Page 4190 - Week 11 - Thursday, 17 Sept 2009

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MR HARGREAVES: On that point, Mr Speaker, I indicated earlier on in answer to a question from Mr Hanson saying the same thing: the responsibility for that does not rest with me; it rests with another minister.


MS BRESNAN: My question is to the minister for education and concerns the education committee report tabled today. Minister, key evidence you used to support the school closures was a document by Professor Caldwell, based on US research on school size. It is interesting to note that Professor Caldwell had not spoken to the ACT government about this research and that his document comes up as number one when someone does a search on school size research in Google Australia. Minister, can you please advise what research you did and assure the chamber that your office did not simply use a Google search to conduct research analysis?

MR BARR: The Department of Education and Training undertook a broad range of assessments in relation to the totality of the towards 2020 policy. There is an extensive amount of research available on a number of different education models and a number of different education factors that were considered in bringing forward the policy in its initial public release in 2006.

To go to the detail of Ms Bresnan’s question around the international research in relation to school size, this is something that we did discuss at some length during the committee hearings. What is interesting in the context of this debate is that the argument that has been put forward by some is that small schools, undefined, deliver a better outcome than large schools, undefined. With respect to the context of any international research, and most particularly that which Professor Caldwell and his team relied on in presenting their particular summary paper in relation to school size, the size of schools in an international context is much larger than is the case in the ACT. A large school overseas has sometimes up to 3,000 to 4,000 students. A small school in an overseas context is perhaps very similar to what would be a large school in the ACT context.

We spent a fair amount of time in the committee hearings having arguments in relation to what was meant when someone talked about a small school versus a large school in the context of this international research. To put it into some perspective, a primary school in the ACT with between 200 and 400 students would be in the mid-range, heading towards large, in the context of the ACT education system. But in any international context, and certainly even in an Australian context, in other metropolitan areas, that would be towards the smaller end of a school size.

In the semantics around this debate, it is often the case that people say one thing and think they are arguing very passionately for small schools when in fact they are arguing exactly the position that the ACT government adopted—that is, and as backed up by the ACT principals association in their evidence to the committee, a good size for a primary school is between about 200 and 400 students, and in the context of a high school, somewhere between about 600 and 1,000.

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