Education And Training Reform Amendment (School Age) Bill

Posted on 17. Sep, 2009 in Speeches

I rise to speak in support of this bill. Education is not just about preparing students for tertiary education, training or work, although those are important goals. Education is about preparing our young people for their whole lives to enable them to enter the community and to participate to the fullest possible extent.

Agreement has been reached nationally across the states and territories to strengthen participation by, firstly, having a mandatory requirement for all young people to participate in schooling — an approved school or an equivalent — until they complete year 10; and secondly, having a mandatory requirement for young people who have completed year 10 to participate full-time — at least 25 hours per week — in education, training, employment or a combination of these activities until age 17.

The minimum school leaving age varies in advanced economies around the world. Disconcertingly, in New South Wales, our neighbour, the minimum school leaving age has been only 15 years of age, whereas in Victoria it was raised to 16 years of age in 2006. Not surprisingly, in the United States the minimum school leaving age varies across states from 16 to 18 years of age. The UK is in the process of raising the minimum school leaving age from 16 to 17 years of age, and in 2013 it will be raised to 18 years of age. With the election of the Scottish Nationalist Party in Scotland, this reform has been reversed and the minimum age will revert to 16 years of age in Scotland. In the years to come it will be interesting to compare the outcomes of England and Scotland. Sadly it is likely to be to the detriment of Scotland and its young people. This shows the wisdom of taking a national approach in Australia.

In Victoria this bill implements the agreed national approach by, firstly, amending the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to change the minimum school leaving age from 16 to 17 years; secondly, making it clear young people can meet the requirements of the act by undertaking a combination of education, training and employment at non-school locations and that children who have already left school will not be required to return to a school location; thirdly, using subordinate legislation in the form of a new ministerial order under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to address the mandatory national partnership requirement relating to the completion of year 10, including clearly and broadly defining what the term ‘completion of year 10’ means; and fourthly, using the ministerial order to specify the required hours and other matters relating to a child’s participation in approved education, training and/or employment and other exemptions for compulsory school attendance, including the completion of year 12.

From this it is clear that we are not lifting the minimum school leaving age just for the sake of forcing kids to stay longer at school. There need to be options to meet the goals and capacities of individuals, and there are. These include VCAL, which is the Victorian certificate of applied learning. As I mentioned a moment ago, this bill provides for a combination of employment and training.

I have examined the differing views on this issue. There seem to be two different strands to the arguments of those who oppose raising the minimum school leaving age. Firstly, and not surprisingly, some conservatives will argue about the cost of the measure. Others argue that it masks unemployment rates, but this argument is in reality a cynical excuse for not resourcing education. This measure is resourced by $135 million of commonwealth funding to Victoria.

More disconcertingly, a second strand of opposition comes from some civil libertarians who argue that it is a breach of human rights to compel young people to stay in education against their wishes. The minister clearly rebutted this argument in her charter statement by pointing out that compulsory education meets the goal of protecting vulnerable people — that is, children.

As a progressive, civilised, modern and relatively affluent society, we have an obligation to give all young people every opportunity to become better prepared to fully participate in the community. It is not only their future; they are our future. I commend the bill to the house.

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