The NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, has accepted the recommendations of a Parliamentary committee report to improve the consultation process on proposed school closures. The report had slammed the approach by the Department of Education to closing schools as “heavy handed”, ignoring the views of parents and local communities of small schools and failing to provide evidence on the relationship between education outcomes and small schools.
The Minister has agreed to that the Department should provide evidence on the relationship between educational outcomes and small schools and the criteria it uses to determine when a small school is placed in review. He also agreed to review the purpose of the Protocols on school closures. The Department will consult with representatives of principals’ associations, the teachers’ federation and the parents’ federation to review and update the Protocols relating to school closures on these matters.
The Minster accepted several recommendations to ensure proper consultation on school closures. The Protocols about the school closure process will be revised to require the Department and the school principal to jointly consider and implement strategies for boosting enrolments before proceeding with consideration of closing a school. Further, during the consultation phase, the School Consultative Group is required to consider strategies to boost enrolments and, should such strategies be identified, not proceed with the process of closure until such strategies had been developed and implemented.
The Protocols will also be amended to widen consultation with local government and local community members. The Department will be required to provide appropriate support, information, and resources to facilitate the consultation process. It will also introduce record keeping about consultations and publish the Protocols on its website.
The Minister has also agreed that the Department should formally review its processes for considering demographic trends at the local level and likely events and planning decisions that will influence enrolment numbers.
The Minister has responded very positively to the report’s condemnation of the Department’s approach of ramming through school closures without regard to the needs and views of small communities. The Minister has conceded that the Department got it very badly wrong on how to go about consulting on school closures. However, it remains to be seen whether the Department can overcome its appalling culture on consultation and implement the recommendations in good faith.