Page 2353 - Week 06 - Friday, 27 June 2008

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Again, this is what I talk about when I say, “Put the climate change test to things; put the social test.” It is not just about money and it is even not just about having excellent schools; it is about the interaction between those kids who attend that school and their parents. If their parents feel disengaged from education, I tell you what, so will those kids.

In relation to that, I also wanted to speak briefly about the early childhood education centres. I need to be convinced that that was a good idea. I must thank Kathy Melsom for the government briefing that I had. She is a passionate advocate. I am convinced that it is a really good idea. I am really concerned about the logistics of it. Let me tell you why. Again, there is the same issue: children will have to be dropped off by their parents on their way to work. It will be convenient for the family with children of a range of ages from zero to eight. We will have the wealthy middle-class family who is looking for childcare.

But the subtext, and another aim of these schools, is to provide services to the less advantaged kids in our society, those children perhaps on the spectrum of neglect or with parents who do not have an interest in education or who have health issues or whatever. So it is meant to catch those people and to be a site where children can be offered the whole range of services. I think that is really good but my alarm bells ring when I see that it is an attempt to bring together two very different kinds of children—some who are going to be choosing to go, and others who may be going because child protection says that is the right place for them.

The other thing about these schools is that, again, we are going to have four of them, starting next year, though it does not look as though they will be fully up and running till towards the end of next year, if then. Children are going to be coming in from all over Canberra. Again, this means driving and it means that the children, when they reach the age of eight, probably in grade 2 or at the end of the grade 2, have got to make that transition to another school. I am concerned about that.

I have been told that children, when they reach that age, will have priority of going to their local schools. I have asked a question on notice; I am trying to seek clarification as to whether that is the local school according to where their home is or the local school according to where the early childhood school they attend is. I think it is really important that children can stay with their cohort at that age.

Let us talk about Narrabundah, because that is a school I know. This is happening there. Narrabundah has always been a very special school and has had lots of resources put into it, because some of our most disadvantaged kids go there. There is a high degree of Indigenous kids. Over the last couple of years, it has seen an erosion in the number of middle-class kids. That is shorthand; let us call it that. They are choosing to go to another school. What we are seeing is a residual school, where families who choose, choose to go elsewhere. And they are choosing other government schools or they are choosing Catholic schools or they are choosing private schools. That is something that has proceeded apace. I have to say that the 2020 scheme, where people knew that their school was going to be changed unutterably, also precipitated that process.

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