Super-school Chaos

There needs to be a serious conversation about the direction being taken by state governments in Australia to close schools and merge into large single super schools. Parents need to band together and say enough is enough!

Every bad outcome you have imagined for your school merger of up to four schools will come true. You will see an increase and more violent bullying assaults occurring; you will see more wagging, you will have a lowering of expected and academic standards; your children will become numbers and get lost in poor administration; they will be offered more choices that can’t be delivered; many will not form lasting relationships with their teachers and peers; you will be ignored if you try and advocate for your child; students with special needs will be worse off; low-socioeconomic and disadvantaged students will fall through the cracks along with previously above average students; they will be treated like robots encouraged to perform to a level playing field and the ‘so-called’ new well-being programs will fail with teachers unable to cope with the problems the new systems create.

You will see a decrease in school numbers as parents try to find a more suitable option for their children; you will see an exodus of experienced, caring teachers many debunking to the private system as they arrive at the conclusion they do not believe in these educational models; you will see many of your previously happy and achieving teachers reduced to taking stress leave to cope; you will see a need for change that you feel incapable of achieving as no-one that can change it is listening. One size does not fit all and it never will.

In Greater Shepparton, Victoria, this was inflicted on our community with inadequate consultation, despite contrary propaganda. Four good schools were closed that were competing well against state averages for like schools. School results were added together then averaged to show poor academic achievement when not the case for all. Dropout rates were exaggerated. It was fast-tracked to minimise objections, to the point of not properly following rules for mergers and announcing the merger was proceeding, months before all four school councils had formally voted on the unwanted education plan. Unnecessary campus transitioning was commenced two years before a building was to arrive, in order to establish the school and prevent community backlash. Sound familiar?

It could not have been a worse experiment, with disastrous results in one year of operation. They gambled with our children’s wellbeing and education and lost. Immediately all Vertical Modular Grouping, SEAL and fast-tracking programs; the I Can program for students with special needs were discarded. Students performing above their year level were instantly returned to a lower standard; funded students with special needs were not having their needs met (one told they could not be catered for and it would be better if they went elsewhere). There has been an increase in violent assaults with gangs of students attacking one, held down while their heads are stomped on ending in hospital treatment. One outbreak had a reported 80 students involved, with threats to bring knives to school, played down as “a few students involved and quickly handled”, when teachers and students fled in fear. A single school option means inadequate consequences.

The transition period has been undertaken without empathy for students or teachers, with issues for a large low-socioeconomic demographic being dismissed after appeals to the school council. Students felt displaced and confused, previously well-behaved students acted out, accordingly; teachers were moved between campuses and swapped to teaching unfamiliar year levels, so lasting student-teacher relationships could not form.

A whistle blower teacher recently stated that “The literacy and numeracy skills among some students are so far below where they were, and that’s because of the lack of consistency. Education in Shepparton will never succeed unless something miraculous happens.”

We have lost an inordinate number of experienced teachers and cannot attract the same. 45 teachers are confirmed to have resigned or moved to other smaller public secondary, independent or catholic schools during 2019 and 2020, including Principals. More are planning to go. Several are on or have taken stress leave. The teacher also remarked that staff were afraid of speaking out for fear of retribution and morale is at an all time low. A lot is blamed on the management style as the plan was rolled out, with the Executive Principal recently removed, but parents are strongly stating that this model is not what they want for their children.

Greater Shepparton is a diverse demographic over a large area. The previous schools accommodated the various needs of the community. We now have only one public secondary school for an area of 2,422 square kilometres/598489.2 acres and a growing population forecast to be 83,234 by 2036. The school was to commence with an expected enrolment of 2700 in 2020 with ability to cater for 3000 students when built. It commenced with 2,334 at the start of 2020 and dropped to 2,182 in November, a total loss of around 518 students from the end of 2019. Many students who previously walked or rode to school, promoted by health experts, now do not have that option and are forced onto buses for up to 3 hours per day, some who live within 10 km.

Parents feel trapped as many are unable for financial or other reasons, to move elsewhere. If children are bullied or assaulted; if parents feel their child is not receiving an adequate education; there is no other public school provided.

You might not experience it to this extent as we had the added injustice of poor management from the start and our campus Principals had no voice. You will, however, see that a single school of this size is not going to deliver a learning environment where relationships can be built and maintained and staff, students and parents know each other from start to finish because of the size of the school.

The former Stop the Shepparton Super School group has morphed into Voice 4 Choice, Greater Shepparton and the focus is now aimed at returning choice in public education to the district, this time with true community consultation. The community does not want 3000 students in one school. We had superior schools! We had and need choice of schools! We know what we want in our schools and what model – all we need is someone to listen.

Colleen Jones, for Greater Shepparton Voice 4 Choice.

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