Question: Relocation of 300 DECD Staff

Mr GARDNER ( Morialta ) ( 14:49 ): My question is to the Minister for Education and Child Development. Has the government completed its relocation of 300 central office staff 'to work directly with schools', and where are those staff based? On 28 August last year, the department issued a media release which claimed the government would be 'relocating 300 staff from central office to work directly with schools to improve program delivery and teaching practices'. 

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE ( Port AdelaideMinister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (14:50): Yes, that is one of the objectives of the government in its refocusing of our education expenditure. My impression of the ways in which large institutions tend to go through cycles is that there is a centralisation push followed by a decentralisation push and that neither is perfection but both are required over the history of a department or an institution. 

At present, we are in the process of reducing our expenditure in head office in Flinders Street, and that has been significantly in the corporate area, but what we are doing, as identified in the press release that was quoted, is working through the area of teaching and learning support that the department provides to schools and refining the offering, changing the personnel—and a number have indeed already gone back to schools—and also working towards a relocation of those staff. That last element is yet to occur. 

We are working through locations that would be appropriate, and part of that is about maintaining the importance of having a single unit within the department but also being able to release it from the view of being held within Flinders Street, which has been regarded for a number of years as a place that is a little remote from the schools. The intention is to find a location outside of Flinders Street to house those teaching and learning staff and, in turn, that much of the work of those staff is done not only within that single unit but also working closely not just with schools but also with partnerships. 

Partnerships are a mechanism that has been introduced, influenced substantially by Michael Fullan's work, who is a very good educator and reformist who has emphasised the importance of not only building up the school level but the community of education level. These partnerships go from preschools to primary schools to secondary schools within a single location. That is an important unit of education, because it means that the work being done at a high school has transparency all the way through to preschool, and the work that is done by the central office needs to support that activity. That is the direction in which we are going, and when I have a timeline that I can announce publicly or brief the member about, I shall do.

Mr GARDNER ( Morialta ) ( 14:57 )Supplementary: My question is to the Minister for Education and Child Development. Is the minister able to identify how many of those 300 staff that are being relocated out of head office are actually going to be placed in schools, and how many are going to be placed in what she described in her previous answer as a single unit to be located somewhere yet to be defined, outside of head office but still in a central location? 

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE ( Port AdelaideMinister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (14:57): Yes, I will return with a detailed answer that has precise numbers attached to it, but I think what we are talking about is a contraction of the head office—an absolute contraction of the head office—a return to schools by some staff, and a unit that will spend more time with schools. So, there is a subtlety in the way in which the support is done. What I would like to clarify— 

The Hon. J.M. Rankine interjecting: 

The SPEAKER: The member for Wright is warned. 

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE: What I would like to draw to the house's attention is that one of the very great advantages of our public school system is that it is a system. It has a large number of schools—some 500-plus and about 300 standalone preschools. By it being so large and having such a large-scale presence, we are able to do things that a smaller system or individual schools are not able to do. We are able to take advantage of pooling together some of the people who are focused on particular improvements— 

Mr Gardner: What about taking advantage of these people with teaching degrees and putting them in classrooms? 

The SPEAKER: The member for Morialta is warned for the second and final time. 

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE: One of the pieces of work that was done leading up to a year or two ago was to assist in not only the development of the Australian Curriculum by ACARA but its translation into use in schools. That work having been completed, our focus has moved now to improving teacher quality. As people would be aware, teacher quality is the single most important element that defines the quality of experience for a student. What's essential is that that isn't just left to individual schools and to teachers in individual classes, but that we add value through— 

Members interjecting: 

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE: It is their question time; they can take the time if they wish. 

Members interjecting: 

The SPEAKER: The Minister for Health is warned. 

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE: It was always clear that we would be both having some people return to schools and that we would also be maintaining a central effort. As I said, this value-add makes a significant difference to the quality of the teaching experience in schools, and we would move that closer to schools. That not only means its relocation from Flinders Street but also that the way in which the staff operate is to spend more time in schools as well as working across the partnerships, as I explained in my previous answer.