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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 10 Hansard (24 November) . . Page.. 2827 ..

MR BERRY (continuing):

better outcomes for students, though when I look at the Government's performance in the last budget I worry about the future of our education system. I worry about the worth of government promises. I also worry about the worth of other members in this place when they make promises about education and the eventual impact when they break those promises.

MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education) (5.11), in reply: I thank Mr Berry for his comments, most of which, for him, were reasonably positive, although I will start by correcting a couple of comments he made. He is starting to sound like a broken record on Charnwood High. Perhaps I should reiterate what was said in the debate three years ago and reiterated a few times since. There was a six-year decline in numbers at Charnwood, and guess who was in government for most of that time? That lot opposite were.

Mr Berry also sounds like a broken record in relation to the extra $400,000 for literacy. I do not know how many times I have to say it. From the budget figures for schools, there was an extra $4.2m, consistent with the 1.8 per cent increase in CPI, and indeed $400,000 extra for literacy. As I think I said in my statement, that is on top of the additional $300,000 before then. Mr Berry has at least recognised the importance of literacy and numeracy. As he himself says - and I wish he would take note of it - you have to be very careful with figures. That is certainly something he should take note of himself.

I welcome the debate on the importance of literacy in the education of our young people. Mr Berry is certainly correct in saying how important this is. He is also correct in saying that it is important to make sure that people do not fall between the cracks. That is quite clearly something we are trying to prevent with our literacy statement. We have had two years of testing for literacy and numeracy in the primary schools, and that will be extended to high schools next year. This will enable us to pick for the first time where each and every student is at, so that we can assist students who may otherwise fall through the cracks.

There have been considerable advances in literacy and numeracy in Australia over recent decades. As I recall, figures indicate that for young people under the age of 24 about only 9 per cent now could be classed as effectively functionally illiterate and not numerate. That is a considerable improvement on probably what the situation was some decades ago. There are still young people, quite obviously, who need extra assistance, and that is why it is so terribly important that we have a strategy.

I think it is clear that no-one in this Assembly does not believe that literacy skills are absolutely fundamental and overwhelmingly important in giving students the foundation that they need to fulfil their potential in society and in the world of work that awaits them on completion of their school years. I am proud of the work this Government has done and what it has achieved towards ensuring that ACT students leave school with the very best literacy skills we can help them achieve. I am proud too of the effective and very productive partnerships that teachers in our schools have formed with parents and carers in working on improved literacy skills for students.

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