Parents of present and former students, as well as staff members, have been using Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to discover how the Education Directorate is responding to complaints about the management of Brindabella Christian College.
In doing so, they have unearthed some major discrepancies in the school’s record-keeping, particularly around student numbers. An FOI shown to Region Media indicates that 134 students appear on Brindabella Christian College’s census returns to the Directorate but do not appear on the student transfer register.
By contrast, 405 students who appear on the student transfer register as attending Brindabella do not appear on the census.
The school told the Education Directorate in February 2020 that there were 883 students, and the principal verified this. By comparison, an extract from the Student Transfer Register, also provided to the Directorate, indicates that 1154 students were attending the School.
Transparency around student numbers is a requirement of registration as a school in the ACT as funding calculations are based on school size.
“The discrepancy between the data sets is significant,” the document states, putting the difference at 41 per cent.
The document also notes that a comparison of 2019 and 2020 census data sets shows a 17 per cent decrease in student numbers over 12 months across Brindabella’s operations, excluding the annual turnover of school leavers. The departure rates are particularly high at Brindabella’s Charnwood campus where the census figures show a 32 per cent decrease in enrolments over a 12-month period.
Oversight of non-government schools operating in the ACT is a shared responsibility between the Commonwealth and ACT governments. The Commonwealth Government is the majority funder of non-government schools across Australia and has powers under the Australian Education Act 2013 to oversee the operations of non-government schools.
Other Commonwealth agencies such as the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission, and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission also have regulatory responsibilities related to non-government schools, while the ACT Education Directorate is responsible for registering non-government schools.
Region Media put a series of questions to the Education Directorate concerning how private schools are managed, given that Brindabella Christian College is a private company. Parents do not control the school, a board of three headed by longtime chair Greg Zwagjenberg does.
There have been a number of allegations that Brindabella has breached the Education Act, particularly concerning its exclusion policy for children whose parents have been critical of the school and board operations.
Region Media has been told that the ACT Education Minister has responsibilities under the Education Act 2004 relating to the cancellation of a non-government school’s registration where a condition of registration or another part of the Education Act is contravened. The Minister can direct the registrar of non-government schools to cancel the registration of an ACT non-government school under section 95 of the act.
To do so, the Minister must be satisfied that a condition of registration or other section of the act has been contravened by the proprietor or principal of an ACT non-government school. That requires a written notice to the school outlining the grounds for the cancellation, and provide the proprietor with the opportunity to respond to the notice within 14 days. However, community members have no say in the process.
“The cancellation of a school’s registration is an administrative process that must be undertaken in line with the ACT Education Act 2004,” the Directorate’s response said.
Some parents had flagged the possibility that the school could be de-registered but continue to operate with an appointed interim board while governance or other issues were being resolved. However, the Directorate says that is not possible.
“A school cannot operate in the ACT if it is not currently registered under the ACT Education Act 2004. Section 82 of ACT Education Act 2004 provides offences related to conducting a school while not registered,” their response said.