Tasmanian Government seeks to provide 'safety net' for proposed earlier school starting age

Rosevears independent MLC Kerry Finch
Rosevears independent MLC Kerry Finch

The state government has amended the most controversial part of its new proposed Education Act in an effort to push the legislation through the upper house in its entirety.

It comes after a second day of debate in the Legislative Council on the act, focused on the impact a voluntary earlier starting age for kinder and prep classes would have on regional childhood education and care centres, and the health and well-being of students.

Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the government would now introduce a “safety net”, meaning that the clauses within the act that dealt with the early starting age would need to come back to both houses of Parliament after a renewed bout of consultation with key groups to determine an implementation plan.

He said the introduction of the implementation plan and an order to alter the school starting age would need to occur by September 2017 with the earlier starting age still expected to commence in 2020.

The move was prompted by several foreshadowed amendments by MLCs during speeches over two days, and if members agree to it, the amendment stops the entire act being held up in the committee stage.

Rosevears independent MLC Kerry Finch said although the government had produced 21 different iterations of the education bill, there was a feeling in the community that they had not been made aware enough of the changes and its impacts of  the early start age. 

He referred to advice given to the upper house during briefings by early childhood education expert Steve Biddulph who said "delay, investigate and find a proper solution”.

Apsley independent MLC Tania Rattray had concerns over very young children being placed on busses over long distances; a fact of schooling in her electorate.

Windermere independent MLC Ivan Dean said he was supportive of the government’s plan to lower the starting age as it would provide equity for disadvantaged families that could not access childhood education and care centres.

"(Childcare centres) will have to suffer some changes in their business but businesses are changing all the time," he said.

"We can't accept that things will be the same in two, five or 10 years time. We've got to adapt.

“The kids that don’t have the capacity to access childcare centres – they’re the ones that we want to pick up.”