Convenor of Save Our Schools, Trevor Cobbold, delivered a paper on school mergers and closures to a forum in Adelaide on 3 September 2009 sponsored by the South Australian Branch of the Australian Education Union. The forum was titled “Education Works or Education Wilderness?”
The paper describes the background to the school closures announced by the ACT Government in 2006 and discusses the key issues and lessons arising from the campaign against school closures.
It notes that the government consultation was not independent and largely delivered what the Government wanted. It also notes that school closures in the ACT targeted disadvantaged communities and that low income and Indigenous families have borne the large part of the burden.
The paper reports research findings that the quality of education in small schools is no worse than in large schools, and is often better, despite the claims of the ACT Government. It shows that school closures have a significant financial impact on families which was ignored by the ACT Government. School closures also involve a loss of social capital for local communities.
The local neighbourhood school is a fundamental feature of public education as it provides ready and safe access to a school for all children without regard to financial circumstances. Closing neighbourhood schools can make attendance at school more subject to financial, safety and transport considerations, especially in low socio-economic communities.
The paper argues that excess space in schools should be seen as an opportunity rather than a cost. It suggests that governments should adopt the community school model. The community school model has much to offer for student development and learning, learning in the community and the development of the local community and its support networks for families and children.