EDUCATION AMENDMENT BILL 2009
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 11 March 2009.
Mr JOHN WILLIAMS
(Murray-Darling) [10.53 a.m.]: I speak briefly on the Education Amendment Bill 2009. I draw the attention of the House to the difficulties of education in far west New South Wales, in particular the indigenous centres of Dareton and Wilcannia. We would like to see students in those areas to still be at school when they reach the age of 17, but one of the biggest difficulties is the lack of attendance by the students. The Government continually talks about the value of a good education and the opportunity to build a bridge from education to employment. That is being denied families in far west New South Wales where this Government has not shown a duty of care in ensuring that these children have an opportunity to break the current cycle and participate in getting an education. Having enough resources available to ensure they can get to school in the first place is just as important as encouraging them to learn.
Attendance at school in Dareton and Wilcannia is a problem for the future of those centres. In effect, the students do not attend school. The school does not have the means to ensure that students attend school and that when they get there they stay there, and there are not enough resources to ensure that students walk away with a learning experience. I have listened to debate on this bill and I have noted the point that every person has a certain skill in life that needs to be recognised during the education process. We need the resources to be able to recognise a student's skill, to encourage the student to make the most of it, and to direct that student into the area of employment that is most suitable for him or her. Rather than the education system being one size fits all, it needs to be flexible enough to ensure that students who demonstrate a certain skill in an area can have that skill developed with a view to getting the full benefit of that skill later in the workforce.
The schools are underresourced. Many things that are taken for granted in the city by students going through their education process are not available in parts of the Blue Mountains. We must ensure that problems, such as the skills shortage we are currently experiencing, are addressed before they become a crisis. We need the ability to identify those students who have the hand-skills and the ability to fill the void in the employment structure in regional areas and thereby ensure that the necessary skills are available to employers. I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this bill.
Mr RICHARD AMERY
(Mount Druitt) [10.57 a.m.]: I make a couple of comments on a bill that I believe is not only reformist but a bill that has instigated quite a considerable amount of public debate. The Education Amendment Bill 2009 has a very small overview and description. The overview states:
The object of this Bill is to change the current school leaving age of 15 years by requiring children:
(a) to complete Year 10 of secondary education (unless they have reached the age of 17 years), and
(b) if they have completed Year 10 but have not reached the age of 17 years:
(i) to continue with their school education, or
(ii) to participate on a full-time basis in approved education or training or, if they have reached the age of 15 years, in paid work.
When this matter was first raised in public there was a lot of concern that the Government was trying to somehow reduce costs within the system and reduce unemployment by requiring children to stay at school longer. That is, of course, until the information came through about what was the real intention of this particular legislation because it was not just about extending the compulsory age for education. As the Minister has often said in many forums, including the Parliament, it is about improving participation of young people from the age of about 15 years, including the small group of people who, having completed compulsory education, left school at 15 years and then had no job, perhaps hoping to get on some form of benefit, and whose future was therefore put in jeopardy. Provisions allowing a person to leave school at 15 years have been preserved, as long as they are participating in something other than being idle in the community, such as doing a TAFE course, various trades, getting a job, or perhaps completing their education on a part-time basis through TAFE.
One of my constituents, who knew that I had left school just prior to my fifteenth birthday, said to me, "Isn't it somewhat hypocritical that members of Parliament, like yourself, who left school at 15 are now requiring people to go on to the age of 17?" I pointed out that had this legislation applied in 1965 when I left school I would not have been affected at all because at the age of 14 years and nine months I left school and walked into a job within a week, and I have remained in employment ever since. I could assure my constituent that if this law had existed in 1965, I would not have been affected by it one iota—it is very important to highlight that aspect. A person who may leave school at the compulsory age or a couple of months before it when they get an exemption from the Department of Education to work in a family business or take up an apprenticeship, take up a trade—as they always could have done—will comply with the legislation.
Retention in higher education is extremely important. In many years past my electorate of Mount Druitt had historically low retention rates at higher levels of high school. I recall being involved with my friend and colleague the Federal member for Chifley, Roger Price, in a senior high school debate in the Mount Druitt electorate. At that time retention rates from years 9 and 10—from the age of 15—to years 11 and 12 were among the lowest in the country. The reason we believe those retention rates were low in the Mount Druitt area was that education and job opportunities for young people in that era were very limited. Former Deputy Premier and education Minister Ron Mulock started a major debate within the community. He espoused that we should have a senior high school in the Mount Druitt cluster, that is, using one of the years 7 to 12 high schools as a school for years 11 to 12 only, and that the rest should be used as feeder schools, that is years 7 to 10.
I am very pleased to say that his campaign was successful both within the community and the party itself. Mr John Aquilina was the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs—shadow Minister when Labor was in Opposition—and he also championed the cause for senior high school or college. Without going through in detail all the major debates within the community forums and parents and citizens associations, the opposition from the Teachers Federation and debates within the annual conference of the Labor Party, I am pleased to report that the senior college concept that now exists within Mount Druitt, and in other parts of the State such as Dubbo, has been an outstanding success not only in improving retention rates to years 11 and 12 but also in ensuring an increase in the number of subject choices available to students staying on at school.
The excellent work of the ever-expanding Mount Druitt TAFE provides opportunities for young people to participate in other forms of education, again dovetailing into the provisions of this legislation, which will only affect those who lack opportunity or encouragement, either in the home or amongst their peers, to be involved in other forms of education or employment. The people who will be mainly affected by this law will be those who look at the age of 15 as a way of getting out of school without having a future, without having a job, and without having further education opportunities. I commend the Government, the Premier and the Minister for Education and Training for formalising some very good programs that have been going on for some years, increasing participation of young people once they turn 15 years of age and ensuring that they go on until the age of 17 years, finishing their Higher School Certificate, getting some sort of extra training in TAFE or getting a job. It is excellent legislation and I support it.
Debate adjourned on motion by Ms Pru Goward and set down as an order of the day for a later hour.