Image for Colleges. What is going on ... ?

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

Colleges were established because Tasmanian educators wanted year 11/12 students to be thinking about those who were four years ahead of them rather than those four years behind.

Listening to claims of the Year 11/12 extension program’s success by Minister Rockliff is like listening to US General Westmoreland in the sixties when he regularly reported that we were winning the war in Vietnam. It would be more honest and helpful if he and his liberal government stuck to the message that a good education is valuable and that it doesn’t end at year 10. 

His government’s extension program is helping in some schools but the public should be made aware of all of the data rather than his selected titbits.  Anyone can play this game.  Lilydale District School had 3 students in year 11 this year; one left, one got expelled and one remained. Devonport High had 1 year 11 enrolment and Reece High 3.

It is not about numbers though.

It’s now about how $30 million of the education department’s budget can be best spent and returning the teachers taken from high schools in 2015 should have been listed as the Liberal’s highest priority as concerns over year’s 7 to 10 education need to be addressed before loading schools up with even more expectation. The government’s original plan to have 21 schools extending to year 11/12 was widely supported as it was simply an acceleration of what was already in train, but having all high schools provide year 11/12 options defies logic.

Schools, in many cases, have been signing up to the year 11/12 extension program through bribery, inducements and necessity. The three aforementioned schools received 4.5 teachers for their 7 original students. With the ‘offer’ of 1.5 additional teachers, building works plus other benefits to enter the program, schools and principals have been under considerable pressure and almost duty bound to extend.

The government’s mid-term policy announcement to have all high schools offering year 11/12 courses by 2022 will lead to college closures, their conversion to year 7-12 campuses or being sold to the Catholic/Independent systems. Increased inequity will result and the non-government schools will be the big winners.

The 600 students who now move across to our state colleges after year 10 will remain in their schools and their students will miss out on what they hope for when moving to a college. If it is implemented, many affluent government school students will move across to non-government schools earlier to ensure a place that offers them more than what their local high school at year 11 -12 will be able to offer.

Public schools will not be able to replicate what colleges currently offer, and few, if any, non- government school students will choose to move to the local public high school after year 10. The non- government schools will be able to demonstrate “better value” (major productions, extensive arts programs…) and increased competition for non- government school places and non-government schools will be able to become even more selective and to increase their fees. Affluent and international students will no longer be drawn to our college system and it will be far more likely that they will enrol in non-government schools.  The policy will undermine public education and the status of our government schools.

One of the most serious outcomes, if implemented, will be that the majority of Tasmania’s children will grow up without really encountering others who are significantly different from themselves.

Most importantly, extending all high schools to Year 12 will not solve whatever problem the government says exists. The college system is a “one size fits all” arrangement that does not fit all and extending all high schools to year 12 is simply another “one size fits all” arrangement that will make things worse. The ACT has our system of colleges and leads the nation in retention rates.

The ACT is different from Tasmania but so is the NT (and every other state) where comparisons are often made by those who want to compare us with other jurisdictions. NT has a population half our size and it is spread out over an area 20 times that of Tasmania. Comparisons with other states like Victoria seem to be wanted. It has one politician per 48,000 people whereas Tasmania has one per 12,000 but who would suggest we should adopt these ratios and reduce the number of our politicians from 40 to 10. We are more like Geelong or Ballarat than we are to any other state.

The independent review of years 9 to 12 schooling in Tasmania, undertaken this year by ACER, wrote off the Extension High School program as a resource intensive option that may have low impact. Has any thought gone into how we will attract and retain the trained professionals schools need?

For country towns with fewer than 5000 residents it is almost impossible to entice a psychologist or a social worker.  A recently released national survey found that 73% of all these small towns have their own resident primary teacher but social welfare officers and school psychologists are missing or absent.

Research has shown that young professionals want to stay in the capitals or bigger regional towns and a lot have partners who can’t change their jobs. Government-funded financial incentive schemes designed to attract professionals to country and remote towns don’t work. Tasmania has had these in place now for decades. Money alone is insufficient to counter disincentives such as a lack of development opportunities, inadequate housing and a perceived lack of social and cultural amenities.

Our issues lie in year’s 7 to 10 education where staff numbers were reduced in 2015; not years 11 and 12.

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