Page 800 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 6 April 2022

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MS STEPHEN-SMITH (Kurrajong—Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Minister for Families and Community Services and Minister for Health) (10.55): I rise in opposition to this motion and in support of the Deputy Chief Minister, Minister Berry, as an outstanding education minister. In her time as education minister, Minister Berry has presided over significant investment in Canberra’s public schools, some of which she talked about today. I refer to the expansion of Gold Creek School, the expansion and upgrade of Belconnen High School, the expansion of Franklin Early Childhood School, the delivery of Margaret Hendry School, the recently announced new Taylor high school, and a range of further local investments in spaces across our schools to improve the learning environment of our students and the working environment of teachers and other staff in schools. In my electorate, Minister Berry is delivering the modernisation of Narrabundah College and the upgrades to Lyneham high, among other things.

This is the type of investment that schools across the country are calling out for, and Minister Berry is delivering it here in the ACT, as part of a Labor government. She is working hard to ensure that Canberra schools have the infrastructure in place to meet the challenges of the coming decades. Of course, infrastructure is not everything, and Minister Berry’s real commitment in this place, and in her time as education minister, has been to equity. She has driven a range of initiatives that are about improving equity and outcomes for students across our school system, from early childhood education and care through to the college system.

These include things like the government’s three-year-old preschool program, which is already providing 15 hours a week of free preschool to hundreds of Canberra’s families. It is a vital investment in levelling the playing field for young children from families who may not have the resources that an average Canberra household enjoys.

The provision of Chromebooks, of course, to all public school students in years 7 to 12 was not only an investment in digital literacy but a vital tool in ensuring continuity of learning throughout the pandemic—something that I will come back to in a minute.

There is the recruitment of additional school psychologists, bringing the total number of school psychologists to more than 80 across the public school network. Of course, the Safe and Inclusive Schools Initiative equips schools with resources to support and provide a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTIQ+ students and people.

Minister Berry also has a clear commitment and dedication to supporting teachers and school staff. She has demonstrated this in many ways in her time as the education minister. I refer to scholarships for teachers to undertake a master of education degree, and better support for new teachers through coaching and mentoring. The University of Canberra Affiliated Schools Program partners schools with a tertiary institution so that existing teachers, and teachers in training, can continue to improve their expertise.

Through the enterprise bargaining process with teachers and their unions, Minister Berry drove a process that reached an agreement that has ACT public school teachers as the highest paid in the nation. She has worked with the ACT branch of the Australian Education Union to develop and implement a nation-leading occupational violence policy and management plan. Again, I will come back to that.

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