Education and Children's Services Bill

Second Reading

I rise to speak on the Education and Children's Services Bill 2018. It is a bill that repeals the Education Act 1972, and also the Children's Services Act 1985, and substantially reforms a number of other areas of legislation that deal with the administration, the registration of teaching and the like to support the educational institutions and the standards of those in South Australia.

I commend the Minister for Education for bringing this bill to the parliament. It follows some comprehensive work done by the former government, and I think it is to their credit that they did, in the final dying days of the 16 years of Labor administration, finally act on the reviewing of this legislation. In 1972, I was still in school, and it is very concerning to me that it has taken decades to actually review this.

When I first came into the parliament in 2002, the then member for MacKillop had just completed a major inquiry in relation to the review of the act. One of the stumbling blocks appeared to be reforms in relation to child care. That was an area of interest to me because in my pre-political life, at the time as a young mother, I served to support the establishment of family day care in South Australia, which I am proud to say is still operating today. It is an important form of child care available to parents. It is also something that is critical, and often the only available child care, in country and regional parts of South Australia, so it was a very important initiative.

It was established by 1979 into the early 1980s in order to enable management and regulation by the state administration. In other states, it had been developed under local government management. We felt it was important, not necessarily for child protection in those days but in relation to the significance of ensuring a high standard of care was provided by those who were going to undertake this work in their homes. We on this side of politics, and I personally, have always supported rigorous regulation in this area, so it has been developed.

I have to say that childcare centres were embryonic in the 1970s, other than in community-care settings, but they have certainly been a very important available service. Again, they have been regulated by the state to ensure that parents and families are able to pursue their employment and other activities. They also provide backup and security for vulnerable families who need support in that regard.

A lot happened back in the 1970s, but not much has happened since. Under the Brown and Olsen administrations, there was a significant strengthening of school governing councils, and I applaud that. I applaud the current minister for ensuring that our governing councils are able to operate with a level of independence but also with support, and that parents have the chance to have a real say in relation to their children's education.

Many members know that I spent 11 years at Parndana area school, and I am very pleased to have had an excellent public education. Year 12 was not available at that school at the time. Parents had fought a long, hard battle to get year 12 at the school and they finally won, but it was not available in my day. If you wanted to study year 12 or matriculation, it was known that you would come to Adelaide. I think it was a sad day when, under the previous Labor government, Parndana area school became a campus under the Kangaroo Island school structure. We now have children who travel to the Parndana campus and then have to get on a bus to travel to Kingscote for some of their lessons. Sometimes, staff and/or students from the other campus do that travelling.

As I said, I think that was a sad day. Parents fought very hard against that, and now the Parndana campus no longer offers years 11 and 12; in fact, I think even year 10 is at risk. For local communities, it means that parents of children who are 10, 11 or 12 years of age have to start making decisions about where they are going to live and whether they might have to leave a regional centre because the education facilities are simply not available for their children. I can remember one of the members of the former government's education committee coming over—what was her name? She had red hair and thought potholes were a tourist attraction.

Ms Thompson. I do not mean any disrespect; I just cannot remember her electorate.  Reynell, I am advised by the whip. She was sent to Kangaroo Island to try to restructure all of this. At that stage, the proposal of the then government, under minister Trish White, was to shut down the Parndana campus from years 1 to 5. That was going to be it. Ten-year-old children were expected to sit on a bus for 2½ hours in the morning and 2½ hours at night, to go back and forth. They had no understanding of the importance of education facilities for children in regional areas.

Concerned as we were, I have to say that I think the decision made by the government of the day, under minister Lomax-Smith, to sell off a whole lot of campuses and build superschools was most devastating to education. Some have been reasonably successful, but many of the children in them are not able to succeed because they are living in an environment where there are thousands of children on campus and it just does not suit every child. It is so typical of the Australian Labor Party. They have a mantra of one size fits all, and the result is that not all children, especially if they have high needs, have an opportunity to obtain the best outcome.

I commend the previous government for at least starting to get active in repealing this act and giving it some reform, giving it some contemporary focus, but they threw it in during the last session and of course it lapsed and did not progress. I was privileged to be appointed as the shadow minister by the Hon. Rob Kerin when I first got into parliament. Sure, I had children of my own go through the public and independent sector, and they enjoyed a good education. My grandchildren are now in the sectors, and I have been very impressed with the level of education and support that they have had in their schools, first at Glen Osmond Primary School and now at others.

I just make this point, though: my electorate has changed in the last 16 years. I have been very privileged to represent areas covering Crafers Primary School and Uraidla Primary School, which were beautiful little Adelaide Hills schools, but they were not at their fullest capacity and there was an opportunity for further attendance there. Boundaries change, and I have lost the representation of those schools, which are now ably represented, of course, in the electorates of the members for Heysen and Morialta.

I can recall an occasion when the member for Cheltenham, then minister for education, visited the Uraidla school, and I attended with him, to welcome the children from Inverbrackie, whose families were in detention there for a temporary period. The minister, I am pleased to say, at least went to meet with these children. These were highly articulate and often multilingual children who were coming to the school, and they added a very big change of dimension to the children at the school.

They were welcomed, and I cannot commend the community highly enough for welcoming the children. I must say that I did arrive with a box of cherries, which, in the area around Summertown and Uraidla, are as big as peaches. I saw lots of very happy Inverbrackie children with red mouths and cherry juice running down their faces. I think the member for Cheltenham said to me, 'Yes, you have outdone me on that contribution.'

Under recent boundary changes, Rose Park is a primary school that I have been extremely proud to represent. It is symbolic of Burnside, Linden Park and Marryatville primary schools, all schools in my electorate that are overloaded. We have children on the rafters. We have regular lessons in the resource centres because there is no adequate classroom space. Every inch has been built on. We have multistorey buildings, for example. There are now over 1,000 students at Linden Park Primary School, a school campus that was built for 300 to 400. It has had some magnificent redevelopment on it, but it is to accommodate the fact that it is extremely popular.

People move into South Australia, into Adelaide, into the seat of Bragg, so they can get access to these schools. Zoning is something that has to be enforced, like High Court Rules. It is necessary because it is such a popular area for public education. I do not want to in any way detract from independent schools in the electorate that are also regulated effectively under this act by the minister and the department, but I make the point that these are very attractive schools. Marryatville High School is highly sought after, especially when such schools and the neighbouring Glenunga International High School have an extremely good international reputation. They are highly sought after.

I thank the new minister for advocating and convincing the Marshall team in the run-up to the election and now in government to advance the transfer of year 7 to middle or high school campuses. It will give immediate relief in my electorate. There is not a lot of room at Marryatville High School because they are also so popular. Obviously, we will need to have some immediate relief in our primary schools because they are chock-a-block. I thank the minister because it will give us some immediate relief. We will have to work on where they are going to go to high school.

The city campus, which is a new school that is being established near the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site, is an important initiative of the former government because Adelaide High School is already full again. There was no provision for the children of the northern suburbs and North Adelaide and surrounds for a public school, so we clearly needed a city campus. That is all well and good, but it is already subscribed.

The new development on the Glenside Hospital site neighbouring my electorate is going to have multiple dwellings, but there is absolutely no provision for education services in the new city campus because it is going to be filled up with other children who are already on their way to being registered there. We have a high demand. We have a high standard. Whilst we want to maintain that, we are going to have to think about how we deal with that in the future.

Obviously, having gone into government after 16 years of opposition and seen myriad reports in relation to the development of child protection laws in this state, our educational facilities and childcare centres not only have a role in providing for education and are the great equaliser of opportunity for our children but they are also a place of sanctuary for our children. We as parents and those of us in the parliament who are in leadership roles should never underestimate the significance of education, the advancement and employment opportunities and the value of work and the contribution our children and grandchildren will make in due course. It is also a sanctuary of protection.

Our teachers, amongst others, have a mandatory reporting obligation in relation to child protection and they are trained in identifying where children may be at risk. Whilst there has been a spotlight shone on institutional child sexual abuse in the last decade covering South Australia in the royal commission and the more recent national royal commission, we know full well that the stranger danger talks that were given to our children in their early years deal with just a miniscule profile of child abuse behaviour.

Whilst institutional abuse in educational, church or charitable facilities has had that spotlight shone on them, the overwhelming and significant area of protection that is demanded for our children in this area is familial abuse. I say that today in the context of this bill because it is not only the greater proportion of where our children are at risk but it highlights for us the need to ensure the safety of a child who presents at school, where they spend a very large portion of their daylight hours between the ages of three to four and up to 16 or 17 and sometimes beyond.

It is an area where, if there is a problem in that child's life in their family and home life outside of the school, our teachers are trained and alert to pick up the indicia that might shine as an aspect of risk for those children and enable that to be reported and acted on. That is a very important role because children largely like and trust their teachers; sometimes, they do not like them universally. I can think of one or two I was not too keen on at school, but largely there is a high level of respect for them. Very often, they forge a relationship in the school community that enables them to convey or seek out some support to ultimately disclose things that are happening in their home that should not happen.

Whether it is in an abusive model or whether it is direct neglect, these are things that are important. I cannot express how much appreciation I have for the many good teachers and staff in the school environment who take that role very seriously and act to try to ensure that children are not only protected but nurtured through an opportunity to be able to safely grow up and of course achieve their greatest opportunity and outcomes for their future.

The other thing I would briefly say is that contemporary issues are important. Bullying in schools is an area where it is a very effective catchment to enable us to help children be protected against cyberbullying, particularly between children. This is not something we are looking to overcriminalise, although there are about eight different offences under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act which could actually relate to many acts of bullying, even between children, and obviously if aged over 10 they can be prosecuted. We need to set up structures that deal with this and deal with the very harmful aspects of bullying via a device between children.

We are working with the Minister for Education, the Attorney-General's Department, the Department of Human Services and our very own member assisting in relation to domestic and family violence to make sure that we have an environment within our schools. We are looking at family conferencing and a number of other areas in this regard, together with the backup of the police, where required, to make sure that we provide that sanctuary of safety.

Whilst there are a number of other contemporary issues, members have raised the continuation of other important aspects of this bill, including the protection of parents, staff and other children in relation to unacceptable conduct by others who come onto school grounds. The former government's insistence, having foreshadowed a reinstatement of the union representative rather than recognising and respecting the rights of teachers to be able to nominate their own representative, whether they are a union representative or not, I think is very narrow minded. I am disappointed that they have not recognised the importance of what parents and teachers want in relation to their advocates in this area.

Finally, part 11 sets out some appeal processes, which are an important protection for parents if they are unhappy with a decision of a chief executive or a minister—appeal to the District Court and, for people employed as staff, to the South Australian Employment Tribunal. I thank the Minister for Education for presenting the bill, and I look forward to seeing it pass.