Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Registration of Early Childhood Teachers and Victorian Institute of Teaching) Bill 2014. I say at the outset that I am glad the opposition is also supporting this very important bill, which recognises the importance of our teaching profession and focuses particularly on our early childhood teachers. The state government is committed to the provision of high‑quality early childhood education; it is something that is paramount in a young person’s life.
There is a lot of evidence to indicate that the early years are absolutely important in the development of a child’s life. In fact the first five years of a child’s life create the foundation for them to accomplish in the key developmental advances in mind and body, and studies show that the cumulative development — 85 per cent of intellectual skills and personality — are reached by the age of five. The human brain develops more rapidly between birth and the age of five than at any subsequent time. We have seen evidence of that. In fact previous speakers have cited NAPLAN results as being illustrative of participation in early childhood education.
There is no question that it is important we bring a bill like this before the house today to recognise the valuable work of our early childhood teaching staff and to ensure that they are appropriately recognised as a professional group in their own right. It is important too that there is no differentiation between those who teach children in the early years and those who teach them in the primary and secondary years.
I focus my contribution today on the many schools in my electorate which are not only primary and secondary schools but also kinders or early childhood centres and provide a seamless transition from the early years onwards. These are schools such as Ripponlea Kinder and Ripponlea Primary School, which are located on the same campus; Caulfield South and Caulfield primary schools, which are in the same situation, where they have a kindergarten in one part of the school and a primary school in another part.
Until a new principal was appointed to Caulfield Primary School the kindergarten was ignored. The two parts of the school were quite separate and there was no correlation or activity between the two. The principal of the primary school then engaged with the kindergarten and got the kinder kids all ready to participate in some of the primary programs and there was a smooth transition. Now we have a school that is taking children in their early years all the way through to K‑6. It is a perfect example of why teachers who are teaching in a kinder or early childhood centre should be recognised in the same way that teachers in a primary school are. That is what this bill does. It ensures that there is proper recognition of the qualifications and skills that early childhood teachers have just as there is for their colleagues who teach in primary and secondary schools.
There are also schools in the private sector such as Mount Scopus Memorial College and Leibler Yavneh College. Leibler Yavneh was privileged to receive a $300 000 grant for a new campus. Principal Roy Steinman and I visited the site of the new campus just as the first sod was being turned; we are now about to open that campus. It is a school bursting at the seams, and the reason it is bursting at the seams is that it recognises the importance of the early years and it has a perfect transition all the way through. In Yavneh’s case, the school goes from the kinder years all the way through to year 12, and it is achieving some excellent results and has excellent retention of students because of its commitment from the very beginning right the way through. Caulfield Grammar School is in the same situation. It recognises the importance of those early years, it invests in those early years and its teachers will be recognised with appropriate Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) recognition and registration under this new scheme. I am pleased that with this bill we are able to recognise teachers in early childhood education.
We have plenty of examples of kinders and primary schools, and we have some examples of early childhood centres that are stand‑alone centres and put a lot of money and resources into professional development and recruit the very best for their teaching staff. The member for Bentleigh, who is in the chamber today, has just such a facility in her electorate — Buckets Early Learning Centre. I have to declare an interest in this centre in that a cousin of mine is the owner of it. I visited the facility with the member for Bentleigh to see what owner Paul Southwick has done to it. I have to say that the professionalisation of the centre, whether it is in the food, the state‑of‑the‑art centre or the teaching support, is second to none. I am sure Paul and the team at Buckets will be very happy to know that their teachers can now be appropriately recognised through this bill.
This bill also ensures that not only are our early childhood teachers to be appropriately registered but that they must fulfil the same criteria as other teachers do to be registered. If they are not doing that appropriately, the institute has certain powers to review their registration and, in some instances, conduct formal disciplinary proceedings against the teacher if they are not meeting the proper standards. It also provides the VIT with the powers to undertake police record checks on teachers and to publish the determinations of its formal hearing panels which hear disciplinary proceedings in regard to registered or formerly registered teachers.
The bill puts a formal process in place for these teachers. Parents will have the peace of mind of knowing that they are sending their kids to a properly and appropriately recognised centre that has formally recognised teachers who are teaching their kids with the appropriate skills, accreditation and recognition. It also allows for mandatory reporting requirements under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 for teachers to ensure that if there is a problem within the centre, it is appropriately reported. This is further to recommendations made in the Cummins report and ensures that we are protecting Victoria’s vulnerable children. It is very important that we have mandatory reporting to protect those kids. This bill covers that as part of the mandatory reporting requirements.
One of the things opposition members mentioned they do not agree with us on is reform of the VIT council to bring the council appointment process in line with the modern regulatory practice by ensuring that we remove elected representatives and have members appointed by the Governor in Council on the recommendation of the minister. This was all done in response to the King review in March 2008, and it removes complexities, costs and most importantly potential conflicts of interest. It is not about appointing somebody because they have built up the votes and they are getting a tap on the shoulder; it is ensuring that we are appointing to this board people with appropriate skills. That gives the council further credibility.
Opposition members can rant, rave and carry on as they do, but at the end of the day we are delivering on this important issue. I am sure teaching staff, particularly in early childhood centres, will be very happy to know that this government, under the minister and the Premier, has delivered these reforms and that teachers are being recognised in the way they ought to be. It is a very important step. I am glad those opposite are finally supporting it. They could have had a crack at it when they were in government, but they did not. I am glad they have got on board now that we are in government.
We are setting the scene, setting the target and ensuring that we have appropriately recognised teachers who are doing a wonderful job supporting all our kids. We are ensuring that kids have the best possible education in the early years so that they can take up other opportunities later in life. This is a great and important bill. It was a long time coming. Thankfully it is being delivered by the coalition government. I commend the bill to the house. I look forward to its passage through the Parliament and to getting these changes implemented as soon as possible.