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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 08 Hansard (Wednesday, 6 August 2008) . . Page.. 2931 ..

We are increasingly looking at our schools as an opportunity for social and health interventions to improve the prospects of our young people. The early childhood schools are a valiant first attempt at this. Teachers are at the front line of children’s out-of-family interactions with the world. Teachers need time to have that all-important conversation with a child, which can be perhaps life saving and certainly future changing for some kids. Reducing class sizes alone will not do that; bringing in other teachers and community experts at strategic times will. It will also improve the quality of teachers’ work conditions and remove from them the burden of being experts in everything from language to arts and sciences and to childhood development. Let us think creatively about this. It really is too important to come up with formulaic responses.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (12.12): Mr Speaker, you know the minister is in trouble when he comes in with 26 amendments to a motion that he knows is fundamentally correct and you know the minister is in trouble when he comes in and reads deadpan his speech but will not go to the heart of the matter. The heart of the Labor Party attack on this policy was the costings.

We saw the Chief Minister make the tactical mistake of releasing the treasury costings, costings that, in the main, back up what the opposition have said or are based on wrong assumptions. The minister is willing to put out press releases in the public bagging our costings but he will not come in here and take it to task because he knows that ministers should not mislead the Assembly. That is what he would have done had he run the rant that they have run in public.

Let us go to the heart of this issue: what is good for the students of the ACT. What is good for the students of the ACT is greater contact with teachers, and the only way you can achieve that, the only meaningful way you can achieve that, is to reduce the size of the class so that the students can individually spend more time with their teachers.

It is great having high-quality teachers—and we all want that—but if they are caught up in the burden of administration and dealing with troublesome children, then they are not being given the opportunity to do what they went to teachers college and university for, teach. It is interesting that the minister ignores the facts when they do not suit him.

There is a piece of research—and the reference is Blatchford, Moriarty, Edmonds and Martin—that says that in year 1, on average, teachers with small classes reported using 76 per cent of their overall classroom time to teach; whereas, with class sizes over 26 or more students, teachers reported using 70 per cent of their overall time to teach. And that is the problem. If you are not, as a teacher, being allowed to teach, then you are not doing what you want and what you are paid to do. And that is what this policy seeks to do, to increase the hours of contact between all students and their teachers so that students get better outcomes, teachers get greater satisfaction and we as a society enable our kids to reach their potential, whatever it is they want to do.

But the minister is not interested in that. The minister has not got the moral fibre to stand up and say, “Yes, this is a good initiative. Yes, we should have done more.” The

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