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Monday, 24 February 2014
Page: 647


Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (21:00): I take this opportunity to report to the House on a fantastic local success story in my electorate of McPherson. Just a few hundred metres from my electorate office is Varsity College, one of the largest public schools in Queensland and one of the most highly sought after P-12 public schools on the Gold Coast.

Varsity College is a great example of what is actually working when it comes to the delivery of quality education in the public sector. With a motto of 'Dare to dream', Varsity College is focused on 'putting students first and maximising student-learning potential'. Varsity College is also benefiting from the Independent Public Schools initiative, which allows them more autonomy in developing innovative education initiatives.

I am very proud to inform the House that Varsity College is pursuing a range of world-class initiatives. It is the only school in Queensland that offers a Chinese immersion language program. Its basketball team, Varsity Vipers, was established by NBL player Adam Darragh and currently ranks sixth on the state leader board. In 2012 the school was placed first in the Gold Coast Eisteddfod competition as a part of its outstanding music program, in which over 600 students participate. Importantly, Varsity College is the only P-12 school in Australia to have the distinction of being a 'Microsoft World Tour School' and is one of just over 30 in the world with this award for demonstrating innovation in education. There is a strong emphasis at the school on maths and science, and that of course is supported by the latest technology. In 2012 the school identified a high number of students interested in pursuing maths and sciences, and they have worked to specifically meet the needs of those students. I congratulate the school on its efforts.

There is a lot of public debate, particularly at present, about the need to encourage students and teachers in the areas of maths and science. This is something that is very near and dear to my heart as an engineer with a passion for science. Of course, it is also vital for our ongoing economic success as a nation. Skills shortages in these critical areas have been identified and will worsen unless we begin to attract more students into maths and science. That is not necessarily just at the tertiary level either. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Varsity College administration team, staff and community for achieving world recognition through their unique digital learning platform, and particularly for the commitment to encouraging and promoting excellence in maths and science.

Earlier this month I met with the Executive Principal of Varsity College, Mr Jeff Davis, and discussed the college's ongoing success and how the Independent Public Schools initia­tive has assisted in the continuation of their programs of excellence. Mr Davis is a strong supporter of the Independent Public Schools initiative, and I understand that the Varsity Col­lege community, staff and parents are very supportive of his views. Mr Davis has had many years' experience in education and has observed firsthand how providing greater autonomy to principals can lead to improved outcomes for students, teachers, principals, parents and the community more broadly. There is a significant body of evidence to support those findings.

By 2017 over 1,500 public schools across the nation will claim greater independence in governance as a result of the Independent Public Schools initiative. Seventy million dollars invested in this initiative by the Abbott government will help to strengthen the Australian curriculum and increase teacher quality, principal autonomy and parental engagement. Creating this independence is a fundamental step in cutting onerous red tape and empowering government schools with the ability to make more decentralised decisions.

Once again, I thank and congratulate the staff, parents and students of Varsity College for providing a stunning example of what can be achieved in our public schools, and how the Independent Public Schools initiative can really work to support ongoing innovation in education.

I encourage other members of this House, as they promote the Independent Public Schools initiative in their local areas, to talk to their schools about ways to promote maths and science and to look to Varsity College for leadership in this area. Through innovation in technology, as well as actively encouraging the pursuit of maths and science, we can provide a greater range of options for our students and help secure the future skills base of our nation. Above all, promoting excellence in our public schools will encourage our young leaders of the future to continue to 'dare to dream'.