Secrecy Surrounds Review of the Registration of New ACT Private Schools

The ACT Minister for Education, Ms. Joy Burch, has initiated a review of the current arrangements for approving and registering new private schools in Canberra. The Minister stated that a review is underway in a letter to the Secretary of the ACT Branch of the Australian Education Union. The review is the result of a joint request by the Union, the P&C Council and Save Our Schools.

The three organisations requested an independent public review in response to what they saw as a failure of process in the Minister’s in-principle approval of three new private schools in December last year. In the letter, the organisations highlighted a number of problems with the approval and registration process that should be reviewed. The letter outlined the case for a review but did not make any specific proposals for change as this would be done when a review was put in place.

Save Our Schools welcomes the review but believes it should be an independent open public review to ensure that all views on the approval and registration process are properly considered and scrutinised. However, it is clear that this proposal has been rejected by the Minister. It appears that the review will be carried out internally by the Directorate of Education.

The details of the review are clouded in secrecy. The Minister has not made a public announcement about the review. There is nothing about the review on the Directorate of Education website.

There is no indication of the scope of the review. The three public school organisations identified six major problems with the current arrangements, but the Minister has not indicated whether all these issues will be covered in the review. There is no information on who is responsible for the review, how it will be conducted or for how long it will run. It is not even clear whether a report will be made on the review and whether it will be made public.

The lack of public information about the review gives the appearance that it is a “Clayton’s review”, that it is just a charade. Not only are the details being kept secret, but it appears that it is a selective review. Only some groups have been invited to make submissions. According to the letter to the AEU from the Minister, interested groups have been advised of the review and requested to provide feedback.

Save Our Schools has not been advised of the review by the Minister or invited to make a submission even though it was a signatory to the joint letter requesting an independent review. We were only informed about the review second-hand by the AEU. We also understand that P&C Council did not receive a formal response either and has not been advised of the review.

As it stands, the review will be a charade with only organisations selected by the Minister able to participate in secret behind closed doors. Secrecy and selectivity are not the way to conduct a proper review. The lack of information and due process is appalling. We can only conclude that it is not a serious review.

In our view, the Minister has also yet again demonstrated a lamentable lack of basic courtesy to public school parent and community organisations. This follows the failure of the Minister to inform these organisations of her decision last December to give in-principle approval for the three private schools even though the organisations had taken the time and trouble to make a submission on the applications. It seems that the Minister does not do basic courtesy.

Save Our Schools welcomes the decision of the Minister to conduct a review of the approval and registration process for private schools, but we call on her to publicly announce the review, provide details on how it is to be conducted, invite public submissions and to commit to publishing a report on the review. We would also appreciate the courtesy of a formal response to our joint letter to the Minister making the case for an independent public review.

Trevor Cobbold

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