The ACT Government Schools Education Council (GSEC) has called for changes to the registration process for private schools. It says that the transparency and objectivity of the process should be improved.
It proposes that private school approval procedures match the rigorous requirements for assessing the need for new government schools. It suggests that the evidence to make an objective assessment of community need for new private schools and their potential impact on the viability of existing schools should be more clearly specified.
In advice tendered to the Minister for Education last August, the Council Chairman, Mr. Craig Curry, nominated a number of matters that should be made more specific in processes for the approval and registration of new private schools. These include:
- The type and extent of hard data/evidence required to demonstrate sufficient demand for a new school or campus;
- How the impact on the viability of existing schools should be measured;
- Identification of the actual location of a new school, rather than a general area in the ACT;
- Specific requirements for complying with curriculum, student safety and welfare standards;
- The nature of the evidence that should be included to justify the need for a new private school;
- The type of evidence needed to demonstrate a benefit of a new school to a local area and the wider ACT community;
- The process for notification and access to applications for new schools, reports and decisions; and,
- The composition of review panels to ensure that no school sector is over-represented and the chairperson is independent of all sectors.
GSEC also suggested that the Minister consider:
- Using a range of consultation/community engagement processes to assess community need and community views on proposals for new schools; and,
- Ensuring parity of private school approval procedures with the existing rigorous demographic and planning processes and data requirements in place for assessing the need for new government schools.
The advice follows a controversy earlier this year over secret approval given for three new private schools by the ACT Minister for Education. Documents obtained by Save Our Schools under an FOI application showed that the Minister ignored the advice from Directorate officials on the establishment of a new campus of Brindabella Christian College in Charnwood and a new Islamic School.
The Directorate said that the new Charnwood campus is likely to impact on the existing viability of existing schools in Belconnen and elsewhere. It also advised that there was insufficient demand for a new Islamic School and that the school is unlikely to achieve its enrolment target.
It is a requirement of the ACT Education Act that, in deciding whether to give in-principle approval for a new school or campus of a new school, the Minister must have regard to whether there is likely to be demand in the community for a new school and whether it will impact on the viability of existing schools.
GSEC advises the Minister for Education on matters relating to government schools. Its advice to improve the approval and registration of new private schools was been tabled in the Legislative Assembly in September.
The Minister announced a review of the approval and registration process last August. SOS understands that the review panel has presented its report to the Minister. It is to be hoped that the Minister will release the report to the public and does not keep it secret.