Whether it’s struggling with surging enrolments in the inner-cities, dealing with the mounting backlog of maintenance issues or combating rising instances of violence against principals, it’s no secret that NSW schools have their work cut out for them.
Perhaps another event that can be added to the list of things weighing on the minds of the state’s teachers and principals is the loss of renowned Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, who the deputy premier described as “one of the best in the world”.
The state’s new Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said Piccoli had been “outstanding” in education, but added that it was time for “fresh blood” in the portfolio.
“Minister Piccoli has done an outstanding job in education and after six years I am really pleased that Rob Stokes is stepping up. Rob Stokes will be a phenomenal minister for education. He is as passionate about Gonski as I am, as minister Piccoli was,” she said in January.
In an interview with The Educator, Minister Stokes shared his thoughts taking on the portfolio, as well as how intends to make a positive impact on NSW education.
“Education is one of the most exciting opportunities we have in government to transform people’s lives from a very early age,” Minister Stokes told The Educator.
“As a parent, through my own education and from my experience as a teacher, I understand the positive impact education can have.”
Stokes added that he hopes to use this understanding to support students, teachers and parents in the opportunities and challenges they face every day.
“It is also really important in this role that I am a listener and a learner myself,” he said.
Stokes outlined his top priorities for NSW education in 2017.
“My predecessor, Adrian Piccoli, did an outstanding job as Education Minister. It is my intention to build on his achievements, including reforms to improve student results, foster quality teaching and provide greater support to students and teachers,” he said.
“We also have a vast demographic challenge ahead of us in terms of the number of school-aged children in NSW.”
Stokes pointed to the state booming population, which is expected to grow by 28% over the next 20 years, with an additional 164,000 public school students in NSW by 2031.
“We need to increase our schools’ capacity to accommodate all those students. That will require new schools, as well as upgrades to increase the capacity of existing ones, and being smart and imaginative in our development solutions,” he explained.
“Though a challenge, having more children in our state is a great thing – and providing greater school capacity is a top priority for me.”
Stokes said that he will be pushing for the Federal Government to deliver on $5bn worth of new funding for NSW schools during ongoing negotiations between the Federal, State and Territory leaders.
“We have a signed agreement with the Commonwealth Government on the Gonski reforms, in which NSW schools stand to gain $5bn in new funding,” Stokes said.
“The NSW Government led the nation in signing and implementing these reforms, and I will continue to do everything possible to ensure this commitment is met by the Federal Government.”