ALL Victorian schools will be banned from using the strap to discipline students under the first rewrite of the state's education laws in more than 130 years. The new legislation will also introduce minimum standards for home schooling to regulate Victorians who educate their children at home.
These changes were part of the State Government's white paper released yesterday following a six-month review of education and training legislation.
The proposed legislation will be introduced into Parliament this year, with changes expected to come into effect from 2007.
Premier Steve Bracks said the new education framework would help Victoria remain competitive internationally as the nation faced a skills shortage and an ageing workforce. "We can't compete (against some countries) in relation to wage and labour cost, but we can compete on our intelligence, our abilities and our skills," he said.
As revealed in Monday's Age, key proposals include a raising of the minimum school leaving age from 15 to 16, and the creation of a new regulatory body to register all schools. Victorians under the age of 20 will be guaranteed free instruction to complete year 12 at a state school, or a place to study an equivalent qualification at a TAFE — costing at least an extra $4 million a year.
The principles of secular education and free instruction will remain, although there will be provisions for voluntary contributions, some compulsory levies, and voluntary religious instruction to continue.
A legal ambiguity about whether government school teachers could teach religious subjects will be removed so they have the right to teach comparative religion, and schools will be required to send annual reports to parents detailing performance in areas such as statewide testing and absenteeism rates.
While there is no explicit reference to corporal punishment, Education Minister Lynne Kosky said she expected it would be banned under minimum student welfare standards to be set by the new regulatory authority. The practice is already banned in government schools.
"This is modern legislation which actually reflects what is now the accepted norm within education, and corporal punishment is not part of the way we teach children." [Emphasis added]
Frank Dando, who heads an eponymous Ashwood sports academy that acknowledges the use of corporal punishment, said "we don't care one way or the other" about the likely ban, and declined to comment further.
Home schooling advocates said they were opposed to any regulation of home education. Susan Wight, of the Home Education Network — which estimates 15,000 Victorian students are being taught at home — also said home-educated students "generally exceed the standards and expectations of schools".
"Parents willing to accept the responsibility for their children's education are doing a good job and should be allowed to get on with it without unwanted government interference," she said.
The new legislation received broad support from education groups, including the two main principals' associations, the Catholic system, the Victorian Independent Education Union and the Association of Independent Schools in Victoria. But the Opposition's education spokesman, Victor Perton, said the legislation would do nothing to lift standards at schools, which he described as the main issue for education in the state.
The Australian Education Union's Victorian branch president, Mary Bluett, was also critical, saying it had been a rushed review process with a "predetermined result". She described raising the school leaving age as an "artificial way of increasing retention rates", and said the publicising of school performance data was "a grab for the populist middle class".
NEW FRAMEWORK AT A GLANCE