Education is in the news again with matters disputed requiring urgent resolution. Obviously, we don’t have a moment to waste and leadership is required to ensure that school improvement remains the most vital challenge we address in Tasmania.
Further, school catchment zones are also on the agenda adding flavour to robust discussions at a local level.
In our school’s case, the new map looks peculiar – drawn to include a significant expanse of reserve and recreational bushland. It covers an area that we know well; deeply valued by the community and renowned for making memories – but housing macropods, not students!
For many years, parents lived in the same family home and, as a result, children attended the closest public school, often walking or catching the bus each day.
We are no longer just supportive users of education, we are consumers, whether it be private or public. Consumerism has driven an expectation of choice. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and the direct impact will have long-term consequences for the provision of education in Tasmania.
Visit real estate apps and you will find two data-sets which now help determine your new address: school catchment zones and the Myschool website detailing NAPLAN scores. No longer is the ensuite or fourth bedroom top of the tree, it’s school data.
Perhaps, I should be applauding parents and guardians for valuing education so much they put school’s performance via a single test ahead of any other deliberations to make family decisions.
However, the data rarely paints the full picture and although schools in more well-off economic areas, with growing residential offerings, are considered of preference, it is not the only measure.
Regrettably, this decision-making process will eventually create problems as “preferred schools” fill to capacity, whilst neighbouring schools that once catered for many more, have unlimited room for students to learn and roam.
A friend recently pointed me to several articles from South Australia explaining that some schools have “closed their books” due to reaching capacity, much like a medical practice. A public school closing its books? That defies the underpinning logic and value of public schooling and it should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
I learned a long time ago that once parents are locked-in on their decision regarding school preference, where a choice exists, it is basically impossible to convince them otherwise. And that’s the way it should be as parents and guardians are best placed to make decisions regarding their children’s future.
Consequently, one of the solutions is building more classrooms to cater for growing enrolments. An investment in education infrastructure is an investment in the future. If local communities truly value learning, they will recognise the importance of providing contemporary facilities, which aim to engage and inspire.
However, we must also learn how to measure this investment in academic and social terms to ensure it’s public money well spent, with links between facility improvement and educational attainment accurately quantified.
From a Tasmanian perspective, we implemented the Building Education Revolution more efficiently than anywhere in the country. The Education Department is skilful and accurate at predicting future enrolment numbers. Educational leaders must plan and cater for growth.
The other, politically unpalatable option is to close schools that are no longer viable due to declining numbers and population shift. To be honest, I am yet to meet too many leaders willing to confront this challenge through guiding their communities to decisions.
Therefore, schools should look to maximise existing infrastructure. Duplication is not the answer. Repurposing, reusing and refurbishing are all worthwhile conversations that can improve engagement and motivation.
For schools with declining student numbers, don’t complain – make a statement. If children attend this school, they will receive the best education that can be provided.
School catchment zones and maps will always be a bone of contention in the community because it has a way of making people feel they’re either winning or losing. That’s simply not the case as maps are drawn with far more foresight.
Although, whether hectares of bush are added or a few streets, schools remain focused on providing the very best learning environment possible.
Education should be on the front page in Tasmania – but the stories must be about perseverance, improvement and success.
With everyone’s support, I have confidence that the most important profession will deliver just that.
- Brian Wightman is a former school principal and state Attorney-General