A Canberra family who says their special needs child did not receive full learning support at Brindabella Christian College and that increasingly large classes are sometimes without adequate supervision has spoken out about the impact the school’s governance problems have on students.
Speaking to Region Media on condition of anonymity, the family said their children commenced at Brindabella when they began school. They made it clear that individual teachers were caring, helpful and committed throughout. But that was never the problem.
They say that when Brindabella’s governance and finances came under increasing pressure over the past few years, the school’s structure began unravelling.
“One of the biggest problems we saw was because they didn’t have enough teaching staff, they started combining classes on a regular basis. We noticed that class sizes increased enormously – there were times when one teacher was responsible for 60 kids, or kids were left alone with a teacher poking their head in,” they say.
“When we first enrolled, we were promised that class sizes would never be more than about 22. When classes regularly crept up to 30 or more, the individual attention began to decrease markedly.”
They allege that relief teachers were not hired to cover the gaps when staff left in significant numbers, causing a spiralling effect for students, especially those who struggled with learning.
The family has a child with special needs who they say was repeatedly bullied because teachers were stretched thin attempting to supervise too many children.
Even more worryingly, the family has raised concerns about how the school used special needs funding. After a long assessment period, they’d been informed that their child qualified for externally funded ongoing classroom support.
However, they say that more often than not, that didn’t materialise.
When the family questioned Brindabella about why an assistant was present only occasionally during the week, they say the school became defensive.
“We wanted to know where the money was going. They were really evasive and told us something along the lines of ‘look, any money we get for special needs we just pool and use as we see fit’. But that money was allocated to our child.”
According to Education Directorate guidelines, ACT Schools must make reasonable adjustments to ensure students with disability can participate in learning activities. School principals can decide how funding will be spent, but that decision should be made in consultation with the family, school staff and support people.
The family says that exasperated teachers indicated unofficially that it was unlikely their child’s needs would ever be met at Brindabella.
The rolling impact of staff departures affected the rest of the family, too. The parents say that internationally sourced teachers who had little experience in their teaching subjects appeared on campus as the school’s reputation soured with potential local recruits.
The constant churn disadvantaged their children’s learning, and they increasingly felt that there was nowhere to take their concerns.
“Parents are very invested in the school and want to donate their time and experience. But the Brindabella board is a closed shop, and they are blind and deaf to any well-founded criticism. That’s when we started noticing how bad things had become.
“We started to get very nervous because it was fairly apparent the wheels were well and truly falling off. We didn’t want to be in a situation where we turned up and found chains on the gates. The situation was hugely concerning as a parent.”
They’ve since transferred to another school where their children are now flourishing.
“It’s sad because you see people come in to open days and it all looks wonderful. You want to say to them, ‘Have you not seen anything about how badly the place is run?’
“They’re like lambs to the slaughter.”
Ministerial briefs for the ACT’s March estimates hearings reference multiple issues that have been raised with the Education Directorate regarding Brindabella. Currently, the Education Act 2004 has no requirement for the proprietors of non-government schools to be fit and proper people and does not set out minimum standards for the governance or operations of ACT non-government schools.
The matters raised by the community relating to the governance of the school will contribute to the ACT Government’s current review of registration conditions and processes for non-government schools.
The ACT Human Rights Commission has recommended that the Education Directorate develop comprehensive registration standards for non-government schools and review its oversight mechanisms of non-government schools.
Brindabella Christian College has been contacted for comment.