Published: 10 November 2016

Legislative Council Tuesday 18 October 2016

EDUCATION BILL 2016 (No. 55)    Second Reading

[5.28 p.m.]

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, the education of our children is the most important thing we can, and must, do for the future of our society, our families and our state.  In my mind, there is nothing more important than education.

Education has the power to liberate individuals in a way that nothing else can.  You only have to observe what has occurred with women and girls throughout history.  They were denied access to education, and access to education has changed their lives.  The results are astounding, and the positive impacts on society are real and measurable.



Improving girls' educational levels has been demonstrated to have clear impacts on the health and economic future of young women.  Which, in turn, improves the prospects of their entire community.  

Access to education has a clear connection with the alleviation of poverty.  The insight that knowledge is power is at least four centuries old, formulated by philosopher Francis Bacon during the enlightenment.  I believe his statement has lost nothing in terms of relevance and significance.  Knowledge is power, and education is the fundamental precondition for political development, democracy and social justice.  There is, and can be, no development without education.  

While Australia is a developed nation, the world community has long since recognised the fact that there is no development without education.  The second millennium development goal specified by the United Nations says that all human beings should have access to basic education.  

There has been progress, although it has been slow, and heavily variable by region around the world.  The percentage of children who attended schools increased, globally, by 7 per cent from 1999 to 2009, to a total of 89 per cent.  There is still a way to go.  There have been many leaders who have repeated statements along the lines of 'education brings knowledge' and 'knowledge is power'. Kofi Annan said, 'Knowledge is power.  Information is liberating.  Education is the premise of progress in every society, in every family.'

Every child deserves and needs a quality education.  I commend the Government for taking this important matter so seriously.  This is the most important thing we can do, to ensure all Tasmanian children have access to, and benefit from, high quality learning experiences from birth that ultimately continues throughout their lives.

This is possibly the most important legislation I have seen and dealt with in my time in this place in nearly 12 years.  Interestingly, the minister seems content to aim for Tasmania to lead the nation in this area.  We should aim a little higher.  Whilst we can look to other OECD countries, we cannot simply adopt a part of their system and say that will fix our problems.  This has been the thought - just do what Finland does or do what someone else does.  We know this is not going to work.  You have to look at the entire system.  

On my recent visit to Finland, it was very informative to get a much better understanding of the whole system there.  I met with Mr Ari Pokka, President of the International Confederation of Principals.  That is a very senior position.  He is the international president, and obviously includes Australia in that international arena.  He lives and works in Jyväskylä and that is where I met with him.  It is about three hours north on a train, the member for Derwent will be pleased to know, from Helsinki.  It is a lovely university city and many of the educational systems are based in Jyväskylä.  I had also met with Mr Pokka in Helsinki when I visited three years ago.  I have had a couple of meetings with him and a range of other people in Finland around what they do.  

I would like to read a small section from his book, Top Class, Finnish School Leadership and Management, as I believe it gives some insight into perhaps where we have gone wrong as a state over the recent years.  He says -

One reason to the success of the Finnish school has been the steady continuum in the political atmosphere in which every new government has not deemed it necessary to express its power by reforming public education.  In addition, Finnish teachers have been considered skilled professionals who are efficient and determined in their work.  The culture of trust together with a low hierarchy has also in its part been used to explain the strength of the Finnish school.  All in all, there are dozens of studies and analyses that all contain a grain of truth while also being prone to over‑simplification.

There's a wide network of different operators behind the success of Finnish schools that together create their exceptional working environment.  This atmosphere combines the strong skills of the teachers with high-quality pedagogical leadership; it radiates respect for childhood and adolescence and the school staff's shared commitment to education; it stems from harmony in the education politics and the remarkable cooperation between school units, education providers, and the makers of national education policies.  This is the perspective through which also the best Finnish students view becoming a teacher or a principal as a desirable career option. 

He goes on to say a bit more about education generally.  I will just read a bit further from his book.  

This is in his chapter called Nobody is Left Behind - 

Education should be renewed and developed.  There are times when we must make bold and brave changes -  

As I say, I commend the Government for taking this on - but it is essential to allow principals and teachers time to do their work.  Education is not such a simple product that through standardizing and continuous measuring, we can produce somehow better results.  On the contrary, it seems that countries that believe in national measurements and achievable learning results succeed less convincingly in international comparisons.  This lack of success often leads to a competitive culture where both teachers and students are pressured to the brink of exhaustion, which ends up eroding the entire school culture.  Joy of working and learning, and a positive school culture are the first victims of this normative war.

He goes on to talk about PISA testing and some of the failings, as we could also say with NAPLAN.  He does not say we should not do it, but it is what basis we put on it, what strength we put on it.  Further he goes on to say -

One of the strengths of the Finnish school system has always been its focus on the overall education of the child.  We have not wanted to regard school as a hub for competition, and this is the core value on which Finnish teachers' and principals' upbringing and education is also built on.  Looking back to the hundreds of schools I had the privilege of visiting during my career, both in Finland and abroad, I always recognize something special in the atmosphere of Finnish schools; it is a joyous feeling of working together that welcomes you as soon as you walk through the door.  This is why Finland should not choose the top countries in education as its leading lights; countries where childhood and youth is sacrificed to school.  

It is important that we think about that.  There are models around the world where that has basically been the approach.  We can sacrifice the youth and that childhood experience if we think we are going to get better outcomes.  You can see that in some of the Asian countries, in some respects.  It is important to consider that.  I will read that again -

This is why Finland should not use the top countries in education as its leading lights - even though it is one of them itself - countries where childhood and youth is sacrificed to school.  On the contrary, we ought to find ways to make Finnish schools even more satisfying and active learning environments that would support applying skills and knowledge better.

It is a really good book, worth reading.  It is more about principals and the management of schools.  I will refer to it later on when we are in the Committee stage.  I would like to discuss the role of principals a little bit further.

This bill focuses on the education of young people until the age of 18 years.  Whilst predominantly focusing on the time from kindergarten to year 12, it also recognises that early education commences at birth and I would say, particularly, it occurs before birth.  It is particularly important for women who find themselves pregnant.  The prenatal period, the health and wellbeing of an unborn baby, is also a very important time and also has a role in the educational outcomes of the child.  If we do not educate our pregnant women about the adverse impacts of drugs and alcohol, for example, we will continue to have problems in learning.

I agree with the Leader and the minister that this legislation is about our children and Tasmania's children.  It is about ways in which we can best equip them for their future through the framework we create for their education.

The Leader's second reading speech was very comprehensive and detailed.  I do not plan to go over all aspects of this bill as other members have touched on some and all those areas were well articulated in the Leader's second reading speech.  There will be an opportunity in the Committee stage to delve into those areas more fully.

In broad terms, I support the bill.  I support the principle and the underlying intent.  There are many necessary and important changes; we are seeing in the consolidation into one piece of legislation the key aspects of education in Tasmania.  Whilst that makes for a fair-sized lump of a bill, it is a positive thing in that regard, that it is all basically there in one place.

Ms Rattray - It is three bills in one, isn't it?  That is why it is so voluminous.  Ms FORREST - Yes.  It means that you need a fairly decent shelf to sit it on.  

One of the key areas of concern has been the reduction of the starting age for children.  I will not go into all the detail I could have in this area, as the matter has been well canvassed in the public arena and in meetings that I and others have had, the briefings and personal study I have undertaken in Scandinavia and the UK.  

If I was to comment on all the information we have been provided with, we would still be here next month.  That is how important this decision is.  I want to try to synthesise it down.  Other members have referred to some of the comments made by other experts in the field.  I will refer to some myself.

We must not lose sight of what we wish to achieve here:  that is, the best possible outcome for all young Tasmanians that is supported by research, not just into education but that understands and appreciates child development.  When we talk about play and play-based learning, and the member for Elwick alluded to this, the words are almost being bandied about with not necessarily a clear understanding of what we are talking out, but that is frightfully important.

I encourage all members and others who are interested, to read Sue Palmer's book Upstart.  I met with Sue in Scotland earlier this year and found her insights invaluable and well researched.  The book contains a wealth of information and, noting there is so much in here that every member should read it, I would like to read a couple of small sections about play.  This may help the Government when they are deciding what 'play-based' actually means, member for Elwick.  It will give them a heads‑up where they could start looking if they do not it already have it nailed down.

Under the heading in the chapter called 'How did we get here?', 'The power of play' -

Kindergartens stress the importance of play, which is the natural means by which young human beings have always explored, experimented and developed an understanding of their social and material environment.  Along with adult support and guidance, children's own active, self-directed play is now widely recognised as critical to the development of:  

•           physical coordination and confidence, the ability to focus attention and control behaviour  

•           emotional strengths, including a can-do attitude, resilience and the patience to pursue long-term aims rather than immediate rewards  

•           social competence, such as getting along with their peers, working collaboratively in a group and communication skills (including active listening) -

Perhaps we could do some play-based learning here.

•           cognitive capacities, such as the use of language to explore and express ideas, and a 'common-sense understanding' of the world and how it works, which underpins mathematical and scientific abilities.  

To enrich and support children's own play, kindergarten education usually includes frequent opportunities for children to be outdoors in natural surroundings, and stresses the age-old (and fundamentally playful) human activities of song, dance, story-telling, art and drama.  All this is combined with adult-led activities (of growing length and complexity as the kindergarten years go by), designed to lay firm foundations for the children's future success at school.  

But developmentally based kindergarten education isn't merely about 'school readiness'.  It's about readiness for life in general.  

Perhaps the most significant difference between kindergarten and schooling, then, is that the former takes the 'bottom‑up' approach of helping individual children develop their full potential, and the latter takes a more 'top‑down' adult-directed approach involving transmission of an agreed curriculum and the expectation that all children should achieve specific educational standards deemed appropriate for their age-group.

It goes on.  That gives a bit of a clue.  Another section I will just read a small part of is in the chapter entitled 'How Children Learn', and under the heading 'The play's the thing'.  It says -

A key characteristic of play is that it's active, and thus hugely significant for physical development and self-regulatory skills.  Crawling, climbing, running, jumping, skipping, sliding and generally rollicking about all contribute to children's large-scale motor control, and also to their feelings of confidence in their own bodies.  Lack of opportunities for large-scale movement for three to seven year olds therefore inevitably affects emotional development.  In boys, this may result in behavioural problems; in girls, more likely to diminish the motivation to engage in active play, and render it's generally risk-averse.

Small-scale motor control is also vital if children are eventually to be able to sit, listen, focus attention and control their behaviour in appropriate ways when they eventually reach the classroom.  Fiddling, mixing, building, cutting, sticking, painting and drawing, constructing, threading, manipulating and generally messing about with stuff all contribute to this type of control and hand-eye coordination.  Education enthusiasts tend to value and promote this sort of play (except, perhaps, the fiddling and messing about) because the long-term results are clearly of educational value, but children are likely to engage in it repeatedly only if they're intrinsically motivated to do so.  Girls seem more naturally motivated to engage in small-scale play at an earlier age than boys … or maybe they're just keener to please the teacher.  

There is so much in there, I encourage you all to get a copy and read it.  It really is a good book.

Mr PRESIDENT - Some of us got into trouble in year 11 and 12 for play-based learning.   Ms FORREST - That is true, Mr President.

Ms FORREST - The whole point is - and Steve Biddulph has made this comment, if anyone has been to any of his Raising Boys seminars, any of his seminars, or read his books - it is quite clear that little boys' bodies, particularly, are not designed to sit in a chair when they are three, four or five years old.  They physically cannot do it.  Many little girls also have the same problem and I was one of those.  I found it hard to sit in chair and sit still, even when I was an adult.  I started school in grade 1.  We did not have kinder or prep when I went to school, which was very formal.  The frustration of not being able to fiddle around and do what I wanted to was really frustrating.  If you talk to my mother, she would concur without any hesitation whatsoever.

It is important we understand what we are talking about.  When I was in Scotland, I visited a nature-based kindergarten.  The whole kindergarten was in a forest.  This is in Scotland, where it snows, and all the children are outside all day.  When they want to have a sleep - this is little children through to when they start school at six or seven years of age - they have their thermal suits they wear running around playing and they have little thermal sleeping bags.  They can lie down in a hammock between the trees, on the ground, or under a little hut they have and where in winter they have a fire in every day.  They also cook them some of their own food.  They cook their bread for lunch.  They mix it up first thing in the morning, pop it in a little ziplock bag, pop it inside in their snow suit and run around with it.  Their body heat proves it and they cook it on a fire for lunch.  It is the most gorgeous thing.  I was there the day they had the graduation or move to big school.  The majority of children were moving on that year, but many of them had been there for five or six years.  It was lovely and a great experience to be there, watch them, meet and talk to the parents of these young people.

Members may have read an opinion piece I had published recently in the Mercury.  I have had positive feedback and wish to raise some of the points I made.  I clearly articulated my views, particularly on returning from the overseas trip and other reading I had done.

The Leader stated in proposing a change to the starting age, the overwhelming evidence is clear, investing in a child's early years is by far the most effective way of ensuring they lead a happy, healthy and productive life.  She also stated quality early learning is particularly effective in helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  This is especially relevant to Tasmania, given we have the highest levels of disadvantaged children of preschool age in Australia - 56 per cent of our children are in the highest levels of disadvantage, compared to 36 per cent nationally.  We all have some of those children in our electorates.

We can all find evidence to support our case.  The vast amount of evidence I have seen and heard from highly credible experts in this fields clearly shows there is no clear evidence overall that children will benefit from the proposed change.

Mrs Hiscutt - Say that again.

Ms FORREST - There is no clear evidence overall that children will benefit from the proposed change.  In fact, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the very students the minister is seeking to assist, may actually be worse off.  

The member for Elwick talked about Dr David Whitebread's comments.  I met with Dr David Whitebread when I was in Cambridge this year.  He made that very clear.  He is not saying children should not be exposed to quality early learning, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  He was very clear about that.  But he said putting them in a system that then puts them into a formal learning setting earlier has been shown unequivocally to be more harmful to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We cannot afford to be railroaded by this and think we are just talking about early entry to kindergarten.  If children enter kindergarten early they end up in a formal learning setting earlier, and that is where the problem is.  I will get to that.

The minister is seeking to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds and I commend him for trying to focus on this.  It is a problem we need to fix, but these children are most at risk of falling through the gaps and not having their needs met.  We need to be very careful about how we fix the problem.  The minister is absolutely right in identifying the problem, but we need to make sure we implement the right solution.  This is not to say these children from disadvantaged backgrounds should be or could be ignored, but simply that the Government's proposal is, in my view, an inadequate solution that needs refinement.  That is what our job is here, to refine things.

Some things I hope to achieve through amendments and review the process and decision around the early entry to a formal learning setting, should this occur, or should this remain unchanged.  Other members have other amendments.  Some I have not seen, and I have amendments still in the pipeline that will hopefully address some of the framework of early learning from birth right through to eight years of age.

The engagement of young Tasmanians in education early learning, particularly those young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, is vitally important if we are to improve years 10 to 12 retention and attainment rates.  Many of these children come from families who have had a negative experience in their own education and often see little value in education for their own children.  Any plan to address this must encompass the whole family and not simply focus on the child.  Obviously the child is the centre of it, but you have to focus on the whole family.

I have visited a range of experts around the world.  I mentioned Dr David Whitebread.  He is the Principal Research Associate and Director of the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning at the University of Cambridge.  Dr Whitebread is recognised around the world for his work and contribution to research in this important area.  He also is an early childhood teacher himself, not that he has worked actively in the classroom for a while.  I do not know how old he is but he has been out of the classroom for a while to focus on research at this stage.  He said to me, and he has had these comments published, that there is no research evidence to support the 'earlier is better' view.  By contrast, a considerable body of evidence clearly indicates the crucial importance of play in young children's development and the value of an extended period of playful learning before the start of formal schooling, and the damaging consequences of starting formal learning of literacy and numeracy as young as four years of age.

The evidence regarding the role of play in children's learning has been gained from a range of areas, including anthropological, neuroscientific, psychological and educational studies, and is readily accessible.  It demonstrates the importance of enquiry-based, child-led, play‑based learning and delay of formal instructive learning.  It is vital that children learn the lifelong skills of self-regulation, language, turn-taking, collaboration and cooperation in a truly play‑based environment.  As we know, these are skills that are needed throughout life, and these are the skills that play‑based learning teaches them.  If children do not learn self-regulation, they do not learn turn‑taking, they do not learn collaboration and cooperation, they cannot succeed at high school where you need those skills to get on.  You need those skills in your adult life; you need those skills when you are employed, and we need them in this place.

I also believe that, to a degree, the debate has been diverted from why it is critical that all children have access to quality early learning - which no-one disputes - and about how and where this is best delivered.  All early learning must be play-based, inquiry-based and child-led.  This needs to be the case until the child is in grade 2 or about seven to eight years of age.  Unless we alter the way in which our national curriculum is delivered to our young children, this will continue to have negative impacts on children.  Regardless of what we do with kindergarten and prep entry age, unless we change the way prep, grade 1 and 2 are taught, we are not going to see the benefits we want to see.  This is what the amendments I am trying to bring forward seek to address.

The minister stated he would like all parents to take up the opportunity of early entry to kindergarten.  If this occurs, what we will see is even younger children entering a formal learning setting as it currently stands, and as the bill currently is.  This is not in their best interest, especially for those children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  It flies in the face of the neuroscience and child development knowledge that is well researched and peer-reviewed.  

I will refer to some of the research that has been provided.  It is clear that I am not making this up - it is from experts in the field.  I am not an expert in the field, but I have talked to many of them.  Some of the information provided today is from the Early Childhood Australia, but some of it I have got from other places as well. 

In the document the Early Childhood Australia people gave us this morning and in the most recent briefing, they said -

In fact, the research demonstrates that instruction before a child is developmentally ready does not last, and indeed, can lead to a loss of motivation and child distress.  As Professor Margetts and others point out, there are risks to a child's social adjustment and long term mental health by being expected to operate above their developmental level.

There is a vast body of global research supporting investing in early learning - not in lowering School starting ages to 3 and a half.  They are not the same thing.  We are not opposed to investment in the early years - we are opposed to children starting School in a formal environment too soon.

Some of the research they refer to is by Dr David Whitebread, whom I have already mentioned.  He said -

The intent of the government to provide high quality early learning at no cost to parents is laudable.  Unfortunately, however, the present proposals will fatally undermine this ambition as they fly in the face of the extensive evidence we have about the best ways to provide high quality and universally available early childhood education.  The failure to require all early years' teachers to be qualified in early years practice, the deterioration of the teacher/child ratios and the loss of wrap-around care will all lead to a deterioration in the quality of the service.  The effective push down of a more formal curriculum, arising from the proposed earlier start to school, is also disastrous.  The international evidence clearly indicates that the provision of high quality play-based, informal pre-school experiences for children is the key mechanism to enhance their capabilities as learners and the development of their emotional resilience and well-being.

Dr Whitebread would have read more research in this area than you can poke a stick at, so he is not making it up.  He is relying on his own experience but also the research of many others.

Al Race, the Deputy Director and Chief Knowledge Officer, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, wrote on behalf of Dr Shonkoff - 

Everything we can say is focused on the science of early development ... it's all about the type of care, learning, and protection that children receive (starting at birth if not before) and their environment of relationships.

Another comment from Sue Palmer, whose book UpStart I read.  She says -

It seems that Australia, which has a really good record in terms of early years, is now starting to follow the schoolification agenda that's become the norm in most of the USA and England … and is making headway in all English-speaking countries.  It's against everything we know about the under sevens' physical and psychological needs.  We're accelerating cognitive development at the expense of physical, social and emotional development - and at a time when self-directed, social, outdoor play is disappearing from their lives.  The long-term results are likely to be disastrous.  You can quote me as much as you like!

From Professor Kay Margetts, part of what she says - 

When children commence schooling neuro-developmentally and behaviourally immature and with poor self-regulation and attention capabilities, they often fall behind the rest of their class.  In addition, behaviour problems may arise as a reaction to difficulties coping with learning and academic challenges, which in turn generate anger, frustration and despair.  This can lead to retention at different year levels, anti-social behaviours, dropping out of school and delinquency in adolescence - all of which is a drain on the socio-economic capital.  Furthermore, children who are older are physically stronger than their younger peers and more likely to excel in sporting pursuits.  It is not unreasonable that some parents and teachers choose to delay a child's entry to school to give them time to mature, or as is increasingly the trend - to give them a 'competitive edge' academically and physically.  What is of concern, is the effect of these school entry practices including the widened age ranges on children's progress and long-term wellbeing.

What is being said is that it is the informed parents - mentioned by the member for Launceston - who have had a good education themselves, who have understood it is not in the best interest of their child to push them too early into school, but perhaps to hold them back, particularly boys, a little bit longer, so they are more emotionally mature when they get into the primary school and high school setting.

The disadvantages go right the way through to the high school years if we are pushing them into a formal setting too early.  Some people said they can always repeat a year in primary school if they find it is too much for them.  She makes the point that repeating one year level of primary school reduces the probability of students receiving a university degree by 36 per cent for males and 13 per cent for females.  The practice of delaying entry to school, particularly on the basis of giving children a competitive edge, creates disadvantage and inequity.  For each child who gains an advantage through delayed entry to school, another child at the other end of the spectrum is exposed to disadvantage.  This is particularly so for younger children from vulnerable backgrounds, where families find it difficult to afford an additional year of preschool.  These children end up being doubly disadvantaged.

Research shows that children who are the youngest in the year level, except for those who are gifted, or are seen as falling behind their classmates are more likely to repeat a year level.  This can have a devastating effect on their self-determination and progress.  In many cases, these are arbitrary decisions based on relative age, rather than academic potential.  With wider age range and the abilities within the class, the benchmark is unintentionally raised, and the relative immaturity of younger children is exaggerated.  If we have a broader range of children - as the member for Elwick referred to, and perhaps other members - into the one cohort, we are going to see that even more amplified.

It will be children from disadvantaged backgrounds who go into more formal learning earlier, because it is free to go to kindergarten at three and a half.  They will end up, further down the track, trying to keep up with and compete against children from advantaged backgrounds who are anything up to a year or more older them.  That is the double disadvantage that she was talking about.

There is much more research, and I am sure all of us have access to it, and read it.  We can choose other research that may dispute it to an extent.  Generally, if you read all the comments of those people who support early starting age, what they are supporting is early access to quality early learning that is play-based, enquiry-based, child-led, not formal.  We need to be careful that we are comparing apples with apples again.

[6.00 p.m.]

I am concerned that this area of debate has become so heated, the early years aspect of it, and some voices have not been included until late in the consultation progress.  The member for Launceston asked about that.  The Leader may like to comment further.

Early childhood centres are well equipped and geographically placed and provide high quality early years play-based learning.  Let us focus our attention on how we support these centres.  Many of these important community assets will be at serious risk of closure in regional areas of Tasmania if the plan to reduce the starting age of kindergarten and formal schooling is followed as proposed.  Many of these centres are located in areas of increased disadvantage.  Should they become unsustainable as a result of the proposed change, this will result in poor outcomes for all children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Early education and care centres care about their financial viability.  I do too.  I care about them, because if they close as a result of having less children in the older cohort, which helps smooth their pricing structures, the whole community suffers.  Parents, usually mothers, cannot work without quality, reliable early education and care.

Some of the families who do not engage in the workforce, or whose children would benefit from quality early learning, may avoid accessing this at a government level, such as a government kindergarten or school, as a result of their own experience.  They may prefer to engage with a non-government provider as the first step to getting back into the education arena.  I believe we need to look at government financial support to assist this.  Other members have commented on this as well.  There is a range of government support already in place from the Australian Government.  This may have been overlooked, because it seems the minister and some other members have said that some families simply cannot afford to spend on access to child care.

We must work to ensure early childhood centres are well equipped with quality early childhood educators, are financially and geographically accessible to all children, and family‑focused.  Many parents of disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to engage in their child's early learning experience if we get this right.  More work that needs to be done in this area before we can proceed with whatever changes are proposed in this important bill.

A number of sources of financial support from the Australian Government include some of the subsidies for disadvantaged families.  If we are saying disadvantaged families do not access child care because of financial constraints, this puts it in an interesting perspective. 

The Special Child Care Benefit can help, where the child is at risk of serious abuse or neglect, or it is a family with an exceptional case of short-term financial hardship which would substantially reduce their capacity to pay child care fees.  The first claim can be up to 13 weeks and they can reapply.  That entitles them to free child care.

The Grandparent Child Care Benefit is available if you are a grandparent who is the primary provider of the ongoing daily care of their grandchild, and has the responsibility for the day-to-day decisions about their grandchild's care, welfare and development.  They receive free child care.

There is the Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance subsidy.  If you are undertaking any study or training activity only, JET Child Care Fee Assistance will be paid, up to a maximum of 36 hours per week, per child,  at a cost of $1 per day.

There is the Child Care Benefit, which is income tested, so we are talking about disadvantaged families.  This is one case from a centre in my electorate.  The minimum, at our service, based on fees of $71 per day is $13.33 per day for a low-income single mum.  That is a significant reduction, from $71 down to $13.33.  The Child Care Rebate is available for working or studying families, covering 50 per cent of out-of-pocket expenses.  The maximum, based on the service I was talking to, based on fees of $71 per day is $35.50 per day, so basically, half.

There are further funding opportunities.  The local community services sometimes provide short-term funding based on needs if assistance is requested under financial hardship, and Inclusion Support funding.  The aim of this to promote and maintain high quality inclusive education and care for all children, including those with ongoing higher support needs.  That is money to have extra educators on site or for resources for assessment of speech and those sort of things.  There are quite a few avenues of support out there, the Australian Government ones.  I will get to the fact the minister says he is responsible for funding public education, and is not in the business of supporting private enterprise in this area, shortly.

There may well be other reasons children in some of these families may not be accessing the quality early learning available. What I would like to encourage the Government to do, is to work across agencies to ensure barriers are identified and removed, and find out why these children are not accessing it.  If it is not the financial barriers, because there is financial support available, it must be something else.  There is a real need to work with families we know are likely to fall into this category, or are already living in circumstances that place their child or children at risk.

We know who these families are through our engagement with them during the perinatal period.  Often women in these disadvantaged circumstances do not seek regular antenatal care, placing them and their baby at further risk.  However, almost all, if not all of them, present to hospital to birth their babies.  We have got them there.  We need to take a more appropriate approach here and provide real support from birth for these families.  We need to actually provide here a support worker that can effectively support them with their early parenting skills, and if necessary, they can intervene more directly during the pregnancy to reduce the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.  For example, we would then see less babies born with acquired brain injuries as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome.

A specific case worker or support worker could guide families toward quality early learning, identifying barriers and working to remove these barriers.  Many of these families have had a bad experience with government.  I say 'government' because they see most things as government that are not private.  They may have had problems or bad experiences through their own education in the public system, with the police, with the justice system and/or Child Protection.  Whilst all these agencies have been acting in the best interests of the child or the family, the adults may still have a negative view and need to be supported to actually see things a different way, and possibly through access to non-government services in the first instance.  We need to work collaboratively and supportively to look for solutions for these individuals.  I believe each primary school should have a parent liaison officer or similar to work with and support these families as a non-threatening conduit between the school and the family.  They can assist the family in their home and take over the work and support of that support worker who has provided the support from birth or pre-birth.

This is about wrapping services around the family, not just about the child.  This is what they do in Finland, they wrap services around the whole family.  Yes, it will cost money, but this is money that could be spent on preventing the huge costs we now see later in a child's life with poor educational outcomes, poor productivity, welfare dependence and a range of other social problems.  Surely it is money well spent.  It is a classic case of the fence at the top of the cliff avoids the need for the costly ambulance and hospital services at the bottom.

I note the Leader stated the learning of our children must be developmentally appropriate and the National Quality Standard will continue to be the guide.  The minister has also committed that from 2020, all government kindergartens will be formally assessed against these standards.  I did have discussions with some of the minister's advisors and departmental officers about how this will actually play out, ensuring these staff ratios are met.  That may be a matter for the discussion.

The Leader assured us the Government will continue to build on the great work being undertaken by early childhood educators, to ensure all Tasmanian students from kindergarten to grade 2 have access to appropriate, innovate quality early learning.  This is a matter I have discussed at length with many in the department and the education sector more broadly.  This is also the basis for the majority of amendments I have proposed to be included in the bill.

The Leader has said the Government will work with educators in schools and with parents and carers, the education and care sector and the community to ensure every Tasmanian child has access to innovative early learning in environments that foster curiosity and wonder.  These principles need to be enshrined in the legislation.  I have met with the newly appointed Principal Project Officer, Early Years who will lead the work and work collaboratively with educators to develop an implementation plan that will guide the reframing and strengthening of Early Years delivered in Tasmania.  That is exciting and I commend the Government for taking that on.  If we can follow it through, and it does not become a document that sits on a shelf, it will be one of the best things we have done for our young people in Tasmania.

The Government acknowledges that the change to the starting age will have an effect on the early education and care sector but believes this will be significantly outweighed by the long‑term benefits to the Tasmanian community.  I am not sure this is the case if centres are forced to close in some of our regional centres.  It will have a negative impact on the entire community there, not just the education of young people.  I do not know how they have worked out the numbers around how that cost will be outweighed by the long-term benefits to the community.  I really cannot understand that.

I also note the Government will include a range of initiatives to assist the early childhood sector.  The Leader said there will be a range of initiatives to help build closer relationships and lift quality by supporting early childhood educators, and the education and care sector, to build on their qualifications and skills, supporting high quality decision-making in governance of early childhood education and care services, and supporting collaborative delivery of early childhood education and care.

While support is always welcome, some of the types of support being offered are not the priorities for the sector, which has already had significant financial support from the Australian Government when the National Quality Framework was introduced.  We basically forced them to take on the National Quality Framework here.  This is one of the things we debated in that legislation.  I know the member for Apsley remembers that well.  We need to be sure that we engage the sector and ask it what it actually needs.  What I hear it needs is serious consideration of subsidisation of those children who apparently are not there for financial reasons to enable them to come to the centres, rather than potentially more training that they have already done in these early education and care centres.

Ms Rattray - We were also informed that some centres still have some funding remaining.  It has not all been spent because they have their educators already up to the qualified level required.  

Ms FORREST - That is right.  That is what I mean, they need to engage with the sector to find out what it needs.  I am not sure some of that is what it needs.  I am not saying we do not want any assistance but let us make it targeted and appropriate.

There is always more than one way to address a problem or issue.  Educational outcomes in Tasmania is a real issue that needs to be addressed.  What is most important is that we find the right solution.  I am not sure that we have landed on it here, but I would be very happy to continue to work with the Government to establish the most effective solution.

I will not go through all the initiatives the Leader has outlined as they are all in her speech, but I would like to comment briefly on the third initiative the Leader outlined, when she said - 

If the change to the starting age passes the parliament there will be practical support to services to minimise the financial impact.  This will focus on understanding the specific impact of the changes on individual services and working with those services to identify opportunities in the local context.  

Currently there are a range of models under which education and care services operate, and their connections to schools vary.  There are, for example, many services that already operate from school sites or close to them, and there are others that work with a number of schools.  Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting the sector in light of the change to the starting age is not appropriate.  Rather, we need to work together to respond to local circumstances to meet the local need.  

Why hasn't this been done?  She went on - 

Services that cater for children aged three and four years will be able to request assistance and will participate in a business analysis scoping exercise by an independent person.  The consultant will work with those services to identify support options.  Services that participate and meet defined criteria will have the opportunity to receive advice from the consultant on how their business model may be adapted.

Some of these services have had lots of advice from their own business advisers and know how it could or cannot be adapted.  The sector was not asked if they needed anything.  

The Government will then provide up to $2 million to provide practical support to services to make adjustments or to support improved arrangements for children in their transition from care to school.

That is all good, but if these businesses cannot survive financially then it is not going to help.  They have already done much of this work.  They knew there was a potential change coming.  Many of them have done much work on it already.  

I support the Government's intent in what they are trying to do here in improving the outcomes for children, but there is much more work and engagement with the early education and care sectors needed prior to finalising this aspect of the bill.

I have said enough about that area.  I could go on, but I will not because there is so much more evidence that's there but I have made my point.  

I support the changes to the completion of year 12 that will see the minimum leaving requirements increased to the completion of year 12, a certificate III or at age 18, whichever occurs first.

In supporting this aspect, I note that I believe the removal of pathway planners was a poor decision, and one that should be revisited and reversed.  I also support the change that identifies the absence under the current Youth Participation in Education and Training (Guaranteeing Futures) Act 2005 as the mechanism to track participation, so that a young person who has dropped out can be supported to re-engage with education and training.  That is really important.  

In Finland, we spoke about how they manage that end of their challenge.  They have a very low dropout rate.  They have a system that goes to year 9 and year 10 is optional.  Children only do year 10 if they need to, if they are not quite up to speed.  They then go off to a polytechnic or academy - they call it senior secondary education.  That is an option for students there.  They said there were very few - I have forgotten the figure now, but it was something like a 1 per cent or 2 per cent dropout rate - where children disappear.  They worry a lot about that.  We have a much bigger drop-off rate than that.  Some of those children go overseas and that is why they cannot track them.  They have a very small number.  I asked, 'What about the children who are illiterate?'  They said, 'We do not have children who are illiterate, except for those children who have really severe learning difficulties and disabilities'.  They do not have children who are illiterate.  They intervene early.  They wrap services around the family from the time they are born.  Every mother goes home with a baby box, which is a box the baby can sleep in.  It is a sturdy cardboard construction.  It is full of clothes, nappies, basic baby care needs, books, toys and educational information and advice.  That is $1000 worth in Australian dollars, I understand that is the equivalent.  Every mother, regardless of whether she is the wealthiest woman in the country, or the poorest, goes home with this box.  There is that engagement right through.  They wrap services around them as soon as they identify there is an issue, or a child might need speech, hearing or sight therapy.  

We do some of that in Australia, and in Tasmania, and we do it quite well, but there are other aspects we do not do well - unless we can wrap services around the family, so when the child gets to the early years education sector they are maximising the benefit.  When they reach the formal learning setting they are ready to go, their confidence is there, their self-regulation is under control, they are able to take turns, to cooperate and collaborate, and you do not have the problems with disengagement throughout their schooling.  I visited a number of schools and kindergartens while I was there.  Some of them were not open because it was the start of school holidays.

With regard to home education, I agree this is an important and necessary option for families.  I commend the families who undertake home education and do it so well.  It is an area that needs to be regulated to ensure all children have access to quality education and are well prepared for the future.  It is appropriate to see it in this bill, it is an important part of it.  I am aware some concerns were raised by those actively engaged in this sector, and amendments are being prepared by other members.  I will consider those and contribute to that debate in the Committee stage.

In the briefing, we were told we would have the costs and the costings done.  I have it here but have not had a chance to read through it.  It does not seem to provide the information some of us were looking for.  I would like to see Treasury's comments and assessment on this and how it was ascertained.  This is a qualitative review, rather than a quantitative.  I would like to see more of the numbers.

I noticed $14 million was forecast for facilities.  It says -

An independent assessment of school facilities in the government and non-government sectors was undertaken, concurrent with a draft bill consultation.  The process was agreed with the non-government sector and was undertaken on a voluntary basis.  It went on to say a bit further on -

A total of 84 schools were selected as having the potential need for capacity assessment, comprising 49 government schools, 21 Catholic schools and 14 independent schools.  Of those 84 schools that were assessed, 59 had the capacity to absorb the initial impact of the proposed change and the remaining 25 - 19 public, 5 Catholic and 1 independent - require additional capacity.  The projected costs in the order of $18 million, one-off, to ensure primary schools and those schools delivering years 11 and 12 are ready for the increased numbers of students commencing in 2020.

I would like the Leader to tell me, does this mean that the Government, with the $18 million, will be funding the expansion of the Catholic and the independent schools that require it?  If they are, why can they not subsidise and fund the education and care sector to assist children to access those services in those centres?  The minister said, 'In the interest of funding public education'.  Catholic schools and independent schools are not public education; they are Catholic and independent.  I will be interested in the answer to that, honourable Leader.  I am sure there are other things in it and I will read it when I have a chance.

There are a number of other areas covered in this bill that are not particularly controversial.  There will be opportunities during the Committee stage to further consider these areas.  I wished to focus my comments around the areas that I believe need more consideration, and some amendments, to strengthen the bill.

I support the principle and intent of the bill, but serious concerns remain around the early years and voluntary starting age for children.  The evidence is clear that entry to a formal learning environment for children under the ages of 6 or 7 is not in their best interests, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  I am keen to hear the Government's response as to where we go from here.  I am happy and keen to work with the Government on this.  If it was to be put through a committee process, I would be keen to be involved in that.  We will see.  At this stage, I am not happy to proceed with the bill, as it is.  I will wait to see where we get to at the end of this debate.  I support the principle and am happy to see it go into Committee stage.   [6.22 p.m.]




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