Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:53): Today, across New South Wales, children and young people are returning to school. It's been just a delight, as you look through your Facebook feed, to see all the photos of the smiling, happy, joyful faces—as well as the children who are smiling, happy and joyful, not just the parents! So it's been a really nice start to the day. I want to extend my very best wishes to all of those students. We do understand, of course, that academic engagement at school is very important, but so is the social side of young people's development—being with their friends and teachers—and I'm sure they're all very much looking forward to it today. I do want to acknowledge that there are a couple of schools across my region who won't be going back today because each is closed for a deep clean after being the site of a close contact. Of course, that will continue to be a challenge for our schools.

I'm very much of the view, and I know the teachers union have expressed this, that we need to make sure we're doing all that we can to ensure the schools are safe places. In that vein, I want to extend a huge thankyou to all of the parents who have put so much effort into homeschooling over the last couple of months. In particular I acknowledge the many parents who were working at home as well as doing homeschooling. It was a really tough ask of them, and it's clear that parents have just stepped up. They've done that with the absolute support and backing of the school teachers and support staff. They've done an extraordinary job, going to online learning, engaging with students and keeping in contact with them. It's a really extraordinary accomplishment by each and every one of them, and I want to extend my great thanks to all of them for that work.

I also want to acknowledge that schools did continue to operate to provide an opportunity for the children of essential workers to be at school when their parents had to be on the front line. That, of course, happened in child care as well, and I want to acknowledge all the teachers, educators and support staff in our childcare system who were doing the same thing over recent months. Education is such a critically important part of a child's life, a young person's life. Of course, over coming weeks, our HSC students are going into their final exams after all of those years of schooling. It's been a really tough year for them, as it was for the group who did their HSC last year. A great campaign is running, saying, 'You've got this.' We have great confidence in you, and we look forward to you giving an amazing contribution to our community in the future.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.