Education and Teaching Legislation Amendment Bill 2016

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT ( Prospect ) ( 19:09 ): As part of my participation in debate on the Education and Teaching Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, I note that the Baird Government is again refusing to admit its underinvestment in education—but this time, by blaming the teachers. This bill aims to rename the Board of Studies and Educational Standards to become the NSW Education Standards Authority. The bill will develop a charter of responsibility with an annual statement of expectations handed down from the Minister. In some respects, one may say that the statement resembles a military order. The bill also provides for creation of a new board comprising 12 members, who will include six members representing educational sectors and groups, and six members who will be cherrypicked by the Minister.

The bill will create the appointment of a part-time chair and a full-time chief executive officer [CEO]. The abolition of the Quality Teaching Council will be followed by its replacement, which will be known as the Quality Teaching Committee, comprising five elected teacher representatives and six appointed representatives. I note that the appointed representatives have a convenient majority. The bill will allow a greater delegated power for committees of the authority, provide the new authority with power to approve teacher education and accreditation courses, provide the new authority with power to revoke a teacher's accreditation and, most controversially, provide inspectors with the power to make unannounced visits to schools.

School inspections should simply be an inspection to assist in increasing education standards, not a raid to catch out teachers and staff. According to the Minister for Education, schools should be scared of inspectors, who can unexpectedly come to a school to catch out wrongdoers. The Minister should be aware that in the Prospect electorate, schools already are scared. For too long, the Baird Government has allowed the schools in Prospect to crumble due to an unfulfilled maintenance backlog amounting to some $5.4 million, becoming overcrowded with demountable buildings, and even going without a steady supply of electricity in some schools. What would inspectors visiting Prospect schools see if they made an unannounced visit?

Let me take as the first example the Girraween Public School where inspectors would see nothing but an asphalt playground and 27 demountable buildings baking in the summer heat. They would see children carefully crossing the road to visit council parks at staggered times because there is no room left in the school grounds in which to play. They would also see children crowded into demountable classrooms because the Baird Government has failed to address the over-enrolment and the school is at 109 per cent capacity. At the Pendle Hill Public School, they would see a full school next to a site that is about to become a redevelopment with 1,500 units, which will result in a 50 per cent surge in population in Pendle Hill. The Pendle Hill Public School has grass on its grounds, unlike the Girraween Public School. However, like the Girraween Public School, I fear this will become "demountable city" as the population of the area continues to increase dramatically.

At the Metella Road Public School staff, parents and students also are feeling the heat with enrolment at 100 per cent capacity and as the population of their neighbourhood continues to grow. At the Girraween High School, which is one of the State's top selective schools, inspectors would not see much of anything because the Baird Government has failed to adequately upgrade the power supply to cope, on a hot summer's day, with both the load of lighting and air conditioning supplied and paid for by the parents. At the Prairiewood High School, inspectors would see a wonderful diversity of students from all backgrounds in a rare partially selective environment, packed in to 102 per cent capacity but with no air conditioning. Then the inspectors could go to see the students of the Prairie Vale Public School, who have spent their lives in a school with enrolments at 100 per cent capacity.

At the Bossley Park High School, the inspectors would see nearly $1 million worth of backlog maintenance work that cannot be completed due to a lack of funding. At the William Stimson Public School, the inspectors would see a wonderful community, with families of disabled children being held hostage by the Minister. Despite a promise by the Minister that work would commence in February 2019 to upgrade parts of the school, they will be deprived of additional funding until a section of the Hurlstone Agricultural High School is sold off to developers that will enable expansion into year 12. What a funny coincidence that the upgrade will commence in the same year as a State election. At the Smithfield Public School the inspectors would meet a principal who would do anything for the students at her school and they would see a school that needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional funding to complete its maintenance backlog. The very same maintenance issue could be found at the Smithfield West Public School and at the Bossley Park Public School.

Then there is the Greystanes Public School, the Greystanes High School, the Beresford Road Public School and the Widemere Public School that are all in dire need of additional funding to update and maintain their infrastructure. At least with the Greystanes Public School, a fence, which was promised by a former Liberal member of Parliament and member for Smithfield, Andrew Rohan—promised but not delivered—was built, thanks to the Community Building Partnership grants, in the year after I was elected to Parliament. The Greystanes High School has benefited from a $35,000 audiovisual upgrade. The Widemere Public School, which has not been upgraded for more than 20 years, will have new toilets—hopefully, by the end of the grants program this year.

I think inspectors would find that schools in the Prospect electorate are doing their very best to serve their wonderful communities, but will find that the real underperformer is the Baird Government through its neglect of schools in the Prospect electorate. If the Baird Government is serious about education reform, perhaps instead of trying to catch out hardworking teachers it should seriously consider further investment in Western Sydney schools. I believe it may be time for at least a new primary school to be constructed in my electorate of Prospect to address the overcrowding issues that are at risk of worsening, especially in the northern part of my electorate.

Instead, this bill seeks to provide the Minister for Education with even more power to demand from teachers a completely arbitrary and unscrutinised statement of expectations and with the power to appoint committees with a lopsided balance of power. That is why education providers, teachers and parents' representatives are rightfully concerned about the Minister for Education's power grab. For example, there are concerns that the soon-to-be-introduced annual statement of expectations should reflect the Education Act 1900, which states that the principal responsibility of the State in the education of children is the provision of public education. Other representatives have stated they would like to see clear and specific criteria for the future random inspections. They also expressed concerns about the increased burden but reduced numbers of the Quality Teaching Council as well as the removal of a teacher's presumption of innocence. Additionally, concerns have been expressed to me regarding parent representation not being explicitly mentioned in the bill.

It is vitally important for more funding and resources to be provided to schools for special needs, assessments and classes. This is an issue on which the department is silent, but it desperately needs to be addressed. In conclusion, I personally have concerns about what the bill means for early childhood education—teachers, staff and institutions—because the bill is unclear about its purpose regarding those institutions. Therefore, in consideration of what this bill has to offer, and balanced with the concerns that I have outlined during my speech, while the Opposition does not oppose this bill, Labor nevertheless reserves its right to move amendments in the Legislative Council.

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