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Schools and education - a key to the health of our future society and economy

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (09:45): Nothing is more important to the future of our society and our economy than the state of our schools and our education system. I am a passionate supporter of every child's right to access a high-quality public education and I want to see our country do better at providing parents a real choice.

My electorate of Melbourne has 56 schools, attended by 16,000 students. Two-thirds of the students in Melbourne attend one of the 31 government schools in the electorate and 6,200 of these students attend one of 24 government primary schools. Hundreds of parents, teachers and friends of these students have sent postcards to my office in support of a fairer funding system for schools. Along with the Australian Education Union, residents have told me that they believe it is important to invest more in public schools. Hundreds more have written to me by email asking me to ensure that every child in Melbourne gets a high-quality education.

Throughout 2011, I visited many of the schools in my electorate. At every school I was impressed by the innovative teaching methods being used. At one of the most disadvantaged schools in my electorate, servicing the large number of housing commission flats, I sat with Issan, whose family had come here from Africa, while he developed a storyboard on his iPad that had been purchased by the school. At another school I fielded questions from year 10 students, who demonstrated remarkable insights into the Australian political system.

There is no doubt that government schools in Melbourne and elsewhere perform remarkably, developing engaging and creative learning programs for students. However, budget constraints under which our government schools operate mean that primary schools have to make choices between employing additional staff to support students with learning difficulties and employing a specialist science or language teacher to give primary school students early expertise in these areas. Secondary schools have to choose between offering physics and providing extra computers or iPads for disadvantaged students. At a time when we face a collapse in science and maths participation at every level of education, we need to see more support, not less, for science and maths. Schools should not be forced to make these sorts of choices.

Many Melbourne schools operate in a context of disadvantage. Over half of the government primary schools in my electorate of Melbourne are in suburbs with a SEIFA index indicating disadvantage. At the same time, the population of Melbourne is expanding and schools that were closed during the Kennett era are now sorely missed, particularly in north and west Melbourne and in Richmond. The primary function of any government should be to adequately fund government schools as a priority. I look forward to the release of the Gonski review so that we can further debate schools funding and arrive at a fairer funding model. I am the proud product of the government school system and, as I visit the 10 government secondary colleges in my electorate, I am aware of the way in which the decisions I will be making about schools funding in the federal parliament will affect the educational opportunities of high school students today. I, along with the AEU and the schools in Melbourne, will be working towards a fairer funding system for schools.

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