Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020

I rise to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020. This is a bill that has the key purpose of enhancing the powers and functions of the Victorian Institute of Teaching in relation to initial teacher education programs that lead to qualifications for entry into teaching in schools, through amendments to part 2.6 of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006.

Basically this is a bill that does a number of things, but one of the things that I want to focus on is assisting teachers through different pathways and putting that structure in place into teaching if they are not able to go through the usual pathway. I think everyone so far has agreed that teaching is a very important role and having a passion for teaching is very important to being successful in the role. So if we have got a pathway through to teaching for those people who want to take on the profession, it is something I certainly endorse.

Many people have explained the ins and outs of the bill. I am hoping to take the opportunity to discuss some of the issues in my electorate around education and to thank the teachers and parents in the area of education from the point of view of last year and what we went through with the pandemic. Hopefully we will not have to do it again.

This is the second week of this school year for many, but for me, my school year this year started on Monday. This is the 28th year that I have taken a child to school and started them on their school year. It is a very auspicious I suppose year for me in that my youngest child has gone off to her last year of school, and my grandchild has started his first year at school, all on the same day.

So with 28 years experience in the education system as a parent, obviously I have done my share of reading, and I look forward to doing that hopefully with Archie if I am able to as a grandparent. I have done my fair share of sitting on school council—not so much tuckshop days, because many of the schools my children went to were in country areas where we did not have a tuckshop. But I have certainly watched and seen the education system from a parent perspective for a very long time.

I am in absolute awe of what the teachers do. I have always said that I would kill them; I could not do it. If I had a group of students sitting in front of me, I would go completely spare, so I have always really admired the work of teachers.

However, as an MP, when I started five years ago now one thing really stood out to me. I thought I had a deep understanding, especially when I had sat on school council and helped to rewrite policies for the school with a couple of other women in the community. But I did not really have that understanding, until I spoke to the 41 schools that are in my electorate, particularly to the principals, of just how hard their role is and how much work they do.

The commitment they have is inspiring. So I just want to take the opportunity to thank the teachers. During the pandemic, at the start, I rang the 41 schools. They were amazing. To actually turn around a whole system, a clunky old system—the education department is like the health department; they are big beasts—and to actually turn it upside down was incredible, and that was down to each school.

In my electorate the fact that we allowed schools to respond individually was the right thing to do. I was very pleased to be able to advocate for some of the schools who required extra dongles.

Obviously being in the country we have not got the same access to the internet that some people in the city would have. Principals—like at Hawkesdale P-12 College under Colan Distel, who is a very impressive team leader out there, and his team are very impressive because they really care about the kids—worked hard, as they did at Panmure Primary School, as did the Warrnambool schools—the primary schools and the secondary schools—the Portland schools, the Heywood schools.

They all just pulled together with their teams and did extraordinarily. Whether they got in cars and drove packs around or whether they advocated with me for the government to get some sort of a flexibility around dongles or assistance, they were very impressive.

What I think we need to think about though is why we are not achieving the levels we should with our fantastic teachers and principals? We all agree they are deteriorating, and the evidence in the Productivity Commission’s report on government services released yesterday shows that our standard of education in the state of Victoria is falling, despite the extra spending, and our standing internationally is not where we need to be; it is actually failing.

I have certainly noticed in my 28 years a real change in classroom behaviour, and I see that the students are not having the structure at home perhaps, or the parents are under so much stress, or the extended family is not there.

So much has changed in society in 30 years. Deputy Speaker, you will recall when we sat on the inquiry together that that was a highlight of what we identified in the particular inquiry—which I cannot recall right now—around extended families needing to be supported to get better starts to education. So we are sort of aware of that, but what are we doing to really support teachers in the classroom with those welfare situations, where they have got to give so much more attention to children when they have got crises going on at home?

I see programs in my electorate that just impress me. I remember actually ringing the principal of Hawksedale one day—and he had just come back from a dental appointment with a student, because the student actually was in a lot of pain and did not have the support to be able to do that.

So that is the level of input the schools are having now to assist the children. Principal Michelle Bickley-Miller out at East Warrnambool took me through the East Warrnambool program, where they have an amazing little program where kids who are traumatised and starting school, clearly in trauma situations, are actually taken to an area and work with a couple of mums. One of them is a girl I went to school with actually and an amazingly calm, wonderful person, Tania Carey—I do not know what her married name is. Gosh, it is only 30 years ago, so I should remember.

She is just this beautiful, calming woman who was helping the children, and they would go back into the classroom ready to start the day. These are programs that I think we need to really embrace.

Standing Tall is another one. Standing Tall started in my region, and basically it really does reflect that need we have—or the loss we have got of extended families.

You know, a teenager will often not say to Mum what the issues are, but she might talk to an aunt or a cousin or a peer. So what this program does is actually get people from the community—businesspeople, young people, grandparents, whatever—to come into the school 1 hour a week and be matched up with a person so that they can develop that relationship.

So they have someone who is outside the family—or they may not even have a support family. So that gives them that person, an adult, that they can connect with and have support.
There are so many. There is the A Big Life program. Fifty blokes and women rode from Warrnambool to Melbourne last week or the week before, I think it was, in extreme conditions—and they actually ended up with hypothermia—to raise money to be able to continue this wonderful program that supports children in schools and supports the teachers and the educators.

So there are just so many. The Beyond the Bell project is trying to work out why our kids in the regions have a so much lower education attainment rate. We have got to actually review what is happening, because we are not actually achieving what we need to achieve. There is the Clontarf Academy, where the Aboriginal boys work together in keeping each other supported.

The Kalay girls are doing the same thing, and one of young girls in that group got an award at the Australia Day ceremony I was at the other day, which was just fantastic to see.
Then we have got schools like your two specialist re-engagement schools, one in Portland with Katie Kelly at the helm and the one in Warrnambool with Damian Farley. In these schools, these are kids that need to be really engaged.

I fail to see why with an 11-year-old kid of 50 kilos of weight we are saying he or she is running rings around our system so much so that they are out of school. I have got 120 kids in my electorate that are not engaged in school that are under 12, and that is just not acceptable.

So we can do a lot more. Our teachers need so much more support, and that is what we are calling for, I think, a review of education to get support for our schools—(Time expired)

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