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5 years ago

VHDPA Submission to Legislative Assembly inquiry into school

VHDPA Submission to Legislative Assembly inquiry into school

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offer to fund school buildings would have provided an opportunity for a “one’off” upgrade to the school. We would like this inquiry to establish whether the reduction in projected enrolment figures for Hall Primary from 140 to 110 was reasonable. We would like the inquiry to establish the actual cost savings to the ACT government in closing Hall Primary School. We would also like the inquiry to make public the Costello Report. Recommendation 6. To the extent that a decision to close Hall Primary School required authentic and effective consultation with those affected, that decision should be re-visited. 3.2 Views on the Education Amendment Bill 2008; We understand the Bill looks at improving the consultation process if a school closure is being considered. Given the experience of the Hall community with the consultation process surrounding the closure of Hall Primary School, it is essential that such changes be made. The process initially held out hope to the ACT community that a rational, open and logical process would be used to determine if the community could afford all the schools that then existed. To raise expectations of legitimate consultation, then to dash such hopes with the farce that followed, was the worst of all outcomes. The experience has left a scar that will linger for many years with those who were involved, both the students and the parents, particularly those who committed time and effort to the consultation process. This is underlined by the fact that the Hall community are still unaware of exactly why the school was closed. We commend the Education Amendment Bill 2008 as an attempt to make sure such a process is not repeated. If the Education Amendment Bill 2008 and the inquiry can achieve “open, equitable, respectful and transparent” consultation then they have the full support of the Hall community. 3.3 Interest expressed by school communities to re-open schools listed for closure; The financial argument. The Government has argued that schools were not closed for financial reasons. Nevertheless closures were apparently triggered by the ‘Costello report’ and claims have been made about substantial savings to the ACT budget. It was strongly argued that the number of classroom seats available greatly exceeded the number of students to sit on them – ‘18,000 empty desks’. Hall and Tharwa combined account for, if anything, a trivial saving in the context of the overall ACT budget. All the ‘under-funded’ students from NSW continue to use ACT schools – but have to be transported further to get to them, entailing additional costs of roads and transport. Teachers go with the students so savings on staffing are marginal. The ‘excess’ school seats in Gungahlin will be easily be taken up in this fast growing satellite city, so that before too long, there will again be a need to create additional places. At that point – one suspects not at all far off – a distinctive small rural school in Hall for 140 or so students might be viewed as a great asset. It is now a matter of history that within months of the school closure decisions the government announced a ‘better than expected’ interim net operating surplus for 2006-7 of $117 million. Any savings achieved in the case of Hall and Tharwa should be viewed against both the overall budget and the major social costs to these communities. 8

The demographic argument The Hall community was bemused that the Purdon consultation collected and presented to us demographic data pertaining only to Hall village – total population around 300. The relevant geographic context includes the area out to Murrumbateman, down to the Murrumbidgee, and out towards Gundaroo. Development continues in this ‘over the border’ zone, including rising numbers of young families. There is no reason why this trend will not continue. We understand that the NSW government currently has no intention of providing a primary school in Murrumbateman. The ACT Government seems to have been unable to perceive Hall as a district centre, and come to terms with the coordination required with the NSW government in order to meet the needs of both ACT and NSW children for pre-school and primary education. The educational argument Much has been made of the views of a particular academic thesis concerning optimum numbers for a primary school. Educationalists do not differ from economists in this respect; an expert may be found to bolster any view about school size. This being so, the over-riding principle has been for some time that an education system should seek to provide choice – and that having options is a higher order value than every child going to a school of a prescribed size. In our somewhat monochrome system, the small rural village schools of Hall and Tharwa represent a distinct alternative. Those favouring them are entitled to the view that lack of certain facilities is more than compensated for by the socio-cultural advantages of a small rural school. Technology can now fill some of the possible ‘lacks’, and Canberra allows quick and easy access to facilities that can only be found elsewhere. The reduction of choice within the education system was a mistake which should be rectified – for the benefit not just of Hall and Tharwa – but for the system as a whole. The social argument We have the impression that Canberra – the post-war ‘garden city’ – likes the idea of having a couple of ‘villages’ within its borders. Hall has a ‘main street’, a traditional country settlement grid layout, some early buildings, aboriginal heritage, and connections with the Canberra Show and the National Sheep Dog Trials. Many thousands come to Hall once a month for the Hall Markets. For a hundred years it also had at its heart a small rural school, which was established when the Hall and District Progress Association lobbied the NSW government in the early 1900’s. Four or five generations of Hall and district families have been schooled in the village, and many of their descendants are still living in the vicinity. Together with the shop and post office, the school has been the great community ‘connector’ – bringing families together as parents, being a major focus of community events and activities, and facilitating communication about anything and everything of importance and interest. The original 1911 school, replete with all the furniture and teaching materials of those early years, nestles in the middle of the present school buildings. The whole is enclosed by an extensive stand of trees planted by the children in 1915. The School site as a whole is listed in the ‘Schedule of specific requirements applied to individual historic buildings’ in the Heritage listing of the Hall Village precinct. This welcome protection – not a feature of other closed schools - seriously constrains the potential for uses other than a school. This place has been integral to the lives of Hall and its people. Government officials have treated it as a unit of educational production, surplus to requirements. Its closure supposedly helps balance aggregate ‘bums’ and seats in the ACT education system. 9

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