Education and Training Reform Amendment (Senior Secondary Pathways Reforms and Other Matters) Bill 2021

12 October 2021

I too rise to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Senior Secondary Pathways Reforms and Other Matters) Bill 2021. As someone who sits on the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee, that bill is quite a mouthful indeed, but probably rightly so, because this bill contains some really significant reforms. In essence this bill is all about providing greater opportunities for Victorian students. It is something that is really, really important to bring before this house, and it is something that I know my colleagues and indeed this government feel very strongly about.

Under our government, the Andrews Labor government, we have built Victoria as the Education State, and that is because we all strongly believe that our kids deserve the very best access to a high-quality education system. And I always say that with a smile because I have to reflect that each and every time I talk to my mum—and I talk to her on a daily basis—she will tell me that she has been speaking with her sister or her brother or other family members and she talks about how fantastic and how proud she is that she has got grandchildren who are in Victoria and being educated in our great Education State. It is quite funny because she always refers to Victoria as ‘the Education State’ even though my mum and all of her children—my siblings and I—were educated in New South Wales. She feels proud that her grandchildren will get an excellent, first-class education here in Victoria.

I have stood before this house on many occasions and indeed on a regular basis out in my electorate to talk about how no child’s opportunities should be defined by their postcode. Regardless of what side of the West Gate Bridge you happen to ride your bike around in the neighbourhood you grow up in, you should have the same opportunity as kids who are in other postcodes right across this state. And I say that kids in the outer west deserve just as great an education as those in the inner west and indeed in those wealthier, leafier eastern suburbs.

Now, if we are talking about the Education State, we often talk about the incredible infrastructure build that this government is getting on and delivering. You only have to look 30-odd kilometres west into Tarneit to see the record infrastructure investment that is happening right now in the outer west in my electorate of Tarneit. In the last four years alone we have seen four new schools open in my electorate, and we have got another five schools at the very least in the pipeline. What makes me very happy is to think that in this year’s budget we announced funding to go ahead and acquisition land for the much-needed but always very elusive high school in Tarneit. And I say to anyone in my electorate listening right now: this is not going to be a senior school, this is a years 7 to 12 high school, a proper high school, that we are going to get on and deliver in Tarneit. Also in this budget we announced funding for construction of a much-needed school in Truganina, another high school for years 7 to 12 for kids in Trug. This is really important because in upcoming years the population in Tarneit alone is set to go to 81 000 people. Tarneit and Truganina are two of the fastest growing suburbs in this state and sit within one of the largest growth corridors here in this country. The investment into schools like these high schools—and we are getting on and delivering so many new primary schools, with kinders attached, I might also add—is what investment by Labor governments looks like. That is what investment in the outer west by this government looks like.

Now, we talk about the importance of building new schools—and that is a conversation that I have on a daily basis—but it is also really important to go ahead and invest in the schools that already exist, and there are a lot in my electorate. There are also a lot of schools that are looking pretty tired or indeed in need of a major upgrade and face lift to get them to standard. It makes me very proud when I think about the importance of getting on and also looking after and investing in already existing schools. I think about two, and I do not have favourites, but they are schools that are very close to my heart because I have spent so much time there and spent a lot of time with the principals, who are like pit bulls in delivering better facilities and services for local kids. They are The Grange P–12 College and Hoppers Crossing Secondary College. Each of these schools has received very close to or just over $10 million worth of major upgrades that will change the facilities and infrastructure in Hoppers Crossing. That has been well overdue. That is what Labor governments do, and I know that kids are sitting in classrooms now that are already upgraded at The Grange or are sitting in classrooms that will very soon be upgraded at Hoppers Crossing. This is going to benefit kids who are at school right now, but it is also going to benefit generations of children who will go to those schools in the near future.

When I turn my mind to this bill, the contributions in this house have really talked about some of the significant changes that we are making to our VCE and VCAL systems—just listening back in my office, it was interesting. I think about when I was at school and the stigma attached to kids that were either going to do their HSC at the time or going through the pathway of TAFE and looking at getting a trade. There was a stigma attached to that. My brother went through that. He had two older sisters that went through HSC and went on to university, but he was not greatly academic. It was not a—I would not say ‘welcomed’—celebrated decision that he would go through and get the skills that he needed to get a trade and get a job in the workforce and not go on to university, and we know that is VCAL here. It should be a celebration. No child should feel that because they are not going to sit exams through the VCE and go on from high school somehow the VCAL system in Victoria is less important or will deliver less of an education, or more importantly, reduce their opportunity to get their job. Every child in Victoria should feel extremely proud of the type of education that they will receive.

The life span of VCE and VCAL systems is something that we on this side of the house can be very proud of. It was the Bracks government that moved Victoria away from the HSC model and introduced VCE and VCAL in 2002, and that is pretty close to 20 years ago. Since then it has made a significant contribution to getting many Victorian students through their education and providing them with the skills they need to go on to higher learning, whether that be at university or TAFE. What we know on this side of the house is that no education system is perfect, and I always think that the difference between good government and great government—and indeed this Andrews Labor government is a great government—is that great governments are always looking for ways to improve. They are always identifying the gaps in the system that need to be fixed and improving systems and processes and facilities and so on, and that is what this government is doing and that is what this bill is in fact delivering. It is why our government commissioned the Firth review to look at how we can improve our vocational education and provide even more opportunities for Victorians that do not actually involve any university, and it was an acknowledgement that those other opportunities, those other jobs, are just as important. Let us face it, we need those jobs to be filled if we want to get on and deliver many of the great programs and infrastructure projects that we have currently got underway in Victoria at the moment because of this great Andrews Labor government.

There are so many great things I could say about this bill. The one thing that I do know is that kids in the outer west, kids in my patch, are going to benefit from this. Moving the conversation away from the VCAL suddenly being this unwanted second cousin, if you like, compared to VCE and going on to university, is a really important narrative and it is a narrative that we need champions of. We need governments like ours to be that champion and lead the way for those children who will not go on to VCE, who have no intention of going to university and, let us face it, may not actually flourish at university and achieve what they want to achieve. VCAL will no longer be the second cousin. It will be right there sitting on equal footing with VCE, and I commend the bill to the house.