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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 1 Hansard (11 February) . . Page.. 274..

MR BARR (Molonglo—Minister for Education and Training, Minister for Planning, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation and Minister for Gaming and Racing) (10.19): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

Today I am introducing the Education Amendment Bill 2010. This bill gives principals in public and Catholic schools more autonomy and flexibility to suspend students for up to 10 days. This follows an election commitment that Labor took to the 2008 election and which, as members are aware, given the history of this debate last year, was blocked, seemingly for different reasons, by the Greens and the Liberals in 2009.

The government did make a promise at the last election and I am committed to developing tougher suspensions for longer periods for misbehaving students. Parents and families voted for this in 2008. Parents want it and so do principals. That is why we are giving principals more autonomy and flexibility to manage their schools.

Once again, the Catholic Education Office and Catholic schools are joining us in this reform. This reform, combined with our unique suspension support team pilot, will empower principals and support all students in the territory. The government has committed to evaluating the effectiveness of this legislative change after 18 months. The Assembly will then be able to consider whether to leave principals' discretionary power to suspend at 10 days, increase it or return it to the current five days. This legislative reform does go beyond traditional ideological politics. It is about what parents, teachers and principals want.

The government believes that principals need more autonomy and flexibility to manage their schools. Principals need more autonomy to manage their literacy and numeracy resources so that they can improve their literacy and numeracy outcomes. Principals need more autonomy to reward, promote and hire teachers and executive staff. Principals also need to make sure that their schools are safe learning environments.

Last year I said that principals know their schools and that they know their students. They are on the ground every day. It is principals who are the educational leaders of their schools. It is principals who are best placed to make these important decisions. They know that if reading, writing and arithmetic are the building blocks of a good education then behaviour management in the classroom and in the playground is the foundation stone. A commonsense approach to discipline underpins it all. Reading, writing and arithmetic come a distant second if consistent and clear messages are not sent to all students about appropriate behaviour.

Principals also need more time to respond to serious situations and critical incidents in their schools. Following a critical incident, a principal's role not only includes reassuring staff, students and parents; it can also include liaising with police, liaising with the Department of Education and Training and possibly with the department of housing and community services and other non-government partners. It can take time to calm these situations down and to objectively assess how to go forward.

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