Dismay from Cook P&C

Friday June 8, 2007

Cook Primary School Parents & Citizens Association is dismayed that the large 2007 ACT Budget surplus has confirmed that the ACT Government’s massive program of school closures is unwarranted.

Any competent government would only have opted as a last resort for large scale school closures, with the associated distress and anxiety inflicted across the Canberra community.

Instead, the Stanhope Labor Government has blundered its way through a series of unwawrranted, knee-jerk measures in recent months, on the spurious grounds of averting acute financial collapse in the ACT.

The decisions on cuts to bus services, and hospital pay parking, have been reversed.

We can only hope that the Government will, belatedly, see reason and reverse its appalling school closures decisions.

Debbie Newton, School closures community liaison officer,
Cook P&C

7 June 2007

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Consultations on Future Uses of Closed School Sites

Monday May 21, 2007

The Minister for Territories and Municipal Services, John Hargreaves, has announced a two-stage community consultation process on the future use of schools and pre-schools closed at the end of last year.

Primary schools in Flynn, Hall, Chifley (Melrose), Mt. Neighbour, Rivett, Tharwa and Weston closed at the end of 2006. Also included in the consultation process are two former primary school sites in Downer and North Curtin.

Details of the consultation process

An independent consultant will be engaged by the ACT Government to seek community views on potential future uses that could be made of all closed schools. This stage of the consultation will seek input on four suggestion put forward for discussion by the Government and will also seek suggestions from the community on other possible additional uses.

Stage 2 of the consultation will seek community views on which of the potential uses identified in Stage 1 would best utilised for each particular site.

Stage 1 will take approximately 2 months during July-August. In this period, community forums will be held in Belconnen, Woden/Weston, Tuggeranong and Hall and Tharwa villages. Stage 2 will occur over 3 months following Stage 1.

The consultant’s report shall be delivered to the Government towards the end of the year and Cabinet will make its decision in January or February 2008. The terms of reference for the consultancy are still to be developed.

The four generic uses to be discussed in Stage 1 are:

  • School buildings fully retained with unleased land added to the urban open space network (including the school oval);
  • School buildings fully retained with partial site development within current land use and unleased land added to the urban open space network;
  • School buildings partially retained, with partial site development for other uses and unleased land added to the urban open space network; and
  • Complete site re-development.

The consultation about the Mt. Neighbour and Rivett sites will occur in Stage 1 and not Stage 2 because the Government’s condition audit has found that the condition of these buildings is too poor to be retained for community use. As a result, it is likely that these sites will be sold.

The Minister also stated that the Government plans to retain the equivalent of four school buildings across Belconnen, Woden/Weston and Tuggeranong to provide lease space for existing community groups and those seeking to lease new space.

Problems with consultation process

The consultation process is welcomed by Save Our Schools. It should provide opportunities for communities to have their say in how the buildings and grounds will be used in future. Communities should take advantage of this opportunity and make their views known.

However, it remains to be seen how genuine and effective the process will be. The ACT Government has a lamentable record in community consultation. Too often, consultation processes are just a formal process that the Government has to go through in order to arrive at pre-determined decisions. Too often, community consultation by the Stanhope Government has been a charade. Many in the community no longer trust the Government’s consultation processes and do not believe that they reflect community concerns and aspirations.

There are several issues of concern about the process announced by the Minister. These are:

  • The process is not fully transparent;
  • The Minister stated that all possible options will be considered, but ruled out the option of re-opening closed schools at some future date;
  • The Minister failed to clarify whether a cost-benefit analysis of options will be carried out for each site as required under the Government’s surplus property guidelines.
  • Lack of full transparency*

The consultation process will not be fully transparent because the consultant’s report will not be available for public scrutiny and comment before Cabinet makes a decision on the sites. The Minister for Territories stated in his press conference that the consultant’s report would be given to the Government and would be a Cabinet in-confidence document.

The Minister stated that he expected that the report would be made public after Cabinet makes its decisions. However, this is not acceptable. It denies the community an opportunity to examine the recommendations of the consultant, correct any errors of fact, challenge any biases or unwarranted assumptions or to generally comment on the quality of the report.

The community will not know how adequately its views were taken into account until after the Government has made its decision.

Re-opening schools ruled out

Minister Hargreaves gave assurances at the press conference that all options would be considered for future use of the closed sites. This would include the four options for discussion put forward by the Government and any options raised by the community. He then immediately contradicted this assurance by stating that the Government would not re-open any site as a school.

There are real signs of urban renewal in many older suburbs in Canberra. Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last year show that new births and fertility rates are increasing in suburbs where schools have closed. For example, the fertility rates for Flynn and Chifley (Melrose PS) are 2.29 and 2.22 respectively, compared to the average for the ACT of 1.63. The number of births in Chifley increased from 25 in 2000 to 38 in 2005, an increase of over 50 per cent while births in Flynn increased from 48 to 62, an increase of nearly 30 per cent. Births also increased by over 30 per cent in Rivett and Weston.

If this trend continues, some of the closed sites may be required again to avoid overcrowding in existing schools. It is deplorable that the Minister has pre-empted the community consultation by ruling out this option.

The Minister also made explicit the Government’s rejection of the concept of the neighbourhood school as a key feature of public education in the ACT. He stated that it is Government policy that not every neighbourhood will have a local school.

Cost-benefit analysis of options for sites

It appears that the Government may not meet its own regulatory requirements governing the how surplus property use is to be evaluated. The Government’s surplus property guidelines state that a cost-benefit analysis must be prepared for each property identified as potentially surplus.

Save Our Schools questioned the Minister at his press conference as to whether these cost-benefit studies would be undertaken as part of the consultation process or whether it would be done as a separate process. The Minister refused to state that these analyses would be done.

Sale of Mt. Neighbour and Rivett schools

The Minister stated that Mt. Neighbour and Rivett schools have been found to be structurally unsound and in such poor condition that they will not be retained for community use. This means that they are likely to be sold.

There are reasons to question this decision.

First, both schools were deemed suitable to house young children for many years, but now, six months after they were closed they are suddenly found to have serious structural and other defects. The Department of Education regularly carries out building inspections and assesses building safety and has never publicly suggested that the buildings were unsuitable or dangerous to house young children.

Second, the Notice of Decision that Mt. Neighbour should close does not include the poor state of the building as a reason to close the school. The Minister for Education’s Notice runs to 17 pages and not once does it refer to the buildings as being defective, run-down or dangerous. The Notice of Decision for Rivett has not been made available to Save Our Schools, so it is not possible to determine whether the state of the building was a factor in the decision to close the school.

The Government should publish the condition audits carried out on the closed schools by the Department of Territory and Municipal Services and the most recent building inspection reports carried on those schools by the Properties Section of the Department of Education.

Trevor Cobbold
21 May 2007


Media Release 8 October 2006 – Low Income Students Do Better in Small Schools

Saturday October 7, 2006

Save Our Schools today released a research report that shows that students from low income families do better in small schools.

SOS spokesperson, Trevor Cobbold, said that the research refutes Government claims that closing small schools will allow resources to be better targeted to address educational need and socio-economic disadvantage.

“Far from improving results for students from low income families, closing small schools with high disadvantage factors is likely to harm the learning of these students and exacerbate inequity in school outcomes in the ACT.

“The research shows that small school size is unambiguously good for students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds and communities with relatively high levels of disadvantage. Students from low SES backgrounds achieve better results in smaller schools than in large schools.

“The well-known adverse consequences of low income and poverty for school performance are closely tied to school size. Large schools actually do academic harm to students from low SES backgrounds. As schools become larger, the negative effects of poverty on student achievement increases.

“In contrast, smaller schools reduce the effect that low income and poverty has on student achievement. The well-known correlation between disadvantage and low student achievement is much lower in small schools than in large schools.

“For example, one study shows that those attending the smallest schools experience a 60 per cent reduction in the influence of SES on mathematics performance, a 39 per cent reduction on reading performance, a 50 per cent reduction for science, and a 45 per cent reduction for history.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the research had important implications for the Towards 2020 plan.

“About half the schools listed for full or part closure in Towards 2020 have a relatively high proportion of their students from disadvantaged family backgrounds.

“School closures in low income communities are likely to produce results that are the opposite of those that the Stanhope Government claims it intends. School consolidation, without regard to student background, is likely to increase the large inequity that already exists in ACT school outcomes and degrade academic accomplishments. In particular, it may undermine recent progress made in improving in Indigenous outcomes.

“The key practical policy recommendation arising from these research studies is that small schools should be maintained in low SES communities. The most impoverished communities should be served by the smallest schools.

“The following conclusion from one study is representative:

Findings from this study obviously offer no support for arrangements that work to increase the size of already small schools, especially those that serve impoverished communities….In light of the findings from this and other studies, concern for achievement and for reducing achievement gaps means that educators and policy makers must search for ways to meet these challenges without closing schools that are already appropriately small.

“Government policies should emphasise the benefits of smaller schools, rather than seek to close or amalgamate small schools.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the SOS report reviews a stream of research studies conducted over the last 10 years or so that examines the interaction between school size, socio-economic status and student achievement.

“There is a very large research literature on the effect of school size on student achievement. However, it has long over-looked the possibility that school size may be associated with different outcomes for students from different backgrounds. This gap has been rectified by a stream of state-wide and national studies in the US in recent years that are summarised in the SOS report.

“This research has been completely ignored by the ACT Government in developing its proposal to close 39 schools and to partially close 5 other schools. The Towards 2020 website fails to include any of these studies in its reference list of education papers.”

The full report available for download

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

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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
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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