The Guardian April 25, 2001


NSW schools restructuring:
Teachers and parents prepare for battle

by Peter Mac

As reported last week, the NSW Government's proposal to restructure inner 
Sydney public schools has been greeted with rage by teachers, students, 
parents and local communities. Statements by the NSW Minister for 
Education, John Aqualina, that the schools slated for closure were "dead 
and dying", and that the proposal is "non-negotiable" have been 
particularly resented.

The plan includes the closure and probable disposal of three primary and 
four high schools, the incorporation of the students from these schools 
into the remaining schools and the radical restructuring of syllabuses to 
better serve commercial interests.

The reason given for the restructuring is the falling enrolments at certain 
state schools in recent years. However, the plan fails to address the 
underfunding of state schools and the diversion of funds to private schools 
by both State and Federal Governments.

Sue Simpson, NSW Teachers' Federation President, last week stated that: 
"(the proposal) provides little for a dynamic, expansionist, vision of 
public education  lower class sizes, professional development and pre-
school provision."

She noted that: "The plan calls for closure of four small inner city public 
primary schools.

"Yet the Michael School for Rudolph Steiner Leichhardt with only 19 
students, Birchgrove Community School with 30 students and Eastern Suburbs 
Montessori School Bellevue Hill with 40 students ... will continue to 
receive state and federal public funding.

"The public school should be the first built in new housing areas and ... 
the last left in areas of declining numbers of school age children. 
(However,) the `proposal' would have the Catholic primary school the last 
school left standing in Erskineville, and Catholic secondary schools would 
be the last in Maroubra and Marrickville."

The proposal would include the provision of special opportunities for 
gifted students, and the possible creation of two new alternative schools 
for "students who find traditional schooling difficult", but provides 
little good news for the "traditional" schools themselves.

The proposed establishment of a school with a special emphasis on 
Aboriginal studies, near Redfern, the main centre of Aboriginal population 
in Sydney, smacks suspiciously of segregation.

The intent of the Government's policy appears to be to underfund the 
maintenance and upgrading of state schools and to shrink the state system, 
as private schools proliferate and desperate parents are forced into the 
private education sector.

The closure of Maroubra High School, for example, would result in the 
elimination of public high school education in that area, leaving no 
alternative for local parents but to send their children to congested state 
schools kilometres away, or to enrol them in the two local private schools.

One of the schools slated for closure, Dover Heights High School, is 
located in an area which has seen eight secondary schools closed over the 
last eight years, while ample funding has been provided for the expansion 
or establishment of local private schools.

The closure of the schools, many of which are situated close to densely 
populated urban centres, would almost certainly result in the release of 
large tracts of extremely valuable land-rich pickings for developers, as 
well as private schools.

Ms Simpson commented last week that: "Teachers, parents and the community 
will need to be convinced that this is more than just a fire sale of public 
assets, a real estate agent's solution to the crisis in confidence in 
public education in the inner city."

It has also now been revealed that many state schools are employing 
professional public relations experts to raise the profile of their 
schools, in a desperate attempt to retain student numbers.

Rodney Molesworth, President of the Australian Council of State School 
organisations, last week denounced this practice, declaring "When schools 
compete against each other like this they disadvantage their neighbouring 
schools. This turns parents away from the poorer schools, which are 
eventually closed. We shouldn't have to direct money into keeping students. 
All funding should be going towards students' education, not the school's 
image."

The school closures and "restructuring" has dominated the columns of inner 
Sydney's local newspapers. However, the controversy is by no means confined 
to this area, as the closures are widely seen as a forerunner of similar 
moves against other schools in other Sydney metropolitan areas, and in 
regional centres.

Ms Simpson stated: "substantial increases for public education must be 
provided in the May 29 State Budget to compensate for years of government 
neglect... The Government's review into non-government schools must 
eliminate double standards in funding and reinstate the primacy of the 
public education system."

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