Page 3359 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Of course, it is a matter of choice for students and parents. We have within our education system a number of different configurations so that children are able to attend P-12 schools, P-10 schools or P-6 schools. Children can even go through the education system by doing four years, at an early childhood school, then moving on at year 3 to a primary school or a middle schooling program, having years 9 and 10 in another setting and then moving on again for years 11 and 12 separately. It is a matter of choice. I think it is a good thing that our education system offers that choice and that you can have that range of educational experiences in both the public and private school systems within a city of our size. I think that is important.
In relation to the issues around class sizes, I know that Mr Seselja is desperate for some sort of a quote from me. In previous debates he has said, “Commentators like the minister.” Just to reassure Mr Seselja, I am not a commentator in this debate; I am a public policy advocate. I am here representing a particular view; that is what politicians do. I do not tend to sit back and observe the process; I am a participant in it, putting forward ideas and debating those. The question and the challenge that faces the education system across the board in terms of class sizes is why should we just focus on years 4, 5 and 6? What about years 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12? What about—I do agree with Dr Foskey here—the capacity for schools to have flexibility? I think in some settings it is appropriate for class sizes to be as small as six to eight, and we have that in the public system. In many other settings, the groups are between 10 and 15 students. In fact, the average class size across the system in the upper primary years is in the order of 24 or 24.5 students.
There are some classes that are up to the maximum size, but there are others that are well below Mr Seselja’s goal of 21. We need that flexibility in our school system. We need to ensure that we are putting downward pressure on class sizes across all levels of schooling, not just years 4, 5 and 6. What about high schools? What about colleges? That is why the government has invested in pastoral care coordinators and additional staff in our colleges to take some of the pressure off teachers by providing specialist support in those areas. Each time we are able to supplement resources for a specific purpose, be it pastoral care or careers advice, that takes a load off existing classroom teachers and it means we have the capacity to have smaller classes in our high schools and colleges.
Through a range of investments in our primary school sector, we have also been able to drive the average class size down. When you look at the data in terms of student-teacher ratios in the ACT, since 2003 to 2007 the ratio for primary schools has fallen from 15.1 students per teacher to 13.6. That compares with an Australian average of 15.7 in the government system. In the secondary system, we have one teacher for every 12.2 students, and that is just below the Australian average of one teacher for every 12.3. It is interesting when you compare that with the non-government system where there has been a slight reduction in the student teacher ratio in the primary sector from 18.1 to 17.3 and from 12.9 to 12.8 in the secondary system.
In the time remaining I want to respond to a couple of points that Dr Foskey raised, most particularly in relation to some of the schools that did close. She talked in terms of greenhouse gases. I understand and acknowledge that there are and always will be transport issues associated with getting to and from school, and that is why we invest