headless female body spins on a stool and splatters the walls with blood from its many wounds; an actor in a dog mask performs on stage, lifting a leg against another actor disguised as a tree. Everything is studiously weird – a bit too much so to be truly disturbing.

In contrast, Alimo’s Island of Man contemplates lost time in a corny, wistful style, with nostalgic voiceover narration backed by piano and solo violin. The glimpses of a world left behind – a man dragging a statue over the sand, a discarded toy at the edge of the water – convey a conventional poignancy or a surrealism minus any erotic charge.

Set against a blank backdrop that recalls the parchment of a scroll painting, Atsushi Wada’s attractively deadpan The Mechanism of Spring mocks the dream of a return to innocence, with a trio of obese, infantile figures inhabiting a world of animals and enigmatic rituals (the strangest image: a pudgy finger prodding at a furry, phallic object that proves to be the antler of a baby deer).

Wataru Uekusa’s The Tender March comes closest to the tradition of commercial anime, albeit distilled into a free-associative video-clip format. Like a character in a platform computer game, a schoolgirl with a backpack marches across the screen, while monsters get on with their business of ravaging cities or simply bob by her side.

Nothing can shift the heroine from her straight-ahead trajectory, although miniature screens that pop up around her like thought bubbles illustrate how fragments of the passing scene are preserved in the filing system of her brain.

The comic-strip imagery and the bouncy repetition of the music maintain a familiar mood of cheerful alienation. Why worry about anything, when even the apocalypse is just another cliche?

Yet the joke of combining the bizarre and the mundane works the other way round as well – suggesting how everyday life can feel like a scary, bewildering struggle.

The Melbourne International Animation Festival runs from June 17-24. The two New Japanese Animation programs screen on the 21st and the 24th.

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Six new suburbs but little public transport

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MOST of Melbourne’s six new suburbs will have to rely on the busy V/Line train network or public transport upgrades that are years from completion, which critics say will worsen congestion and commuting times.

Planning Minister Matthew Guy yesterday announced the development of six new suburbs – Diggers Rest near Sunbury, Lockerbie near Greenvale, Lockerbie North, Manor Lakes in Wyndham, Merrifield West in the city of Hume and Rockbank North near Melton.

Mr Guy also revealed the city’s urban growth boundary would grow by almost 6000 hectares, with former farm and green wedge land opened up for development at Wallan, Point Cook, east of Pakenham and in Melton.

Residents could be moving into some of the new suburbs within two years, and they would be provided with ”sophisticated” town centres, a range of housing, good services and land set aside for local employment, Mr Guy said.

”There is no use in responding to population growth after it has occurred,” Mr Guy said. ”Melbourne … will continue to retain its status as a great place to live.”

Plans from the Growth Areas Authority show Merrifield West residents will have to rely on the Donnybrook V/Line rail station or drive seven kilometres to the Craigieburn rail station.

Rockbank North and Lockerbie will be near busy V/Line rail stations, while a rail station is ”proposed” for nearby Beveridge.

Diggers Rest will see an ”expansion” of its V/Line rail station but no date is given. V/Line patronage has soared in recent years, with many lines offering standing-room only on peak services.

Monash University transport expert Professor Graham Currie said locating suburbs near V/Line stations was positive but questioned their capacity.

”All of the best evidence from round the world show the provision of transport services should happen before development occurs,” Professor Currie said.

Wyndham mayor Kim McAliney said it would be a challenge to accommodate more residents but commended Mr Guy on visiting the fastest growing area in Australia to see the challenges first hand.

”We are no longer prepared to approve any more plans for new developments – we’re drowning, that’s how I feel,” Ms McAliney said.

Mitchell Shire mayor Sue Marstaeller said she was pleased that Wallan had been brought within the urban growth boundary because it would make planning easier.

Lockerbie, a $4 billion development from Stockland, will be one of the state’s largest greenfield residential projects.

Melbourne’s 10 largest property developers control 70 per cent of active land supply, said leading analyst Colin Keane from the National Land Survey Program.

Median land prices in outer growth area suburbs have fallen every month since mid-2011.

But despite prices declining, most of the available land was still out of the reach of first home buyers, with only 32 per cent priced under the critical $200,000 barrier, Mr Keane said.

Opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said infrastructure remained the most pressing issue for many living in the outer suburbs: ”I think people are getting frustrated and concerned that we just keep opening up land for development without getting this in place.”

Comment at The Age

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Relocation, relocation, a vocation: key to renting in competitiveSydney

Where to go next? It takes persistence and preparation to find a new rental home in competitive Sydney.As I opened a letter from my real-estate agent, I crossed my fingers for a rent rise.
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Along with defamation suits and huntsman spiders, finding a new place to rent in Sydney is one of my worst fears.

I would prefer to pay more rent, have a surprise inspection, or even hand my husband over in an Indecent Proposal-style deal with a real-estate agent than have to navigate the wilds of the city’s rental market.

But there it was in a sad little letter: our landlord, who was also our neighbour and the owner of the cafe we lived behind, had given us three months to move out. He told us later it was because the chef needed somewhere to live.

We assumed the poor chef must have lost his fingers, eyes and brain in one of those tragic eggs Benedict-related accidents you hear so much about, leaving him incapable of browsing rental websites.

Deciding on a maximum $450 a week for a one-bedroom unit, we spent five long weeks going to inspections well-dressed, polite and armed with copies of our passports, bank statements, pay slips, tax returns and completed application forms.

To some, $450 a week might seem like a lot, but, according to Australian Property Monitors’ latest report, it is the median weekly asking rent in Sydney.

We quickly found that price often gets you very little, especially if you need to be reasonably close to the city and public transport.

There was a teeny unit in Chippendale for $430 with no oven nor space for a fridge. The description should have read: “A great place to keep your dog!”

A place in Camperdown for $450 was lovely, but obviously made for one person with nothing to bring with them but a goldfish and a “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster.

The weekend inspections were predictably awful, having to stand in line with 30 other people.

At one inspection in Chippendale on a Saturday morning the line went around the corner and down an entire block, only for the real-estate agent to cancel at the very last minute.

An hour later I was alarmed to be the only person at an inspection for a $450 a week “funky warehouse” near Redfern.

The poor real-estate agent was soon accosted by the tenant, who came running down the street yelling at her to stop the inspection, complaining about being unexpectedly kicked out.

We looked almost everywhere we could think of near the city and in the inner west – Stanmore, Petersham, Lewisham, Marrickville, Leichhardt, Annandale and Glebe.

By our third week of looking, real-estate agents started recognising us and would kindly point us to units that might suit.

We applied for plenty of places, but missed out at least once because someone else had offered to pay more rent.

As time wore on we started looking in areas we had assumed we couldn’t afford – the posher parts of the eastern suburbs and north shore, as well as Balmain and Rozelle.

Surprisingly we found you get more bang for your buck in those areas, with better quality apartments that have more space.

Eventually we ended up being approved for a beautiful one-bedroom flat in Balmain, the result of persistence, enthusiasm and a bit of luck.

It even has a private outdoor space – something I didn’t think I would have in Sydney until my death.

The experts’ view:

Real-estate agents say Sydney’s rental market is particularly competitive at the moment and tenants have to be proactive in their approach.

Jeremy Martin, the managing director of Martin Property, said more and more people were treating renting like the job market and compiling professional-looking resumes.

“They’ve got all the information there and they make it as easy as possible for the property manager to approve their applications.”

Mr Martin said his agency encouraged prospective tenants to join their Facebook page and be included on their email database.

“My advice is, if you’ve missed out on a property, then go and see that property manager and ask them why you missed out.

“The tenants need to be proactive … then they can tinker with their approach for the next property.”

Real Estate Institute of NSW president Christian Payne, a Cronulla real-estate agent, said many people were now well-versed on turning up to inspections with the necessary documents and being prepared to pay more rent.

“When it comes to the property management, we see lots of suitable tenants. We just have to say ‘yes’ to one of them and everyone else is disappointed.

“There’s a lack of supply of rental accommodation; that’s what it boils down to.

“It’s continuing to remain low … and there’s still upward pressure on rents. That’s not good news for tenants.”

The best way to up your chances of finding a rental is to introduce yourself to real-estate agents in the areas you’re interested in, Mr Payne said.

“At the end of the day get your best references, get [your application] all ready and make it easy.

“Persistence, I guess, pays off.

“If people are willing to compromise … on one of those things they’re looking for, ultimately you’ll find a property.”

This reporter is on Twitter @steph_gardiner

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Rumours rule as investors grow jittery

When markets retreat and share trading volumes are light, talk often turns to takeovers. Sometimes it is a case of hedge funds trying to generate interest in a stock to talk up their book, and other times it is because the share price has fallen so low that it becomes cheap enough to attract interest.
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In the local equities market, volume at midday was $1.3 billion, which is well below the daily average $4 billion that usually goes through, and the $6 billion to $7 billion at the peak.

Light volumes and falling markets turn the spotlight on stocks that have either had a sudden share price surge or above-average turnover.

This morning Perpetual attracted headlines when it was queried by the ASX over a share-price spike and rumours that a private equity fund was looking at making a bid. In response to the ASX, Perpetual said it was unaware of any explanation for the price rise other than the market reaction to media speculation about an interested buyer.

The other stock in focus today is Fairfax Media, when 42 million shares, or 1.8 per cent of the share register, was put through at 12.28 pm (AEST) by Southern Cross.

The share bulge naturally raised speculation that the company’s biggest shareholder Gina Rinehart might be increasing her stake beyond 13 per cent to improve her chances of getting a seat on the Fairfax board. (Fairfax is publisher of this website.)

Other companies are the subject of market speculation, including Qantas and Echo. In some cases a bid will emerge. In others, though, it will be an attempt to inflate the share price as hedge-fund activity increases around certain stocks.

But the one constant will be that markets remain volatile until Europe sorts itself out.

The hope the Greek elections on Sunday will produce a stable government that will help settle investor fears. But that isn’t necessarily the case.

There is still the problem of Spain which wasn’t helped by the decision by Moody’s overnight to downgrade it rating on Spanish government debt by three notches to Baa3 from A3, saying the newly approved eurozone plan to help the nation’s banks will increase the country’s debt burden.

While it is good that there has been a bailout of Spain’s banks, there is scepticism about what conditions have been attached.

Spain has said there will be minimal conditions but few believe such statements. Conditions will be announced later.

A cynic could be forgiven for thinking the bailout was announced to encourage the Greeks to vote sensibly at the weekend.

As one observer said: “the bailout announcement would no doubt encourage Greek voters to elect candidates this weekend who would keep Greece in its austerity program. That is, look how bad things are – even Spain needs a bailout.”

The upshot is the Greeks will learn about the Spanish rescue conditions after they have voted. If they are not to their liking, watch out Europe.

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