SOS Call for Public Inquiry on School Closures

The Save Our Schools group today called for a public inquiry to investigate the financial and social impact of the Towards 2020 Plan to close 39 schools.

SOS spokesperson, Trevor Cobbold, said that an inquiry is needed because the consultation process has failed to address key issues required by legislation and has now become a farce.

“The Government is ignoring its legal obligations under the Education Act to consider the full educational, financial and social impact of its Plan. An independent public inquiry is needed to do the job that the Government is failing to do.

“It is now half way through the consultation period and the Department of Education still has not undertaken any surveys to collect information on the financial and social impact of school closures on families and school communities. School communities have not been given any guidance by the Department of Education on what matters will be considered.

“The Minister for Education says that the financial and social impact will be considered in the assessment of submissions on Towards 2020, but he has failed to set up a process to collect the necessary information. He has even refused a request from the Estimates Committee of the Legislative Assembly to state what factors will be taken into account in the impact assessment.

“Just last week, the Minister also rejected requests for an independent assessment of submissions on Towards 2020.

“The absence of a process for systematically collecting information on the impact of school closures together with an in-house review of submissions means that no school community can be confident that the financial and social impact will be fully considered.”

Mr. Cobbold said that while motions to extend the consultation and to establish an inquiry into the whole ACT education system were voted down along party lines in the Assembly last week the need for an independent inquiry on Towards 2020 remains.

“An independent inquiry is also needed to ensure that accurate information is used to assess the proposed closures. The Government has provided incorrect and misleading information to school communities. Many of the Government’s figures on school capacity and costs have been shown to be incorrect; it has massively and deceptively over-stated the costs of small schools; it has selectively and falsely cited the research on small schools.

“Clearly, the Government cannot be trusted to provide accurate information to the Canberra community.

“The Government’s savings figures are also over-estimated. Only recently, the Minister for Education has been forced to admit that school closures will incur several additional costs which have not been offset against the savings estimates. These additional costs include:
•Duplication of special education facilities in other schools;
•Purchase of new demountable classrooms and/or the transfer and installation of existing demountables;
• Refurbishment works in schools that will receive additional students; and
• Ongoing maintenance and security costs for vacant buildings.

“The Minister has also refused to provide detailed savings and cost information requested by school communities and the Estimates Committee.

“It is time for an independent public inquiry to clean up the mess and to assure the public of a proper process with full information. The inquiry should be set up to do a full cost-benefit analysis of the Towards 2020 Plan.

This means investigating and reporting on the financial, educational and social costs and benefits of the Plan for students, their families and the broader community as required under the Education Act.

“SOS Canberra calls on Assembly members to set up an independent public inquiry into the impact of Towards 2020 at the next sitting of the Assembly. Assembly members, particularly the ALP backbenchers, need to ensure that legislative requirements are met and that school submissions are properly and fairly considered.”

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