Tasmania's Education Act to be dissected by Legislative Council

The Legislative Council this week is set to demand refinement to the government’s plan to lower the school starting age when the new Education Act bill is debated.

Murchison independent MLC Ruth Forrest

Murchison independent MLC Ruth Forrest

Under the new act, children as young as three years and six months can voluntarily enrol in kindergarten and start prep at four years and six months.

Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff has said early childhood education would be play-based and inquiry-led but Murchison independent MLC Ruth Forrest said those principles needed to be enshrined in the legislation.

She said she wanted properly trained educators with the relevant qualifications also made a legal requirement.

“The government’s intention is right in ensuring that children, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, have access to quality education from birth to eight years old,” Ms Forrest said.

Launceston independent MLC Rosemary Armitage said home educators had expressed concerns over more regulation and restrictions placed on the sector through the bill.

“The real concerns regard early childhood learning though,” she said.

“I know that there are a lot of people saying there is a lot of self-interest from the childcare sector but it is the interest of the child that has to be paramount.

“I have serious doubts that the government’s clauses on an early school starting age will get through as they stand.” 

Ms Armitage anticipated that a “myriad of amendments” and that the debate could well extend beyond two days.

Western Tiers independent MLC Greg Hall said he was concerned about the impact the legislation would have on rural childcare centres. 

“In small towns, if these centres lose three or four kids, it undermines their viability,” he said.

“But I’m a strong supporter of the intent and principle of the bill because we have the worst educational outcomes in Australia and that has to change.”

Labor youth, skills and training spokesman Josh Willie said the government needed to identify the centres at-risk of being unviable and develop a transition plan to assist them with the change.

He said the government needed a plan that committed to skilling teachers for a younger cohort of pupils and guarantee that an early years practitioner would be placed in every prep and kindergarten classroom.