Save Our Schools has attacked secret decisions by the ACT Minister for Education, Joy Burch, to approve three new private schools in Canberra as farcical and cowardly. SOS Convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that secret decisions made last December will draw enrolments from existing schools in Belconnen, add to excess capacity and threaten the future of some schools.
“The Minister’s approval of at least one, and possibly two, new schools in Belconnen defies all logic. It contradicts the Government’s own long-term policy to reduce excess school capacity in the region. The Minister has failed to adequately assess the impact on existing schools as required by the Education Act and has turned the approval process for new private schools into a farce.
“The approval for at least one, possibly two, more private schools in north-west Belconnen will add additional capacity in a region where there is already considerable excess capacity. Inevitably, they will draw enrolments from existing schools, increase excess capacity and put their future under threat because the ACT Government uses excess capacity as a criterion for closing government schools.
“In particular, the new campus of Brindabella Christian School in Charnwood is within a few hundred metres of Charnwood-Dunlop PS and St. Thomas Aquinas PS. Flynn PS, which is just over a kilometre away, was closed only six years ago because the ACT Government deemed there was over-capacity in the region.
“There is no case for another private school, let alone two more, in Belconnen. There are nearly 2,000 excess places in government schools in north-west Belconnen and average capacity utilisation is only 69%. Projected population growth in Belconnen to 2021 is estimated at only 0.3% per annum, compared to the ACT average of 1.4%, and is not sufficient to bring existing schools up to capacity.
“There is already adequate school choice in the region. There are seven private schools in Belconnen that offer a Christian education for primary school students, including three in the north-west Belconnen region.”
Mr. Cobbold said that the secrecy surrounding the Minister’s decisions is astonishing.
“Approval for these new schools was given last December, but the public who will subsidise the schools was not informed. Even now, no public announcement has been made by the Minister.
“It seems the approval was kept secret for as long as possible to avoid any backlash against the Government. The secrecy has meant that any opportunity to appeal the decisions through the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal has been lost because of a time limit on appeals.
“It is quite astonishing that no public announcement has been made. The Minister is always so quick to inform the public about good news. But, in this case, the Minister was clearly frightened by a potential backlash against the Government and took the coward’s way out by keeping the decisions secret.
“Public school organisations that made submissions to the Department opposing the applications have not been formally informed by the Minister of her decisions. It shows a very disappointing lack of respect and courtesy for government school organisations by the Minister.”
Mr. Cobbold also criticised the Minister’s decision to approve two of the new schools without yet knowing their location.
“The Minister approved the application by Canberra Christian School and the Islamic School without even knowing the specific location of the schools at the time. Canberra Christian School will be somewhere in Molonglo and the Islamic School somewhere in either Belconnen or Gungahlin. How is it possible to determine impact on surrounding schools when the location of the schools is unknown and planning for other schools in Molonglo has not been completed? It is bizarre!
“The Minister’s decisions have turned the legislative process for approving new private schools in Canberra into a farce. The Minister has failed in her statutory duty and should be called to account by the ACT Legislative Assembly.”