Sarah Mitchell, Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning, provides an insight into her priorities for education and her new role as a school mum.
Ms Mitchell, MLC, was previously Minister for Early Childhood Education, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Assistant Minister for Education.
What is your school education background?
I was born in Gunnedah but my family moved three times during my school years. I attended five different schools – Gunnedah South Public School, St Mary’s Grafton, Catherine McAuley College Grafton, Trinity Lismore and finally Gunnedah High School for Years 11 and 12. I was lucky enough to be school captain in year 12 at Gunnedah High School and I loved contributing to the school community through this role.
What are your priorities for school education?
In the Education space, I look forward to initially meeting with a number of key stakeholders to introduce myself and get across issues currently impacting the sector. I want to visit schools and preschools and meet with students, parents and staff. I have always had a grassroots approach to my ministerial roles and that is something that will continue.
I’m keen to get to work on the commitments we made prior to the election, particularly around our school and infrastructure commitments, the school maintenance backlog, increased before and after school care across the state, and ensuring more opportunities for our wonderful teachers.
What are your priorities for early childhood learning?
As Minister for Early Childhood Learning, I look forward to continue working on my commitment to ensure all early childhood services in NSW are affordable, accessible and high quality, and that no child misses out.
Last year NSW became the first state in Australia to offer preschool subsidies to all three-year-olds, so I look forward to watching this roll out and continuing to ensure appropriate infrastructure funding is available to account for these increased enrolments.
I also want to continue to support our wonderful early childhood educators through the Workforce Strategy, the Sector Support Program and various scholarship programs, because I know how crucial they are in ensuring our children have the best start to their lives.
The drought continues to cripple much of our state, so I want to make sure those most affected get continued support from the Government – it’s always important for us to lend a hand when we can.
How did your previous portfolios prepare you for this role?
Prior to my new appointment, I was Minister for Early Childhood Education, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Assistant Minister for Education, so I did have somewhat of an ‘apprenticeship’ in the Education portfolio. I assisted my predecessor, Minister Rob Stokes, on a number of policies impacting regional and remote NSW, which gave me a good introduction.
As an MP representing a regional area, are there particular focus areas for rural and remote education?
I have always believed that education is the key to success in life, and that literacy and numeracy are at the core of that foundation.
As Minister, I am committed to making sure every child, no matter where they are from, no matter what type of school they attend, has access to a top quality education. Academic prowess does not discriminate on gender, location or background, and I want to make sure every child has the best chance to succeed.
As a regional MP, I feel strongly that students in regional parts of the state should have the same opportunities as their city counterparts. I also want parents to feel confident in the education their children are receiving, and for teachers to be well supported and have opportunities to grow. I remain a strong advocate for the early learning years as I know how critical they are.
Your daughter, Annabelle, is in Kindergarten at a public school in Gunnedah. What’s it like being a school mum?
Annabelle was so ready for Kindergarten, and I’m thrilled she’s still excited to be dropped off at school every morning. There were definitely more tears from me than her when she first started!
Being a working mother and travelling a lot is hard, so I relish the chance to do school drop-off and pick up. I am lucky that Annabelle’s school community is really supportive and inclusive, there’s some wonderful parents, staff and students there and I feel very comfortable that she’s in the right hands.
I’m also enjoying the homework and home readers, and making sure she can share with us all the important parts of her school day. I think having a supportive home learning environment is really important as well.
I am incredibly passionate about education, and the fact that I am literally living the portfolio I’ve been appointed to will bring a different perspective to the role that I think will be beneficial.