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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3183

Mr SYMON (Deakin) (12:36): Today I would like to relate to the House yet another wonderful local event happening at a school in my electorate—Vermont South Special School. Their particular event was the opening of their building back on 8 March. It had a special significance because I think it was actually the 30th BER opening that I have now done in the electorate. Of course, they are still coming on stream now. Those have been a great benefit for all the schools that I have been to, but this one was possibly more so. Being a special school, it does not have the same needs nor the same types of children in it that a regular primary school does. Indeed, Vermont South Special School is a school for children between the ages of five and 12 with mild intellectual disabilities. So the school environment is, as I say, somewhat different to your regular school. The kids there have a great time going to school; they really look forward to it. Having been there a couple of times now and having seen what they do, I certainly understand why it is so important to them. The new BER building there is certainly an integral part of that. It is being called the Integrated Learning Centre. One of the most important parts about it is that actually allows them to use the sorts of infrastructure and new communications technologies that kids with that type of disability can really take up.

If you were to visit there, you would find that there is a large amount of computer equipment for the children to use. There are iPads. There are networked points all around the place in the new building. There are throughout some of the school as well, but in the new building the rooms have been set up so that children can learn in small classes and so they can do that at their own level. As a special school the staff is made up of around 60 or 65 full-time equivalents for around 160-odd students. They have very intensive needs when it comes to education. The new building has allowed the school to move many of their educational activities outside of the types of school buildings that most of us would recognise so very well, built back in the early 1970s. Whilst they were good at that time, we have most certainly moved well beyond that.

For the opening ceremony we had the whole school attend, which was wonderful. All the schoolchildren there came and they sang the national anthem. After a few speeches from me, the principal, Mal Coulson, and the assistant principal, Claire Rafferty, who also helped out, we had a great performance from the children in what they call the glee club. They put on a play for us as well. Again, that was not only good for me to watch but really good for the kids because they had been practising quite a long time to get it right—and they certainly did. They got a great round of applause and they certainly deserved it. The centre cost $2 million. It is a Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development template building. It suits Vermont South Special School very well. As I said before, the school, being a special school, has to have special teachers as well. Teachers that go to a school like that really need to be committed to, and commended for, the job they do. Focusing on communication as an integrated tool for learning means that children do not have to be taught just one way. At a school like that there are multiple options for getting the same message across to a child who may not respond in many other ways. I saw some great examples of that on the day.

The school also has many services above and beyond what normal schools have, such as therapy services for speech, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. They have a full-time school nurse there as well. They do Early Years Literacy and Numeracy Development programs, and they also do out-of-school excursions. The school and the children who go there are not generally from the local area. They come from a very wide area. Some come from nearly 30 kilometres away to get to the school. So it is good to have a facility in the electorate like that looked after by the federal government. I am sure that, with the new environment that they have, the parents who have a need for that type of education for their children will feel not only very welcome at the school but also that their children in the school are benefiting from the very best that 21st century technology can provide.