Page 3353 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 20 August 2008

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plans that I am aware of for the CEO or other organisations to be closing those schools. They see the value of that. They see that financially it can work and they see all of the benefits that go with that. One of the reasons we chose the school that we did for the education of our children was that it was smaller than our local school. It was a few hundred children smaller. We made a deliberate choice to choose an out-of-area school because we did not want our child to get lost.

Parents will have different views as to whether they see opportunities in sending their child to a larger school. But this one-size-fits-all model and the move to push as many kids as we can into these superschools are of concern to many parents. We get many parents at both our forums and at shopping centres; people send us emails, write and call our office. There are very few parents—I cannot remember anyone; I stand corrected but I cannot remember one parent—who have come up to me and said, “I think these superschools are great; I think the concept is fantastic; I am looking forward to my child going there.”

There may well be parents out there who believe that, but the parents who have spoken to me generally raise concerns. The concerns are these: “I do not want my 4½-year-old or five-year-old mixing with men who drive at school—16-year-olds and 17-year-olds who will be at the same school.” That is a very natural and genuine parental concern. I have not had anyone come up to me and say, “Gee, I think these superschools are great; gee, they are going to do wonderful things for my child.”

As I say, there may be parents out there who see the opportunities. Of course, there are some opportunities that go with having larger schools that you cannot quite replicate in smaller schools. But I would submit that there are inherent risks in it and I think the natural parental instinct tells you that; it tells you: “There is something that I am just a bit concerned about on this.”

One of the outcomes of the school closure debate has been that there has been a lot of focus on which schools should and should not close. The government pitted one school community against another because of the way it did things. But in the end the outcome of closing these 23 schools has been this push to superschools, and the ramifications of that are as yet unknown. Perhaps people in the early stages are quite impressed. We have new facilities and large facilities, but as that infrastructure ages and we see some of the issues that are inherent in this model we may well see a very strong backlash against this model.

The achievement gap is something that still concerns us in the education system. The achievement gap is something that we need to be hitting at the primary school level. We still have large gaps between the achievement of kids from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. That should concern us all. Our public school system should be continually striving. In our policies, we should be continually striving to try and bridge that gap.

We cannot fix every problem. We cannot change the fact that there will always be some gap between the best students and the worst students. But we do not want to see a situation where, as a result of this continuing move to non-government education—we are great supporters of non-government education. We support its right to exist; we support its right to adequate and decent government funding—absolutely. I send

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