Page 2874 - Week 08 - Tuesday, 5 August 2008

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The children notice it, too. I have children who have just finished in primary schools in the ACT. When they moved from year 3 to year 4, and moved out of a class of 21 into a class of 30, because it was a fully subscribed school, they noticed the difference. They suddenly realised that they were in a much larger pool. It is much harder. There is all of the research. Mr Seselja has pointed to it; Mr Pratt has pointed to it. There is much more research.

All the research shows that in smaller class sizes, as with smaller schools, the classes and the schools are more like a community. The teachers and the children know each other better. It is more likely that a learning difficulty or a behavioural problem will be found and addressed in a smaller class. It is not just kindergarten kids or kids in year 2 who have learning difficulties and behavioural problems. Children in years 4, 5 and 6 are more inclined to have behavioural problems which are not being addressed than to have learning difficulties, which probably will have been picked up before.

But this is the age where it matters. One of my children, when she was finishing primary school, was in a large year 6 class with a couple of new kids in it. Some were extraordinarily disruptive. They came to the school. In the ACT system, they had been moved around from pillar to post. Instead of addressing their needs, they were just moved to another school. It was extraordinarily disruptive for the children; it was extraordinarily disruptive for the teachers. And it was no good for the kid, who just had a reputation for being moved from school to school. When they are one in a class of 30, it is just much harder to address those needs.

It is clear that parents want these things. When I was the shadow minister for education, the teachers in years 4, 5 and 6, the people who deliver the classroom services for our children, consistently said to me, “What we want is the same class sizes as in K to 3.” What we have actually got from Andrew Barr today, as on the date this policy was announced, is a turning of his back on the teachers—the people who deliver, the people who make it possible for our children to learn, the people he is talking about. He says that he is interested in teacher quality. The first thing teachers ask is this: “If I am to deliver quality teaching in a quality environment, I need a smaller class size.” This is what they say.

What we have got is the Stanhope government turning its back on teachers. It is instructive to look at the Stanhope government’s policies in relation to schools in this term—primary schools in particular, but schools generally. It has always been about closing something or building something. It has always been about bricks and mortar. It has been that we have too many classrooms, we have empty desks or we need to spend money on capital works. It has always been about bricks and mortar.

It has never been about people. It has never been about providing the right environment and the right mix of classroom sizes for the people, for the teachers. It has always been about bricks and mortar. It has been about either closing something or having something that they can open. They are looking forward to having a few opening ceremonies or a few walk-throughs in almost open buildings so that they can try and shore up some of their brownie points in education close to the election.

What happens when you talk to the people in the shopping centres—when you go to the Belconnen markets—and you say, “Have you heard about the Liberal Party policy

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