The Guardian July 10, 2002


Carr Government fails at school

by Peter Mac

Parents of students at Sydney's Hunters Hill High School and Erskineville 
Public School have vowed to continue the fight to keep their schools open. 
The NSW Carr Government last week announced it would ignore a parliamentary 
Select Committee's recommendations that the schools not be closed.

The plan to close several inner-city schools, ironically entitled "Building 
the Future", was the brainchild of the former Minister for Education, John 
Aquilina.

The plan has been bitterly contested by parents and teachers over a 15-
month period. As a result two of the high schools slated for closure are 
now to remain open, but others at Maroubra, Vaucluse, Redfern, Waterloo and 
Erskineville are to be closed.

The Government's latest announcement concerning Hunters Hill and 
Erskineville schools was made by the Minister for Education, John Watkins, 
an hour after the Committee's findings were released.

Ms Maree O'Halloran, President of the NSW Teachers' Federation commented 
bitterly that "This is contrary to statements he made after the 
announcement that Dulwich and Marrickville High Schools would remain open, 
when he said he would give genuine consideration to the Committee's 
recommendations."

The Government has, however, been forced to back-track on its plans for 
nine new "state" schools to be constructed and maintained by the private 
sector for 30 years.

It had previously planned to have the school principals control the school 
premises only on weekdays between 6am and 7pm, with control of the schools 
outside this time devolving to the businesses that constructed and 
maintained the schools.

Protests from unions and sections of the Labor Party forced the Government 
to change its mind in the middle of the tendering process.

The report of another committee of inquiry has also been completed, which 
indicates that the size of classes in NSW kindergartens is the highest in 
the country, with one in four classes currently exceeding the State's own 
maximum size standards of between 26 and 28 pupils. One class surveyed had 
37 pupils.

This report is highly embarrassing to the Government (less than a year out 
from an election), as it comes immediately after an American study found a 
clear link between low early-learning class sizes and achievement later in 
life. The study concluded that the best way to improve early education is 
not better equipment, but good teachers and small class sizes.

The new Minister for Education, John Watkins, has not yet released details 
of a third report on the low numbers of male teachers in NSW. The report is 
said to have been completed several months ago and was prompted by 
publication of figures that showed that the number of male primary school 
teachers has fallen to only 5300 of the state's total of 22,000 teachers.

In releasing the report of the committee of inquiry into the school 
closures, the Committee's chairman commented that the closure of Hunters 
Hill High School would seriously reduce the educational opportunities 
available to students in the lower North Shore.

He also stated that the Department of Education and Training (DET) had not 
dealt openly or honestly with the schools and communities involved, and 
that the decision to close the schools had been made prior to the 
commencement of the consultation process and was non-negotiable.

Hundreds of people attended a rally outside the DET office in Sydney last 
Monday to protest at the closures.

The annual conference of the NSW Teachers Federation has also called for 
the Government to take serious steps improve the relationship with the 
teaching profession, and to attract new teacher recruits, by improving the 
salaries and working conditions of teachers in the NSW education system.

Back to index page