Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Education Week

Alister at Normanhurst Public School

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS ( Ku-ring-gai ) ( 17:40 :00 ): It is a great privilege to speak in this House about Education Week, which is a celebration of our State's public education system. One of the great fortunes of my life was the 13 years I spent in two great public schools, Newcastle East Public School and Newcastle High School, and the friendships I made in them. The theme of this year's Education Week is "Shared stories, better learning, stronger communities." The scale of our State public education system is truly immense. It has more than 790,000 students across more than 2,200 schools. But our public schools are not made up of numbers and statistics; they are made up of the teachers and students within them. Our schools have great souls that are full of a rich blend of people and talents.

Whether I am speaking about now or when I went to school, it is important to start by paying tribute to the dedicated teachers who make our public education system an outstanding learning environment. Whilst our children are rarely angels, the greatest gift that our teachers can bestow upon them is to teach our children to think and learn and thereby inspire them to improve themselves. We should never forget that our public schools create opportunities for children of any ability and regardless of their background or physical presentation to learn and choose a path that best suits them. Some may chose a trade, others will go to university and yet others to the arts or sports.

There is a great diversity in the schools in the Ku-ring-gai electorate. Hornsby Girls High School and Normanhurst Boys High School are selective schools in my electorate and contain many students from around Sydney and the Central Coast who have been outstanding at primary school. Those two schools regularly achieve outstanding results in the Higher School Certificate. The other public schools in my electorate also deliver an excellent education. Just last Friday I was able to join Mr McDermott's kindergarten class at Turramurra Public School in the planting of a waratah tree to mark National Schools Tree Planting Day. The school shares its vast sporting grounds equally with a brilliantly designed and maintained native garden and vegetable patch.

I have been able to witness the polished performances of many a school band, including Warrawee, Waitara, Pymble and Wahroonga public schools as well as Turramurra High School's rendition of Macarthur Park. I also witnessed the creativity of students in the dance and musical performances at the Turramurra North Public School and the Ku‑ring‑gai Creative Arts High School end of year presentations last year. Recently the student leadership team at Normanhurst Public School proudly showed me around their leafy school, which has its origins stretching back to 1893.

On the values that are taught, the long-time principal of Beaumont Road Public School, Malcolm McDonald, relayed the account of a broken windscreen to his car parked on the school grounds before school one morning. Instead of the bunch of boys involved hiding or pointing fingers after a soccer ball was accidentally kicked into the windscreen, one brave young student marched into the principal's office to declare that he was responsible for the damage. That made the principal prouder than anything and far outweighed the cost of replacing his windscreen.

Last year my Federal parliamentary colleague and Minister, the Hon. Paul Fletcher, and I visited Killara Public School where we helped teach a very well-informed group of year 5 and 6 students about government. As healthy play is so important to the growth of our children, I was pleased that a State government community building grant was given for play equipment at Gordon West Public School last year as well as a grant for playground renewal at the West Pymble Public School where I attended and participated in a Ride to School event last year. These excellent public schools today are a continuation of a long tradition of excellent teaching in our public schools which foster a wide range of talents and future occupations.

At Newcastle High I had the opportunity to mix with an incredible group of people. I will share the stories of some of them. My fellow students went on to do many varied things after school. They became tradies, nurses, teachers, police officers, public servants, businesspeople, nightclub owners, retailers, labourers, engineers, accountants, doctors and lawyers. The year after I left school I was succeeded as vice-captain by David Currow, who lived up the street from me. Yesterday I spoke with him for the first time since school when he was in Parliament to deliver a report to the Government. David is now Professor Currow, the chief executive officer of the Cancer Institute of NSW, and he has had a stellar career as a medical clinician and now administrator. Ian Kerridge, the school captain of Newcastle High in 1979, is now a professor of bioethics and medicine at the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.

Not all students went on to become university academics. In Ian Kerridge's year at Newcastle High was the well-known comedian Mikey Robins. Mikey turned his habit of frequently making bad jokes at school into a career—going from the Castanet Club that performed in local pubs and clubs to having a very successful television career. Peter Brooks, who had the stage name of Maynard F# Crabbes, was a talented comedian in the year after Mikey Robins at Newcastle High and also started his career with the Castanet Club. But probably the most famous Newcastle High School alumni is Miranda Otto, who is now an internationally renowned actor. After finishing school she went to the National Institute of Dramatic Art [NIDA], to which it is almost impossible to gain entry. She has since made Hollywood and other films and appeared on the stage as part of her investigation of the human condition through the performing arts. These stories of success are just a few of many stories I could tell. They show the independence, resilience and variety of skills which are taught in our public schools.

Mr JIHAD DIB ( Lakemba ) ( 17:45:00 ): Today as the matter of public importance we celebrate Education Week. We can discuss the statistics but, as my colleague the member for Ku-ring-gai said, there is a richness in schools that makes them great. A couple of months ago I had the good fortune of visiting Newcastle High School. It is doing fantastically. I commented that they must be indoctrinating the kids because all of the furniture was red and blue. I thought it was their way of getting them to support the Newcastle Knights.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: That is very important.

Mr JIHAD DIB: It was so clear. Education Week is a celebration of public education. Like many other people in this place, I am proud to say that I am a product of and advocate for the public education system. However, as a member of Parliament and the shadow Minister for Education I am forever mindful of the principles of the Education Act 1990 that every child has the right to receive an education and that it is the duty of the State to ensure that every child receives an education of the highest quality. The theme for Education Week this year is "Shared stories, better learning, stronger communities". I particularly like the reference to stronger communities. In this Chamber and in other places I have often spoken about the need for schools to be supported by their communities. It is also really important that schools support their communities by becoming the hub of the places in which they are situated. They can do that through their connections with families, local groups and businesses.

A wonderful feature of Education Week is the opening of schools to parents and extended families. It is an incredibly special week during which students and teachers can proudly showcase their achievements through beautiful artwork, artistic and dramatic performances, and student leadership. It is also a great week for the sharing of stories. I had the great privilege of working in schools before becoming a member of Parliament. During Education Week people get to see the things that I saw every day of my working life. I know that my colleagues in this House and in the other House love visiting schools more than anywhere else.

I started this week with a morning visit to Greenacre Public School. It was so encouraging and uplifting to see kids from many different backgrounds joyfully running various science experiments. The kids were actively engaged with the great questions of the physical world around them—gravity, the phases of the moon and chemical changes. Many people and I know that a quality education can change the world one kid, one family and one community at a time. I know that because I have seen it happen countless times. I could tell thousands of stories but I will tell only one about a kid called Sam who came to us as a refugee from Sierra Leone.

Sam did not have any family and I knew enough history to not ask him any questions. The school became his family. That kid went from being a boy who could not smile to being one of the most beautiful children one could ever meet. I was so pleased when I saw him last year proudly showing off his new baby boy. Where we had succeeded was not in sending that young man to university but in making him the best young man he could be by giving him a sense of family and community that he had not had. He had nothing other than our school. That story is not unique to my school; things like that happen in all schools in all places. They are the things we get passionate about. It is the one thing that we all understand and in which we believe. For people like Sam and many others equitable access to a quality education represents the highest stakes. We are aware that there are some Indigenous education issues we must deal with. In 2013 Professor Chris Cunneen in his article "Time to arrest rising Aboriginal prison rates" made the sad statement:

As a society we do better at keeping Aboriginal people in prison than in school or university.

That is a damning indictment that we must look at into the future.

When we saw the recent Four Corners program about the treatment of children in detention, as a nation we recoiled in horror. A teacher always has to look at the glass half full and the counterpoint to that is a properly resourced education system to allow every student the opportunity to be the best they possibly can. Earlier today the member for Port Macquarie talked about the Community Connect policy and I was impressed. Sadly, and the member for Ku-ring-gai and others will agree with me, sometimes in a rush to judge schools commentators look almost exclusively at things like diagnostic testing, but great schools are so much more than that.

Great schools become the touch zones of the community. They are the safe place for that kid who does not have the family support they need, a place where kids are allowed to be creative and a place where we build the future. In a public school, colour, faith and wealth do not matter; every person matters. So much of this greatness comes from the many non-curriculum teaching and learning activities and experiences that happen in schools every day. I congratulate the member for Ku-ring-gai on this matter of public importance and I restate our commitment to advocate for the best, fairest and most outstanding education system in this State. Finally, I thank the hardworking staff and community members who make our schools so wonderful every day.

Mr GREG APLIN ( Albury ) ( 17:50:37 ): Education Week is a celebration of public education and this is the week for 2016. Last year the theme was "Celebrating Local Heroes" and schools were encouraged to develop their alumni networks and celebrate their local heroes, including their local Anzac military heroes. That was fitting for a major anniversary year of remembrance. This year the theme is "Shared stories, better learning, stronger communities". In my electorate many schools are taking this literally, inviting parents and community members to visit the schools and see them in action. Today, for example, is Albury Public School Open Day. Parents and carers are welcome to spend recess with their children before visiting the classrooms and joining in the classroom activities.

Music has been prominent on the agenda of these schools, as we are currently in the middle of the Albury Wodonga Eisteddfod. Albury Public School's students in the years 1 to 4 choir performed BigYellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell, along with the Beatles' iconic song Blackbird. Across town, tomorrow is Open Day at Lavington East Public School, with a Devonshire tea and then an assembly at 2.00 p.m. in the hall. The canteen will be serving soup and a roll for $4—a bargain. The Lavington East choir also competed at the Eisteddfod singing Rip Tide. The junior primary choir came first with a score of 77 and will be performing at tomorrow's assembly. Lavington Public School is taking it to the streets, with displays and performances at Lavington Square Shopping Centre. Education Week for Lavington Public School will culminate in a morning tea for parents in the school library. Other schools presenting displays or performances at Lavington Square include the drama students from James Fallon High and students from Thurgoona Public, Albury North Public and the Northern Spirit Learning Community of Schools.

Heading out of Albury, Holbrook Public School has its Open Day on Friday, putting on a barbecue lunch and activities for visitors. Meanwhile, Howlong Public School has arranged its school production to coincide with Education Week. Dress rehearsal for The Amazing Adventures of Dr Woo and his Assistant, Sue! was yesterday, and there are two performances today. Important news for parents is that popcorn will be available at only $1 a bag, and that represents great Education Week value. Money raised from popcorn and scones will go towards the school's Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden. At Murray High School Patrick Doyle, the winner of the Premier's Anzac Memorial Scholarship, is addressing the whole school assembly on his tour of the battlefields in France.

Education Week provides an opportunity to reflect on the important role New South Wales public schools play in the community and how strong the NSW Government's commitment continues to be in delivering a quality, inclusive education to more than 790,000 students across more than 2,200 schools statewide. The Government has led the nation, implementing evidence-based reforms to raise student results, support teachers and improve quality teaching. We understand the critical roles schools play in equipping young minds with the knowledge and skills needed to become productive citizens. That is why the Government is committed to ensuring that our children and the generations to come have access to the best education.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS ( Ku-ring-gai ) ( 17:53:42 ): In reply: I thank the member for Lakemba and the member for Albury for their contributions to this matter of public importance. The member for Lakemba, who is the shadow Minister for Education, comments on the importance of stronger communities in schools reminded me of the great role that parents and citizens associations play in assisting our schools to be even better. He also spoke about the power of education. Indeed, his story about Sam reminded me of my year 12 master who said that not everyone would go to university, but that if we proved to be successful graduates from the university of life then the school would have done its job. The member for Albury regaled us with great anecdotes as to what the Albury electorate is doing for Education Week. That Albury Wodonga Eisteddfod would have to be an item on the calendar in his electorate not to be missed.


Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: A big tick, as the Premier would say. I agree with the member for Lakemba that the ability for children and migrants, people from all different backgrounds, to have an opportunity in life is the great gift that our public school system gives to us.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: The matter of public importance having concluded and in accordance with standing and sessional orders the House stands adjourned until Thursday 4 August 2016 at 10.00 a.m.