Victorian certificate of applied learning: funding

We have heard a load of hogwash from the junior Minister for Education. It was an uneducated, unacceptable, untruthful and unedifying insult to every VCAL (Victorian certificate of applied learning) teacher and student in the state of Victoria. The shadow Minister for Education has suggested that the minister is living in la-la land, but from that performance I think he just does not care. He does not care about students and teachers in the state of Victoria.

Since coming to office the Baillieu government has undertaken lots of cuts, including to the Take a Break program, the apprenticeship completion program and the Home Wise program, and I thought it could not get worse — but I was wrong. After that performance, I expect there is more to come. Nothing could have prepared me for this insult and assault on the school communities in my electorate. This heartless $50 million cut to the VCAL program has all the hallmarks of the Kennett regime.

I remember that when I got involved in politics and rejoined the Labor Party it was because I had been down to my kids’ school and seen what the Liberal government was doing to schools. Now the Liberal Party is back in office, it is doing exactly the same thing. We on this side of the house made education our no. 1 priority because we know that getting a good job leads to a stable future. That means getting a good education, but we also know that classroom education is not for everyone.

That is why VCAL is so important. It has given many hundreds of young people in my electorate the opportunity to combine study at school with gaining a qualification and working as well as participating in community activities that have been really good for both the community and the student. VCAL provides students with related work experience, literacy and numeracy skills, and the opportunity to develop personal skills in order to prepare them for further education and training or employment.

However, VCAL has now been placed on the Baillieu government’s lengthening list of cuts, and it is part of an enormous cut of $481 million to education. I cannot believe it — and most people do not — but the Minister for Education claims that ripping out almost half a billion dollars from the education department budget will not negatively impact on jobs and front-line services. The cut to VCAL is a substantial part of this. In Narre Warren South VCAL is a front-line service, and this will impact on the jobs of coordinators and teachers. VCAL coordinators are essential, as we have heard many times over. That is not only heard in this house; if you go and talk to teachers, students and community members, you will hear that VCAL coordinators are essential in coordinating school VCAL programs.

I will go back a couple of months, because this has been a lingering, festering sore, as the shadow education minister said. A couple of months ago the shadow minister and I went to schools. We all know that schools were not consulted about these cuts; indeed they are rightly insulted about that very fact.

They found out about the cut when it was placed at the end of a memo from the department and were not even paid the courtesy of being given sufficient notice, with the funding cut taking effect on 1 January 2012. When we went down to Narre Warren South P-12 College the students were up in arms and the teachers were outraged.

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms GRALEY — No, they asked us to come down because they wanted to tell us exactly what — —

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms GRALEY — And listen up, because this is what they said, and the Minister for Education is deaf on it.

Mitchell Dunne of Narre Warren South P-12 College said:

If it wasn’t for the coordinators of the VCAL program … I probably would have dropped out in year 10. The staff have spent hours assisting me with careers advice, accessing work placement and visiting me at work to ensure a successful experience.

Rechelle Palmer, who has completed a certificate III in children’s services, wrote:

The teacher support from all areas of our VCAL team is incredible … Some students, even myself, I could not see handling VCE that well, and surely causing them to drop out limiting their chances of finding a job in their chosen field.

Kate Newton wrote:

Through VCAL I have been able to complete certificate II in animal studies …
If the government withdraws VCAL funding I personally think a lot more students would not complete year 12 and leave being unemployed …
Without VCAL I wouldn’t be where I am at school and would have already failed and left school.

The comments go on and on. I have numerous letters from students. It is a pity the government did not listen to the students and the teachers. The principal, the coordinator of the VCAL program at Narre Warren South P-12 College, has written to the government numerous times and asked the minister to come down and visit. Do you know what?

The school has not had a reply — until, apparently, yesterday. What has the minister decided to do? The minister has decided to come down to visit Narre Warren South P-12 College and have a listen to and talk with the students and staff.

The problem is: when is this going to happen? The funding cuts out on 1 January. When has the minister decided to visit Narre Warren South P-12 College? He suggested that he visit — I suspect on his way home down to the peninsula, on his way to Carols by Candlelight on the Sorrento foreshore or to a cocktail party for the Portsea polo club — on 13 December, when school will almost be over. What a disgrace that, after being asked to visit the biggest and most highly awarded VCAL school in Victoria, the minister can find the time only on 13 December to go down to visit the school. He will put up his Christmas stocking on the way, I imagine, and then say, ‘Hello, I’m here to do something’, when the funding is going to run out on 1 January.

Well, thank you, Minister — thank you for nothing. That is how the school, the teachers, the students and the community feel. They are being let down and they are not being listened to. It is time the minister changed that appointment and got down to the school to listen to the people who will have $126 000 cut out of their budget. They have been told to try to find that from somewhere else! Where else in the school’s programs will they find $126 000? They have been told to ask the parents to chuck in some more money to run the school; ask the business community to find some spare change. It is not going to happen. This cut to VCAL funding, this cut to coordination, means cuts for every student, not just VCAL students. Every student at Narre Warren South P-12 College will be affected by this cut.

I would like to remind the minister that he said that VCAL funding can be picked up by other services. The fact is that this is just not true, even though he said it was the case.

A member for South Eastern Metropolitan in the upper house, Mrs Peulich, has also said the LLENs (local learning and employment networks) can pick up the slack on this.

In a letter to me the executive director of my local LLEN, Andrew Simmons, said:

Coordinating … placements to satisfy the VET requirements of intermediate and senior VCAL certificates is a major role of VCAL coordination. This was not a start-up activity. It is an ongoing and time-consuming activity that is required year in, year out for every VCAL class …

The LLEN just cannot do the job. It is saying this in black and white to the minister. Something he is asking them to do they are not able to do, yet he keeps on insisting that that is the case.

I would also like to raise the issue of the fabulous new school in my electorate, Alkira Secondary College, that is just starting a VCAL program. It is being denied any start-up funds. The principal — again — has written to the Premier and to the Minister for Education asking them to come and visit the school. He is yet to get a reply. He has asked them to come down and said, ‘How can we establish a VCAL program without a VCAL coordinator? We cannot do it, but show us how’. They are not replying and not turning up because they do not know how. They should be embarrassed because this is a terrible decision — a ruthless, savage cut to those who cannot afford it.

One teacher said to me yesterday that he believes this is just a rotten cut to working-class kids. I am inclined to agree with that. It was a hallmark of the Kennett government that it took a knife to working-class kids, and here we see it again. As the shadow minister said, the government now has an opportunity to backflip on this and to fix up the sore, so I suggest it does it.

The SPEAKER — Order! The member’s time has expired.