President’s comment 29 April 2013
Government must understand true value of educational assets.
Many comments made today by the Education Minister in relation to potential school closures and sales ring alarm bells.
The Minister has claimed that there will be extensive consultation with communities before decisions are made. This government has an extremely poor record so far on undertaking any consultation at all, particularly with the QTU and its members, preferring to govern through the media (as we saw on 28 April with the consultation-free announcement about major changes to behaviour management).
A consequence of that lack of consultation is that many education-related announcements have shown a poor understanding of how state schools actually operate in their local communities.
In making decisions about school closures and sales, the Minister must respect the fact that schools are more than educational facilities; they are also community hubs. This is particularly true in regional areas which often rely on local schools for access to sporting facilities, halls for public gatherings and resource centres.
Consultation must also take into account the impacts of school closures on surrounding schools, including whether nearby schools have capacity for significant growth.
Decisions must be made with a view to long-term need both across the state and in specific regions, including analysis of projected enrolments, not just historic trends.
That thinking includes examining how the Queensland Government could support communities and their schools to help them become, in the Government’s words, more “viable”. This could include providing more resources to ensure schools can offer the broad curriculum that their communities need, strengthening both the school and the community.
The Minister has said that students “shouldn’t be studying in crumbling relics that are falling down”. That is true, so the Minister has a responsibility to fix them. He has said that funds from any school asset sales will be redirected into maintaining other schools; that is acceptable as long as he means significant facility upgrades, as was the case in the State Schools of Tomorrow program. It is not acceptable to sell real assets to cover day-to-day maintenance costs; that would be like a growing family selling the backyard to pay for painting the house.
The QTU acknowledges that school renewal is an ongoing and necessary process, but decisions must be made for the right reasons. The same is true for TAFE assets; selling any educational assets for an instant boost to the government’s bottom line would be poor decision making indeed.
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