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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (21 April) . . Page.. 1081 ..

MR HIRD (continuing):

This is a very cogent argument, Mr Speaker, an argument not only put in this debate by the Government but also put by the representative of the Education Union.

The opponents of school amalgamation use the issue of access as a central theme in their opposition. Governments cannot guarantee that the distances which students will have to travel to schools will be the same across all suburbs. But there is an issue of equity when some families have access within their suburb whilst other children are required to travel across suburbs. Let us ensure that we do not provide unfair advantage to the older parts of Canberra, simply on an historical basis, whilst the newer areas are expected to make do with greater travel distances.

There is another important aspect to this debate which I want to raise, and that is the matter of funding. There is a terrible imbalance between funding for small schools and funding for larger schools. The president of the Primary Principals Association, in an article in the Canberra Times on 24 February last, wrote:

... examples of resource dilution are abundant. For example, the initiative by the ACT Government to support schools and the establishment of student computing facilities -

a wonderful initiative, if I may say so, Mr Speaker -

gave to schools with more than 150 students a minimum grant of $10,000 pa. Larger schools received a small per-capita supplementation. Thus one school with 165 students received $10,000 pa ($60 per student) whilst another with an enrolment of 410 students received $11,500 pa ($28 per student).

As can be seen from this illustration by Mr Griffin, there is considerable inequity in the way money is distributed on a per capita basis to schools and can be distorted between small and large schools. There are some other problems that arise with small schools. Staff report that they have quite different experiences in small schools. There are limited resources available to undertake playground supervision in small schools, it is more difficult to release staff for professional development, and general system responsibilities are shared between fewer people. This is not to say that small schools do not also have some advantage. They can provide a more professional form of teaching, and it is easier to concentrate on the individual student rather than on the whole class or a student group.

Mr Grant Battersby, in an article in the Canberra Times on 24 February this year, indicated that schools play a wider role in the community, acting as a focal point for the community. However, Mr Speaker, others have argued that such activities and costs should not be borne by the education system. At a time when resources are tight, the ACT economy is still in deficit and there are increasing demands for more efforts in educational fields such as literacy, numeracy, vocational education and information technology, should the education budget also meet the social costs of community activities? Can we afford to continue to provide the same level of access to services to the established parts of Canberra while the new areas are expected to do with less? Where is the equity in this?

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