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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 7 Hansard (24 June) . . Page.. 2407 ..

Wednesday, 25 June 2003

MS TUCKER (12.08 am): One of the features in the report into ACT education funding released earlier this year was the warning signs identified by author Lyndsay Connors, namely:

allowing pockets of poverty and social differentiation to take hold in the ACT school system will diminish the system's capacity to provide quality schooling across all schools and communities; and

a high proportion of the territory's teaching force is approaching retirement age.

In regards to poverty and social differentiation: clearly, the moderate increase in the small equity fund is a step in the right direction, but there are other forces involved. The reality is that all of Australia's education systems are extensively funded by government. The difference is that the public or government systems are required to accept all students in their area, whereas the independent and Catholic systems have the freedom of choice, the right to choose whom they accept and whom they don't.

As increased government funding has become available to the selective school systems, a flow-on competition between government schools, encouraged by the Carnell government, has become established in the ACT. The problem is that, if the easy, bright, middle-class, healthy kids all congregate in the selective systems, too many government schools will be left with just the kids who need the most support or become residual.

Innovative programs, such as high schools for the new millennium and schools as communities, are constructing initiatives, although the level of outsourcing is too low. Government has also picked up on the Connors recommendation to invest in curriculum support, which is yet another example of this government having to undo the damage caused by the last one. But unless there is more release time for the teachers, the value of that initiative remains uncertain.

There has been much discussion also of the youth workers in schools initiative that arguably picks up on numerous recommendations over the years to government to fund individual support for young people who need it. As the chair of a number of different inquiries on related matters, I would like to put on the record that those ideas were usually driven by the idea of bringing the youth sector expertise into the school environment, while softening the edges between school and community.

The problem with the education department itself employing the youth workers and then placing them permanently in a school is that the employee will owe their loyalty to the school and the department rather than the student. For many students, the question of confidentiality is crucial, and previous experience with staff in schools has made them cautious. I understand that the issue is still in negotiation, and I urge the minister sincerely to really consider the outcomes of the students before all else on this one.

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