Stop the Shepparton Super-School

We have been fighting hard for over six months to have our voice heard on the merger of four Greater Shepparton secondary schools into one school of 2,700 to 3,000 students. We have met a stony wall of silence. We have been told ‘You need to get on board for your children’s sake, during this difficult time of transition.’ Frankly, if one more educator, politician or mayor says that sentence again, we might choke.

The decision to amalgamate the four schools was made during September/October in 2017. The so-called ‘community consultation’ involved only an online survey and two workshops held in Mooroopna and Shepparton on the same day, that families of secondary students could attend. The consultation was not advertised either in time or adequately for parents to take part in.

Those that tried belatedly to complete the survey found that we were offered only 4 options:

  1. No Change;
  2. Minor Improvements;
  3. New School – One Secondary Campus;
  4. New School – Two Secondary Campuses.

There was no option for increased recurrent funding to employ more teachers and support staff to improve student results. The only one that came with large funding was Option 3.

The consultation was a sham. Only 141 people completed the survey, 6 people commented on their comment board, and 56 people attended the workshops. The rest of the contact was hits on an information website. They reached 344 people in total.

Families of year 7 students who enrolled at Shepparton High School in 2019 were led to believe the school would remain and that the campus would have construction going on while the students remained on campus. Parents claim that those plans were changed as asbestos was found in the buildings and this resulted in the change of plans. This is rubbish as asbestos is in all buildings of that era and there is asbestos in the Wanganui Park Secondary College, where the VCE and VCAL students from Shepparton High School will be housed next year. These families enrolled their children at SHS for stability and the least disruption.

This is indicative of the deceit practised throughout the whole plan. Families only knew that a decision had been made in 2017, but nothing concrete was put forward and most thought it was just a similar scheme to that already in place involving the VCE & VCAL students where they would visit all campuses for more choices. Little was said during 2018, except an announcement made by Minister, James Merlino on 19 April, 2018 that the plan was proceeding.

There was no advice in any school newsletter that the school councils had made a decision regarding this plan. Community meetings commenced in May 2019, where parents suddenly discovered that Shepparton High School was to be demolished, a new school catering for 2700 to 3000 students would be built and transitioning between three sites would begin in 2020.

Most parents were stunned. Any questions were deflected with ‘This is happening, you need to get onboard,’ or ‘We can’t answer your questions at this stage, but we are working on it.’ My daughter attended 5 meetings that were exactly the same. I attended one. This has caused enormous stress and anxiety for parents as the transition phase is totally unworkable between Shepparton and Mooroopna.

Families don’t want such a large school because all the research points to the fact that the ideal size for secondary schools is between 600 and 1,000 students (900 being optimal). It will be detrimental to our mostly low socio-economic population.

I have studied NAPLAN and VCE results in 13 schools, including the four public secondary colleges here, merged schools across the state and Catholic Notre Dame College and independent Goulburn Valley College from 2011 to 2018. What they are saying about our public schools falling behind is incorrect. Other merged schools, such as in Dandenong have declined in performance, whereas these local public schools have improved. Wanganui Park, McGuire and Mooroopna all performed equally to or better than all the merged schools I studied. Wanganui Park was ranked higher in NAPLAN than Dandenong High School and Victoria University Secondary College. Wanganui Park was also had similar results to VUSC and out-performed Dandenong with VCE results.

What we have happening here already is a social divide based on financially advantaged families vs. disadvantaged, those that have money are either leaving the towns altogether or moving their children to Notre Dame, St Anne’s or Nurmurkah Secondary College. Families are determined they will not participate in the transition.

Two houses in my street have sold after just being bought in order to enrol at Wanganui Park – both families unable to cope with the transition period. Of 630 possible year 7’s next year, 570 applied to go to Notre Dame; they are accepting 275. We know St Anne’s has accepted 100 or so, making 385 who will not enrol in the new school next year. With families who have left the district altogether, we estimate that we have lost around 400 students.

We have lost 15 teachers already with 400 years of experience between them, who have resigned or relocated to other schools already, leaving the not so experienced to step up. We expect, based on the student/teacher ratio to lose around 50 teachers all up when the new school is built (if ever). This will be economically devastating for Shepparton and Mooroopna.

The propaganda in the Shepparton News (who have stopped printing our letters) and within the school and business and council community is phenomenal and extremely hard to combat. They recently brought Prof. John Hattie up to speak. He did, however, agree with us that transitioning can be harmful to student’s education and well-being if not handled properly, but that it would be evaluated after a year or so to see how it was going, too late for most students. He also stated that buildings did not matter, and that it was teachers who achieved the best academic outcome. A letter also appeared in the paper in favour of the school from John Dewar, the Vice Chancellor, La Trobe University and Travis Heeney, CEO, GOTAFE.

With only three months to go, we are focusing on the transition. We just have to stop this unnecessary and ridiculous transition period. We know that funding will only become available in dribs and drabs as it has across the state for all of the merged schools and we will be waiting years for completion.

We have had no help from our independent MP Suzanna Sheed, who has aligned herself with Labor on this plan and is ignoring her constituents. We have approached Wendy Lovell, Liberal member for Northern Victoria in the Victorian Legislative Council, and Stephanie Ryan, National Party member for Euroa in the Legislative Assembly, who are doing all they can.

We are calling for a halt to the transition process until an authentic consultation process, with respect and integrity, based on evidence, has taken place with an independent review of the Shepparton Education Plan. Parents do not agree that this plan by the Department of Education and Training is the best way forward for their children and have considered plans that will provide a better way forward if we can only get past the arrogance with which we are being treated. 

We are holding another rally on 4th October, 2019 commencing at 11.30 am. The march will assemble at Suzanna Sheed’s office where we will try to present letters from the public to her again, then march down Wyndham Street to Queens Gardens and Wendy Lovell’s office where we will call on her to receive letters. There will be speakers and information for the public.

Colleen Jones

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