Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 07 Hansard (Thursday, 2 August 2018) . . Page.. 2653 ..
those who do not actively choose to send their child to a school other than their local one.
Also, interestingly, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics census of population and housing shows that the growth in the independent sector over the past few decades has come from households across all income brackets. I would suggest that the ACT is the most strongly evident of that fact, and puts paid to the claims of elitism that many want to tag supporters of non-government school education with. I would hope that we have moved on from the notion of elitism, the “us and them” approach that has marred much of the debate on education choice in this place.
Where parental choice has been constrained is in the inability at a number of ACT schools, both government and non-government, to take all the enrolments they receive. The pressure starts for parents at preschool. Parents are told that there is no place for their child at the local preschool and are told to send them elsewhere or, alternatively, are reminded that the year before kindergarten is not compulsory. In other words, don’t worry about sending them to preschool at all.
Pressure on preschool places is not limited to government schools. Unlike other jurisdictions, the ACT is the only one that does not offer financial support to non-government preschool education. We have in effect waiting lists at schools in many areas of the ACT, and that could get worse. Given recent media thought bubbles about extending preschool—or is it child care or is it both—to three-year olds, parental choice may well turn into “wherever we can find a place”.
There are a number of government schools that offer a particular program that a parent may wish to access but cannot because enrolments have been limited to those in the priority enrolment area and/or other selection criteria limitations because there is no ability to increase a school footprint, irrespective of demand or need. Lyneham high comes to mind.
The same may well apply to gifted and talented classes in primary schools. I have asked questions about the number and location of these classes, but the minister was at pains to tell me that such information is not centrally recorded. Is it any wonder then that we have capacity issues in schools when there is apparently such a dearth of data available within the directorate?
Capacity issues in ACT schools have not just happened and ought not to have been a surprise to planners. How areas such as Gungahlin can have a number of schools under enrolment pressure is baffling. New suburbs, of course, bring families and children who need an education. It is pleasing that a new school is under construction at Taylor, but it will not be ready to start taking students until the beginning of next year, and in the first instance will frankly just take the capacity pressure off other schools. In a short space of time these new areas will be populated and we will be back to where we are today, with parents in a race against time to enrol their child at the school of their choice.
Recently parents have learnt there is another restriction on their choice of schools, with the cuts to dedicated school buses. Particularly for parents of young children, the