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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 6 Hansard (6 June) . . Page.. 1785..

MR BARR (continuing):

government to engage the community in decisions affecting education in the ACT. The Education Act 2004 currently states:

Before closing or amalgamating a government school, the Minister must-

(a) have regard to the educational, financial and social impact on students at the school, the students' families and the general school community; and

(b) ensure that school communities affected by the closure or amalgamation have been adequately consulted during a period of at least six months.

Mr Speaker, this bill inserts two new subsections immediately following these paragraphs to expand on and clarify what is meant by adequate consultation. The changes in this bill will require the minister, before a decision is made about a proposal to close or amalgamate government schools, to tell the school communities about the proposal and listen to, and consider, their views.

The bill then goes on to describe the principles which must underlie the consultation process. These can be summarised as: a focus on access to, and provision of, quality educational opportunities; openness and transparency; effective community engagement leading to sustainable decisions; provision of relevant information in a timely and accessible way; opportunities for feedback; and seeking the views of school boards likely to be affected by the proposal. The enshrining in legislation of these principles is a commitment by the government to meaningful consultation on the key issue of the future of school education in the ACT.

Since coming to office in 2001, the Stanhope government has set an ambitious program of reform in education including: lowering class sizes in the early years of primary school; committing to construct new state-of-the-art schools, including the award winning Amaroo school; renewing our school curriculum to ensure rigour and relevance; acknowledging the importance of the early years and increasing the hours of preschool services; and taking a close look at how we might further improve and supplement our excellent senior secondary college system, for the first time in 30 years.

Mr Speaker, the Stanhope government is proud of its achievement in education, but there is more to be done. We need to ensure our school system is equipped to meet the challenges involved in providing the latest teaching and learning technology for all students and is supported by excellent teachers and high-quality facilities.

In deciding how best to meet these demands now and into the future, the government recognises that it needs to engage the community. I have already made clear my view that surplus capacity in the government school sector is robbing our children of the best educational opportunities, at a time when education is more than ever a key to a fulfilling future economically, socially and culturally. How we as a community address that issue is something that the government will not and cannot decide alone; we all have a big stake in it and we need to get it right.

Mr Speaker, through this amendment the government is building on the valuable experience it gained from its consultation on the 2005 proposal to close the former Ginninderra district high school and replace it with a new state-of-the-art preschool to year 10 school in West Belconnen. It should be noted that, as a result of the consultation

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