ACT Legislation Is A Model for Consultation on School Closures

Thursday June 30, 2011

The consultation on school closures by the Tasmanian Greens Minister for Education, Nick McKim, is a sham. It is restricted to only four weeks, which is not nearly enough time for school communities to prepare their case. The impact statements prepared by the Minister amount to a list of benefits of closing schools and fail to spell out the full effect on families and communities.

The Minister should follow the consultation process mapped out by his ACT Greens colleagues who amended the ACT Education Act in 2010 to ensure an independent and open consultation on the full impact of school closures.

The ACT Education Act provides for an independent consultation process on proposals to close or amalgamate schools. The consultation must take place over a period of at least six months.

An independent committee must be established to prepare an impact analysis which is to be used in the consultation process and to conduct the consultation. The committee consists of three people who will be selected after consultation with a standing committee of the ACT Legislative Assembly. The committee must report to the Minister on the consultation.

This provision takes control of the consultation process away from the Minister and the Department of Education. It does not guarantee full independence in the process, but it is an improvement on past processes in the ACT where the Department of Education conducted the consultation at the bidding of the Minister of the day. The Minister now has less control over the process and school communities have more opportunity for their voice to be heard and taken into account.

The legislation provides for a detailed impact assessment of school closure and amalgamation proposals. The Minister is obliged to obtain a report which assesses the educational, economic, social and environmental impact of closing or amalgamating a school. This report is to be made available for the community consultation.

The legislation details a number of educational, economic, social and environmental factors which must be assessed in considering proposals to close or amalgamate schools which are much broader than those considered in the Towards 2020 plan.

The educational impacts include the range and depth of education programs, teaching resources and workloads, the social and learning environment for children; parent participation in school, the findings of research studies on school size and access to public education.

The economic impacts include savings and costs of closing a school for the Territory. This ensures that the wider costs such as increased bus transport costs and traffic and safety arrangements are also considered in future and not just the savings to the Education Department. Other economic factors to be considered include the financial impact on parents and local businesses.

The social impacts to be considered include demographic projections, the implications for low income, Indigenous and non-English speaking families, the safety of children walking or cycling to school, access to recreational and leisure facilities and community support networks.

The impact on environmental factors such as traffic congestion, air and noise pollution and green space adjacent to schools must also be taken into account.

The impact assessment report must also identify alternatives to closure or amalgamation for consideration in the consultation. This is a key change from past practice.

The ACT legislation also sets out a series of consultation requirements the Minister must comply with before making a decision to close or amalgamate a school. These provisions ensure that a future government cannot decide to close a school and then consult only on how it will be done as had occurred in the past.

In making a decision to close or amalgamate a school the Minister must now take specific account of the principles applying to education in general and to government schooling in the ACT Education Act. These include principles such as improving equity in education, ensuring reasonable access to public education and providing for partnerships in education.

The changes made to the ACT legislation last year reflect proposals made by Save Our Schools Canberra in its submission to the Legislative Assembly’s Education Committee inquiry on school closures in 2009 as well as other amendments it proposed. Save Our Schools worked closely with the ACT Greens in preparing the amendments.

It’s not too late for Minister McKim to have a proper consultation. He should take the ACT legislation as a model. He should extend the consultation period and publish a comprehensive impact statement for each school on the educational, economic and social impacts of closing them. He should appoint an independent committee to conduct the consultation and provide a report.

Trevor Cobbold

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Kambah Community Fun Day Sunday 30 July

Tuesday July 25, 2006

The Kambah community is inviting the public to a fun afternoon of free children’s entertainment, including face painting, balloon modelling, jumping castles, clowns and games.

The Community Fun Day is in aid of the multiple school closures in the area, and provides an opportunity for families to talk to others facing a similar situation.

So bring the kids along, a blanket and picnic lunch (bbq’s are provided) and join in the fun

WHERE: Kambah Oval No. 3
Kett Street Kambah
(Opposite the Burns Club)

WHEN: Sunday 30th July 2006
1pm til 3pm

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Send us your news

Wednesday July 12, 2006

Send us news about planned events and activities. Send us information on the Government’s consultations.

  • Is the Government providing adequate and accurate information?
  • Are there adequate opportunities to get clear answers rather than Government rhetoric and ‘spin’?
  • Is the Department collecting information on the educational, financial and social impact of school closures on students, their families and the school community as required by the Education Act?

Send us information on the Government’s figures on your school.

  • Are the Department’s school capacity figures for your school accurate?
  • Does your school have portable classrooms that are not being used? Is this unused space included in the Department’s estimates of school capacity?
  • Does your school have tenants co-located in the school? Is space used by tenants counted as school capacity in the Department’s figures?
  • Are the Department’s excess capacity figures for your school accurate? Do they include classrooms used for computer laboratories or other education uses?
  • Does your school have separate special education units? Are the costs of these units included as part of the school’s costs?
  • Does your child’s class have students with disabilities? How many? How many students with disabilities in your school? [Note: the reason for requesting this information is that different schools have different percentages of students with disabilities who attract higher funding and thus contribute to the different costs of schools.]

Use this contact form to send us any information.

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Public Education Under Attack

Thursday June 29, 2006

The dispute between the ACT Government and teachers is getting worse!

The 6 June Budget, crafted by Chief Minister and Treasurer Jon Stanhope, took the knife to jobs and services across the ACT public sector. The public school system was not immune from the knife as the ACT Government targeted cuts of at least 120 teaching positions in secondary schools, 15 teaching positions in primary schools and 10 itinerant staff across the system. It also flagged the loss of 90 support staff in the education bureaucracy. The announcement of 39 potential preschool and school closures has sent many school communities into a fury, and the ad hoc and destructive nature of many of the proposals has been scrutinised in the media and at public meetings.

At all of the public meetings Minister Barr has claimed that the 2020 program will lift the quality of provision in our schools and therefore increase enrolments. On every occasion he has been challenged – and he has failed to provide a suitable explanation as to how this might occur. He has also failed to explain how cutting teacher numbers can improve public education!

The Government’s focus on the need to consolidate schools has been supported by the AEU in the past on the basis that any changes are managed through a transparent, consultative program, and are based on educational needs. The current process is not transparent, and both the arguments about educational needs and the genuine nature of the consultation process are open to question. The destabilisation of the school system generated by the current closure and amalgamation process is being made worse by the Government’s insistence on staff cuts in schools and the Department’s central office. The impact of this disruption on student numbers in the public system is expected to be severe in a system that already has less than 60% of total student numbers.

The AEU has formally rejected the Towards 2020 program and called for a moratorium on closures until 2008 to allow a transparent public enquiry to take place into our education services.

Apart from issues arising through Towards 2020, the teachers’ salary dispute is still unresolved. In return for a salary increase of 4%pa over three years, the teaching workforce is expected to increase teaching contact hours by 2 hours per week in secondary and 15 minutes in primary schools and absorb the loss of the positions. In secondary schools, the loss of 120 teaching positions equates to some 10% of the workforce. In addition to the extra teaching, the workload of teachers – particularly in secondary schools – will increase through additional preparation, assessment, supervision, and other administrative and curriculum duties.

The savings made by the proposed cuts in positions will produce revenue beyond that required to fund the salary increase of 4%pa. This money will be added to savings generated by a reduction in ACT Government superannuation contributions to new entrants from 15.4%pa to 9%pa. This change to superannuation entitlements represents a remuneration cut of some 6.4% for any new employees.

Many ACT private schools currently offer employer superannuation contributions in excess of 9%pa, and will pay higher salaries to their teachers than those offered by the ACT Government from July this year. In this context, the Australian Education Union has highlighted the extreme difficulty that the public school system will face in recruiting when the private sector will be paying higher salaries and superannuation than those available in the public sector. The differential could be as high as 10% in total remuneration.

Apart from the potential damage caused to the system by failure to maintain salary packages comparable to the nearest competitors, the planned cuts to secondary staffing will also damage the system. The outcome of the proposed reduction in teacher numbers is that the ACT will be almost on a par with Tasmania, the worst performing State when it comes to mainstream school retention rates – and the state with the worst secondary staff to student ratio in the country. New Education Minister, Andrew Barr has maintained that the cuts in teaching positions will be managed through natural attrition. This would see no new recruitment of secondary staff for the 2007 school year leading to shortfalls in specific curriculum expertise as experienced teachers retire or resign. Past experience has shown that “natural attrition” rarely results in loss of staff only from areas where there is sufficient (or excess) expertise. The AEU has very real concerns that failure to recruit because jobs are being shed could lead to a lack of qualified teachers in some subject areas.

In its desperation to get its projected deficits in order, the ACT Government has decided that it needs to alienate constituencies that it has traditionally supported targeting education, health and other community services. It has pursued significant revenue increases to deal with the expected deficits for the next three years. These have included increasing fees at the Canberra Institute of Technology by 30% at a time of major skill shortages.

The Chief Minister and his colleagues believe that they need to take this action more than 2 years before the next election in an attempt to shore up their economic credentials. Their actions represent a significant gamble given the degree of ongoing alienation and disruption to be created in the ACT public sector and particularly in education.

One irony in the current dispute with the AEU and that developing with other public sector unions is the use of the new Industrial Relations environment by the ACT Government. Formerly outspoken public critics of the Federal laws, the Government has refused to negotiate on the conditions it is demanding be surrendered, namely reductions to superannuation, low level wage increases, staff cuts and increases in workload. Avenues for unions to negotiate on behalf of their members have been severely limited by the WorkChoices legislation. Options to defend existing job numbers and conditions are restricted to direct industrial action that takes weeks to put in place. No capacity exists for the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to force the Government to negotiate or for the AIRC determine a settlement.

The ACT Government’s failure to settle the salary dispute and their imposition of job cuts to teaching position numbers through the ACT Budget has led to the current industrial campaign by AEU members. Using the provisions of the Federal Government’s so-called Work Choices legislation, the AEU is currently conducting a second postal ballot of members to seek legal coverage for more industrial action in support of a fair outcome to the teachers’ salaries dispute. The AEU has gone down this path after deciding that the Stanhope Government has failed to honour its commitment to the Union to conduct genuine negotiations – a commitment made in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. The AEU’s Council has now rejected three offers from Government, with the third offer from the Government being rejected because of the required job losses and cuts to conditions required to deliver the 4%pa increase. Such an increase is already being paid without trade-offs for Government school teachers interstate and in ACT Catholic schools.

If teachers support the next ballot for industrial action as expected, the first of what could be a continuing series of work stoppages could occur towards the middle of Term 3.

Clive Haggar
Secretary
Australian Education Union (ACT Branch)
29 June 2006

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Who is counting the numbers?

Monday June 26, 2006

Planning on going to a community forum? -– bring your own megaphone -– the microphones never work!

Don’t get too exited though, even if your question is heard, it doesn’t mean it will be answered.

Some very good questions and concerns were raised at the community forum at Copland College on Monday evening, unfortunately we heard not much more than the rhetoric that has abounded in all of the government documentation on 2020 so far.

The community position that these varied proposals for the delivery of education across the territory lack consistency and legitimacy across the system is countered with the argument that they provide an increase in choice for people, and that the public system needs to mimic what is offered by the private system. We are assured that our system is big enough to offer a range of choices.

The questions on calculation of school capacity, and the need to re-visit formulas for calculating this are simply ignored – we are assured that the students will fit, and the extra funding will create the ability to provide options.

When pressed for a specific answer to the question of how THIS proposal for Belconnen North West will improve outcomes (including but not limited to educational) for students and encourage public enrollments – we are told again of the benefits of offering a range of models, but no specific answers are given. We are told that a significant factor in educational outcomes is the quality of teaching, but the leap of how the quality of teaching will improve with these changes is left for us to make. The catch cry “why fix something that’s not broken?” receives resounding applause from the audience.

We are assured by the Minister that if there is a strong community view that neither model (for Copland/Charnwood/Melba) is wanted, it will not proceed. Who is counting the numbers?

Anja Livingston
26 June 2006

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Broken Promises, or Not?

Saturday June 24, 2006

The Minister for Education, Mr. Andrew Barr, has been telling regional consultation meetings that the Government did not promise that it would not close schools during its term of office.

Let the record speak for itself.

Before the 2004 ACT election, a spokesman for the then Minister for Education categorically ruled out closing any schools during the next term of government. He said:

“The Government will not be closing schools”.
Canberra Times, 12 August 2004, p.2

Last year, the same spokesman said that the Government has no plans to close more schools in Canberra beyond Ginninderra District High School. The actual statement was remarkable in its disingenuousness and the careful let out:

“There is no active consideration [of school closures] at the moment, it is not on the Government’s agenda.”
Canberra Times, 26 July 2005, p.1

The following day the Minister for Education was reported as ruling out further school closures, with a spokeswoman for the Minister stating:

“There are no other plans on the agenda.”
Canberra Times, 27 July 2005, p.1

A letter in the Canberra Times last year made the following observation on these statements:

“On this track record of Government integrity, we can expect that plans will be underway soon, if they’re not already in place, to close schools in Woden, Weston Creek and North Tuggeranong”.
4 August 2005

What an incredibly prescient comment in the light of what was announced in the 2006-07 ACT Budget!!

The ACT Government does not have an electoral mandate to close 20 – 25 per cent of Canberra schools. Its election platform did not canvass such a sweeping change to the government school system. Indeed, its public statements were designed to give some assurance that school closures were not on its agenda. At best, these statements were disingenuous and misleading.

The Government’s record of broken promises does not stop with school closures. The key education commitment in the ALP Election Platform for the last election was an additional $12 million to increase staff in government high schools to improve student support and education outcomes. It promised an average increase of 2 full-time professional staff in each high school.

The Government has a clear mandate to increase teacher numbers, but its promise has not been delivered and now has been clearly abandoned with the Budget cuts of around 120 teachers from government high schools and colleges.

Trevor Cobbold
24 June 2006

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Govt. Figures Challenged by Public Finance Expert

Friday June 23, 2006

The ACT Government’s savings estimates from school closures have been challenged by a leading expert in public finance. Ian McAuley, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Sector Finance at the University of Canberra, says that the figures presented by the Government are unduly narrow and ignore costs that will be borne by the community.

Indeed, the Minister for Education has been quite explicit about ignoring community costs. He told the Gungahlin regional consultation meeting on 19 June that what happened to the Hall shops if Hall PS closed isn’t of concern to the Government. The Minister is ignoring the requirements of the Education Act that the Minister have regard to the social impact on families and the general school community of closing a school.

Ian McAuley’s comments follow:

There are three things missing from the school closure debate.

First, the figures provided by the government seem to take a narrow fiscal focus. They do not take into account the travel costs imposed on parents and children, or the damage done to communities. In other words these are considered to be what economists call “externalities”, not taken into account because they are “external” to the decision-maker.

That’s hardly advanced economics, but it’s an example of the influence of managerialism in government. Responsible government considers all costs borne by the community; it would not even consider these to be “externalities”. But governments now consider themselves to be businesses, and their performance and decision-making is based on a narrow set of metrics, usually financial metrics, such as $ per student. We’re witnessing a thinned-down philosophy of government, not just poor accounting.

Second, this is, in part at least, a failure of planning. The original NCDC vision of Canberra was of a set of mixed communities. Just as there were not to be rich or poor suburbs, by extension there should not have developed young and old suburbs. Because their capital resources are constrained young people buy on the periphery, crowded out of the closer suburbs by those who don’t have dependent children. Part of the fault lies with the Commonwealth and its tax distortions, but there is also a local failure in physical planning.

Third, there’s an accountant’s obsession with scale economies. Scale economies are easy to measure, and they produce those neat little hyperbolic scatter diagrams we have been seeing in the Canberra Times. But there are also offsetting scale diseconomies, which means the real cost curve is “U” shaped rather than hyperbolic, with some optimum point, and a reasonably large zone around that optimum where unit costs vary little with size.

The trouble with scale diseconomies is that while they are real, they are hard to measure. Think of the benefit if a school is small enough if every teacher knows every student. Think of the cost if there are four bullies who can form a gang rather than two who can be kept in easy control – I’d suggest at least a square law when it comes to playground discipline. Think of the costs of coordinating 2n teachers rather n teachers. Accountants ignore these because they cannot measure them. Those curves presented by the ACT Government should curve upwards past some point.

Ian McAuley
Adjunct Lecturer in Public Sector Finance
University of Canberra
23 June 2006

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Minister Says He Will Provide Savings Estimates

Friday June 23, 2006

The Minister for Education told the Weston Creek regional consultation meeting held at Stromlo HS on 21 June that he will provide the Government’s estimates of savings from school closures for each school in the ACT proposed for closure. He also committed the Government to providing a break up of the savings according to the major components in each case. He told the meeting that the major components of savings were from site-based salaries such as those of the principal and bursar; utilities costs such as water, telecommunications, electricity and heating; and maintenance.

The savings estimates are critical to the Government’s case for closing schools. It is a gross incompetence that they have not been made available from the start of the consultation, despite the Minister’s statements about being committed to an open consultation. Their unavailability precludes public scrutiny of the Government’s decisions and is hampering school efforts to prepare their case.

The Minister also made some specific commitments to families in the Weston Creek region. He stated that all families would be able to enroll their child at a school of their choice in the region following the closure of Rivett and Weston pre-schools and primary schools. This followed a question from the audience that families may not get their school of choice because Arawang and Chapman primary schools are close to capacity.

This commitment may involve additional Government expenditure not provided in the Budget. If Arawang and Chapman are over-enrolled, the Government will need to provide portable classrooms to accommodate the additional students. The transport and installation of portable classrooms involve substantial costs.

The Minister also committed the Government to building a new hall at Chapman PS.

Trevor Cobbold
23 June 2006

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