The federal president of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association, and her Queensland counterpart, have spoken out in support of Western Australian families reeling at the news that the School of the Air system in that state is to shut down.
The announcement was made on Wednesday evening by the Labor government, which said a range of budget measures would be implemented from 2019 to “help fix the state’s finances”.
Saying the previous Liberal National administration had left the budget in ruins, Education Minister, Sue Ellery, announced that to “eliminate duplication”, the five Schools of the Air – Kimberley, Port Headland, Carnarvon, Meekatharra and Kalgoorlie – would close, with the School of Isolated Distance Education to take over the delivery of the service.
Six camp schools, described as not the core business of education, are also to close, along with the Moora and Northam residential colleges and the Landsdale Farm School.
The changes are expected to save $64 million and cost 170 jobs.
Federal ICPA president, Wendy Hick, said branches around Australia were standing together in support of their WA colleagues.
“They are pretty distressed at the moment.
“South Australia amalgamated their distance education schools 15 years ago and families there say the understanding of their needs has been lost.
“We fear it will be the same in Western Australia now.”
Ms Hick said the plan may have looked good on paper, to people who don’t live in the bush.
“It’s all distance education – you hook up on the phone – why not do it from Perth, would be the thinking,” she said.
“What they don’t understand is that localised learning makes such a big difference.
“They won’t have that face to face interaction, or school camps, or activity days.
“Kimberley is 2500 km from Perth – the distances are too great and unaffordable.”
The loss of intuitive support for home tutors, most of them untrained mothers, would be a cruel blow as well, she said.
Queensland ICPA president, Kim Hughes, said she was stunned by the news.
“Education cuts are the last thing you should be considering,” she said.
“Schools of the Air aren’t just centres of learning, they provide much-needed socialisation.
“Children need more than somewhere to dial in for lessons – they need to feel part of a community.”
The scope of Queensland ICPA’s lobby didn’t allow it to engage directly with the Western Australian government, but Ms Hughes said they would be supporting their WA counterparts in any way they could.
She added that she believed the SDE community in Queensland, with six schools around the state, and the school in Brisbane and its 4000 enrolments, was unlikely to see such a move take place in that state.
WAFarmers weighs in
WAFarmers has also rallied to the cause, saying while they understood the need to reduce duplication of services, the removal of five independent schools in the regions in favour of one over-arching online learning hub was not the way to do it.
Senior vice president, Lyn Slade, said such changes may be devastating for regional and rural families.
“How are we meant to keep children in the regions when services of this nature are being cut left, right and centre?
“We also question the timing of these cuts, given the announcement earlier this week that a new $68 million inner city college will be built in Subiaco – this can’t be mere coincidence?”
Ms Slade said the lack of consultation between the government and groups advocating for rural families and education was extremely disappointing.
“This decision demonstrates utter disrespect for regional, rural and remote education, and for the students and their families who rely on these facilities and deserve fair access to education.”
According to the WA Department of Education media release, it will work with SOTA staff, students and families in 2018 to ensure SIDE offers the same quality education, including pastoral care services.
“Consultation with students, parents, staff and the community will occur over the course of the next year, in advance of the changes coming into effect in 2019.”