29 March 2019

We can't pretend everything in ACT public schools is fine

| Kim Fischer
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single and multiple school bags on seats and tables outside the class room. School educational facility and environment images

Why are peak education bodies afraid of an independent review into our public school system?

Why not have an independent review of the ACT public education system?

The open letter published in The Canberra Times on 8 March by the ACT Council of P&C Associations, ACT Principals’ Association and the Australian Education Union is dismaying on many levels.

Each of these peak body organisations are meant to be advocates for excellence in ACT public schools. The fact that they have chosen to deny all systemic problems, even before an investigation is carried out, says a great deal about their attitudes.

The first instinct of all three advocacy groups was to protect the reputation of the system they are meant to be supporting and scrutinising, not to find out the truth of the situation.

There was not one word of sympathy for the 17 families who were so distressed at being ignored that they signed and sent a petition to the Minister. No mention of the violence against ACT principals being the highest in the country. Neither was there a single note of concern that it took the Education Directorate three months to “attempt to make contact” with all of the families who signed the petition, despite “personal assurances” given to the Minister that the systems in place to deal with these issues was appropriate.

Remember that this petition was sent after parents had been talking with schools and the Directorate since 2017, and after four separate letters were sent to the Minister in 2018. This was an act of desperation.

There are two possibilities to explain this seeming callousness.

The first is that the Minister and the senior management of the ACT Education Directorate didn’t feel it was important to personally ensure that these families were supported and that their concerns were actively addressed. If this is true, all of them should resign immediately.

However, I genuinely don’t believe any of these people enjoy seeing others in distress. This makes it very hard to understand why everyone from the Minister, the Directorate, Principals, Union Officials and the P&C peak body should be so keen to pretend a problem doesn’t exist.

I believe the key lies in the line towards the end of the open letter where we are implored “not to undermine public confidence in our education system”. The truth is that everyone with a stake in the public education system is terrified at what a true independent investigation would uncover.

It is likely that the results would not even be that bad, objectively speaking. Their concern is that any failures would be paraded in the media, and then be used by the Canberra Liberals as an excuse to divert funding into private education.

The irony is that the cry to “protect the system” is now more important than “think of the children”. The fallacy is that since public education is an intrinsic good; therefore, we must protect public education at all costs. The actual lives of families and children in public schools become secondary to the system that is meant to be serving them.

No system, especially those funded by the public, should be immune from transparency, investigation, and improvement.

I can only imagine how abandoned the families who signed the petition must have felt when they read the dismissive attitudes in the open letter.

The Canberra Liberals should go on the public record and affirm that they will not use the results of an independent review as a justification to cut funds. This is an opportunity to avert fears and establish that they are truly concerned. Canberra people are rightly proud of their investment in public education and want a better system, not a mediocre one due to inadequate funding or weak leadership.

If those involved in this debacle were truly committed to excellence then an independent review would be an opportunity, not a threat.

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Drug trafficking, drug consumption has not been mentioned. When are the schools going to take responsibility for the students and keep drug trafficking out of the schools. There may be a link between Drugs and student behaviour

We came from Melbourne and we were told that ACT public schools outta be better as public servants’ children go there as opposed to tradies/refugees/immigrants and other cultural mix in Melbourne (considered inferior as per general perception). However, after coming here we have tried few schools in Ngunnawal / Moncreiff area have found curriculum is at least one year behind Melbourne. Teachers don’t bother to take any interest or tailor any plans for your child. NAPLAN results of public schools of fringe suburbs Dandenong/Werribee are at par with top Canberra public schools like Ainslie. Bottomline is ACT public education is below average and no one has guts to accept the problem and overhaul the system. I would not be surprised if Canberra schools get the highest budget (per student) in the nation and provide the lowest quality education. Do something about it.

Excellent article Kim, best I’ve read in a long time.

As an advocate for properly educating struggling kids from the outer suburbs of canberra, I really think you hit the nail on the head.

Outer suburban schools have been declining across a range of performance measures. Poorly resourced schools are losing their best teachers and losing their better students. Time for the ACT Government and the Education Directorate to re-think their flawed funding system that doesn’t fit Canberra’s higher socioeconomic average. There also needs to be programs to assist the parents of these kids know how to help their children’s education.

I don’t think that open letter *claims* “a problem doesn’t exist”. In fact; quite the opposite. It certainly does not even mention avoiding an inquiry. Those are the author’s words ONLY.

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