Tasmanian MLCs and education spokespeople react to Education Act passing House of Assembly

The school starting age debate is set to dominate when Education Act discussions head to the upper house.

The Education Act passed through the House of Assembly on Thursday night, but the opposition parties said further amendments were needed when it reaches the Legislative Council. 

Following 21 hours of parliamentary debate, Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the act would break the cycle of disadvantage in Tasmania. 

Lowering the school starting age, truancy, dual enrolments for students with disabilities, and school absenteeism were all discussed. 

The act proposes to change the non-compulsory school starting age to four years and six months for prep students. 

Labor education spokeswoman Michelle O’Byrne said we needed to look at how the changes would be implemented when on the ground. 

Greens education spokeswoman Andrea Dawkins said the party backed much of the act, but had concerns about lowering the school starting age.

“[The government] missed the opportunity to embark upon a collective impact approach that would help resolve intergenerational disadvantage of many Tasmanians,” Ms Dawkins said.

Looking ahead to the debate in the Legislative Council next week, MLCs agreed the starting age debate would be a crucial issue. 

Launceston Independent MLC Rosemary Armitage said many of the good points in the bill had been overshadowed by the starting age.

“While I consider there are significant issues with early childhood, a lot of us have forgotten there are a lot of good things that have come out of it,” Ms Armitage said. 

“It is a really important piece of legislation that we have and because it hasn’t been reviewed for such a long time we have to make sure that when we put it through, it’s right.” 

Windermere Independent MLC Ivan Dean said he thought the move to allow students to enter prep at four years and six months was a positive one. 

“Very clearly the non-compulsory part of starting kinder at three-and-a-half is an issue, there’s no doubt about that there are a lot of concerns around that,” Mr Dean said.

“I think I’ll be looking very closely at the truancy issue and I think I will probably have an amendment or two in that area.” 

Rosevears Independent MLC Kerry Finch also said he thought one of the main focuses of the debate would be the school starting age.

“The big, emotional issue, and the controversial issue, is of course the early start for our young people and there are mixed opinions on that,” Mr Finch.