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Education Legislation Amendments (Education Regulations) Bill 2021

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 11 November 2021

Tags: Education, Legislation

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, the Greens are very comfortable supporting the Education Legislation Amendments (Education Regulations) Bill 2021. We recognise it is a strategic modernisation of the regulation of our education system here in Tasmania and I commend the minister for bringing this bill forward.

It is quite refreshing to have a conservative government so clearly understanding the importance of a quality education, but also prepared to strengthen regulation around our public education system. We often see conservative governments, particularly at the federal level, under-invest in public education and very clearly favour the private and independent education sector which we know is an important part of the broad educational mix.

Every Tasmanian parent and student wants to know that the best quality, most effectively regulated education system, is there for them and we need to make sure that we are recognising children are entitled to a high quality, richly diverse, educational learning experience where they are safe because they are the leaders and the problem solvers of the future and we need to make sure we are investing in our young people. In this climate constrained and difficult century, we need them to reach their full potential and to shine and to be the problem solvers of the future. It is good to see a particular provision in the amendment to the Education Act 2016 that inserts 4(K), that all students are entitled to education of a quality that is capable of enabling them to reach their potential and so maximise their achievements and contribution to the community. It is excellent to see that enshrined in legislation.

As a member of parliament I too have had engagement particularly with students but some parents too, who were absolutely burned and distraught because of some of the issues with TASC in the past. I do hope that creating from that office of TASC, a board that we are able to be confident that the board and the framework around it will mitigate or avoid completely some of those issues that we have had in the past, Mr Speaker, which so deleteriously affected the education of young people.

Ms O'Byrne - I forgot the scheduling issue when they scheduled physics and maths 4 on the same day. That was hideous.

Ms O'CONNOR - No doubt with the best of intention.

Ms O'Byrne - I'm sure.

Ms O'CONNOR - But utterly ham-fisted. The thing is, course, that when a mistake is made like some of the mistakes that have been made by a regulator like TASC, then the implications for a student's educational outcomes as well as their marks and capacity to go on to higher education can be life-altering and profound. So, it is really important that we have a strengthened and better-regulated Tasmanian Assessment Standards and Certification Board.

We have a number of questions that relate to some of the provisions in the bill. Is the minister able to provide some clarity to the House on what might be specified in the framework agreement to the Department of Education? In broad terms what the Second Reading speech says is that it will cover staffing budgets and the application of departmental policies. But, a framework agreement that is being overlaid the department as well as the four regulatory bodies that are part of it, I think we should have a little bit more detail on that.

Does the minister foresee that the statement of expectations will be public documents and is there any thought given to engaging with teachers, parents and students about what might be contained in those statements of expectations? The minister talked about the principles of the Education Act 2016 and I suggest there should be some consideration given to another principle that reflects the outcomes of the independent inquiry into sexual abuse in the Department of Education. So, as it is now, the principles include the right of every child to receive an education until the child completes year 12; the year of home education equivalent to year 12 or an approved learning program; That the state recognises the role and importance of a child's parents in the education of their child; and the importance of a collaborative approach to achieving the best educational outcomes for children.

Is the minister prepared to consider whether there needs to be specific provision in the Education Act 2016 that is very clear about the requirement of the Department of Education and every public school and every school that comes under the department's administration to keep children safe? I appreciate that we have now got the Office of Safeguarding Students being established, but we think it is timely that the safeguarding frameworks and provisions be put into an amended Education Act just so we can be absolutely sure. And I am certain, given what we have learned from the inquiry, that within the minister's Statements of Expectations there will be an expectation that is made very clear that children are to be safe when they are in a learning environment because that is what they deserve and that is what parents particularly expect.

I was quite taken aback to read today that the number of complaints and allegations of potential abuse and improper conduct towards students that have come out as a result of this inquiry really reaches across very many schools on this island. For example, the school that had the highest number of complaints, allegations of potential abuse or improper behaviour towards students was Taroona High School.

Taroona High School is such a fantastic high school. It is where three of my four children got their higher education and went on to Hobart College. I have always been very impressed and proud of how inclusive and caring Taroona High School is as an educational institution. I was very sad to see such a high number of alleged allegations or complaints involving Taroona High School.

I urge the minister to consider how the act itself might be improved to make sure that we are keeping children much safer.

There are a few questions there -

The framework agreement.

What might be in the statement of expectations.

How you would engage teachers, parents and students in that.

Whether any consideration will be given to amending the Education Act 2016 to be clearer about the importance of safeguarding students.

I was a bit confused about clause 181. In fact, clause 180, in part 13 of the bill, the Training and Workforce Development Act 2013 is amended. Clause 181 amends section 57, which is about the functions of TasTAFE. It says -

Section 57 of the Principal Act is amended as follows -

(a) by omitting 'Education Act 1994' from the definition of education provider in subsection (1) and substituting 'Education Act 2016';

(b) by omitting from subsection (2)(h) 'Education Act 1994' and substituting 'Education Act 2016'.

Is that because there was an error previously where we had not modernised the Training and Workforce Development Act in relation to the functions of TasTAFE to reflect that we had a new act in 2016? Is this fixing a slip-up, perhaps?

Ms Courtney - I am seeing nods, so perhaps yes.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thanks. I thought that might be the case.

This is very solid legislation. It has obviously been widely consulted. Since the regulatory review committee undertook the work that led to the development of this bill, significant new information has come before the minister and the Department of Education that I am certain will feed into the application of the new regulatory framework.

However, I think the minister needs to consider specific changes to the Education Act 2016 to reflect the findings and the recommendations of the inquiry, the report of which came to parliament this week.