Minister Ignored Dept Advice on Demand for Islamic School

Information obtained through a FOI request by Save Our Schools shows that the Minister for Education ignored advice by her department in granting in-principle approval for the new Islamic School to be located in Spence. SOS Convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that it is spectacular evidence of the Minister’s failure to follow the requirements of the Education Act.

“The FOI documents are a ‘smoking gun’. They provide irrefutable proof that the Minister for Education was advised by her department that there was insufficient evidence of demand for a new Islamic school and that the school is unlikely to achieve its enrolment target.

“Despite this advice, the Minister went ahead and gave approval for the new school. She claimed that there is sufficient evidence of community demand but has conspicuously failed to provide the evidence.

“This shows that the Minister ignored the requirements of the Education Act. She has trashed the process to examine applications for in-principle approval set out in the Education Act – a process originally introduced by her own Chief Minister when education minister.”

Mr. Cobbold said it is a requirement of the Education Act that in deciding whether to give in-principle approval for a new school the Minister must have regard to whether there is likely to be demand in the community for the school.

“Several documents show that the Directorate assessed that there was insufficient evidence of community demand for the school. For example:

A brief to the Minister by the Deputy Director-General of the Directorate of Education and Training, Leanne Cover, stated that the application by Canberra Muslim Youth Inc “has not provided sufficient evidence of demographic demand for a second Islamic school in the ACT” (22 November 2012).

A letter from Tracey Stewart, Director of the Planning and Performance Branch of the Directorate, to Lynda Tooth, Manager of the Liaison Unit of the Directorate, included as part of the brief stated:

“As enrolment projections provided in the application are based on expressions of interest from parents in enrolling children at the proposed school, the applicant has not provided sufficient evidence of a demographic need for a second Islamic school in the ACT…..As the ISC (Islamic School of Canberra in Weston) has experienced very slow growth, from 62 students in 2007 to 150 students in 2012, it is unlikely that the proposed school would experience enrolments of 800 by 2022 as stated in the application.”

The assessment of the application by the Planning and Performance Branch of the Directorate stated:

“…the claims relating to demand for a second Islamic school are unsubstantiated by the applicant. There are currently 1019 students in public schools across the ACT identifying as Muslim or Islamic who choose not to attend the ISC…it is likely that there are also a large number of Muslim or Islamic students attending non-government schools.”

“Despite these assessments, the Minister claimed in her letter granting in-principle approval for the school that there was “sufficient evidence of community demand for the campus” (17 December 2012).”

Mr. Cobbold said that the Minister’s disregard of the lack of evidence on community demand for the school shows the need for changes to the Education Act.

“The Education Act should be strengthened to ensure that a Minister cannot ignore the Act with impunity as in this case. It needs to be strengthened to ensure that assessment of potential impact and evidence of community demand for new schools is carried out thoroughly.

“The review being carried out by the Directorate of Education and Training must come up with changes to the Act. It should not be a sham review.”

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