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.