I rise to make a contribution on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020. In doing so, I will first of all just set out some of the things that the bill is seeking to do, and that is: to clarify and enhance the existing powers of the Victorian Institute of Teaching with respect to the approval of initial teacher education programs; to grant new powers to VIT with respect to the approval of pathway programs, being programs that are identified or marketed as offering to provide a pathway to entry into an approved initial teacher education program; to grant explicit powers to VIT to endorse continuing education programs for schools and early childhood teachers where the programs satisfy the voluntary standards; to broaden VIT’s information-sharing powers; to improve the efficiency of VIT’s operating processes and procedures with respect to particular teacher registration processes, investigation processes and their ability to delegate powers; and also to strengthen accountabilities to the minister by the VIT.
Education is something I have always felt very passionate about, and I used my first grievance debate in this Parliament back in 2016 to point out not only what I felt was the great discrepancy between rural and regional outcomes but what was happening in the Shepparton district, in particular in Shepparton and Mooroopna, in relation to our four secondary schools. There was no secret at that time that we had dramatically falling enrolments across most of the schools and that outcomes were not anything like what we would hope them to be. In this place we spend an enormous amount of time demanding investments in infrastructure, but really the most important capital we can invest in, ever, is the human capital—and that is to equip our children to go forward into their future lives. I have always said that education is the key to freedom, and I truly believe that. And in particular for regional young people, it opens doors that are not otherwise easily accessible.
On that note, I would just like to point out that even in today’s Shepparton newspaper there is an article called ‘Encouraging education’, and it is just noted there that in the 2016 census 35.9 per cent of Shepparton’s population had not completed year 12, compared to the Victorian average of 24 per cent. Now, just under 11 per cent of the population had completed a bachelor’s degree or above, while 47.2 per cent had no qualifications. These are really important figures that do show that statewide disadvantage that really gets highlighted in regional areas. The Economics of Education Review, according to their study, found:
… students whose families received welfare were 55 per cent less likely to finish secondary school than their classmates whose families did not.
Now, these figures really say a lot. In some areas—and in particular an area such as Shepparton-Mooroopna—which do have high levels of disadvantage, the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas for those schools are some of the most significant in the state in terms of disadvantage. It seems to me that it is the role of a local MP to advocate very loudly to improve educational outcomes in our communities, and I have to say I was pretty shocked to see that very little had been done for a very long time in that space. You could go back to the 1990s, when efforts were made to talk about a senior secondary school for the town, and again in the 2000s—probably 15 years ago now—an attempt was made to try and get some improvement in education generally. But it did not happen.
So it is very pleasing at this point to have a look at what has been happening since 2016, and I would say to the Minister for Education that it was a great day when he came to Shepparton in 2017 and announced the Shepparton Education Plan. It has caused a lot of confusion for some people and it has been absolutely transformational in so many ways, but I think that the hope for everyone in our community who values education is that it will be a pathway to much better opportunity, much better education and a much broader range of subjects and opportunity—something that was very limited. If you wanted to do physics in year 12, you used to get in a taxi and have to travel to the nearest town to the school that had it. Specialist maths, I am told, was a subject that was simply not available in that district.
We are going to do something so transformational, I hope, that we will really change the state of education. I would just like to make the comment that I am not under the illusion that grand new buildings alone will do it. The reason I support this piece of legislation is because it is about standards, it is about teacher professionalism, it is about continuing education for teachers, and it is also about addressing the isolation often that teachers in regional areas suffer from. Often you will find teachers in the same school for many, many years, so the importance of refreshing, of being required to undertake professional ongoing education is something that I think is very important. Teaching is a noble profession. It is a very important profession, and teachers tell us that. We know that in many other professions—law, medicine and the like—there are strict requirements that are enforced in relation to your being required to undertake further education, to keep up standards, to be up to date, to read journal magazines, to go to conferences and to understand what the latest thinking is, what you can do better. It is really important that this happens. I understand teachers do have a requirement to do 20 hours a year of professional training—that is really important—but in other professions your whole registration depends on it. I think that it is really important for the government to be looking at the content of this professional learning, making sure that we are all staying up to date with the latest thinking, the latest neurobiology and the latest ways of learning that we are coming to understand are in fact adopted in our schools, and that our regional schools get the chance of that, because there is very limited choice in regional areas also. I think it is so incumbent upon the schools that are available to provide a high standard of education.
Going back to 2016, when I did all that research for my grievance debate, I noted Auditor-General reports, one after the other, talking about the discrepancy in educational outcomes for regional and city people. That was really an instigator for me to start doing something about it. We have now got the Shepparton Education Plan underway. We have got an outstanding new high school being built, which will be a very large school of nine schools within one campus, each with 300 children and their own leader. Each child will stay in that school the whole way through. It is a model that is considered a good model. So secondary education is going through a major shake-up and change, and that school will open next year.
We also have an integrated early childhood centre about to open at the Mooroopna Primary School—a very disadvantaged school again. This is the model that Doveton College have: a wraparound from maternal and early childhood clinics to three-year-old kindergartens, four-year-old kindergartens and then primary schools, all in the one place, all one entrance, capturing people from the very beginning all the way through and making them feel comfortable. We know that attendance is also a significant issue in regional areas. Building relationships within schools, making people feel comfortable about being able to come through the door of their school and be welcomed and feel like they belong, is going to be a really important factor in the success of that. This particular model is a really important one in addressing that in that particular school, and I hope it will be rolled out in many other places across the district when it is shown to be the success we know it will be.
The Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership is an organisation that is in existence to help improve teacher quality and teacher learning and keep people up to date. It is located somewhere in North Melbourne. I do ask the government to consider relocating it—not relocating the whole Bastow institute but having an arm of that in Shepparton. We are central; it would carry across the whole Hume region. It would provide that ongoing impetus and enthusiasm among our teachers from the very earliest stages right through to when children finally finish in year 12 and lift the standards. I am so hopeful that this education plan will be supported by this legislation, and I support the bill.