Save Our Schools has called on the Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, to sack her Education Minister and overhaul the approval process for new private schools in Canberra. SOS Convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that the Education Minister has turned the approval process into a “shambles” and destroyed any semblance of planning for new private schools.
“The Minister for Education, Joy Burch, has destroyed the vision of her own Chief Minister to have a careful planning process for new private schools. This was the stated intention of the Chief Minister when, as education minister, she introduced the Education Act and its approval provisions for new schools.
”The current education minister has just thrown these planning provisions onto the scrap heap by approving new campuses of Brindabella Christian College and Canberra Christian School without evidence of sufficient community demand for them. Despite the Minister’s claims there is no evidence of strong demand for these schools.
“Canberra Christian School had indicative enrolments of only 2 and these were from parents of children already enrolled at its Mawson school. Yet, its new K-6 campus in Molonglo is planned for 480 students and there are only 32 K-6 enrolments currently at Mawson.
“Brindabella Christian College had indicative enrolments of only 31 to meet its initial enrolment plan of 75 by next year and 194 by 2018. This is hardly evidence of the “ground swell of support” it claimed in its application.
“Ms. Burch has failed spectacularly to meet her ministerial responsibility to properly assess the extent of community demand for these schools. She should have reached the same conclusion as her predecessor, Andrew Barr, when he rejected an application for a new private school in West Belconnen in 2008 because it provided “no evidence to support the anticipated level of enrolments…”.
“In contrast, the approved new Islamic School in Gungahlin had obtained expressions of interest from 180 families. Moreover, it actually fulfilled most of the information requirements in the application form while the other two schools generally failed to supply specific information required. They must be wondering why they went to so much trouble with their application.”
Mr. Cobbold said that the intent of the ACT Education Act to ensure proper planning of new private schools has been undone by these unwarranted approvals.
“When introducing the Education Act as the then education minister, the Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, said that the approval provisions were designed to ensure an open planning process based on evidence of demand and community support. She said “it is necessary to plan carefully the creation of new schools” [Hansard, 30 March 2004].
“The current education minister has just brought the vision and hopes of her Chief Minister crashing to the ground. Planning for new private schools in Canberra is now non-existent. It is a misnomer to call it ‘planning’.
“A government school with 179 enrolments was closed in Flynn in 2006 and now has been replaced by a private school one kilometre away with anticipated enrolments of 194. Now there will be three primary schools in Charnwood, of which two are private schools, and none in the next door suburb of Flynn.
“A tiny primary school of 32 students in Mawson has been approved to establish a new campus in Molonglo of 480 students based on prospective demand from only two families whose children are already enrolled at Mawson. This is just absurd.
“It is also absurd that the new school was approved before planning for Molonglo has been completed and without even knowing how many schools are planned for the region.
“The Education Minister has turned planning for private schools into a “free-for-all”. The approval provisions of the Education Act are now a mere formality rather than the planning instrument envisioned by the Chief Minister.
“The Education Minister should be sacked for undoing the vision of her Chief Minister. The Chief Minister should make sure this shambles never happens again. She should restore the integrity of planning for new private schools by establishing an independent review to overhaul the approval process.”