The punishing effects of the State Government’s Smart and Skilled policy on the NSW TAFE system has begun to affect schools.
Up until the end of 2014, many schools negotiated arrangements with local TAFE colleges that provided access for students to TAFE courses. There were no course fees, students could engage in an alternate learning mode, choose a trade-based career path and make full use of their time throughout the compulsory years of schooling.
These arrangements have been particularly critical for many schools since the NSW Government legislated the raising of the school leaving age to seventeen.
Since the introduction of Smart and Skilled earlier this year, many schools have been advised that any local arrangements with their local TAFE college are no longer allowed. This has resulted in cuts to courses and the introduction of course fees anywhere from $3000 to $15,000 per student per course.
Such was the experience for teachers at Lomandra School and Putland Education and Training Unit (ETU). Lomandra School is a school for students, years 5–12, with severe challenging behaviours and/or mental health issues. Putland ETU is the school for detainees at Cobham Juvenile Justice Centre.
Prior to the introduction of Smart and Skilled both schools worked successfully with local TAFE campuses to provide TAFE courses for their students.
Lomandra School Federation members decided to take up their issue with Education Minister Adrian Piccoli. In writing to the Minister, members declared their preparedness to engage in industrial action if the matter remained unresolved. Within a week, the Lomandra School Federation Representative was advised in writing that TAFE NSW was “able to offer fully subsidised and customised courses to the Lomandra School in 2015”.
Putland ETU Federation members had planned to stop work for two hours on March 12. However, members decided to postpone the stopwork as the DEC offered some additional funds and a commitment to alter existing eligibility requirements that had denied students access to particular courses.
Lomandra and Putland members are to be congratulated for their commitment to their students and achieving positive outcomes.
However, these are only quick-fix measures as Smart and Skilled and TAFE budget cuts continue to undermine the provision of quality public education.
The State Government has the means to resolve this matter in favour of these students, and other similarly affected students throughout NSW by abolishing the Smart and Skilled policy, restoring adequate funding levels to TAFE and adopting policies that ensure access and equity for all.
Schools faced with a similar situation should contact their Federation Organiser in order to develop a local campaign in defence of the learning conditions and livelihoods of all students and cohorts to follow.