Question: Cost of Moving Year 7 into High School

Mr GARDNER ( Morialta ) ( 15:21 ): My question is to Minister for Education and Child Development. On what basis have successive Labor Party education ministers claimed the cost of moving year 7 into high school would be $300 million? The department today has announced that it does not know what the capacity enrolment levels for our schools are. 

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE ( Port AdelaideMinister for Education and Child Development, Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (15:22): I think that is a misreading of what has been read in the paper, the suggestion that the department does not know what its capacity is. The department has a very refined system of determining the building capacity of— 

An honourable member interjecting: 

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE: That may well be what was in the paper but it doesn't make it entirely accurate. The department has a very refined process of determining what the building capacity of any given school is and, therefore, how many students one would expect to be able to fit into that school. Because we have one of the more autonomous systems, which I believe I gleaned from the report that was put out by members opposite, it is something that they also adhere to for an education system. 

We allow the schools to manage largely within that capacity to determine whether they want to have slightly more students by reconfiguring some of the space that they have, and some schools are below capacity. We do a census once a year to ensure that we understand exactly how many students are enrolled in our schools, and we have individual identifiers for our students so that we are able to track our students, which I believe is not the case in the other two sectors. 

We have a good sense of how many students we have. The question started as a question about the movement of year 7 into high school and, as I have said previously, I have a reasonably open mind about that. I do not think there is a right answer in where 12 year olds should be schooled. In fact, yesterday I had the opportunity to talk extensively to Professor John Hattie, who is one of the leading education researchers in this country, indeed, the world. 

One of the great strengths he has brought is to do a synthesis report where he has looked at enormous numbers of research reports and sought to identify effects of different interventions. I asked him, 'What do you think about year 7 in high school?' He said it makes absolutely no difference. It is a structural change. It could go this way or it could go that way. You can make either work. 

So, my view is it could go very well in high school, it could go very well in primary school. The real question is: do you want to spend money forcing all students into one version away from where they are currently? As the member pointed out, prior to my becoming minister a fairly extensive piece of work was done to look at what it would take to add to the capacity of high schools in order to fit year 7s in. The estimate then, and I believe it is widely regarded in the department as fairly conservative, was around $300 million to make sure that every single year 7 was forced into a high school. 

My own view is that we are far better off allowing for parental choice and flexibility. We already have two high schools that start at year 7: Clare and Seaford, and there are many schools, of course, where we offer from reception (or even from birth) to year 12. I am open to further discussion about whether there are some individual high schools that could take a year 7 class, as long as that doesn't create an unnecessary capital burden which could be better spent on something that actually would make a difference to children's education.