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Labor's technical colleges election pledge

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Labor has promised to build five new technical colleges across South Australia if elected in March to address “chronic skills shortages” and lift school completion rates, declaring “not every kid has the ambition to go to university and nor should they”.

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The announcement has been welcomed by the Australian Education Union but the State Government says the pledge is only to build “five new buildings at existing schools”.

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas this morning announced that Labor would build three new technical colleges in metropolitan Adelaide and two in regional South Australia for senior secondary students – at a cost of $175 million plus $30 million in operating costs – if it wins the March state election.

“This is a serious plan to address a serious need that exists not just amongst young people but our employers as well,” Malinauskas told reporters.

“We’ve got to invest in our young people – we’ve got to give them the skills that they need to be able to work for the employers that are crying out for more young people in their industry.”

Labor says the colleges would offer courses in areas including building and construction, such as carpentry, bricklaying and plumbing; as well as community services and hospitality, such as bakers, chefs and aged care workers; and engineering and information technology, such as vehicle mechanics, auto electricians and engineers.

It says the planned technical colleges would include “high quality equipment” and spaces to ensure students are using up-to-date equipment for modern trades.

“Construction trades, building trades, they are crying out for people with skills,” Malinauskas said.

“Not every kid is going to go university. Not every kid has the ambition to go to university and nor should they because there are so many jobs out there that are incredibly fulfilling and incredibly well-paid that are looking for opportunities with young people.

“I don’t like this idea that we drill into kids that they have to go to university. They should be able to have choice and if they want to be able to use the skills with their hands let’s invest in that opportunity.”

Labor says the colleges would be built on existing school sites – yet to be announced – but insists they would be their own entities.

The first new college would open in 2024 with the other four to be built and opened by 2026.

The vocational education sector has come under intense scrutiny recently, with the State Government axing several TAFE courses and the union fearing more cuts to come.

Australian Education Union state president Lara Golding welcomed today’s announcement.

“After years of neglect, it is great to see a commitment to reinvesting in TAFE through new technical colleges,” she said.

“TAFE is trusted by industry to deliver high quality vocational education and is well placed to develop the skills students need for the future.

“The AEU is analysing the detail and will seek assurances from Labor that public funding is for public education.”

Education Minister John Gardner accused the Opposition of being disingenuous.

“Within minutes of announcing five new technical schools, Peter Malinauskas admitted he just means five new buildings at existing schools,” Gardner said.

“The problem with Pete is his approach begins and ends with a headline or six-word sound-bite and South Australian families deserve honesty.”

Gardner said the Marshall Liberal Government had undertaken “the most significant reforms of vocational education and training in a generation to make sure that every single one of our public schools is providing flexible industry pathways to give our students the training they need for the jobs of the future”.

“These reforms are seeing nation leading increases in school-based apprenticeships and traineeships.”

Malinauskas said evidence showed the industries with the highest levels of vacancies were looking for people with vocational qualifications in areas such as building professionals, food trades, automotive trades and construction trades.

But he said South Australians were not taking up vocational education in high enough numbers, with students in Western Australia and Queensland more likely to undertake vocational training at school.

Malinauskas also said school completion rates in SA had stagnated, between 72 per cent and 75 per cent since 2016, well below the OECD average of 80 per cent and below other developed countries in the 80s and low 90s.

Today’s announcement is the latest in a series of education pledges by Labor including:

Gardner attacked the Royal Commission plan, saying: “In outsourcing the detail of his three year old preschool proposal to a Royal Commission, Peter Malinauskas is demonstrating that he has no faith in his shadow minister or his team to develop the policy himself”.

“Labor and Pete would prefer to spend millions on Royal Commissions and hundreds of thousands on QCs than policy development which requires hard work, deep research and strong consultation,” Gardner said.

Golding praised the Opposition for its plan to hire 100 extra mental health and learning difficulty specialists, saying “right now too many students are missing out on the support they need to be successful”.

“Teachers are working incredibly hard, but more specialists are urgently needed,” she said.

But the union has criticised the proposal to give principals the power to hire and fire teachers, calling it “populist politics, not good policy”.

“We all know that quality teaching matters and this means ensuring that every teacher has the professional development and support they need to be great,” Golding said.

“It’s bad policy to wait until the pointy end of underperformance to take action.

“The current process could be improved by increasing support for the high workloads of principals, not by arbitrary timelines.

“What makes our public schools so fantastic is they are part of a high quality system. Teachers are employed by a system, not individual principals, and as such the system must take responsibility for delivering high quality teaching and learning.”

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