Martins Creek Public School parents Sue Coutts and Gina Goulder want to see the school remain open

Genuine consultation needed on closures

John Pratt
Jack Galvin Waight
Country Organisers

Any decision to close, recess, amalgamate or provide another form of education provision relating to any school needs to be made on a case by case basis, Federation has advocated during the Legislative Council Select Committee inquiry into the closure of public schools.

Federation Senior Vice President Joan Lemaire, John Pratt and Jack Galvin Waight represented the union at an inquiry hearing on August 20.

The inquiry is considering “the processes, policies, procedures, accountability and decision making surrounding the closure of public schools in NSW”. The inquiry has focused on the actual or potential closure of a number of small schools in rural areas.

In 2014 concerns were raised with Federation regarding the consultation process surrounding the closure of a number of small schools including Martin’s Creek and Wollombi. The concerns were that the consultation process was inadequate, insufficient information was provided, some community members believed that there was a predetermined decision to close the school regardless of the outcome of the consultation process. Federation pursued these concerns with the Department.

Late in 2014 the protocols were amended to specifically include Federation in the process and the Federation Organiser in the school consultation group.

At the inquiry hearing, and in Federation’s written submission, the union pointed to the need for any decision to close, recess, amalgamate or provide another form of education provision relating to any school to be made on a case by case basis and ensure genuine consultation with the parents, teachers and community. These consultation processes must determine whether any change to the current educational provision will disadvantage students and the community now and into the future.

Members of the Select Committee raised a number of questions about the position of associate principal and the impact on small schools.

Federation pointed out that under the new principal classification structure the salaries award allows for the positions of teaching principal and associate principal. Where there is a vacant teaching principal position, the community must be consulted about whether a teaching principal or an associate principal will be appointed. Similarly if a current teaching principal would like to be an associate principal there must be community consultation.

In a letter to John Kaye MLC on May 18, 2014, Education Minister Adrian Piccoli stated: “Any future decisions for small schools to retain a Teaching Principal or explore further opportunities available by choosing an Associate Principal, where the school will be able to network more closely with other schools, will only be made after consultation and agreement with those respective communities.”

Federation highlighted the need to retain the provisions of Section 28 of the Education Act which deals with school closures and the requirement to establish a School Closures Review Committee. Federation argued that all children in every community have the right to accessible and high quality public education and that any decision to close a school must take account of the current and future needs of the students and their communities.