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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 2 Hansard (28 February) . . Page.. 368 ..

MR OSBORNE (continuing):

Mr Speaker, last year-about August, I think-my office was approached by a group of parents about temperature control in temporary classrooms, the demountable buildings. They said that winter was okay because heaters were turned on; but summer, especially in the previous year, had become almost unbearably hot. They said that some teachers had recorded temperatures inside in the mid-40s, with some students getting bad headaches and even nosebleeds. Obviously, no-one can learn properly or teach properly, for that matter in that kind of environment.

Temporary classrooms are in fairly widespread use in the south of Tuggeranong and, obviously, do not have the same insulation that permanent school buildings have. I believe that the problems caused by high temperatures are the government's responsibility, but so far the government's attitude has been classic buck-passing. The minister claims that, if the temperature is a problem, it is up to each individual school to fix it out of its budget. That means that schools have to make savings out of their discretionary spending, such as funds set aside for maintenance or cleaning.

That attitude is not acceptable. Surely it is the government's role to provide school buildings that are fit to teach and learn in. Adequate heating and cooling equipment ought to be basic, standard issue, not a luxury only rich schools can afford. The schools do not have enough fat in their discretionary spending to kit out a temporary classroom with airconditioning. Even if they did, why should schools be expected to spend money they have saved for, perhaps, new library books or computer equipment on what should already be a basic part of their building?

Last year, the minister told the Assembly that each school could fix the problem any time it wanted out of its own funds, but he did agree to monitor the situation over this summer. Specifically, the department was to keep a record of temperatures in relocatable classrooms. I trust that this work has been done. I know that many of the classrooms are also being monitored by the students, parents and teachers working in them. I understand from student records at Gordon primary that the temperature in some of the temporary classrooms there has been over 30 degrees Celsius for the majority of the last 30 school days. I think I heard the minister dispute those figures last week, so it will be interesting to compare notes at the end of summer.

As Mr Berry said, the government's own OH&S policy regarding temperature is very specific. The situation inside temporary classrooms during school weeks in summer is a clear breach of aspects of this policy. Studies already show that very cold and very high temperatures produce the same types of responses as those of a person affected by alcohol. That teachers do not take action is due in no small part to their dedication to their students. The irony is that if high school or college students were being taught in these classrooms, they could all be sent home for the day once the temperature got over 32 degrees Celsius. Because primary schools have a duty of care for their students and cannot send them home during the school day, the government is able to take advantage of the good nature of the teachers.

The minister has been out to one of the schools, Gordon primary, and experienced what the learning environment there is like first-hand. He also attended a public rally of students and some of their parents, along with Mr Berry and me. I, like Mr Berry, was staggered at the response from the parents and the children. I have not seen a rally like that, especially the anger from the parents and the young children, for a long time.

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