The ACT Minister for Education has appointed a biased panel to assess the registration application for the new campus of Brindabella Christian College (BCC) in Charnwood. Private school representatives make up six of the ten panel members. The Minister has ignored her own departmental manual for the registration of private schools which states that the panels are independent. Past practice has been that registration panels have a majority of members not associated with private schools.
This new revelation shows that the Minister has stacked the deck in favour of the new Charnwood campus. She failed to properly assess its likely impact on existing schools in Charnwood and north-west Belconnen as required under the ACT Education Act, she kept her decision to give in-principle approval secret for three months and now she has appointed a biased panel to assess its registration application.
All this demonstrates that the process for registering new private schools in Canberra has broken down and should be thoroughly overhauled. The provisions of the Education Act governing registration of private schools need to be extensively re-written.
The new Charnwood campus was given in-principle approval by the Minister for Education in December 2012 despite opposition from government school organisations, including Save Our Schools, that it would impact on the viability of existing government and private schools in north-west Belconnen.
Under the ACT Education Act, the Minister must appoint a panel to report on a school’s application for registration at an additional campus. The panel is required to assess the application against criteria outlined in the Education Act. These include:
- The proprietor of the school is a corporation;
- The school has appropriate policies, facilities and equipment for the curriculum and safety and welfare of its students;
- The curriculum will meet the requirements for students attending government schools;
- The nature and content of the curriculum is appropriate for the educational levels for which registration is sought;
- The teaching staff are qualified to teach at the educational levels at which they are employed;
- The school has satisfactory processes to monitor quality educational outcomes;
- The school will be financially viable.
The Directorate of Education and Training Manual for the Compliance and Registration of Non-government Schools states that an independent panel comprised of members with a range of competencies that enable the panel to meet the legislative requirements will be drawn from suitably qualified staff from the following groups:
- The Catholic Education Office
- The Association of Independent Schools of the ACT
- ACT Department of Education and Training
- Tertiary Institutions (ie, universities for teacher training)
- Community member or business representative with relevant expertise (optional)
A panel of 10 has been appointed by the Minister to assess the registration application for the new BCC campus at Charnwood and renewal of the registration of its Lyneham school. The panel is comprised of the chair who is the principal of Belconnen HS, two private school principals, four private school teachers, two Directorate officers and one Board of Senior School Studies officer. Private school principals and teachers comprise a majority (6) of the panel. They are from Daramalan College, Canberra Grammar and the Islamic School.
The Manual states that panel members must be “suitably qualified”. Despite this requirement, SOS has been informed by the Directorate of Education and Training that it does not obtain or record the qualifications of any panel member.
There also appears to have been a change of practice in recent years regarding panel composition. For example, the panel appointed to assess the registration application by Burgmann Anglican School for an extension to Years 11-12 in 2006 was comprised of 6 members, only two of whom were from private schools. Most registration panels for new schools had a majority of members drawn from outside the private school sector until sometime in recent years when the Government seems to have changed this.
The Directorate’s Manual on the Compliance and Registration of Non-government Schools states that the panels are to be independent. However, the BCC panel is not an independent panel – it is a biased panel. Appointing a majority of members from private schools to this panel makes a mockery of the concept of an independent assessment of the school’s application for registration on the proposed Charnwood campus.
The Minister for Education should act immediately to guarantee the independence of the BCC panel. SOS calls on the Minister to appoint a further three members to the panel from outside the private school sector.
We also call on the Minister to clarify whether there has been a change in government policy to appoint a majority of members from private schools to panels to assess the registration of private schools. If this is now standard practice, it can only be seen as compromising the independence and integrity of the process of registering private schools. It effectively turns the registration process over to private schools themselves to become a system of self-regulation even though private schools are extensively funded by the taxpayer.
Save Our Schools calls for the Education Act to be amended to provide that registration panels appointed by the Minister are genuinely independent and are not comprised of a majority of members from private schools. This is the only way to ensure an independent assessment of applications for registration and that all new private schools comply with the registration criteria of the Education Act.