Page 2921 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 6 August 2008

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I do not want a public education system that is second best. We are serious about having an ACT public school system that is world class. Our policy is an important way of delivering it. That is why we will appoint 150 new primary teachers, plus 20 teacher assistants, to help kids across the board. We will reinstate 35 new high school teachers and also I will go out and hand-pick the best graduates. As well we will invest in increased training for all teachers, including existing staff. We will also attract mature-age graduates in areas of need such as maths, science and IT.

Canberra Liberals started the process of mandating smaller class sizes at the start of this decade. Labor has taken the policy to year 3 but then stalled, and under Mr Barr they have been going backwards. Stanhope Labor has completely the wrong approach on class sizes. They have merged schools and forced students to consolidate onto larger campuses and larger classes to achieve their efficiencies. Since 2006 Labor has dismembered large parts of the public education system, stripping the system of spare parts and dollars.

We see education funding as an investment in our future. It is an investment that will pay dividends through a more skilled workforce, better paid jobs and lower social disadvantage. It is time the ACT had a government that is prepared to put public education at the top of its priorities. It is worth reflecting once again, Mr Deputy Speaker, on what this government’s focus has been in the area of education.

That focus has not been about lowering class sizes other than in one year, and then it stopped. Their focus now has simply been about rationalisation of schools, about shutting down schools based on the claim that putting students into ever-larger schools and the relatively small efficiencies that we see produced as a result of this will somehow producing better outcomes. We know that not to be the case. We know the data does not show that to be the case, and the focus on the school closure program, the focus on this massive breach of faith with the community, has distracted this government and this minister from actually making real reforms in our education system which will have a lasting effect.

Mr Barr is going to point to the fact that he closed schools, he consolidated and he made some efficiency savings and that this is the great reform in education. There is no evidence to suggest that this is going to improve the outcomes of our students, particularly those who are struggling. How are we going to address this gap? He has done nothing to address the fact that parents in the ACT continue to choose private schooling over public schooling. We have to ask why that is. Is it because this government has not shown a commitment? Is it because they have actually lost faith in this government’s management of public education, most particularly as a result of their determination to close schools, having promised not to do so prior to the election?

This may well go to the heart of it. But it is the distraction of this and the lack of rigour that we have seen from the government and from the minister in education and in actually improving outcomes that has forced this minister into retreat. This is why we have come up with this policy to lower class sizes, and all Minister Barr can do is oppose it. All he can do is oppose it. In fact, he did not have the guts in the chamber yesterday to actually back the bogus figures put out by the Treasurer. He did not want

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