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No more Mickey Mouse: Close UC Kaleen High and expand Melba Copland

By Big_Ed - 30 October 2014 17

I have previously raised the question that perhaps it’s time to close UC Kaleen High School on the grounds that it is costly, under-utilised and increasingly redundant. Despite initial outbursts against my proposal it seems now there is some growing community support and political consideration to redirect the operational funds for the school into far more effective education alternatives.

Currently UC Kaleen High is running at 28% capacity with a population teetering around 200 students. If you account low attendance rates – amongst the lowest in the territory (84%) – the school is running at only 23.5% capacity. Only 174 students in a building made for over 800 kids. The school has been under-enrolled for the best part of 20 years and critically so for the past 10. This trend continues despite its feeder schools, Kaleen Primary and Giralang Primary bursting at the seams. Parents at feeder schools clearly don’t view UC Kaleen High as a viable, high-quality education provider for their kids. They attend the open night, consider the school, its curriculum and its governance, and overwhelmingly give it the thumbs down.

Whereas parents in the area have made up their minds, the government still lags behind public opinion. Understandably so, school closures are not politically popular. So here are some figures the government should consider. Per student UC Kaleen High is the most expensive school in Canberra. It costs the ACT taxpayer $31,576 per student which is twice the Territory average. The real figure however is closer to $36,000 if you factor in the high absenteeism. The school, built for 800+ but only supporting a quarter of its potential student base and has a running cost of almost $5.9 million per annum. Class sizes are in the low to mid teens however NAPLAN results show this has provided little benefit for students. The school’s results have plateaued and remain below the national average. In contrast, schools such as Wanniassa, which has a lower ICSEA value, are now outperforming UC Kaleen High despite having much bigger class sizes and half the per student funds.

Critical incidents at UC Kaleen High are significantly above average with numerous lockdowns occurring and in recent years the school has been in the media for bullying, fights uploaded to YouTube, and drug incidents. To counter the bad press the principal earlier this year courted the Canberra Times for a puff piece in which he claimed he wanted every student to find their niche. A worthy aspiration however one that unfortunately has translated to finding the school a gimmick– circus, model trains, sister schools, on-paper aspiration to be Belconnen’s school of the performing arts (though it hasn’t offered music or put on a play for the best part of a decade). The list goes on yet very little has materialised and what has occurred has been ephemeral and not worth the time or money spent.

There remains a hope among some that the new suburb Lawson will boost enrolments for UC Kaleen. However the large price tag for blocks in Lawson suggests there will be no increase in enrolments. The Canberra trend, as a recent Canberra Times article points out, is that wealthier families utilise the public system until the high school years and then send their kids to private schools. Given Lawson’s proximity to Radford and a bus line feeding directly into a number of Northside private schools it is unrealistic to think well-off Lawson parents would consider a school that hasn’t as much as a flute, let alone a French horn or trombone. As it is, most Kaleen parents who can get their kids into Lyneham High do so.

The $5.9 million that it costs every year to keep ghost ship UC Kaleen High afloat could be better spent on viable initiatives. For instance expanding Kaleen Primary or Giralang Primary or perhaps something even more practical, to upgrade and expand Melba Copland. Currently operating at 32% capacity Melba could easily absorb the Kaleen population. Melba Copland’s reputation is on the upswing since it started offering the International Baccalaureate and there is an opportunity here to forge a robust 7-12 school that can afford to provide a full range of curriculum options on par with Lyneham High, Daramalan or private schools. Melba’s split campus provides an even greater incentive allowing students continuity, a rite-of-passage and a place where year 11 and 12s can be symbolically apart from “high school”.

It is time for the ACT government to reconsider propping up unviable, underperforming schools that receive premium dollars but cobble together the barest minimum. Our kids deserve better. Insanity is said to be doing the same over and over again and continually expecting a different result. UC Kaleen High has had its chance to come back but it hasn’t and won’t. We are just throwing good money after bad and in the Territory’s current economic circumstances we can’t afford to do that any longer. Let’s get wise, get rational, no more Mickey Mouse, it’s time to channel our dollars into something better and more effective for our kids.

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17 Responses to
No more Mickey Mouse: Close UC Kaleen High and expand Melba Copland
Mummyduck 1:22 pm 03 Nov 14

OP gives a pretty damning assessment of the school. It sounds like a management problem more than a need for shut down. Has the principal been there a while? Could be transition of principal or an ineffectual one? If the principal has been there for more than a few years then s/he probably needs to be chucked.

turbotim 7:46 pm 02 Nov 14

These school linkage things are about as phoney as the whole sister city thing. Maybe when they bulldoze the place we can link it to one of those online universities you can order a diploma from.

Joanne1987 10:34 am 02 Nov 14

dungfungus said :

JC said :

dungfungus said :

The advantage to UC would appear to be that an underutilised ACT asset is being used exclusively by UC to benefit UC.

Kids as lab rats? Nice.

dungfungus 10:40 pm 01 Nov 14

JC said :

dungfungus said :

I thought all high schools and colleges were about teaching their students so they could progress to tertiary education.

Wrong, clearly wrong. Not everyone wants to go to uni, so schools prepare people for further education or for the work place or maybe even for the dole! Some schools, shock horror have agreements with private companies or CIT to provide this pathway. Nothing new either, when I was in year 10 back in 1988 the school I went to had a class that was designed to help people enter the building trades. This class helped me realise building trades were not for me (I wanted to be a sparky) instead I went down electronic engineering instead at college and for a living.

dungfungus said :

Is this arrangement with the schools/colleges you mentioned designed to channel their students to UC exclusively?

I wouldn’t think so, people have choice of where they go to uni.

dungfungus said :

Wouldn’t this be giving an unfair advantage to UC?

How so?

dungfungus said :

How can this be justified?

Why does it matter? DO you think it is costing you somehow? If anything it would be costing UC.

You were the one that said:
“The high school and UC, and also Lake Gininderra College and UC are simply working together to provide a path from high school to Uni.”
Now you are saying this is not so?
And given the amount of money and resources the current ACT Government is throwing at UC I would say if something is costing them it is therefore costing us.
The advantage to UC would appear to be that an underutilised ACT asset is being used exclusively by UC to benefit UC.

housebound 10:25 pm 01 Nov 14

Strangely enough, we have friends whose kids attend there. The kids are engaged, learning and enjoying school. Academically, they’re doing well. Sometimes reputations don’t match reality.

I can see only two failures here:
(1) the attitude towards the school in posts like this
(2) the severe reputational damage caused by the thwarted proposal to close the school in 2006 (it wasn’t listed, but there were well-publicised accusations of high-level political interference to remove it from an early list).

Rather than looking for schools to close, how about looking for ways to keep schools open and growing, Why not look for ways to use any spare capacity to build the local community? Once you sell public assets off to line the pockets of money-starved tram-loving governments and their greedy developer mates, you can never get it back.

Big_Ed 9:37 pm 01 Nov 14

sepi said :

I don’t know much about this school, but I do know that Lyneham High is bursting at the seams. I also know that inner north primary schools are currently exceeding capacity.

I would be worried that closing this school would lead to serious over-crowding in northside high schools in the next few years.

Also what are the distances involved – how far would the furthest away kids have to go to reach a high school if it was closed down?

A bad school can be turned around, but a school that is sold off for unit blocks can never come back.

Sepi, a recent Canberra Times article investigating enrolment fraud found that many parents were lying about their address to get their kids into “elite” schools like Lyneham and that is why it is at 100% capacity. Wouldn’t it be nice if Belconnen had an “elite” high school too?

Both UCHSK and MC are under-utilised and Kaleen and Giralang parents are sending their kids anywhere else anyway.

I can’t see too many reasons why UCHSK couldn’t be shut down this year and the students and teachers be transferred to MC. The MC campus is a large enough and it’s current running at only 32% capacity. The commute times are not unreasonable either.

The ACT Government has the option to repurpose the building and sell off something else.

Queen_of_the_Bun 12:53 pm 01 Nov 14

Vera said :

I didn’t know this school was attached to UC. It might be snooty but I don’t want the university where I got my degree tarred with the same brush.

Hilarious. Glad to see a degree from UC now entitles grads to be “snooty”.

JC 12:19 pm 01 Nov 14

dungfungus said :

I thought all high schools and colleges were about teaching their students so they could progress to tertiary education.

Wrong, clearly wrong. Not everyone wants to go to uni, so schools prepare people for further education or for the work place or maybe even for the dole! Some schools, shock horror have agreements with private companies or CIT to provide this pathway. Nothing new either, when I was in year 10 back in 1988 the school I went to had a class that was designed to help people enter the building trades. This class helped me realise building trades were not for me (I wanted to be a sparky) instead I went down electronic engineering instead at college and for a living.

dungfungus said :

Is this arrangement with the schools/colleges you mentioned designed to channel their students to UC exclusively?

I wouldn’t think so, people have choice of where they go to uni.

dungfungus said :

Wouldn’t this be giving an unfair advantage to UC?

How so?

dungfungus said :

How can this be justified?

Why does it matter? DO you think it is costing you somehow? If anything it would be costing UC.

dungfungus 8:23 am 01 Nov 14

JC said :

dungfungus said :

At the risk of looking stupid (again), can someone tell me what UC is doing running an ACT high school?
Is there a sporting agenda somewhere or is it another “jobs for mates” project.

It is not running a high school. The high school and UC, and also Lake Gininderra College and UC are simply working together to provide a path from high school to Uni.

I thought all high schools and colleges were about teaching their students so they could progress to tertiary education.
Is this arrangement with the schools/colleges you mentioned designed to channel their students to UC exclusively?
Wouldn’t this be giving an unfair advantage to UC?
How can this be justified?

Vera 8:14 am 01 Nov 14

I didn’t know this school was attached to UC. It might be snooty but I don’t want the university where I got my degree tarred with the same brush.

JC 12:14 am 01 Nov 14

dungfungus said :

At the risk of looking stupid (again), can someone tell me what UC is doing running an ACT high school?
Is there a sporting agenda somewhere or is it another “jobs for mates” project.

It is not running a high school. The high school and UC, and also Lake Gininderra College and UC are simply working together to provide a path from high school to Uni.

dungfungus 4:46 pm 31 Oct 14

At the risk of looking stupid (again), can someone tell me what UC is doing running an ACT high school?
Is there a sporting agenda somewhere or is it another “jobs for mates” project.

sepi 7:14 am 31 Oct 14

I don’t know much about this school, but I do know that Lyneham High is bursting at the seams. I also know that inner north primary schools are currently exceeding capacity.

I would be worried that closing this school would lead to serious over-crowding in northside high schools in the next few years.

Also what are the distances involved – how far would the furthest away kids have to go to reach a high school if it was closed down?

A bad school can be turned around, but a school that is sold off for unit blocks can never come back.

Big_Ed 6:16 am 31 Oct 14

Rollarsk8r, I think my agenda is made clear in my opinion piece. I am a stakeholder and have an agenda for providing worthwhile public education where our money is well spent. You have acknowledged that UC Kaleen High is on the skids, so should we just leave it, continue to waste money, and push kids into schools that under perform? Do we accept that wealthy areas like North Canberra can have the Rolls Royce while other areas are forced to use the wreck up on blocks. I don’t accept we can continue with the status quo. I believe the ACT Government is letting down the kids and parents in the UC Kaleen High intake areas and there needs to be better, more robust public high school options in North Belconnen. Right now we have the opportunity to build something much better and it is a very worthwhile pursuit to persuade others into making that happen.

Rollersk8r 1:34 pm 30 Oct 14

What is your agenda? Of all the “waste of taxpayers’ money” stories out there, why this particular school?

I’m not defending the school. It’s no secret that it’s not doing well and has a bad reputation. I just don’t understand why you’re continually putting effort into this, unless there’s a personal angle?

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