Page 4311 - Week 12 - Tuesday, 13 October 2009

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The opposition welcomes the initiative of giving principals more autonomy when it comes to decision making surrounding behaviour management. However, we also believe it simply does not go far enough. We believe that we should increase the current limit of five days to 20 days suspension, which will at least bring us in line with other jurisdictions nationwide. In this way, the Education Amendment Bill will take away some of the red tape and frustration of the principals associated with referring matters to the CEO of ACT Education and provide much needed autonomy.

However, we feel it is also imperative that there is significant concentration on the strengthening of the support measures required to be in place to assist those students who may need to be suspended for an extended period of time. There are myriad circumstances and situations that could see a student face the full suspension of 10 or 20 days administered at a school level, but it would be important to know that these students are afforded the opportunity as well as being required to seek appropriate counselling for an appropriate length of time. The opposition have sought in our amendments to the bill to ensure that a student who has been suspended for 10 days or more attends a minimum of three counselling sessions.

We are aware of the lack of resources currently available to schools to address these problems adequately, and the provision of the additional number of counsellors and psychologists in our schools, particularly in high schools, is another argument and is one that warrants particular and urgent attention. But, of course, before you can address these problems you have to actually admit there is a problem. Again, that seems to be the major stumbling block with this minister: where spin is concerned, he is out there, but when problems are highlighted he seems to be just missing in action.

I am sure the minister is aware of the difficulties faced by the school counsellors currently working in ACT government schools. At best, these counsellors must spread their expertise across a number of schools, and the schools that have to share a counsellor may only get access to adequate counselling services on a couple of days in any given school week. This has been an ongoing problem and it can be safely said that this government have not come close to addressing it.

The students that may be on the receiving end of the extended suspension period will probably be, in most cases, students that have the potential to disengage from learning altogether. We heard recently during a public hearing, as part of the education committee’s inquiry into the achievement gap, that there are some serious resource issues faced by organisations that support students who have disengaged from learning. The lack of a long-term funding guarantee and demand for assistance currently outweighing the capacity for them to supply the services are factors that are hindering the delivery of these programs.

Today, we are talking about those students who may well require the assistance of these programs—students who are on the verge of disengaging from school. There is an extreme need for us in this place to reassess the behaviour management practice in ACT schools to stop the vicious cycle that these young people face.

I would now like to address the other end of the behaviour management spectrum—that is, the perspective of potential victims of antisocial behaviour in ACT schools.

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