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One door closes and another one opens

It’s the end of an era for Department of Education staff as we move to a new purpose-built office in Parramatta. Here’s my words to staff as we farewell ‘Bridge Street’.

Bridge St and Phillip St buildings

The department's corporate staff are moving from Bridge Street to a new, fit for purpose building in Parramatta.

On occasions such as this, when we look at the old photos and think back 100 years to the establishment of this building and what it stands for – a familiar acknowledgement of country makes you reflect on the span of time.

A century seems such a long time to have been in this place. It reminds many of us of the longevity of this great public service and the relatively small time many of us have been a part of it.

And then we think of the traditional owners, in these parts by the harbour, by the streams that flowed nearby – for what may have been 60,000 years – 600 such centuries. In these places, Aboriginal people have performed age-old ceremonies of celebration, education, initiation and renewal.

We acknowledge their living culture and their unique role in the life of the region. We thank them for their stewardship and for all we learn from them about this land. Can I pay my respect to Elders past and present and can I extend that respect to all Aboriginal people with us today.

I have often said to people who have asked about our move from Bridge Street that it is truly a remarkable building – from the outside.

There are fine spots inside, of course, like this great gallery. And some of the rooms have a grandeur from another era as well. Some of the most wonderful assets, like sweeping stairwells, are rarely seen. But many of us concede, I think, that the set-up internally is not quite what we need for the way we want to work now.

I was out at the new offices in Parramatta last week, and the construction team working with the designers and our project office in the department have done a fine job. It is light and bright, highly functional and designed with spaces in mind for modern ways of working. It will place a premium on collaboration and teamwork, chances to share expertise and insight, to really work as one team in the service of our schools.

As we leave this building in coming weeks, the farewell is sad, but exciting too in a way. The cardboard boxes are out, but we aren’t allowed to take too much. Like every new office space around this city, we aspire to be paperless, we will be genuinely open plan and you will not be allowed to be a hoarder, because you will have no place to hoard. All of us old dogs are going to have to learn new tricks.

I have been reflecting a bit on what we are going to leave behind here at Bridge Street – and what we are going to take with us when we go to Parramatta.

There are some things to leave I guess. At times, the department has been seen to be very hierarchical, and Bridge Street was a symbol of that. And perhaps some felt that here the most important work was being done. The setting of policy and budgets. Establishing the clear expectations for what was to happen and not to happen across more than 2,000 locations in NSW. If you rose and rose in your career in the department, you got promoted to Bridge Street. For most of its history, it was Head Office, in the full sense of the word. And in schools, perhaps, Bridge Street was not always a term of affection.

Well now, as exemplified in our new strategic plan, we are trying to see things a little differently or at least, clearly articulating our intention and ambition.

We are stating very clearly that students are at the very centre of our system – working for their best drives all we do. And in effect, there are only two kinds of jobs in the system. Those who help students learn each day – and those who support the ones helping the learning. The work that happens here at Bridge Street and then at Parramatta, will be all about providing outstanding service to schools, so that every student, every teacher, every leader, every school improves every year.

We see Parramatta as providing an engine room of support for our schools: great policy, great tools, great training, great advice – all hallmarks you would expect to see in a world-class education system. And when our schools speak of Parramatta, we want them to speak in terms of the quality of support provided, informed by practical insight into the daily challenges of running complex schools.

There are things we are going to take with us from here. Brilliant artwork by generations of students. Some practical things that speak of our history. The honour boards and other important symbols from this place.

And the same thinking behind the establishment of this building lies at Parramatta as well. This building embedded public education at the heart of the city. And as the city has grown and changed, so will we. Our new home is at the heart of Sydney as it has grown – in Parramatta. Central to those we serve, and just down the street from our new landmark high-rise Arthur Phillip High School. As this location was symbolically powerful a century ago, Parramatta is right for us now.

We take with us the great traditions that governed decision-making in this place: a commitment to public education that is free, compulsory and secular. A belief in the importance of every child. A commitment to a system that is not just providing students with opportunity, but is committed to fairness and equity. A commitment to the wellbeing of every young person in our care – a commitment that as we grow to educating a million students in coming years, every one of them will be known, valued and cared for in a government school.

What we really take with us to Parramatta, our most valuable asset, is our people. Buildings and symbols can come and go. We cannot change our past, we can only shape our future. And our future will be shaped – as our past was shaped – by people with a commitment to public service and public education. People who had many different choices in where to work, and where to invest their lives – but saw there are few things more important than investing in young people. For it is our young people who will hold the future of our communities, our civil society and our nation in their hands.

The work done in this building over a century will be continued in Parramatta by people who will keep that commitment and public spirit alive. People who serve and who understand that education has never been more important – that this is education’s moment.

At this gathering we thank all who served here – some present, many long gone – for their public spirit and public service. We proudly take that spirit and that service with us as we pack up and head for our new home.

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Mark Scott

About the Secretary

Mark Scott is Secretary of the Department of Education. He has worked as a teacher, in public administration and as a journalist and media executive. He is committed to public education and learning environments where every child can flourish.

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