The state government has called its changes to the 20-year-old Tasmanian Education Act its most consultative piece of legislation yet but the opposition parties have labelled them a disaster waiting to happen.
Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff tabled the reforms in Parliament on Wednesday, marking the end of more than two years of consultation over education reform which included about 530 written submissions and 17 forums.
The bill includes a voluntary kindergarten starting age of three years and six months, a prep starting age of four years and six months, and a requirement that students leave school at year 12 or with an apprenticeship or certificate III qualification.
Students with disabilities will be able to access both mainstream and support schools and home-educated children will be able to partially enrol in formal schooling.
Mr Rockliff said the provision of 13 years of compulsory schooling came with an extra $100 million in funding for additional teachers, teacher aides and facility upgrades.
“Our educational outcomes in Tasmania need to improve and they won’t improve if we keep doing the same things,” he said.
Premier Will Hodgman said it was not good enough that Tasmanian students as a whole were failing almost every literacy and numeracy benchmark and that 2000 young people were not completing year 12.
A government-convened educational expert group attended Parliament House on Wednesday to brief Legislative Council members on the changes.
Part of that group was Tasmanian economist Saul Eslake who said Tasmanian children received two years less education than mainland counterparts.
“All the available evidence is that the longer people stay in the education system, the more likely they are to participate in the labour force, the more likely they are to have a job, and when they have a job, the more they are likely to earn.”
Opposition education spokeswoman Michelle O’Byrne said cognitive experts had said that children could be damaged by entering formal education which they found too challenging.
Greens leader Cassy O’Connor said more money should be invested in early childhood learning centres which already offered play-based learning, adding the formal school environment was the wrong environment for that.