Education Act debated in Tasmanian Legislative Council on Tuesday night

Western Tiers independent MLC Greg Hall
Western Tiers independent MLC Greg Hall

The Legislative Council looks set to demand more work from the government on its plan to lower the school starting age in Tasmania.

While members who spoke on the first day of debate on the revamped Education Act expressed support for its principles and intent, clauses which dealt with a drop in the school starting age and changes to home education were met apprehension and foreshadowed amendments.  

The possibility that the reform would be held up by moving part of the legislation to committee, where it will be probed further, was likely as debate drew to a close late on Tuesday night.

Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council, Vanessa Goodwin, said improving the state’s educational outcomes was vital to solving the state’s health, social and employment issues.

Dr Goodwin said the voluntary early starting age of three years and six months for kinder, and four years and six months for prep, recognised that parents knew their child best.

Western Tiers independent MLC Greg Hall, Elwick Labor MLC Josh Willie and Murchison independent MLC Ruth Forrest said that the impact this would create on the state’s childcare centres needed to be thoroughly considered; saying that compensation for at-risk businesses should be offered.

Mr Hall said less childcare centres could push care costs up.

Mr Willie, a former primary school teacher, said the government needed to work on a transition plan with the childcare sector to allow it to cope with the change.

He expressed dismay that there been no guarantee from the government that teachers would be qualified to offer play-based pedagogy. 

Launceston independent MLC Rosemary Armitage highlighted research that suggested children who had negative experiences in their first three months of learning in a school environment developed long-term disengagement from learning – a caution against introducing children to formal learning at an earlier age. 

She said the government could consider redirecting the funds it had committed to preparing schools for younger cohorts to established childcare centres to make those facilities more accessible to low-income families.

Mersey independent MLC Mike Gaffney and Rumney independent MLC Tony Mulder expressed reservations over new home schooling regulations.