What a difference 14 years makes

IN HER maiden speech to Parliament, Julia Gillard, MP, railed against the ''inequality'' in our education system and stressed the need to create a ''high class state school system''.

She said the large number of high achievers at a ''very exclusive ladies college in the eastern suburbs'' was not matched in working class electorates such as her own. ''The students from my electorate are not any less intelligent than those from Higgins or Kooyong but their educational opportunities are not the same,'' she said.

It's a far cry from this week when Ms Gillard maintained she had never looked at a big, independent school in an established suburb and thought ''that's not fair''.

Nor had she looked at a new independent school in a coastal town and thought: ''Why aren't those kids at the public school?'' Instead she thought the schools were ''great'' examples and she was glad the government was supporting them.

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said she was no more believable on school funding than she was on the carbon tax. ''This hypocrisy exposes Julia Gillard's longstanding ideological animosity towards non-government schools,'' he said.

Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green was also bemused by the change of tune. ''She said she never played the politics of envy, but in 1998 she said something totally opposite.''

A spokesman for Ms Gillard said Mr Pyne was desperately trying to distract from Tony Abbott's threat to cut public school funding and the Coalition should concentrate on coming up with a schools policy.

Meanwhile, parents at Laverton College in Ms Gillard's electorate see a school struggling to afford the basics.

Kristie Seymour, who has two children at Laverton College, said public schools were unfairly stigmatised but believed they offered a good education. ''All the private schools around here are going bust anyway,'' she said, referring to the collapsed Mowbray College.

Laverton College deserved more funding so that it could offer more tailored education for the students, she said. ''I think they could do with more one-on-one time with the kids but that's because of a lack of resources and not having the money for extra teachers.''

College principal Neil Sproal said the school was ''certainly under-funded'' and taught many children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

He said the school relied on unpaid help because basic maintenance of school grounds was too expensive. ''Every day we've got volunteers in here tidying up and working around the place,'' he said.