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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 8 Hansard (27 June) . . Page.. 2297 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

Mr Speaker, a comprehensive information-gathering and consultative process is well under way and is producing useful results. A small team of experienced officers of my department, including one who actually has had experience in alternative education - Mr Moore, for your benefit - is examining the issue and has already consulted with the teaching staff, students and parents. I am meeting the chair of the SWOW board myself next week to discuss these issues.

We do need to concern ourselves about the provision of effective education for those students now attending the School Without Walls. There is a need for action to improve the situation at SWOW. It is important that we hear what everyone involved has to say. It is important to know what people think about SWOW, what needs improving, what are the best ways and means of doing this, and how the situation may be improved in the best interests of the students now attending SWOW. That is exactly what is happening, Mr Speaker. A very comprehensive consultation process is already under way. Members of the SWOW community are telling us about different ways in which SWOW could be improved. One feasible option is to relocate SWOW to the Dickson College site. That would make possible a closer collaboration and a broadening of educational opportunities for students now attending SWOW. But this is only one option, Mr Speaker. Others may well emerge during the consultation.

Mr Speaker, I would like very briefly to outline a few facts about SWOW for members. The School Without Walls has changed considerably since its inception in 1974. It was established then to provide alternative educational pathways in the then post-compulsory years - Years 10, 11 and 12 - for those students who found it difficult to cope in regular schools. SWOW was founded before our secondary college system got under way - a point I think I raised on Tuesday. It was established as a refreshing alternative to the very narrow - that was probably unfair, Mr Speaker, and I should say the "fairly narrow" - and constrained academic regime existing in the New South Wales senior secondary years at the time. SWOW worked well in an open, non-restrictive environment for those Years 11 and 12 students who had the independence and maturity to work in that open environment. I repeat, Mr Speaker, that SWOW was invented in the 1970s for students over 15 years of age at the time.

However, Mr Speaker, changes have occurred since then. In many ways, the original role of SWOW has now been superseded. There are very few Year 11 and Year 12 students who now attend the School Without Walls. In fact, the total number of students at SWOW has been steadily dropping in recent years. What is crucially important, I think, is that there are very few SWOW students now actually achieving tertiary entrance or even gaining a Year 12 certificate - only a handful, Mr Speaker - and students who once went to SWOW are choosing to go to a secondary college. But, Mr Speaker, a new role has been emerging for SWOW. It has developed more as a refuge for younger secondary school students. They are students who would normally attend high school but who feel uncomfortable in the more regulated, normal high school setting.

Ms Follett: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: This statement, which the Minister is reading, is quite clearly a ministerial statement and an abuse of question time. I believe that you should direct that Minister to draw his answer to a conclusion.

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