The embattled St Bede’s Primary School in Red Hill has been thrown a lifeline until 2023 to give it time to boost enrolments and for the Catholic Education Office to devise a plan to secure its future.
The school community received the news at Tuesday night’s ‘town hall’ meeting, which had to be switched from the school hall to nearby St Clare’s College due to the large number of attendees.
Hundreds turned up to hear what the Catholic Education Office and school representatives had to say in a passionate but respectful meeting.
Catholic Education Office director Ross Fox said it was made very clear from impassioned speeches that St Bede’s was highly valued. A video was even shown featuring students saying how much they loved the school.
“We have every indication that parent support is so strong and deep that we have every hope that enrolments will be maintained and grow, and that will position the school in the best place possible to thrive beyond 2023,” he said.
School community spokesperson Monica Kyburz welcomed the Catholic Education Office’s move to provide certainty but would not say the community was relieved.
She said the breathing space would allow the school to continue building enrolments and let more people know about what she described as a “hidden treasure” in Red Hill.
Ms Kyburz said the bursting enrolments at the Red Hill Public School showed there was demand in the area for education, and the community was confident of growing the school, particularly with new housing developments in the area.
She said numbers at the school had been as low as 120* at one point, but it had steadily clawed back enrolments to grow to 140 students in recent years.
The community has also proposed an early learning centre be established at the school to meet a “huge demand” for child care in the inner south and provide a feeder for the school.
Mr Fox said the school still faced significant challenges due to Federal and ACT government decisions to adopt a new funding model that would mean significant fee rises.
He said the Catholic Education Office would like to see the school grow to about 200 students and beyond to make it more financially sustainable, but parents would face fee rises next year, although the size is still being worked out.
Mr Fox said a survey launched as part of the consultation process had indicated that parents would be happy to pay significantly more to keep St Bede’s going, but Ms Kyburz was less sure that would be the case across the community.
He reiterated that there had been no decision to close the school and that the 2023 guarantee had arisen out of talks between the Catholic Education Office and the school board.
“The most important thing is the school has certainty now for next few years, it can get on with the enrolment period welcoming students and preparing for St Bede’s to continue to thrive,” he said.
Mr Fox said the Catholic Education Office and school board will continue to meet to assess the feedback and ideas, such as the early learning centre, and devise a plan for the school.
Another town hall meeting is planned for 12 May to present feedback from the submission and survey process.
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said enrolments had been as low as 90. The correct figure was 120. This was updated at 2:55 pm on 21 April 2021.