Image for The open abandonment of this school community by our government is damning ...

A national and state overview. Second in a three-part series

In the Tasmanian suburbs where pokies are bleeding money, families have fled to enrol their children elsewhere. 

Our Liberal government is of the belief that schooling is about buildings, meetings and timetables. What they fail to understand is that it is the building of relationships that learning requires, and for many students, this involves small group or one to one interaction.

The liberal government has just announced four new policies in the lead up to the next election of which three are building programs with $22 million for a new school at Sorell, a $20 million spend at Penguin District School and $20 million to upgrade Cosgrove High School. NOT ONE DOLLAR of this will provide any additional assistance to support a student enrolled in our system and this is what teachers in Tasmania’s public schools are crying out for.

Recently Saul Eslake said that Education in Tasmania should be the government’s first, second and third priority. It will never happen as there is zero will on the government’s part and only the Greens so far have put forward a plan to address the deplorable situation whereby equality of opportunity is decreasing rather than increasing in our schools.

How can we have allowed a school such as Taroona High, south of Hobart, to be bursting at the seams with well over a thousand students, many from out-of-area, yet equidistant but north of the city Cosgrove High is left to languish with a hundred and fifty. The school has less than a 70% attendance rate. For those Tasmanians who struggle with maths that’s three out of every ten students are not at school on any given day. The school resides in the low socio economic suburb of Glenorchy where $20 million is lost annually to pokies and where the teachers and students are dealing daily with home issues, high levels of crime and family violence. The open abandonment of this school community by our government is damning as it is for several other school communities.

It is staggering that our Premier recently announced his government’s desire for a new inner city high school without mentioning plans for Cosgrove High. The only reason I can think of is that the location for his proposed inner city high school has already been determined. The conversion of Elizabeth or Hobart College to a year 7-12 school could well be in his thinking as the government has recently announced all high schools will be offering year 11/12 programs in the future and a diminished number of students will therefore be attending our colleges.

Our current liberal government sacked 266 public school teachers in 2014 just as the Gonski money began to flow into the state. They stripped our public high schools of, on average, two teachers and four from each of our colleges in 2015 and they have allowed only a pittance of the additional $80 million of Gonski money that was provided to support public schools over the last four years to pass through any school gate. It would be a scandal except for the fact that the deals signed were open to abuse. Tasmania’s agreement provided the lowest proportion of funding allocated to its public school sector of the five states and territories that signed one.

The Labor party’s policy to provide free transport to the local school is welcomed but it is two decades too late. Rene Hidding’s response at the time that it will see bus fares increase for others who send their children far and wide clearly shows that debating the merits and reasons for policy on education is a low priority. Parents who have their children enrolled at their local public school have for years been subsidising the travel costs of those who choose to enrol their children at a public, catholic or independent school elsewhere and anywhere in Tasmania.

Tasmanian taxpayers provide a staggering $20 million per year for this purpose.

One would think that the road congestion caused by this subsidised travel alone would see the government wanting to discuss the proposal seriously. 55% of students who live in the Sorell School zone bypass their local school and less than a handful of seventy plus exiting year 6 children from Brighton Primary enrol for year 7 at their local high school.

In my decade of being principal at Bowen Road Primary, in no year did any more than two year 6 students from an average of 40 enrol at Cosgrove High School, their co-ed school option. 600 of Tasmania’s year 6 public school students leave the system to enrol in non-government schools every year when they enrol for high school.

The priority of the next government of Tasmania should be to research the issue, determine the reasons for the exit, and put policies in place to address the problem. Year 7 to 10 education is where our priorities should lie as 600 government school students leave the public system each year to enrol in catholic or independent schools for year 7 but return to enrol in one of our Colleges for year 11, which are astonishingly under threat.

For the first time in living memory we have a Minister for Education who does not have an advisor who is a current or former principal - and it shows.

*Terry Polglase is former AEU state president (2012 to 2016) and Principal Bowen Road Primary (2002 to 2011) / Tasman District School (1996 to 2001).

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