Tasmanian plan to lower school starting age to be further probed

Apsley independent MLC Tania Rattray
Apsley independent MLC Tania Rattray

A late amendment to the most controversial part of the government’s new proposed Education Act has a complete halt to starting children earlier at school.

The act’s clauses that deal with lowering the school starting age for kinder and prep will now be subjected to a renewed bout of consultation with key groups to determine an implementation plan which will be scrutinised by both houses of Parliament before September 2017.

Upper house members on Wednesday spent most of the day expressing concern over 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.

The government’s amendment was supported by a majority of the chamber with Apsley independent MLC Tania Rattray and Labor MLCs Josh Willie and Craig Farrell voting against it

Ms Rattray introduced her own amendment, calling for the clauses that reduced the voluntary starting age to be completely thrown from the bill.

She said under the government’s amendment, child care facilities would have to continue to wonder what their future would be.

Mr Willie said the government’s amendment revealed a pre-determined goal to lower the age.

“They’re saying pass this legislation and then we'll will listen to the concerns,” he said.

“Well, they haven't done a good job so far.”

Murchison independent MLC Ruth Forrest supported the bill, saying the government would pay at the next election if they got the process wrong.

Launceston independent MLC Rosemary Armitage said she supported the government’s amendment as the upper house had the chance to analyse the proposal further.

Rosevears independent MLC Kerry Finch said the amendment took heed of early childhood education expert Steve Biddulph’s advice of "delay, investigate and find a proper solution”.

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.

The rest of the bill will be debated by the Legislative Council on October 25.