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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 4 Hansard (4 May) . . Page.. 1268..

MRS DUNNE (continuing):

his hit list for schools. Mr Barr has shown a certain amount of openness. He said on WIN news last night that he would not like to vote against my sound amendments, which I think have broad support across the parliament, to bring better consultation to the Education Act. He said on the second day of being the minister in this place that he did not want to do it. I hope that he will not want to do it on the fifth day.

One of the things that Mr Barr needs to take into consideration when he is talking about dialogue on the size of schools and the appropriateness of closing schools is that smaller schools, for the most part, are better for children. Despite what Mr Stanhope and Ms Gallagher said last year, the advantages are clear and the research is unequivocal on that. The findings are based on academic research; they are not just presumptions. They show that in smaller schools there is less anonymity because you are better known by your teachers and it fosters peer learning, that there is less probability of disruption and violence, that teachers have a better knowledge of individual students, that small schools are more effective at bridging the gap between higher and lower achievement students, and that there is a higher participation rate in extracurricular activities.

I hope that Mr Barr will listen to these issues and make sure that he is across the research. I hope that Mr Barr will live up to his claim that he is progressive and will take into account the views of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation when it decided to support an increase in smaller schools, funded out of its own pocket, for the benefits of pupils and teachers. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is aware of the facts that have been made known by eminent educationists such as Michael Klonsky, who asserts that large schools generally correlate with inefficiency, institutional bureaucracy and personal loneliness. I hope that the approach being taken by the new minister for education will not end up in a situation arising where we have one size fitting all. There is no optimum size for schools. It is based on the benefits that it brings to a particular community.

I would just like to highlight one of the schools in my electorate that I am concerned about, the school of Charnwood, which has an enrolment of about 170 in an area of low socioeconomic achievement. It is a school that has seen a huge turnaround in the behaviour of students, in the achievement of students and in the outreach that that school makes to the parents and the wider community who are struggling. It is a school which not only teaches the children who come to it to read but also helps to improve the literacy of the parents of those children so that it feeds one off the other. I would hate to see those people severely at risk put further at risk by willy-nilly approaches to closing schools just because they are small. We have to look at the programs that the schools provide.

I suppose I have to put on the record that I have a conflict of interest here because, as a parent who supports the government school system, I have chosen to put my son in a small school for his educational benefit generally and particularly because of the program that is offered at Lyons primary school. I want my children to learn languages. He is in the Italian immersion program there because it offers great opportunities for children. He travels halfway across Canberra to go to school there. There are many other people who make those choices for their children to go to smaller schools.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

The Assembly adjourned at 6.27 pm until Tuesday, 9 May 2006, at 10.30 am.

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