Learning for the future: Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff’s 2017 in review

Education reform: Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff. Picture: Philllip Biggs
Education reform: Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff. Picture: Philllip Biggs

The year in which a reformed Education Act came into power was a year Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff could look back on with a measure of pride.

After initiating the review of the Act in 2014, Mr Rockliff said it was satisfying to see the new legislation come into place in July 2017.

“Our whole term has been dedicated to bold improvements in education, and those improvements came together this year,” he said.

Retention

Upticks in retention and attainment rates were one of the biggest successes Mr Rockliff cited for 2017.

The student retention rate jumping to 74 per cent, Tasmanian Certificate of Education attainment at 56.4 per cent, and grade 10 to 11 retention rate at around 87 per cent, are all significant strides in the state government’s drive to improve the education system.

“We bit off a lot in regards to the process of reviewing the Education Act,” he said.

“We’re very proud of that, we have a brand new Education Act that is more contemporary, that supports our schools and supports our students more.”

After making some “difficult decisions” in the first budget, Mr Rockliff said lifting retention rates worked hand-in-hand with an increased focus on partnerships with industry and business, through organisations such as Beacon and the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

School starting age

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

Three years of strong, sustained opposition to a key part of the Act’s reformation – lowering the school starting age – forced a softening of that legislative goal and a change to providing more early education opportunity for vulnerable young children.

Criticism from education leaders and organisations over the apparent ‘silencing’ of school principals in the debate around lowering the school starting age was rejected by Mr Rockliff.

“I think the debate around that has been healthy … it was a discussion we had to have around earlier access to quality early learning,” he said.

“We recognised the community had spoken, we did a lot of consultation, and I’ll reject every single time any criticisms … that consultation wasn’t effective enough.”

Much of that consultation, Mr Rockliff acknowledged, shone a light on the potential impact of the original legislation on the early child education and care sector.

”We [now] understand the vulnerability of the sector, and that was from the KPMG report,” he said.

Any hint of returning to the idea of lowering the school starting age was quickly dismissed by the Minister, who noted it would be a “brave government” who attempted to revive such a plan in the future.

Grade 11 and 12

A major announcement in November was the re-election promise of the roll-out of grade 11 and 12 in all state schools by 2022.

While the politically divisive policy was named the “death knell” for Tasmania’s college system by Opposition education spokeswoman Michelle O’Byrne, Mr Rockliff noted the Education Act would raise the school leaving age in 2020, and increase the number of students staying in school through to grade 12.

“The success of our 11-12 high school extensions has even exceeded … my expectations,” he said.

“No college would be vulnerable because with the changes in the Act, aligning with the 2022 commitment, there’ll be more students in the system.”

Infrastructure

The success of our 11-12 high school extensions has even exceeded … my expectations.

Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff

Investing $110 million into school infrastructure, Mr Rockliff said the upgrading of school facilities was a major push in partnership with the grade 12 roll-out.

“I was actually very surprised and concerned when I started visiting schools around Tasmania, what I determined as neglected infrastructure,” he said.

“I’m very pleased to have had what I think is the largest capital investment in schools in a generation, in our high schools and primary schools.”

Gonski 2.0

A singularly positive voice among state Education Ministers, Mr Rockliff actively lobbied for the federal government’s needs-based school funding ‘Gonski 2.0’ legislation to be passed through the Senate in June.

South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia’s Education Ministers all expressed varying levels of concern and even anger over the legislation, which successfully passed the Senate.

“It was more funding, and more funding promised by the government at the election in July 2016,” Mr Rockliff said.

“For Tasmania, Gonski 2.0, in my view philosophically is a far better needs-based system.”

The Gonski 2.0 legislation is expected to bring $186 million to Tasmanian schools, although Labor said the legislation would leave state schools $68 million worse off compared to the previous agreement.

TasTAFE

A damning Integrity Commission investigation into the recruitment processes of TasTAFE in May cost the public vocational education provider its chief executive and a senior executive, followed by the departure of the TasTAFE chair.

Acknowledging the challenges ahead, Mr Rockliff appointed a new chief executive, chair and board members to restore the provider’s reputation.

“I’m excited about TAFE’s future, I really am,” he said.

“We need it – we need a very strong, robust public training provider.”