Local Schools, Local Decisions Program

I draw the attention of the House to some of the fantastic work being done in local schools in my electorate. During the recent recess I took the opportunity to visit just about every school and school principal in my electorate to talk about what is going on. I will now provide the House with some of my findings. I will not make any political comments; rather, I will offer some observations. The principals to whom I spoke are both excited and concerned about the opportunities that the Local Schools, Local Decisions policy offers. The most important issue they raised is that their desks are covered in work now and they work many extra hours each day and on weekends, and they wonder what responsibilities will be redirected to allow them the time they will need to implement this policy.

I was intrigued and astounded by some of the other issues that the principals raised. From my experience in the secondary education sector I know that every high school takes students from a number of feeder schools in the local area. These principals talked about some amazing resources that they need in their schools, including occupational therapists, speech pathologists and people to assess reading and writing skills to establish whether children have dyslexia and so on.

It was a learning experience for me to talk to those principals and I agree with them wholeheartedly. I pointed out that we already have those services in the health system and everyone can get an assessment and so on. They replied that those services are available but only if people put their names on a waiting list, if they have the time and resources to access specialists and treatment, and if they persevere. Many families are hurting because of multi-generational problems that are difficult to resolve. The principals offered some commonsense solutions and referred to the resources that some young students need to ensure that they have every opportunity to be well educated and prosperous. I walked away from those meetings having had a mind flip about how we should work with young people and their families to improve their prospects.

Having been a high school teacher I know that many problems are ingrained and difficult to resolve if they are not addressed before children reach 12, 13, 14 or 15 years of age. We must catch young people with problems much earlier than that. The thought that a young person could go through school suffering from dyslexia and not have it diagnosed is a serious concern. That happened to a number of people in my generation and previous generations. The principals said that they need the services of occupational therapists and physiotherapists and I asked them why. They explained that students need postural strength to be able to sit in school all day, and hold a pen and write. If they do not have that strength they cannot speak effectively because their voice box, oesophagus and diaphragm do not work properly. I found that concept fascinating.

I advise members opposite who have been badgering me about having had 16 years of Labor administration that as an educator I am willing to work with any government—this Government or a future Labor government—to ensure that our schools have the resources they need, including occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech pathologists. We have to get it right for our kids. We must discover any problems they have early and fix them. I had an amazing time visiting those schools and I appreciate the work that the principals are doing.