The Guardian October 23, 2002


Education backflip:
A great win for Sydney schools

by Peter Mac

Last week, students, teachers, parents and supporters rejoiced on hearing 
that Sydney's Hunters Hill High School and Erskineville Public School were 
to remain open.

This followed an earlier government decision not to close schools in the 
inner city suburbs of Marrickville and Dulwich Hill.

Kathy Prokhovnik, vice-president of Hunters Hill High School's Parents and 
Citizens Association (P&C) said the campaign to save the school had 
involved "constant meetings, phone calls, three major submissions to the 
'Building the Future' consultation process, the Schools Closure Review 
Committee, and the Upper House inquiry into the closure of inner city 
schools, and a seemingly endless string of assertions and statements to 
research and disseminate."

The State Government's decision to retain this school appears to anticipate 
a damning State Ombudsman's report regarding inadequate Government 
disclosure of information.

After initially requesting information about the plan, the P&C Association 
was told no documents were available.

Ms Prokhovnik commented: "No documents generated in making a decision of 
such mammoth importance? Wiping out a co-educational high school and 
leaving an entire electorate served by one single-sex secondary school  
and no meetings were held, no minutes kept, no research done, no briefing 
papers?" The Ombudsman subsequently discovered hundreds of documents and 
evidence of 39 meetings.

Like their Hunters Hill counterparts, the Erskineville P&C battled an 
obstinate bureaucracy, and finally resorted to freedom of information 
processes to access crucial documents.

The school's enrolments rose by 20 percent from 1996 to 2001. The 
Government 's decision to close the school resulted in a fall of enrolments 
from 65 to 29, but this only spurred the P&C to greater action. The 
president of Erskineville P&C, Jeni Mulvaney, later described the closure 
process as "completely shoddy".

Unsavoury reputation

Although welcome, the NSW Carr Government's backflip over the three Sydney 
high school sites has done relatively little to eliminate the Government's 
unsavoury reputation for selling off state-owned sites, particularly those 
of high real estate value.

Since gaining office the Carr Government has sold off the Dover Heights and 
Seaforth Technical Colleges. Despite enormous public opposition, it still 
intends to long-term lease Sydney's historic Quarantine Station to a 
private hotel chain, and to dispose or lease off many other prime 
government-owned sites.

Can the Labor leopard change its right-wing spots? While bemoaning its loss 
in last weekend's Cunningham by-election, the Labor Party at federal level 
vowed only to "deal with the perception" that the electorate was being 
taken for granted.

At a State level, the Labor Minister for Education appeared crestfallen 
when announcing the Government's backflip over the Hunters Hill and 
Erskineville schools. However, the Government shows no signs of reversing 
its decision to close several other schools, including Maroubra High 
School. Redfern and several other schools in the area are also still up for 
amalgamation.

It appears that the Government's about-face has more to do with winning the 
State elections in five months time than with any "road to Damascus" 
conversion to a principled position on public education.

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