Page 3358 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 20 August 2008

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There is much that could have been said. The minister has put out a discussion paper about increasing the school age. It sounds good and gets people talking, but I am wondering about how much the government really wants to know the answer to that question and how much it wants to appear to be consulting on an educational matter. My concern is what we are doing about the children who are falling through the gaps now. A couple of years ago, I was told there were about 200 children in the ACT who have just fallen out of the system all together even though they are not old enough to leave school. I know of children in my own suburb, Narrabundah, who do not go to school. I know they do not go to school; everyone knows they do not go to school. But there is no follow-up on that. These children are young; they should be at primary school—perhaps one of them should be at high school—but what is their future? They do not have parents, and there is no-one there creating a structure in which they go to school.

I happen to think that education is the most crucial thing that makes a difference to your life and work. Without an education, you will not get work. I want to see real, concerted efforts to get all our kids to schools, and that means the schools have to be appropriate so that kids do not see school as a gaol system. It is hard; it is a real challenge, but that is the measure of our education system. That will take investment, but that investment needs to be mostly investment in teachers and the other personnel in our schools.

MR BARR (Molonglo—Minister for Education and Training, Minister for Planning, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Minister for Industrial Relations) (3:59): I thank Ms MacDonald for raising this important matter and the previous speakers for adding to the debate. I will just make a few comments around some of the observations that the Leader of the Opposition and Dr Foskey made before I address a couple of other important issues that are priorities for the government.

In the first instance, Mr Seselja made an observation around the gap in student performance. Unless I misheard him, I thought he indicated that public schools had a responsibility to reduce the gap in student performance. I certainly agree that public schools do have that responsibility, but I would extend that responsibility to all schools. I do not think it should fall on the public education system to be solely responsible for reducing the gap in student achievement. As Mr Seselja has indicated himself, not all students who attend non-government schools are from high socioeconomic backgrounds. It is incumbent on all schools in our education system to be striving to reduce the gap in student performance.

It was also interesting to note Mr Seselja’s comments in derogatory terms in relation to schools that go across year levels. I wonder how those comments apply to Orana school, Emmaus Christian school, Brindabella Christian school and Burgmann Anglican school. There are a number of schools in the non-government system that offer education from preschool all the way through to years 10 or 12 where there are students from four years of age right through to 16 or 17 on the one campus. Again, to suggest that this is in some way unique to the public system or that it is a bad education model is an unfortunate remark. Unfortunately, it reflects on all of those schools which offer an outstanding education program and which provide great continuity of education and an emotional connection for students with their school throughout their years of schooling.

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