Spotlight on schools

GIPPSLAND and McMillan federal election candidates have acknowledged significant disadvantage impacting Latrobe Valley schools and students.

As Valley schools grapple daily with data showing 27.5 per cent of its students are developmentally vulnerable in one or more domains – a figure rising to 40 per cent of Morwell and Churchill students – 13 local candidates sought to address the issue this week.

The most recent Australian Education Development Index data shows Latrobe Valley students sit below state averages, particularly on ’emotional maturity’ and ‘language and cognitive’ skills indicators. Morwell was the worst performed area in the region, across the majority of domains.

At the same time, tertiary education entrance rates for local students remain low compared with their metropolitan counterparts.

This week Labor Party candidates in Gippsland and McMillan, Jeff McNeill and Anthony Naus, claimed Labor’s Better Schools Plan would “assist vulnerable children” and “lift education possibilities”.

Mr McNeill said research showed children “behind” at the start of kinder level showed “greater tendency” to stay that way, with the gap widening as years progressed.

“These children become the disruptive element in primary and secondary school and suffer lower self esteem,” he said.

He said the Better Schools Plan would also “give the academic students a greater opportunity to focus on learning”.

Mr Naus said the plan aimed to “put Australia back in the top five schooling nations in the world for reading, science, and math’s by 2025”.

Another target set by Labor, “ambitious” by Mr Naus’ own admission, was to see 40 per cent of all 25-to-34-year-olds hold a bachelor’s degree or above by 2025 with 20 per cent of undergraduate enrolments coming from low socio-economic students.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said addressing poor outcomes was “not just about money” but called for teachers to be “properly rewarded” and schools “well resourced”.

He said the Federal Government had a “critical role to play in reducing the economic barrier to higher education by overhauling the system of Youth Allowance to make it fairer for regional students who often have to leave home to attend university”.

Numerous candidates identified the urgent need for increased access to early intervention programs.

McMillan independent Leigh Gatt said children required exposure to “a rich language environment” while families needed free and easy access to a range of reading materials and support to build their children’s pre-literacy skills.

ex Party candidate for McMillan Ben Staggard, who works in early childhood development, said “solving the issue” began at home and in early education centres but warned families in McMillan were “being stressed by the current levels of high population growth and an increasing number of young families” .

Greens candidate for Gippsland Scott Campbell-Smith said a subsidised private education sector in Australia had left the public system “chronically underfunded” and viewed as the “fall-back provider” while middle-classes “migrated” to private education.

“The schools and students who need the most money get the least,” he said.

Greens candidate for McMillan Malcolm McKelvie said “more effective pathways to university and TAFE/ VET from the secondary level” as well as “ensuring students from non-English speaking backgrounds are adequately supported to master literacy in English” were key Greens strategies.

For more candidate responses turn to pages 6 and 7.