The registration process for private schools in the ACT is to be strengthened following the endorsement of the recommendations of a review by the ACT Minister for Education.
The review of the approval and registration process for ACT private schools makes many positive recommendations that promise:
- Better planning for new schools in both new and developed areas of the ACT;
- Improved assessment of the impact of, and community demand for, new private schools, new campuses and new levels of existing schools;
- Increased transparency of the process for assessing applications;
- Removal of bias in the composition of registration panels; and that
- Private schools meet the same high levels of regulatory scrutiny and rigour that apply to public schools in relation to student safety and welfare.
The Minister’s support for the recommendations is very much welcomed by Save Our Schools (SOS) and we congratulate the Minister on her decisions. It is also significant that the review was conducted by the chairs of the Government Schools Education Council and the Non-Government Schools Education Council. It indicates broad support for the changes across school sectors.
However, there are several issues that need further clarification and detail. In particular, implementing the recommendation for enhanced consideration of the potential impact of new private schools on existing schools in assessing applications for new schools is a priority. SOS calls on the Minister to clarify whether the ETD has been requested to do further work on this issue to implement her support for the review’s recommendation (see below).
The review provides general support for better planning of new private schools, which is to be achieved by amendment of the ETD Manual. However, the need to give priority to the special role of government schools in providing ready access to a secular education in all regions is not recognised.
2. Community demand
The review supports amending the ETD Manual to expand on the consideration of the potential enrolment and financial impact of new private school proposals on existing schools and the evidence of community demand. However, no recommendations or suggestions are made as to the factors in assessing impact or evidence to assess community demand that should be considered. It is a positive outcome that the principles of expanding the factors and evidence considered are supported, however the detail has been deferred. This will require further work and consultation.
It is of concern that although the Minister has indicated her support for the recommendation by the review relating to the assessment of impact on existing schools, the Minister’s has not referred this matter to the Directorate. She has only referred the issue of identifying the evidence required to demonstrate community demand for new schools.
Hopefully, this omission is only an oversight. We call on the Minister to clarify whether the ETD will be requested to identify how to expand the consideration of the enrolment and financial impacts of new schools on existing schools.
The review gives general support to improving the communication and consultation process regarding applications for new private schools. It is very disappointing that the review did not recommend that the report on the impact and community need for proposed new private schools should be posted on the ETD website. This undermines full transparency about the process. We would hope that the Minister would give further consideration to this suggestion by SOS
The recommendations relating to the composition of panels appointed to review the registration and re-registration of private schools are significant changes that should reduce bias and conflicts of interest in the representation of private school interests on registration panels. There are no details about how panels are to be appointed in the future and how their operations are to be made more transparent. These should be specified in the ETD Manual. However, we welcome the Minister’s request that ETD develop a definition of impartiality that would apply to all members of registration panels.
5. Regulatory issues
The recommendations relating to regulatory issues are very significant. They should have the effect of requiring private schools to meet the same high levels of regulatory scrutiny and rigour that apply to public schools in relation to student safety and welfare. However, the details of the requirements need to be specified. We welcome the Minister’s request that ETD make explicit the policies and programs relating to child protection, student welfare and safety and pastoral care required for all ACT schools.
6. Appeal rights
It is very disappointing that respondents to applications for new private schools are not granted the same appeal rights as the applicants.