Page 2355 - Week 06 - Friday, 27 June 2008

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I do not think it is a matter of funding. Rather, I think that the problems in public schools are largely to do with the lack of focus or perceived lack of focus on core subjects and the lack of enforcement of reasonable standards of behaviour among problem students. Parents with young children are particularly and primarily concerned about ensuring that their children are taught the kinds of core skills that they will need to pursue further educational training as adults and to be able to enter the adult world with many opportunities.

They are concerned about such core skills as numeracy, mathematics, reading and writing—skills which form the basis for further study in other areas. They also need to be assured that disciplinary issues at the school will be resolved well enough to ensure that their child’s education is not disturbed or impaired. This is a critical point, in my view. One of the greatest virtues, I believe, of private schools, whether they are independent, Catholic or whatever, is that they are able to guarantee that classes and students will not be disrupted by ill-disciplined students.

I know of teachers in the public system here in Canberra who report that it is not uncommon for one or two children to be able to disrupt a class of 30. One teacher has told me that he has had punches thrown at him by teenage students who face few, if any, sanctions from this conduct. So is it little wonder that so many parents choose to put their children into private education? I have never subscribed to the view, certainly in this city, that parents are putting their children into private schools because of some perceived status. That is often the sort of claim from those who have a negative view of the private sector.

I have talked to people at functions and even social barbecues who have said that they are working and battling to pay for their kids’ tuition fees because they want to get them into the private system because they do not have sufficient confidence about these discipline issues within the public sector. I was at the architects dinner with the minister the other night. There was a well-known journalist sitting at our table and she said she is working in the media so that she can afford to pay the school fees for her kids to go to a well-known private school and get a quality education.

There is no way that a parent could have absolute confidence that their child will be safe and receive a quality education if this level of disruption is allowed to happen. My comments are not meant to criticise teachers and school staff. They are in a most difficult position. I have raised these points to show that, although the government has made welcome investment in the public school system, until we are able to guarantee behavioural standards in schools a large number of parents will continue to put their children into private education.

These are not issues that are raised by people who may have unreasonably high demands. These are issues coming up at shopping centres in Canberra from people in the teaching profession in the public system. I have had it at Yarralumla. One teacher came up to me at Cooleman Court three weeks ago. She broke into tears while she was speaking to me about her experience in trying to maintain discipline. When she chastised a student over their work, she was immediately threatened that she would be basically driven under the weight of a racial discrimination allegation if she criticised

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