Page 819 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 2 April 2008

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It is a pleasure to move this motion on the Towards 2020 program and to mention some of the alternative ideas that have been floating around. The first part of my motion deals with the impact of the drift of students away from the ACT government system and the extensive disruption to local communities in the education system caused by the Towards 2020 program. It is worth going into some of the figures in relation to the drift.

The school census as at 20 February 2008 showed that between 2007 and 2008 the number of students in government schools declined by 310. That is a drop of 0.8 per cent. This compares with the overall 0.2 per cent increase in students from 2007, comprising 123 students overall, and it begs the question: what are the enrolment targets in relation to 2020?

From 2004 to 2008 government school numbers decreased by 1,564 students, or 3.9 percent. This compares with an overall decline in student numbers of only 0.5 per cent from 2004 to 2008, or 347 students. In non-government schools there has been an increase of 1.7 percent, or 433 students. That is just in the last year, between 2007 and 2008. This figure absorbs all the loss from the government sector and picks up extra demand.

It is clear that Towards 2020 is being judged by parents and families, who are voting with their feet. This is an unfortunate outcome. It is unfortunate that the promise of the minister and the Towards 2020 program to prevent the drift from the government sector to the non-government sector that has been going on for a number of years is not happening. We are seeing a continual drift to the non-government sector and we need to ask: why are we seeing this drift? Why are people in the ACT choosing to pay for something that they could otherwise get for free?

I am a great supporter of both sectors, the government sector and the non-government sector. Unlike the Labor Party, we believe that the non-government sector deserves to be supported and that it actually does contribute a great deal to the community. But I do not want to see and I do not think that those involved with the non-government sector would want to see a situation where the government sector becomes the sector that is the choice of people who cannot afford to send their kids to non-government schools. I do not think that would be a good outcome. Whilst the non-government sector adds a great deal to our community, I would not want to see a situation where the government sector is for those who cannot afford the non-government sector.

That is not the case at the moment—not yet—but as the drift continues and as more and more parents choose to take their kids from their local government school or not to send their child to their local school and instead choose to send their child to a Catholic school or an independent school, that drift will continue. While that drift continues, these concerns will become more and more real. If we look ahead five, 10 and 20 years and we see a majority of students in the non-government sector, that could well become an irreversible drift. The momentum that would be gathered as a result of such a shift would become very difficult to restrain.

We need to look at some of the reasons why this is happening. Recently I spoke with representatives of independent schools. It was an internal discussion and I do not want

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