Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 08 Hansard (Tuesday, 5 August 2008) . . Page.. 2871 ..
MR BARR (Molonglo—Minister for Education and Training, Minister for Planning, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Minister for Industrial Relations) (4.00): There is an old saying—and it is the title of the TV show hosted by Andrew Denton—about giving someone enough rope. We have just witnessed from the Leader of the Opposition the centrepiece of his campaign to be Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, and he spent half his speech talking about anything but his policy initiative. That is a clear indication that he does not know the detail and he has not done any of the research. If he had done so, he would recognise that there are a range of factors that will lead to improved student outcomes in the ACT.
Let me make it clear that the position of the Labor Party in government is for small class sizes in the early years where they are most effective. And we have clearly delivered on that commitment over a number of years.
There are four important factors that affect student achievement. One is having appropriately resourced schools of a sufficient size to deliver a strong and challenging curriculum, which leads into the second point, which is the importance of the curriculum. Another crucial factor, and perhaps the most important, is the quality of teaching. I note that the Leader of the Opposition, in breathless anticipation of what I might say, issued a media release last week suggesting that I was in some way backing away from or had performed some sort of backflip on small class sizes. I re-emphasise the point that this government’s position, and the position of the Australian Labor Party, has been to support smaller class sizes in the early years of schooling, where they have the most significant impact.
It is worth noting that there has been considerable commentary in relation to the opposition leader’s initiative. I will quote from a source that members would be aware is not one that I regularly agree with. Nonetheless, Mr Cobbold from the Save Our Schools group always provides some interesting food for thought in the education debate. He indicated that “across-the-board reductions in class sizes are expensive and that there are more cost-effective ways to improve student outcomes”. He continued:
There is evidence that improving teacher quality contributes more to increasing student outcomes than class size reductions. … There is little evidence that small class sizes in Years 4-6 and in high school increase student achievement. A recent large study published by the Department for Education and Skills in England found no evidence that Year 4-6 students in small classes achieved better results than students in larger classes.
That is the view of Mr Cobbold, based on a compendium of available research. He does make reference to the STAR project that Mr Pratt and Mr Seselja referred to. He looked at some peer reviews of that project but found that the results could only find, at best, modest improvement. He pointed out that the STAR project was talking about class sizes of 13 to 17 students, down from class sizes of around 30. I am not entirely sure that the Liberal Party are promising at this point class sizes of 13 to 17, down from class sizes in the mid to high 20s.
Mr Seselja seems more interested in my commentary on his policy than he is in his own policy, so let me provide the government’s response. We have indicated that we will not be seeking to match Mr Seselja’s initiative. We believe there are other ways