Monday marked a milestone for Tasmania’s education system, with the rollout of the new Education Act now underway.
Last year, the redesigned act passed through Parliament, bringing with it changes to enrolments, attendance expectations, and home schooling, as well as potential changes to the school starting age.
When these changes were first proposed, they were met with a mixed reaction from the community, especially around lowering the school starting age.
The lowered starting age, down to four years and six months, is the only aspect of the bill not to have passed Parliament, with a community consultation period on the change now undertaken and the government due to report back on its findings by September.
But as of July 10, the rest of the changes now apply to schools and students.
Parents could now face a fine if a student does not attend school under a certain set of circumstances, and if a child has more than five days off in a school year, they will need a medical certificate.
More flexible enrolment options have also been introduced, with dual enrolments available to students with a disability and part-time enrolments available for students schooled at home.
To address negative adult behaviours on school grounds, principals will now have the power to require adults acting inappropriately to leave the grounds or school activity.
Older students will also have to either complete year 12, gain a Certificate III qualification, or turn 17 before they leave education, although this will increase to needing to be 18 years old in 2020.
Also coming in 2020 is the start of the voluntary earlier kindergarten starting age, if a Ministerial Order is approved, and increasing the number of hours needed to be exempt from participating in education for employment from 25 hours week to 35.
Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the changes would improve the educational outcomes of students.
“The Education Act provides every child and young person in Tasmania with the opportunity to continue to learn and reach their full potential, so they can live fulfilling lives and contribute positively to our community,” Mr Rockliff said.
But Opposition Education spokeswoman Michelle O'Byrne said many parents were still unaware the changes were taking place.
“I don’t think families know what’s about to change for them, so that lack of consultation and engagement is really concerning,” Ms O’Byrne said.
But she said one of her biggest concerns remained around the lowering of the school starting age and the effect that could have on students and communities.
“All of the research says that there are risks to children if they’re placed in formal learning settings early,” Ms O’Byrne said.
“What the research does show is that you don’t get much of an educational difference by the time they’re about nine or 10, but children who have started formal learning too early can have behavioural issues.”