Islamic School Refused Registration

A proposed new Islamic school in Canberra has been refused provisional registration by the ACT Minister for Education, Joy Burch, because it has failed to meet legislative requirements for new schools. This decision means that the school cannot open as proposed on 6 February 2014 and it will have to submit another application for provisional registration if it wishes to proceed.

A damning report by a panel appointed by the Minister to review the application for provisional registration by the At-Taqwa Islamic School found that the school would not be financially viable, lacked a qualified principal and teachers, and did not have an adequate curriculum or student safety and welfare support processes.

The school had applied for provisional registration as a K-4 school to be located temporarily in the old Spence primary school. It would share the space with several community organisations currently leasing premises on the site. Its proposed enrolments for 2014 were 41 students in Years K-3. It anticipates future enrolments of 100 at the Spence site. The school was given in-principal approval by the Minister in December 2012 for an unknown site in Belconnen or Gunghalin. Last August, the Minister offered the school temporary use of the Spence site for 12 to 18 months.

Provisional registration is the next stage of the process of opening a new school in which the proposal is reviewed by a panel appointed by the Minister. The panel to review At-Taqwa Islamic School was composed of principals from a government school and two private schools, a deputy-principal of a government school and officers from the Education and Training Directorate.

The review panel report concluded that the school would not be financially viable and that it had not been provided with evidence that the school would meet a number of legislated requirements. It found no evidence that the school had considered matters such as child protection procedures; staff qualifications relevant to primary education; leadership in curriculum; and background checking of volunteers.

The report considered that there is a lack of qualified teachers for the school. It said that the principal lacked primary school education experience and qualifications. It also said that no other teaching appointments, including teachers with qualifications relevant to primary education, have been made.

The report was highly critical of the curriculum and educational programs of the proposed school. It said that interviews conducted with the principal and board members by the panel revealed a lack of thorough pedagogical understanding of the principles of curriculum design in primary education. It found that the curriculum documentation revealed an absence of resources suitable for literacy and numeracy development. Furthermore, the panel was not provided with any evidence that a broad curriculum is proposed for the school and expressed its concern at the lack of evidence of a coherent plan to monitor quality education outcomes.

In addition, the resourcing plan did not fully articulate the facilities and equipment required for the delivery of a primary school curriculum appropriate to the expectations of the wider ACT community. The panel found that there is inadequate space on the site for moderate to vigorous physical education and sport and there is no evidence of intention to provide appropriate physical education equipment.

The panel also said that the curriculum documentation had been sourced from other schools and not contextualised for the proposed school, resulting in a lack of alignment both and internally and with the required curriculum. It noted that the way in which the Islamic environment of the school would influence the delivery of the Australian and ACT curriculum framework was not consistently mapped through all subject areas.

The report found that the school’s student safety and welfare policies were not consistent with each other, the legislation or registration requirements. It found that its policies have not been adjusted to the circumstances of the proposed site and were not supported by adequate procedures. For example, the panel said that it was not satisfied that the Board had considered the implications of the shared site for the safety of children. Furthermore, the Board did not present an adequate plan for the safe access and supervision of children using demountable toilets. The panel said that it was unable to verify general safety practices at the school.

The panel said that it was not provided with evidence that demonstrated that the school will comply with the legislative requirements regarding suspension and exclusions of students. It said that the policy it was provided with was not consistent with the legislated requirements.

The panel also criticised the proposed accommodation and facilities at the Spence site. It said that the site was currently not suitable for primary age students. It said that appropriate fencing, playground and sporting areas, demountable toilets and classrooms were all needed to make the site suitable. The school has subsequently lodged a Development Application with the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate to permit the installation of the proposed fences, demountable classrooms and toilets.

The Minister’s decision not to register the At-Taqwa School leaves it in limbo. It clearly has much work to do before it can be considered to meet all the financial, teaching, curriculum, safety and welfare, and physical accommodation requirements to be registered as a school under the ACT Education Act. The school now has time to search for a suitable long-term site.

At the time At-Taqwa School was given in-principal approval, approval was also given for new campuses of Brindabella Christian College in Charnwood and Canberra Christian School in the new area of Molonglo. An application for registration of the new campus at Charnwood is under consideration by the Minister and no application for registration of the new campus in Molonglo has been submitted.

Trevor Cobbold

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