I am very pleased to speak again today on the importance of education in Canberra and, in particular, modernising and strengthening schools in our established suburbs.
Recently I have been visiting schools in my region and have been impressed by the very high standard of both public and independent schools in Gungahlin. So far I have met with around six principals at their schools and will get around with the others within the next month.
Amaroo School has 180 staff and 1,700 students from pre-school to year 10. It has a large, modern campus segmented by year groupings. The acting principal described the range of courses available to its students, including a successful gifted and talented program. I also visited Gold Creek School which, under the guidance of its new principal, has turned its reputation around and is now attracting students from throughout Gungahlin suburbs. They are currently finalising their application to gain International Baccalaureate status. While I have had a different experience in each school I have not failed to be impressed by the motivation of all the staff and the quality of the facilities.
Two years ago Canberra celebrated its centenary. In contrast, I live in and represent Gungahlin where suburbs have only been developed since the 1990s, and land parcels will continue to be released for both residential and commercial development for some time. As our city grows schools in established areas of Canberra need to continually be upgraded to best meet the needs of students, staff and parents and provide the best learning environments. With 75 per cent of public schools having been constructed over 30 years ago, more work is to be done.
ACT Labor has worked to enhance school environments by committing $70 million to the school infrastructure for the future program announced in 2013. This funding has ensured that public school students can continue to learn in the very best school environments. Our high quality education system must keep pace with our population growth and continue to lead the nation in curriculum development, student performance, high quality staff, infrastructure and facilities, and family and parental engagement. In this term of government alone ACT Labor have made significant investments in infrastructure, teacher quality and innovative teaching programs across our 86 public schools.
I will start with some commentary on our investment and infrastructure. In May this year Minister Burch announced an additional $18.4 million for major refurbishments and new facilities for Belconnen High. The investment was in addition to the $2.2 million already allocated in previous budgets to prepare the site and undertake initial upgrades. Stage 2 of the Belconnen High School modernisation project will progress over the next three years. Detailed design work commenced immediately with construction and refurbishment work expected to commence in February 2016 to be completed by late 2017.
In addition to this major upgrade this year the ACT government also committed $30.3 million for the north Gungahlin primary to year 6 school scheduled to open in January 2019; $3.6 million to replace the roofs at Melrose High School and Mt Stromlo High School; $6.5 million for a specialist learning centre at Caroline Chisholm School to provide science, technology, engineering and maths programs to students across Tuggeranong; and $1 million for feasibility studies for a years 7 to 10 high school in north Gungahlin and a primary to year 10 school in Molonglo. The budget will also provide a new CIT campus at Tuggeranong and upgrades to the Bruce and Reid campuses to allow for courses to be delivered where they are needed.
But our investment does not stop at school buildings. In the 2014-15 ACT budget $9.2 million was allocated through the sustaining smart schools initiative to upgrade and maintain our schools’ information and communication technology infrastructure, including the expansion of wireless access points in schools to increase access to digital learning as part of the digital Canberra initiative. In 2015-16, $37.8 million has been committed to replace and upgrade computers and expand wireless capability across ACT primary schools whilst maintaining critical, centrally provided ICT support services.
The ACT government has also a bold target to achieve carbon neutrality in public schools by 2017. The ACTSmart schools program, an excellent program run by passionate people, helps schools support the government with this target. The program provides free support, practical tips, tools and resources to help all schools more sustainably manage their energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Every public school built before 2011 has had a comprehensive energy audit and received an audit report and a free energy best practice guide. The guide provides step by step instructions and recommendations to help schools reduce energy consumption, conduct walk-through energy audits and develop an energy action plan. Schools that implement audit recommendations, adopt sustainable energy management strategies, demonstrate reductions in energy consumption and prove they are committed to saving energy can be accredited under the ACTSmart schools program.
Our government has also focused on the quality of the overwhelmingly wonderful teachers in our schools. The ACT Teacher Quality Institute—the TQI—was established by the ACT government in 2010 to raise the standing of the teaching profession across all sectors in the ACT and to strengthen the quality and sustainability of the teaching workforce. The purpose of the institute is to uphold the standards of the teaching profession in the ACT; provide quality assurance processes to support the delivery of education in schools in a professional and competent way by approved teachers; recognise, develop and promote professional learning; and maintain community confidence in the teaching profession. TQI is responsible for the registration of teachers, developing and applying codes of professional practice for teachers and accrediting education courses.
In this year’s budget the government also provided additional resources to support increased numbers of students with a disability to access and participate in education. This will result in new and innovative programs so that students with learning disabilities have the best opportunity to learn. A $3.9 million investment will see students with a disability be provided extra resources to increase participation in education and for transport of students with disability to ACT public schools.
Learning a language is another core component of the ACT curriculum framework delivered across our public school sector. It enables students to extend their thinking and reasoning skills and apply these in other areas of learning and in processing knowledge. There is a comprehensive program of language education throughout the ACT, with options for students in every region of the city. Various schools in the ACT provide the opportunity to learn French, Italian, German, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Hindi. Learning a language has never been more important than it is today in our increasingly mobile and globalised world.
The gifted and talented students policy 2014 reflects the ACT government’s continued interest in pursuing the very best provisions to ensure the very best for our gifted and talented students. The aim of the policy is to ensure that every child has the opportunity to receive developmentally appropriate programs regardless of their socioeconomic or cultural background, based on their level of giftedness and those other factors which are individual to each student. Once a student has been identified as gifted, schools can use appropriate educational interventions and strategies to cater for them.
Developmentally appropriate programs for gifted and talented students include a combination of provisions to allow students access to meaningful learning opportunities, such as a differentiated curriculum incorporating advanced learning through enrichment experiences; counselling interventions; acceleration options and grouping. These provisions are dependent on each other and are strongly supported by research as central to increasing learning outcomes for gifted individuals.
Parents play a critical role in their child’s learning. When families and schools work together the outcomes for children are better. Research shows the benefits of parental engagement in education include improved academic outcomes and children being more motivated to do well, and improved behaviour and greater confidence. In February Minister Burch led the country in launching a new publication, Progressing parental engagement, with handy fact sheets to help families and schools to better understand what parental engagement is, why it matters, how it works and how it is best achieved. The minister urged school boards and parent associations to use this document to generate conversation about parental engagement and what it looks like in their schools. I congratulate the minister for her national leadership in this area.
Forward planning of public schools is critical in order to respond to land release and urban infill programs. The Education and Training Directorate works with the Environment and Planning Directorate and the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate to ensure availability of suitable land for new schools across the city. The directorate undertakes student enrolment projection modelling using information from land release data, sales data, birth data, occupation dwelling forecasts, school census and capacities data. Planning for a new or expanded public school requires approximately five years from evidence of the need for a new school to open. The directorate is assessing a number of potential new school sites, the majority in Gungahlin and Molonglo. They include Taylor, Denman Prospect, Eastlake, Kenny and Riverview.
A number of areas in the ACT are subject to urban infill, placing demand on existing public school infrastructure. Evidence of school enrolment pressure is analysed to determine likely trends and solutions. Those solutions explored include reducing out of area enrolments, adjusting the priority placement area boundary, planning for a temporary capacity increase, planning for medium-term capacity increase, planning for a permanent capacity increase, and changing the structure of the school.
In addition to the above analysis, the directorate has commenced a master planning process to capture local and regional information about education, training and childcare services. This process will help in future asset management and service delivery as well as inform decision-making on the effective and efficient use of public assets. Our schools are community hubs, and we need to make sure our planning systems and community attitudes are able to maintain the diversity and affordability of houses in our suburbs to ensure that schools remain viable community hubs.
In conclusion, schools are important to all our suburbs, which is why our established suburbs must continue to diversify and have the ability to provide housing for families of all ages.
This is a topic of much thought for this government—how we make sure we enable our new suburbs to thrive and our established suburbs to grow and adapt over time so that schools can remain an essential part of our suburban mix. One thing is clear: this Labor government will always take the education of our children seriously, in particular, making the education of all children—no matter their background and no matter what part of the city they live in—as our number one priority.