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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (24 June) . . Page.. 854 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

education programs in eight key learning areas supporting children's emotional, social, cognitive and language development. They consolidate and extend learning experiences of nearly all four-year-olds in the ACT, focusing on literacy, numeracy and socialisation. They support children in the development of their independence and their confidence. They assist in identifying individual development needs. They use play as a basis for the curriculum. Children's existing skills, abilities and interests are used as the starting point for their educational development.

They have always been treated differently from mainstream primary and secondary education, although part of the continuum with primary education. They are treated differently because the Government builds preschools, provides staff and has responsibility for ongoing maintenance and upgrading. Parents have responsibility for the provision of equipment, cleaning, maintenance and insurance. This has been the case since preschools were first established here. Also, the staffing is different from the staffing of primary and secondary schools. In primary and secondary schools, staff levels are adjusted each year to match student numbers. Classes are arranged so that, where educationally appropriate, the numbers are about the same. When student numbers go up or down, staffing levels are adjusted accordingly.

Because the preschool system consists of separate units - single and double units - different methods need to be adopted to match the number of teachers to the number of students. I think members are well aware that, as well as adjusting the number of teachers in a unit, it is necessary to make sure that the numbers of places are as close as possible to a multiple of 25. The number of places at some units is reduced while at others the number of places is increased. This has occurred every year, including during the time of the previous Labor Government. In the last year alone, for example, four preschools were increased and 10 were decreased.

Members will have noted that our budget maintains the funding in real terms. Obviously, it is expected that declining enrolments will lead to some reduction in overall expenditure. However, after taking into account the impact of that reduction, the budget has still been increased by 3 per cent. I think that, when you compare us with our interstate counterparts, that is considerably better. I might leave it to some of my colleagues to mention just what happens interstate. So, basically, we have absolutely no problem with the first part of your motion, Mr Berry.

The second part of the motion is that the Assembly endorses the Education Committee's inquiry. I think that Assembly committee reports are an important part of Assembly operations. We look forward to receiving the Education Committee's report. We are confident that the committee is mindful of the concern in the community and the need for an early report. That is why Mr Osborne's amendment suggesting that date, I think, is realistic and sensible. It is important, because parent decisions are influenced by the preschool adjustment process made each year. If the process drags on - and the Government will certainly not be supporting Ms Tucker's proposed amendment - it puts us a further year behind.

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