Low Income Families Hit by School Closure Plan

Save Our Schools Canberra said today that low income families will be hit hard by the Stanhope Government’s school closure plan. Trevor Cobbold, SOS spokesperson, said that many of the schools listed for closure serve the least well-off communities in Canberra.

“The Stanhope Government is perpetrating a grave injustice by its school closure plan. Those who can least afford it will bear the burden of change and increased financial costs and stress.

“Nearly half of all primary schools in Canberra with disadvantage factors of over 40% are proposed for full or part closure. Of the 20 primary schools listed for full or part closure, 10 have a relatively high proportion of their students from disadvantaged family backgrounds.

“Four of the 5 most disadvantaged schools in Canberra are on the list for full or part closure. Each of these schools has a very high disadvantage factor, as calculated by the Department of Education: Narrabundah – 79%; Charnwood – 75%; Holt – 63%; and Higgins – 59%. Other schools with high disadvantage factors that are on the hit list include Gilmore (47%), Southern Cross (47%) and Mt. Neighbour (43%).

“Three of these face part closure by being reduced to P-3/4 schools and, as such, will remain under threat in the longer term. Another two are being forced to close to make way for a new super-school in NW Belconnen of over 1000 students. Two others face outright closure.

“Kambah HS will also close. It has a disadvantage factor of 40% and is one of the two most disadvantaged high schools in Canberra.”

Mr. Cobbold said that more schools serving low income communities would close than schools that largely serve well-off communities.

“Seven of the 15 stand-alone primary schools in Canberra with disadvantage factors over 40% are listed for full or part closure. In contrast, only 5 of the 23 least disadvantaged schools (disadvantage factor of 20% or less) are proposed for closure or part closure.”

Mr. Cobbold criticised the lack of consideration given to low income families in Towards 2020.

“The school closure plan completely ignores the needs of low income families in Canberra. The needs of low income families is not even included in the list of factors on the Towards 2020 website that were considered in developing the plan.

“This demonstrates the lack of thought and proper planning that has gone into Towards 2020.

“It also makes a mockery of Government rhetoric supporting improved equity and social justice. It demonstrates the lack of commitment of the Stanhope Government to its own Social Plan, released with much fanfare and hype only two years ago.

“In his speech releasing the Social Plan, the Chief Minister said that ‘we cannot pretend that we have no poverty’ in Canberra. Yet, his school closure plan fails to consider the needs of families in poverty and on low incomes.

“The Chief Minister thinks that people can just adjust without any trouble. Indeed, he seems to think it is an insult to less well-off people and Indigenous people to suggest that they may have difficulty dealing with the financial and personal hardship being imposed on them by the school closure plan. This just shows how out of touch the Stanhope Government is with the reality of family poverty and hardship.

“The reality is that many families in Canberra will not be able to afford the additional bus fares, petrol and other costs involved in getting their children to a more distant school. They will lose easy walking access to a school and suffer the break-up of local support networks that are based around the neighbourhood school.

“Pre-school aged children from low income families might miss out on ‘optional’ pre-school education if their parents choose to keep them home because of the additional costs.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the impact of school closures on low income families should be examined as part of an independent inquiry on the Towards 2020 plan.

“The Education Act requires the Government to assess the financial, educational and social impact of school closures on students and their families. Clearly, the Government has ignored this issue for low income students and families.

“The Stanhope Government should put social equity and justice back on its public policy agenda by establishing an independent inquiry to examine the full financial, educational and social impact of the Towards 2020 plan.”

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