Wednesday, 17 May 2023


Legal and Social Issues Committee



Legal and Social Issues Committee


Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (12:41): I move:

That this house requires the Legal and Social Issues Committee to inquire into, consider and report, by 25 June 2024, on the Victorian education system across government schools, including:

(1) trends in student learning outcomes from prep to year 12, including but not limited to:

(a) the factors, if any, that have contributed to decline;

(b) disparities correlated with geography and socio-economic disadvantage;

(2) the state of the teaching profession in Victoria, including but not limited to:

(a) the adequacy of existing measures to recruit, remunerate and retain teachers;

(b) training, accreditation and professional development, particularly for teaching students with special needs;

(c) the adequacy of the Department of Education’s measures to support teachers;

(d) the impact of school leadership on student wellbeing, learning outcomes and school culture;

(3) the current state of student wellbeing in Victoria, including but not limited to the impact of state government interventions, following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, to address poor mental health in students, school refusal, and broader student disengagement;

(4) the administrative burden on teachers and the availability of new technologies to alleviate the burden;

(5) examples of best practice in other jurisdictions and educational settings used to improve student learning outcomes and wellbeing; and

(6) school funding adequacy and its impact on student learning outcomes and wellbeing.

Before I begin kicking off the ball on this very important inquiry topic, I would like to say from the Nationals and the Liberals that our thoughts and prayers go out to the children, the families, the principal, the teachers, the staff and the school community of Exford Primary School regarding that tragic collision at Eynesbury yesterday. I was speaking to someone associated with this only this morning, and they said this will not take days or weeks, it will be months and years. I am sure all of us in this house extend our thoughts and prayers to that school community in the hope that they improve and there are good health outcomes for all those poor children affected.

The reality is that in thousands of Victorian classrooms each day we have fantastic teachers who come prepared to teach. They are dedicated, they are organised and they are positive role models for their students. Their focus is on student learning, educational outcomes and student wellbeing. They are positive motivators. They also constantly give up their time at lunchtime or during school hours to go that extra mile: to help with homework, to finish that assignment or to make clear that piece of information that was lost on a child or many children. They go out into classrooms and into the yard to play and communicate with students at lunchtime, to take that extra time whilst throwing down a sandwich. These are the same teachers that go home most weeknights and work at home. Sunday afternoons and Sunday evenings become another form of the workplace, with lesson preparation and corrections. They attend staff meetings and parent meetings, and they have to shoulder the burden of a fair degree of administration. I know this because the teachers that I am speaking about were my colleagues when I worked for nine years, up until 8½ years ago, in the state school system in Gippsland. I pay homage to each and every one of those teachers and the thousands of teachers in our state that do an amazing job.

It is also clear that our Victorian education system is under significant pressure. It has been significantly impacted over the last three years because of the COVID pandemic and the lockdowns and the fact that for 170 days we had students not being able to engage in the formal school process, in class, but having to attend their lessons via Zoom or receive information and work at home. This has made an impact on our students, and I think part of what the inquiry needs to look at is delving into how deeply that has cut across various students in our state and what has worked in bringing students back up to speed but also what has not worked and what needs to work in order to make up that lost time. Now, we cannot rewrite history; we can only go from now.

The Legal and Social Issues Committee apparently has absolutely no work on its plate at the moment. I thought potentially there would be an inquiry in terms of rental housing, but that did not get up today, so there is time, and this committee can well deal with this issue. It is important to unpack the issues in terms of listening to people in the field – to teachers and educators, to principals and school leaders, to school councils and, importantly, to parents and past and present students. I was walking up a hill with some fantastic year 11 students the other day, and their chatter was around how they coped or did not cope during the lockdowns – they came in when they were only in year 8 – and the experiences that they had. That was illuminating.

The breadth of this inquiry really focuses on student learning outcomes – let us put Victorian students at the centre of this inquiry – and student wellbeing, mental health and engagement. And let us look at COVID but look at it in such a way that all of those parties can come together and explain how we can improve student wellbeing and student outcomes. Also, very importantly, let us look at the state of teaching in Victoria – the teacher workforce, the professional development and teacher retention. By pushing out the reporting date to June next year, we can do a deep dive. We can examine this calmly and allow the secretariat to have that time to complete all required activities, and we can give that experience both in a formal capacity and to individuals in the community to make their comments.

There are other inquiries on the table, and it actually works quite well to have that June reporting date. There are two federal inquiries underway. The Education and Employment References Committee has got the inquiry into the national trend of school refusal and related matters, and that is going to report to the federal Parliament in June this year. That is certainly something that we have seen in the media and reports: about students, unfortunately, having been isolated at home and not exercising that muscle, not wanting to go back to school. So this federal inquiry is looking into that.

There is also an inquiry on the issues of increasing disruption in Australian school classrooms, and that is to report in November this year. Again, we can see some alarming statistics around the increase in disruption, aggression and antisocial behaviour directed at principals and staff – and there are some stats that I will talk to shortly. That is coming up in November. Our committee could actually take those reports on board and examine them by its reporting date.

There is also one that was commissioned – and I was most interested in it – in 2017, which is by Professor Halsey into regional, rural and remote education. That is Australia wide, so it certainly had some interesting things to say. We need to drill down into what that means for our regional areas in Victoria specifically. How does low SES – socio-economic status – impact learning? The government may say, ‘We’ve done this. We’re aware of this. We don’t need to.’ I think as legislators, as elected members of Parliament, it has been a long time – in fact almost 20 years – since there was a deep dive into the education system in this Victorian Parliament. Last year we saw one looking at universities’ investment in skills, not looking at prep to year 12. Also in 2017 there was an autism inquiry – again very important but not a holistic look at the state of government education in Victoria. Then back, just by way of finalising reports, between 2010 and 2014, when there was an inquiry by the joint Education and Training Committee, they were quite prolific in their short and sharp educational activity, and it was really good to read that and see former member for Eastern Victoria Region the Honourable Peter Hall also on that committee. So a deep dive into this very important issue I think is much warranted.

We only have to look today at the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. That is an international inquiry, 50 countries, and the reports from that look at year 4 students and the abilities that they have in literacy – very important, reading and literacy. If you do not have reading and literacy skills, you are behind the eight ball. Unfortunately, Victoria is walking backwards, and it is the only Australian state to register a statistically significant decline. I note in the paper today the Minister for Education was praising Victoria, and I understand that we had a reasonable level or position. But any decline is actually quite concerning, and the Grattan Institute’s education program director Jordana Hunter said we need to ‘get serious about teaching reading’ in the Age today.

Another mark of international standards, how we are standing against the rest of the world, is the Programme for International Student Assessment – PISA, as we like to call it – the OECD program that looks at this and assesses it reasonably regularly. The last one was in 2018. Another one is coming out, but we are not at that point yet. We find across the nation – let me clarify that, across the nation – maths is declining, a full year behind. Reading is declining, almost a full year behind, and science is the same. I take the point this is Australia wide, but as I said, we have the opportunity to do a deep dive into education. We can think globally, but we need to act locally as an upper house and as responsible legislators.

Victoria’s NAPLAN – again, if you are a teacher, NAPLAN can make you pull your hair out sometimes, because it just can be, ‘Is it useful? Is it informative?’ I know certainly some schools used to suggest some students stay away on NAPLAN day. It is often quite a contentious thing, but it is an indicator. It is a benchmark, and unfortunately our recent NAPLAN results say that there has been certainly the largest drop in educational outcomes of any state in the nation and a significant drop in year 5 numeracy and grammar and year 9 spelling. So this is something that we need to investigate in a holistic way.

The Grattan Institute recently put out a report into education. It is specifically looking at teachers, greater teachers and how better government policy can help, and it had three recommendations. Let teachers teach by better matching teachers’ work to teachers’ expertise. Help teachers to work smarter by reducing unnecessary tasks – we know that there is huge administrative burden that is placed on them more and more. They are required to teach core subjects, but there is also additional workload and additional curriculum. I think we have the opportunity, without getting overly political, to unpack what that is and unpack a way forward to bring those educational outcomes for our students up and also rethink the way teachers work and organise their work in schools. It comes to the point: how can we reinvent this and look at this?

We see regularly the issue around teacher shortages. You only have to pick up the paper to see very often the stress that not only classroom teachers but principals are under, scrambling to find teachers to fill their classrooms. I thank the respected president of the Victorian Principals Association Mr Andrew Dalgleish for the conversations we have had. I have had a couple of conversations with him, and he spoke recently about the fact that we need quality teachers in front of our classrooms. There are a thousand teacher positions on the Department of Education’s website. I was also speaking with a local teacher in my electorate. He is a principal. There are over a thousand students at his school and 160 teachers, and he cannot get sufficient teachers in. He has got vacancies. As well as doing his own administrative work as principal, he is taking classroom classes, as is his assistant. These are quite stressful situations. We need to in a collaborative way investigate how we can fast-track and support not only classroom teachers but also principals in their leadership. We also see that a recent nationwide survey of 4000 teachers found that 70 per cent have unmanageable workloads. Three-quarters reported moderate to severe stress, depression and anxiety, which is above the standard population. This must have a flow-on effect.

As I have spoken about just now, school burnout from principals is real and experienced on a daily basis. The ACU Institute for Positive Psychology and Education did a survey. I am putting some stats on the line here: 2500 Australian principals, almost 40 per cent, said that they had had threats of violence towards them by parents or students. Thirty-one per cent had experienced physical violence. An alarming 53 per cent reported offensive behaviour of conflicts and quarrels. We have got burnout, stress and anxiety. We need to sit down at the table and let those principals come to the table and have these very important conversations. There are pathways to leadership I know already in the current structures, but we need to look at how to ensure that there are positive ways that we can mentor and keep principals. They are coming in younger, they are burning out sooner. How can we look at ways to support them and let them be part of that conversation?

Student disengagement and drop-out is a major, major issue. I say that from both a statistical point of view and an anecdotal point of view, from speaking with families who survived COVID and survived the lockdown. Some coped with that COVID lockdown, working via Zoom, and some rejoiced in it, but for a huge percentage of people – young people, students – it was a real struggle. There was significant disengagement, and it is such a crying shame. We cannot wind back time, but what programs are working well and what other jurisdictions – and that is part of this inquiry – are showing the way? What best practice is happening? We see that Estonia is the highest performing OECD country. What is happening there? What is happening in Korea and Japan? We can learn from other jurisdictions, and it is important to do so.

Also, I would like to thank Mr Puglielli, who is in the house now, for having the discussion around incorporating part (6) into the inquiry terms of reference on school funding adequacy and impact on learning and wellbeing. We have a million state school students, or above. The Victorian government has spent $1.7 billion on education. There can be a Pandora’s box opening when we include funding, but I am more than willing to take up the Greens position and include this.

I will finish my contribution there. We have had a shocking mental health shadow pandemic for our students. There is nothing more important than the health of our society and the education of our young people. This is an opportunity to do that. I thank my colleague the Shadow Minister for Education Dr Bach – and certainly he will speak and provide the parts that I have not today – for his influence and positivity. I thank the crossbenchers for other conversations that I have had. I hope the government will see this for what it is – the desire to make better outcomes for our students and to bring about positive mental health and wellbeing for our young people, because they are our future – and I look forward to further debate on this topic.

Sitting suspended 1:01 pm until 2:02 pm.

John BERGER (Southern Metropolitan) (14:02): Today I rise to contribute to the debate on our colleague’s motion on the Victorian education system. But before I do, I want to also join Ms Bath in extending my thoughts and prayers to the children and families affected by the devastating school bus crash in Eynesbury in Melton. I know that everyone in this chamber will join me in expressing our sadness. I also want to commend the hardworking first responders from the CFA and Victoria Police as well as Ambulance Victoria who rushed to the scene, and the hardworking personnel at the Royal Children’s Hospital that worked around the night to care for these children.

It feels weird to change tune like this, but so does the moving and shaking of our chamber. Back to motion 16 from my colleague Ms Bath, this motion requests that the Legal and Social Issues Committee inquire into, consider and report by 25 June 2023 on the Victorian education system across government schools. It touches upon a variety of things that an investigation aims to find out, and I will address these shortly.

I want to begin by first saying that clearly the proposed review of the Parliament is duplicating the work that has already being done, and it is not a good use of the valuable resources or the committee’s time, given the government is working hard each and every day to ensure Victoria continues to be the Education State in every way. There are several reviews afoot to ensure we apply the best research and advice when educating in Victorian schools. This system is reviewed through a range of public resources, including teachers, academics, students and parents. For instance, there is a national school reform agreement expert panel, the Productivity Commission’s review of the national school reform agreement, a teacher education expert panel, the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan and the Senate inquiry into school refusal, and the Victorian government has been actively participating in all of them.

We are truly the Education State, and those of us on this side of the chamber get it. We know that education is a great equaliser. I know that some do not take pride in this, but we as a state pride ourselves on education for our younger Victorians. We recognise the impact and the importance of education on an individual’s life and how many opportunities a decent education can give you. We also recognise how integral to our community teachers are: the hard work, the hours, and the hours of unseen work, often unpaid. We thank them for the immeasurable good they have done for our children, our families and our community.

Guided by these principles, it is essential that Victoria has a government that shares these values and puts them into practice. Because of this, I am proud to be a member of the Andrews Labor government. We put our money where our mouth is, and we talk about education. While those opposite, the Liberal and National parties, spent the 1990s shutting schools down in the northern and western suburbs, the Andrews Labor government has worked tirelessly to build schools for our growing suburbs. Compare this to the Andrews Labor government’s record on new schools. We are opening 100 new schools by 2026 and upgrading over 1000 existing schools. I know that my colleagues in the west, Minister Blandthorn and Minister Stitt, would know more than me on this topic, but every day, basically, it feels like we are opening up a new school in the west.

Let me just give you a taste of how rapidly we are getting on with the job. I am sure that my colleagues in the west would be more informed to speak on this than me, but sometimes it feels like there is a new school opening up every day. Just to give you an idea of how rapidly the Minister for Education has been getting on with this job, I will read out all the schools that were opened last year alone. These schools were opened last year: Bass Coast College San Remo campus, Clyde Creek Primary School, Clyde Secondary College, Deanside Primary School, Endeavour Hills Specialist School, Gilgai Plains Primary School, Greater Shepparton Secondary College, Greenvale Secondary College, McKinnon Secondary College east campus, Port Melbourne Secondary College – that is in my neck of the woods, and I am excited to visit that school soon – and of course Strathtulloh Primary School, Willowbank Primary School, Wollert Primary School and Wurun Senior Campus. That is 14 schools opened in one year alone. 2020 saw the building of 11 schools, and in 2021 we built 14. Next year we expect to see another 14 built.

This has put us well ahead of schedule in our plan to build 100 schools by 2026. This is the work that the Labor Andrews government is all about. It is strong, life-changing infrastructure that affects all and will be felt for decades to come – just like Kennett’s school closures are felt to this day. In my neck of the woods, families and students have felt the benefits of having governments that are serious about education. In Prahran, where my office is, Prahran High School has been open for four years – that is four years of valuable education made accessible for students in the area. While those opposite are members of the coalition whose federal counterparts walked away from funding the final two years of the Gonski agreement, leaving Victorian students $1 billion worse off each year from 2018, we are a government that invests in education. Look at our announcement earlier this year. Victorian families can now save hundreds of dollars – that is right – with extra vocational education and training funding to cover the costs of students’ course materials. That is a $120.2 million funding package to make sure schools can cover course material for students and deliver the vital VET courses in industries where they need it most.

But this motion also speaks to ‘the state of the teaching profession in Victoria’. We here on this side have a deep respect for our teachers, as I touched on earlier. This is why we have delivered several policies to support teachers. We are committed to supporting new teachers in their educational training. We believe in opening schools and giving opportunities where we can – just like making both the certificate III and diploma of early childhood education free. This means that for those wanting to get into early childhood education, they have one less barrier in the way of achieving their dreams and goals.

We are also expanding the Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership in regional areas, with learning centres to be built in Bairnsdale, Ballarat, Bendigo, Mildura and Shepparton and with regional educator learning centres being opened in Geelong and Moe earlier this year. These educator learning centres are world-class facilities. We are making training accessible and viable to ensure that we have a strong and robust education workforce. It would be a tragedy if any talented would-be educator was unable to pursue a career in education due to economic or geographic constraints. It also greatly benefits students in regional areas by ensuring that teachers have access to this world-class training. In training new teachers we are also offering staff to those regional schools that might find it more difficult to fully staff their classrooms. The innovative Teach Rural program will benefit schools around St Arnaud, Bairnsdale, Wangaratta, Tallangatta, the Otways and Swan Hill. It will help student-teachers and preservice teachers gain a range of experience in teaching environments outside of metro areas.

The Andrews Labor government also believes that all schools should be safe and supportive spaces. These principles have guided many of our education policies. Despite how much of an exciting time in your life it is, your school years can be really tough. Students may have a variety of issues going on in their lives – at home or at school. It is important that schools be equipped to be able to support any student that is struggling with issues, whether it be mental health support, cultural support or learning support. The 2021–22 budget saw the delivery of the $200 million Schools Mental Health Fund. The fund is designed to allow schools to establish mental health support programs tailored to the needs of their students. It also facilitates the connection of schools with specialist services to strengthen the support networks of their students.

This government is incredibly proud of the measures that it has taken to ensure that every student in Victoria feels welcome and supported in the school environment. We have spearheaded several programs to promote the comfort and support of students across Victoria. We have made great efforts to assist schools in accommodating the needs of LGBTQI+ and gender-diverse students as they face unique difficulties. For too long we have heard stories of students who feel unwelcome or unsafe at their school, all because of the treatment they have received because of their identity. The Andrews Labor government is a proud supporter of the adoption of the Safe Schools program. It is a fantastic means to address the wellbeing of LGBTQI+ students across Victoria.

The Andrews Labor government has invested $1.6 billion in disability inclusion. This includes so many life-changing programs, like grants we offered in 2020 to build and upgrade schools with increased accessibility within schools to courses developed with the University of Melbourne’s graduate school of education to train Victoria’s teachers in teaching students with learning disabilities.

Aiv PUGLIELLI (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (14:12): I rise today to make a contribution on behalf of the Greens on the motion before us, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about public education here in Victoria, which I have quite recently benefited from – go, Eltham High – so that further work can be done to investigate pathways for improving student learning outcomes and wellbeing as well as for improving the job satisfaction, pay and working conditions of our teachers. I was pleased, as has been prefaced, to have some productive discussions on the wording of this motion with those across the chamber to ensure that school funding and teacher remuneration are considered within the terms of reference, and as such I will be supporting this motion.

We have the potential to ensure that public education is world class. Right now Victoria has some of the lowest funded public schools in the country – not exactly a good look for Victoria the Education State, as was noted earlier. This lack of funding is creating serious barriers to addressing many of the elements referenced in this motion. As the last few years have made clear, we as a society ask a lot of our public teachers and educators. Not only did they rise to the challenge to deliver schooling online during the pandemic, but now beyond those trying times we still expect teachers to bring their skills and their care to classes every day while the public system is not providing them with the pay and resources to thrive in their profession. There is no reason that in a wealthy country like Australia Victorian public school teachers should be purchasing school supplies out of their own pockets. There is no reason why our teachers and principals should be working 16.5 unpaid hours per week, according to some estimates. We can do better than that. We need to be doing more than just saying thanks to teachers for all of their work. We need to be offering higher wages and better conditions. Smaller classes, more support staff and less administration and teaching hours will all help teachers to have the time to do what they do best, which is teach. This will certainly benefit students too.

We ask a lot of schools and of teachers. We expect good academic results while also developing well-rounded young people. They often need to address the many complex individual needs of students, including and importantly their mental health and their wellbeing. We rely on teachers to support students through difficult periods in their lives, and public schools disproportionately enrol students with additional needs and those who experience disadvantage in our community. As we heard in the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, there is much to be done to support the mental health and wellbeing of our young people. School can provide an excellent gateway to this support and to services. We all know that there is a great need for more mental health services for young people and actually everyone in our community. I acknowledge the government has taken some steps towards providing more mental health support in schools, but I would be keen for this inquiry to hear about what else needs to be done. We all know a teenager who is having a tough time – who is struggling with school, refusing to go or having issues with friends, bullying or harmful behaviours – and I want our schools to be resourced sufficiently to fully support these kids. I have no doubt that schools are doing their best with what they have, but I would like to see them have more. Every family should have access to a high-quality, genuinely free, local public school no matter what their needs, their background or their location.

This inquiry will give us the opportunity to examine the scope of the impact that underfunding has had on educational outcomes. The burden is felt most acutely by students in Victoria’s poorest suburbs. Nationally, students in Australia’s most disadvantaged schools are about 10 times more likely to have their education affected by chronic teacher shortages than students in wealthier schools. When public schools cannot afford quality classroom materials, textbooks, computers and lab equipment, it has a ripple effect. Schools must ask for greater and greater contributions from parents. In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, thousands of parents are struggling to afford uniforms and textbooks for their kids. Schools need to be provided with sufficient funding to deliver the curriculum and programs without the need to rely on family contributions. Victoria’s public schools are still underfunded by billions of dollars every year, and both state and federal governments need to come to the table with a new school funding agreement that finally delivers 100 per cent of the Gonski schooling resource standard. The difference this would make to schools, students, families and teachers cannot be understated. With fully funded schools there can be more teachers, more support staff, more support for students and particularly more support for students experiencing disadvantage in our community.

I look forward to taking part in this inquiry as a member of the Legal and Social Issues Committee and working to ensure that Victorian teachers and students are provided with everything they require to allow them to thrive in our public schools. With well-paid and well-supported teachers and fully funded schools, our students will have the best opportunity to learn and grow in their school community.

Matthew BACH (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (14:18): I am pleased to rise also in support of this motion. I want to thank Ms Bath for doing the legwork and putting together a fabulous motion, but I know she would think it remiss of me if I did not also thank colleagues from around the chamber for their input. I might take up where Mr Puglielli left off, talking about funding, and I actually think that that addition that has been made as a result of engagement with Mr Puglielli and the Greens party is a really important one. As the house knows, I recently had the great pleasure of further engagement with the Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union, and they advocate on a whole range of fronts of course and are fierce advocates for their members. More than anything, though, they currently are pushing around funding, and when I spoke to senior staff at the Victorian branch of the AEU about what they see as the key problems as a result of Victoria’s significant underfunding of our public schools, they pointed to a range of things: not solely poorer outcomes for kids who are doing it really tough – although that is part of the problem that we are seeing, as Mr Puglielli said, not enough support for students with mental health problems, not enough support for students with particular needs – but also not enough support to allow the most able students to really stretch.

We saw a shocking example of this just today. The latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study data is out, and unsurprisingly to any of us who take great interest in education, only Victoria saw a significant backwards step – only Victoria – around the country. The government gets out of the argument around results – results which have been declining for 20 years here in Victoria – by saying, ‘Look, some other Australian jurisdictions also see really bad results.’ That is true, as Ms Bath said, but we should not just be happy with that low-ball approach. We should aim to be the best in the nation. There is no reason why we cannot compete with Estonia and a whole range of other countries that currently do far better than us on really important metrics.

I think the motion is correct when it points to both learning and student wellbeing. These elements are intertwined of course, so I think it is correct in that way. I want to thank also members of the crossbench for ensuring that there were some changes to section (2) which broaden out section (2).

Post pandemic, with results through the floor, with student wellbeing such a concern for all of us in this place and mental illness on the rise, it is absolutely appropriate that for the first time in a very long time we as a Parliament look into our public education system.

Ryan BATCHELOR (Southern Metropolitan) (14:21): I am very pleased to speak on Ms Bath’s motion and to have the opportunity to talk about public education and education in general here in Victoria. Before I do I just want to put on the record and express my sympathies for the families at Exford Primary School. People will have watched reports in the last 24 hours of the horrors that emerged with the bus accident yesterday afternoon. Certainly on my personal behalf and I am sure on behalf of many in the chamber, I express our deepest sympathies to the families and the school community and particularly pay tribute to the staff who rushed to the scene to help in the immediate aftermath. I know that we all, whether we are parents or not, want to see our schoolkids get home safely at the end of every day. It is an absolute tragedy, and I think it is important to just mention it in passing because it is certainly on the minds of many Victorians here today.

It is a great opportunity to have a debate in this chamber about the important topic of our education system here in Victoria and particularly about our public education system, because there is no more important institution to the future of our state than that which is educating and teaching the next generation of Victorians, and the commitment that the government has definitely shown over the course of its two terms so far and ongoing into this third term to that public education system, to our teachers and, most importantly, to the students, who we hope are learning what they need to learn to grow into the people who will lead this state and lead our nation and frankly lead the world into the future. We know that the contributions that our Victorian kids can make and will make will reverberate around the global stage.

I am an absolute believer in the importance of education and ensuring that we have a high-quality world-class education system. In my inaugural speech I made a passing reference – I did not have enough time to go into it in a lot of detail – to the fact that we can be great supporters, and we are great supporters, of public schools while acknowledging that there is always room for us to do better. I think that is the spirit in which we on the side of the house are absolutely taking both this motion today but this topic in general – we are strong and fundamental supporters of our public education system, of our public schools. That is why, as my colleague Mr Berger so eloquently outlined, we have spent so much time building more of them. We believe in public education so much that we have spent so much time and so much effort building more schools. There is nothing more significant I think to many of the communities right across Melbourne, in both our fringe and our growth suburbs.

But frankly, you see it in the established areas of my communities in Southern Metropolitan, where this government has built new schools and they are open and thriving. The reason that this government had to build new schools in established parts of Melbourne in order to service the great need for this coming on is because the Liberal Party under their former government, which Dr Bach in his interjections earlier spent so long saying did such great things for education in Victoria and had great educational outcomes, actually spent their time closing schools. What Labor has had to do on coming to government is build them up again. While they closed schools, we built schools, and those schools are opening and the kids in them are thriving. There are many such examples, particularly in –

A member: People are voting with their feet, because they’re coming back to our public schools.

Ryan BATCHELOR: they are – parts of Southern Metropolitan, in parts of the electoral district of Albert Park, in South Melbourne. A couple of new schools opened there, and they are absolutely thriving and a credit to the public education system and the staff who work there.

So we do think that this demonstrates our government’s commitment to public education is unyielding, as is our commitment to supporting the staff who work there. Certainly we understand that the job of teaching can be a challenging one. There are lots of things that we expect our teachers to do, and frankly students and our children create all sorts of challenges for them as they try to go about that task. There is an urgent need to make sure we have got more people entering the teaching profession and people staying in the teaching profession, and that is why we have recently seen education ministers around the country working together on this very important topic, an example of the great relationship you can have between a state and federal government on a matter of national significance like our teaching workforce.

We have got our teaching workforce action plan, which is being implemented. There are five priority areas across the teaching workforce action plan, including improving teacher supply so we can get more people choosing teaching as a career; strengthening initial teacher education to ensure that those teacher education programs deliver classroom-ready graduates; retention, so keeping the excellent staff that we have, enhancing career pathways, reducing unnecessary workload and freeing up our teachers to focus on the core teaching tasks and collaborating with their peers; elevating the profession, recognising and valuing the importance of what teachers bring to their students, obviously, but also to our broader communities – I think all members will have engaged with some truly fabulous schools in our communities and seen just what they bring; and then better understanding what is going to come in the future, so getting ahead of the game in terms of analysing and understanding the emerging trends that are coming to support better workforce planning. That work is underway. We are doing it in collaboration with other governments around the country, and education ministers are monitoring implementation of that plan.

The other thing I just wanted to briefly touch on was the significant investment that the government is making in not only building schools and supporting our teachers but also supporting our students, particularly the support we are providing in terms of wellbeing at school and particularly in relation to mental health. $600 million is being spent to support and embed wellbeing and learning at all Victorian schools – to support every government secondary school in Australia to access vital mental health support services and the rollout of mental health practitioners – because we know that for some, achieving better learning outcomes often is hindered by mental health and wellbeing challenges.

Matthew Bach interjected.

Ryan BATCHELOR: One of the ways that we go about improving the learning outcomes of so many in our schools, Dr Bach, is to support their mental health and wellbeing, and that is why we do not see this as being additional to what is required in our classrooms. We see mental health support and wellbeing as being a central part of that.

I was recently at Sandringham College in Southern Metro talking to them about the role of and the way their inclusion support staff are working with many of the students they have with a range of learning disabilities and the kinds of supports that they are providing to ensure that those students remain engaged both with the school and also in the classroom. It was really uplifting to see the tangible difference that these kinds of inclusion support programs and the staff that run them are having on ensuring that these students are getting the best out of their schooling experience so that they can get through and graduate from school with all of the associated literacy and other educational outcomes. It is very clear from both the contribution that I have been able to make briefly today and also those of my colleagues – and I am sure we will hear more over the course of the afternoon – the very significant commitment that this government has to our public education system. We are building more schools, we are supporting our teachers, we are supporting our kids, and that is everything we need to be doing to make sure that this state has the best education system.

David LIMBRICK (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (14:31): It will surprise nobody in this chamber that I support this motion to inquire into educational outcomes and in particular the impact of school closures during the pandemic. I have always believed schools should never have closed. I believe it is the job of adults to protect and nurture children, but during the pandemic it seemed like they were treated as little more than potential vectors of disease. Of course some kids managed to study during the pandemic like champions and some just got through it, but many of them got left behind both socially and educationally. I am able to say this with confidence because I have spoken to many parents. Families suffered because of a myopic focus on daily infection numbers rather than the harms being caused by school closures. Some of these harms are only becoming apparent now. I know it was a difficult period for my family, even though we were relatively well placed to manage it. I remember it was extremely hard to even run a birthday party online, so I can only imagine what it was like to manage a whole classroom. It was a horrendous time for single-parent families and others with limited computer or English literacy.

Many of you will disagree with me about whether or not the actions during the pandemic were justified, but the one thing we must all surely agree on is that the government now has a responsibility to get to the bottom of what happened and provide help to those who need it. There are many other worthwhile questions to be asked. Is the money on education being spent wisely? Are teachers being supported well enough? What can we do to help our kids get better results? These are all very worthy questions. It is our job to ensure no child is left behind and it is our job to create a better future for our children, so let us step up and do our job. I commend this motion to the house.

Gaelle BROAD (Northern Victoria) (14:33): I rise to support this motion by my colleague Ms Bath asking the Legal and Social Issues Committee to examine the Victorian education system across government schools. During Ms Bath’s speech earlier she highlighted the fact that it has been 20 years since this Parliament did an inquiry into our education system from prep to year 12. The inquiry would look into the trends in student learning outcomes, disparities relating to geography and socio-economic disadvantage and the state of the teaching profession in Victoria, including the adequacy of existing measures to recruit, remunerate and retain teachers and the support provided by the Department of Education.

This issue is of great importance to me and to the thousands of people living in Northern Victoria, whether they personally have children of school age or not. The state of Victoria’s education system affects everyone. Sadly, I have to report that according to many constituents that I speak to, our education system is struggling. Teachers and other staff do a tremendous job, often under extreme pressure. Many central and northern Victorian schools now rely heavily on casual relief and emergency teachers. I have been told that 40 teachers left Greater Shepparton at the beginning of this year and a key secondary college in Bendigo was 17 teachers short at the start of the school year. In February the Age reported that the principal of Echuca College had to teach year 10 English because of staff shortages – just one teacher calling in sick left the school in a tough situation. At the time the Victorian Principals Association said the workforce shortage extended to public, Catholic and private schools and that the shortage was particularly bad in regional areas.

According to research from Federation University, teachers are leaving the profession in droves, citing salary, lack of respect, intensification of workload, assessments, parent issues and the full-on demands of teaching leading to burnout, particularly after the COVID pandemic. A recent survey of over 4000 teachers by the Black Dog Institute shows that 70 per cent of teachers report unmanageable workloads and half are considering quitting in the next 12 months. One in four were teaching a subject they were not trained or qualified to teach. Teachers are suffering stress, depression and anxiety at four times the rate of the general population.

In addition to the extreme workload faced by teachers, I have spoken with parents, teachers and students, and many young people are struggling with mental health and disengagement. The inquiry would consider the current state of student wellbeing in Victoria, including the impact of the state government’s interventions following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a parent of three kids, I understand what it was like to juggle kids doing school from home.

The inquiry will also provide an opportunity to do the research and examine best practice in other jurisdictions and educational settings used to improve student learning outcomes and wellbeing. I am pleased to see that La Trobe University is soon going to be hosting roundtable discussions in Albury–Wodonga and Shepparton to look at education pathways, because there is a significant gap between regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne.

The terms of reference for this inquiry also include school funding adequacy. This is an important issue, and I hope that we will see additional funding for education in the coming state budget. As my colleague the Shadow Minister for Education Matt Bach has pointed out, this government spends the least of any Australian government on education, while Victorian parents pay the most, over $100,000 for one child from prep to year 12. Across Northern Victoria families are clearly paying more, but they are getting less as our schools are under pressure. Many teachers are leaving the workforce due to stress, exhaustion and burnout. Outdoor recreational activities and educational opportunities are being cancelled due to the government’s ongoing lack of funding for schools. Our teachers carry a heavy administrative burden and face endless hours of paperwork and duplication.

I want to acknowledge the valued contribution that teachers make. I am sure most of us in this chamber would be able to recall an encouraging word from a teacher. My mum was a teacher, and I saw her dedication and commitment to improving the lives of her students. To be in a profession where you can teach members of the same family across generations and see young people grow up is a unique privilege. I strongly urge the house to support this motion so that we may have a full inquiry into the state of education in Victoria at this present time.

Sonja TERPSTRA (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (14:38): I rise to speak on motion 16 in Ms Bath’s name, which is effectively a referral motion to the Legal and Social Issues Committee for an inquiry into the Victorian education system across government schools. I thank Ms Bath for bringing this motion to the house. It is an important issue, but there are some things that I wish to get on the record in regard to it. I have had the benefit of listening to speakers in the chamber today, and in regard to this debate there are a number of things that I must say. I do find it curious that we are only focusing on government schools, and I do often think that when we have a motion such as this, the political motivations are really about how much we can degrade or run down the government school system, the system that really is the most welcoming and inclusive public school system in Victoria and one that welcomes all comers and supports all children no matter what their socio-economic background or status is – accommodates and supports them like no other system.

I just want to address the issue that was raised by Mr Puglielli in regard to funding. The government’s total recurrent expenditure for government schools grew by over 39 per cent between 2014–15 and 2020–21 – a bigger increase than any other jurisdiction in Australia. The government has made significant investments in our teachers, in student health and wellbeing and in universal access to high-quality VET.

I just want to say – and I will come back to mental health again in a moment – in regard to mental health Victorians are a resilient population. Our government has done so much work to support students. When I was listening to Dr Bach’s contribution, what he was effectively saying is it is all about the results, but when you send a child to school you educate the whole child. It is not just about the results, because if you support a child and they have their needs met, whether they are social or emotional – whatever needs they have – they will actually learn well. So there is a bit of a disconnect, and I find it quite surprising given Dr Bach’s background. But again, he has never set foot in a public school as a teacher; he has only ever taught in the private system. And I know, as someone who is proudly public school educated – and so are my children – that, making a choice as a parent, I would only ever send my children to the public and government school system because I want them to learn in a secular, inclusive learning place that is fit for their needs and supports their needs.

It is something we find all too often in this chamber whenever we talk about public education: those opposite want to attack it, deride it and degrade it at every turn. We know it is in their DNA, because Kennett shut over 300 schools. We hear those opposite talk about students, but how many students were displaced when they shut schools? Students could not attend their local schools. They were told, ‘Yes, well, you can go and attend this school, or go and attend the private school down the road.’ Parents could not afford that. There was displacement. They were forced to travel, which caused additional expense and hardship. I know it only too well as someone who campaigned on public school issues myself before I entered Parliament. For those opposite to try and say they have got some kind of credibility in this space is completely ridiculous.

Let me just return to results for a moment. Victorian students have achieved great results and some of the highest NAPLAN results in the country, ranking first or second in eight out of 10 domains at the primary level. Year 3 students scored their best ever mean reading results, yet again proving that they are the best readers in the country. There have been outstanding improvements in the results of many schools across the state, and that is why we continue to be Australia’s Education State.

It was very disappointing to hear Dr Bach in his latest thing on Sky News, where he really insulted parents, teachers and students. It was really disappointing. I mean, Dr Bach puts himself forward as the alternative education minister yet insults students, teachers and parents at every turn. This is the sort of thing that came out of Dr Bach: ‘Censors cleansing our kids’ bookshelves are creating a generation of illiterate children.’ Oh, my goodness. And I have just spoken on the results that kids have achieved. I do not know – we must be living in an alternative universe, but anyway. The opposition spokesperson for education Dr Bach compared Victorian students to cave children in one of his recent diatribes on Sky News. I read that article – it talks about the analysis of a couple of books that Dr Bach focused on. I think some of the books were The Wild Washerwomen, The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Jacinta Ermacora: That’s a great book.

Sonja TERPSTRA: they are great books – Shoo! and Madeline. Some of the things I will not repeat. I do not know whether there was some partaking of psychoactive substances there, because it was quite the wild ride. When I read some of these things, I just thought: wow, if any member of Parliament on the government benches had said some of the things that he said in that article, I am sure it would have been all over the Herald Sun. For weeks and weeks it would have been dined out on. But of course this article just kind of went through to the keeper with barely a whimper. I just do not understand how Dr Bach can put himself forward as the alternative education minister but insult children, parents and teachers at every turn.

Again, I think there was another contribution here earlier saying this is one of the most expensive systems and parents are paying. This government has done more for parents on this –

Members interjecting.

Sonja TERPSTRA: Absolutely. There are funds for camps. There are funds for uniforms. All these things are designed to address any cost-of-living challenges, and I know this government in terms of policy has done more to address any inequities that were left by those opposite in the policy frame for education. For example, we have tightened up the parent payments policy so that schools cannot charge for things that are not essential. That helps parents make sure that if they have got a child – sometimes families have four or five children – and they have got to send them to school with a uniform, we help with the cost of that. We help with all of those sorts of things, and we have made sure that schools cannot charge for things that are not essential. So over here on the government benches we want to make sure that parents can send their kids to good local, publicly funded government schools, because every public school in Victoria is a great state school.

So again, parents, these insults have not stopped there. He compared Victorian parents via his news. He issued mocking instructions to parents to:

… throw an i-Pad at your children and go back to watching Married At First Sight …

Wow, what is that about? How is that helpful? Then on mental health Dr Bach continued. The mental health of some of our students is a serious concern, but he said it is ‘not the Battle of the Somme’. What a disgraceful and outdated stigma of mental health the member is perpetuating. This is atrocious.

Melina Bath: On a point of order, Deputy President, there has been wideranging debate on this topic, and education should be the focus of this, but attacking another member of this house and misquoting is not part of the debate, and I ask the member to come back to the debate.

Sonja TERPSTRA: On the point of order, Deputy President, I reject what Ms Bath has said. It is a direct quote of what Dr Bach –

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Sorry, you are debating the point of order.

Sonja TERPSTRA: No, I am explaining.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: You are debating the point of order.

Sonja TERPSTRA: Ms Bath also had the same opportunity to explain her point of order. I am being directly relevant to the motion because Dr Bach raised these points in his contribution.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I would just bring the member back to the motion as it is written rather than taking up other items.

Sonja TERPSTRA: Again, I will talk about the mental health aspects that were raised in the motion because again this is a wideranging inquiry that is only looking into our public school system. I am sceptical of the motivation behind bringing this motion, because it will be an attack job and a hit job on our public school system. On the back of the transformational Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, the Labor government has invested more than $600 million into mental health in schools. Not only that, we have got the doctors in schools program as well, so we have delivered funding for qualified medical practitioners in all government secondary and specialist schools across the state. We continue to roll out our mental health in primary schools program as well as evidence-based mental health training and funding.

So we do not dismiss the concerns of students and parents. We do not ignore them. We do not use them to drum up a reputation fit for right-wing shock jocks. This is what is absolutely atrocious about this: it is whipping up fear and loathing for no good purpose and continuing on with making people concerned. What we need to make sure of is that our schools, our public school systems, are properly supported and funded. That is something those opposite will never do, because they hate anything with the word ‘public’ in it. They hate anything with the word public, and Dr Bach should be ashamed of his contribution not only in regard to this motion but in regard to comments that he has made, on the record, publicly, in regard to the public school system.

Joe McCRACKEN (Western Victoria) (14:48): I might try and set a different tone for my contribution in this matter. I come to this as someone who spent 10 years teaching. I have been a head of department, a careers coordinator and a mentor for our younger teachers as well. I have been responsible for delivering curriculum in a 7 to 12 context in the humanities area more generally, and I have had to match that against the standards of the curriculum set out in the public system. I also keep in touch with a broad range of teachers and learning support officers as well, who have taught in a number of different contexts; I speak to them regularly. I guess broadly speaking I do think it is important to conduct an inquiry into our education system. I will outline my reasons in a second, but I will just say that this is not an opportunity for us to demonise teachers. This is a fact-finding mission. It is an opportunity to listen to the experiences of teachers, of learning support officers, of families and of professionals – because this is one of the most noble professions that I have had the honour of working in.

In relation to the concerns about learning outcomes, I guess we have sort of got to think about: what learning outcome do we want? Is a job or an apprenticeship? Is it just measured as an ATAR result? Is it the attainment of skills and knowledge or experiences? We need to consider what outcomes we actually want from an education and then decide how we best measure them. One of the common measures that is used is the NAPLAN data, which, as some may know, measures at years 3, 5, 7 and 9, and it looks primarily at literacy and numeracy. That is often heavily used as one indicator of success or otherwise, but I do not think it should be the sole indicator to talk about the success or otherwise of the system. In my experience the biggest challenge is in early secondary years, and it particularly relates to year 7, 8 and 9 boys and their literacy. I have seen firsthand that the standards over the last 10 years and the ability of young men in particular to have legible handwriting, reading and auditory skills – listening – probably have diminished to an extent that you could put them back two or three years, and it is a big challenge. So that seems to be one aspect that this inquiry could look into which may actually result in positive yields. You could almost argue that that in itself could be an inquiry, to be honest.

I want to talk about the state of the teaching profession in Victoria, and it is an interesting matter. Research by John Hattie, who some might know is a well-renowned researcher and academic and has been involved in this area for a long period of time, suggests the two most significant factors that impact education. The first one is teacher quality. The second one is what is known as shared teacher efficacy, and that basically means teachers working together in a collaborative way for the benefit of student outcomes. Both of these factors revolve around the teacher, their knowledge, their capability and the practice of teachers in the work that they do, so in terms of supporting teachers to be the best that they can possibly be, what options are available? What could we actually think about?

Firstly, we can look at the robustness of the training and qualifications teachers need to attain in order to qualify as a teacher and how that actually works. What goes into the input of a teacher to make them a great teacher? Secondly, VIT, which is the Victorian Institute of Teaching, and other bodies do run professional development. Anyone who has attended a teacher PD, as I have, would know that they are not always the most exciting experiences to sit in. They could be looked at to enhance the teacher experience, to really home in on the skills that might be needed to improve teacher practice. Thirdly, and this is a bit of a different idea altogether, we could look at teaching almost as an apprenticeship model, rather than a university model where you do units and study like that. It would be a much more hands-on experience. So that is another idea that could be considered as part of this inquiry.

The third point that I want to talk about is the current state of student wellbeing in Victoria, and this has got to be one of the most significant areas where students and teachers probably need support. In the past a teacher was just seen as a teacher, as an educator and imparter of knowledge, but we know that in the modern education system they are so much more. In recent years teachers have also morphed into what I would call quasi welfare workers, and there is a lot of work that goes into that and a lot of skills which probably would not be traditionally taught in a strictly teaching discipline course. I know from my own experience that it was challenging. Lockdowns in particular caused real issues. Sometimes there was flexibility, but at other times there were real challenges engaging young people in their own learning.

One of the biggest challenges was to create a consistent structured day that young people could revolve around, and I know from experience young people really love structure and consistency because it gives them pattern and routine. From my own experience I know that there were some students that thrived. You could call these students self-starters. But there were others that really found it challenging. However, some of these students, even those self-starters, really suffered anxiety as well because they lacked the normal structure there would be in a normal school day. Many who did not have the teacher-to-teacher face time suffered, and this was partially due to the lack of social interaction but also due to the fact that being in front of a teacher just was not there. Quite often these students learned either in a visual or in an auditory sort of manner, and I had to diversify classroom teaching practices many times. You have to cater for different needs in a classroom, and it made it really difficult to do that in a lockdown situation. These challenges associated with engaging students are difficult. Lockdowns certainly amplified that impact, and I worry that probably in the next couple of years we will see the lag impact of that come out in various forms of measurements and results.

The last thing I want to talk about is the administrative burden on teachers, and this is something that I certainly had a lot to do with as a head of department. I can tell you how frustrating it is if anyone has ever had to go on an excursion. Now, I do acknowledge that sometimes there is paperwork in place for good reason, but remember I had to complete a 28-page form, which is known as a risk assessment form, to go on excursions. It did not matter if I was taking six kids down the street to go to an Anzac Day service or I was taking a whole year level out to Kryal Castle, which I have had to do in the past; there was a standard template that had to be done, and the amount of time it took to fill that form out took me away from the important work of teaching. My experience is not unique; many teachers have been burdened by those sorts of imposts on their time. Imagine if those imposts could be alleviated in some way. This is some of the important work that the inquiry could look into in order to enhance the way that we have our teachers focusing on teaching. Technology could help alleviate the pressure on teachers; however, I think the regulation around what teachers actually do in their job needs to change as well. Teachers perhaps should not be, necessarily, risk assessors, pen pushers and subject to filling out form after form. Let us get teachers to be freed up away from that stuff so that they can actually focus on what they are paid to be doing, which is teaching.

I encourage the chamber to support this motion. We must remember this is an inquiry. It is an opportunity for the education sector to be heard. It is also an opportunity to think about how we as members of this chamber can make a difference to the young people and their future, because really that is what education is all about. It is about helping our younger people so they can thrive and have the best possible future they can.

Rikkie-Lee TYRRELL (Northern Victoria) (14:57): I am rising today in support of Ms Bath’s education motion for an inquiry reference to the Legislative Council’s Legal and Social Issues Committee. As the parent of two school-aged children that are currently being educated in the state system, I have genuine concerns as a parent and representative to my constituents in the Northern Victoria Region, and this is why I am supporting Ms Bath’s motion.

My youngest child started prep in 2020 when all of the COVID lockdowns started. This has impacted his vital early education to the point where his basic education in reading and writing was delayed so much that he has been in school tutoring now for over 12 months to catch up. Unfortunately a lot of parents are not in the same situation as I am, and they cannot afford the time or costs involved for their children to catch up to the education standards they need to be at. We need this inquiry to source the vital data and information needed to boost our failing education system. I say ‘failing’ because only recently I participated in my daughter’s year 7 parent-teacher interviews, and it was there that I discovered that her entire year 7 grade at the high school was at a year 2 to 3 spelling level. That was very alarming. We are letting our children down by continuing with the education system that we have. I was disgusted to hear that all of this year 7 class was at this level. That they are four to five years delayed in a student’s necessary skill set is really impacting their academic development. Spelling is a vital basic for the academic development of our young Victorian population, and it is alarming to see that they are so delayed.

I am going to stand here and support this motion because I think as a Victorian government we do need to reassess our education system, and the vital data and information that could come from this inquiry may help us better equip our young Victorians and young families. I am going to keep it really short, because we are running out of time.

Jacinta ERMACORA (Western Victoria) (15:00): I speak on the referral motion to the Legal and Social Issues Committee on the Victorian education system. I am concerned, with extensive federal reviews and detailed existing data collection in the education space coupled with the Victorian government’s record, being the Education State, and further work underway in Victoria, that any further information via the referral will provide either no new insights or cost taxpayers of Victoria more money than the value provided. In reading the motion I am concerned that much of the information requested to be investigated is already available in the public realm. If this motion is passed, the outputs of the proposed inquiry are likely to duplicate existing information or at best validate the Andrews government’s existing education strategy.

The other concern I have is that this kind of motion runs down the state government education system a little bit. The exact opposite is the case when it comes to the work and commitment of this government. Since coming to government in 2014 the Andrews Labor government has made record investments in Victorian schools. In fact the Andrews Labor government’s very first budget invested $4 billion in Victoria’s education and skills system, representing the single biggest boost to education funding in Victoria’s history.

Let us contrast that with the previous public record of the Liberal state government. Here I quote our Premier Daniel Andrews in a press release on 2 April 2016, where he said:

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has hung his Victorian Liberal colleagues out to dry today by confirming the former Liberal State Government’s cuts to Victorian government schools.

The Premier went on to quote from the Australian on the same day:

The Commonwealth funding to Victorian schools rose by 22.2 per cent but the Victorian funding to the same schools declined by 7.1 per cent.

In 2016 the Andrews Labor government directly released policies to address The State of Victoria’s Children Report 2013–14, which highlighted the need to reduce the impact of disadvantage on children and young people’s education. This publicly released report led to a massive boost to needs-based funding and investment in early childhood education and maternal and child health. Breaking the cycle of disadvantage became a strong focus of the government’s investment programs. In contrast to the Liberals’ appalling record on state education, the Andrews government has strengthened the regulation of school teaching qualifications to ensure kids receive high-quality teachers and high-quality education. Continuing education programs for school and early childhood teachers have been established as well as processes for providers to seek endorsement of postgraduate continuing education programs.

We have much to be proud of on this side of the chamber when it comes to education. I am particularly proud of the key election commitment this government made to ensure students with disabilities get the same chances as other students. I conclude there.

Moira DEEMING (Western Metropolitan) (15:03): It gives me great pleasure to rise here today to support this wonderful motion by my colleague Melina Bath, and I would just like to say that if the government have nothing to hide about the state of education in our government schools then they should hide nothing.

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (15:04): I thank all members for the broad-ranging debate today, and I would like to just recap some of the comments. I have been listening very intently to the pros and cons of this inquiry. Mr Berger opened the account, certainly mentioning Mr Kennett. That was one from the Andrews government. He said that there is already an internal review and that we do not need this. I think that the public – the parents, students and principals that I have spoken to – actually feel that they do need to unpack the issues around student outcomes and indeed teacher investment, teacher training, teacher retention and also securing the longevity, health and wellbeing of our principals, because we know the importance of good leadership there.

I thank Mr Puglielli very much for working with me on shaping, with Dr Bach, the nuance in this motion and putting number (6) in. I think that was very wise. He certainly spoke about the need to remove some of the administrative burden on teachers so they can do what teachers do best, which is teaching. I thank him for his contribution. Dr Bach as always was succinct, articulate and on the money, and he will be on this inquiry. He is a member of this committee, so he will certainly add a great deal of depth to that.

Mr Batchelor spoke about supports in public schools and went on to talk about the big build within public schools that the Andrews government has produced over recent times. It is important to build schools, but it is also important to be able to put quality teachers in front of classes. I think he was talking about students thriving. Well, from the metrics we are seeing from international studies and from localised studies, we are hearing different things. We need to invest both in our teachers and in that quality of education.

I thank Mr Limbrick for saying that he will support this, and his interests certainly lie around the COVID impact on student mental health and wellbeing and the long lag time and what will happen. This will give us an opportunity to see that. I thank Ms Broad for her contribution. As usual, she has shown the most articulate understanding as the daughter of a teacher in the public sector.

Georgie Crozier: We’ve got a few teachers this side.

Melina BATH: We do indeed have a few teachers, Ms Crozier. One thing that she pointed out which is very important I think – that one in four teachers are teaching outside their qualifications. That happens in small schools, but it is not an advantage. It is actually quite a stress on those teachers. They are having to scramble. It adds to their workload and I am sure concern from time to time, and also that quality – does that filter down to the classroom? It is a concern. How then can we improve the flow of teachers into our schools?

Ms Terpstra is always very entertaining. She also raised Mr Kennett, and I think she raises Mr Kennett every time. She does not like what we are saying on this side. I find that a line of attack is the best line of defence on occasion, but I am always interested to hear her comments. Mr McCracken showed what a quality person we have here as a former teacher and leading hand. I think he is on this committee, so if this gets up, he will add great insight and nuance and show the importance of integrity of the issue at hand, not the politics at play. So I really hope we can get him to elucidate his experiences and draw out our witnesses. Ms Tyrrell, thank you very much for your contribution. Hers was about sharing her own personal experiences as a parent of small children who are having to make up ground post the pandemic experience and post learning from home. Ms Ermacora kept to task on the government standard.

I think this inquiry gives us a great opportunity to really serve our students but also investigate the positive ways that we can invest in our teachers so that they can have longevity in a very honourable and important profession and also serve the broader community well into the future.

Motion agreed to.