Page 3223 - Week 10 - Thursday, 17 September 2015

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We also know only too well the shining example that a former education minister, now our Chief Minister, set when he became education minister. On coming to the portfolio he immediately announced the closure of 23 schools. I guess that was one way of ensuring schools avoided the need for modernisation and strengthening. However, aside from the trauma the closures caused for ACT families, there was an equal number of difficulties for the schools that had to take the students from those closed schools. I do not think we have yet recovered from that blunder.

One only has to refer to an article in the Canberra Times this time last year that indicated that almost a quarter of Canberra’s public schools would be overcrowded in three years—it is now two years—and that 10 schools were already over capacity. The schools near or at capacity identified last year included North Ainslie, Garran, Ngunnawal, Kaleen and Aranda primary schools and Lyneham High School. Of course, all these claims were denied. In response to the research done by the Canberra Times, the education directorate said there was nothing to worry about and they had plans to manage such pressures, including demountables, transportables, repurposing spaces—we know how they do that in some schools—and re-jigging and reducing priority enrolment area boundaries. Eventually, however, that strategy of shifting boundaries and putting in quick fixes has to catch up with you, and I suspect we are nearing that reality.

Earlier this year we heard the story of a young Gungahlin mother who was concerned that her children would not be able to find places in the local primary school. There is no doubt growth rates in Gungahlin—around a 40 per cent increase in local school enrolments—are significant. If we are having problems in newer areas, what hope is there for schools in older suburbs? Again, it highlights the absolute folly of closing 23 schools some years ago.

We have some very old schools and, as with all old buildings, upgrades and maintenance issues are costly items. For some time no, I have been pressing the education minister on her 2012 election promise to inject new moneys into ageing infrastructure. While the minister claims increased moneys are going into schools, the reality is that it is not the additional funds promised widely in the last election.

In a debate earlier this year on ageing infrastructure, I highlighted a number of issues: our ageing asset stock; the ever-growing need for upgraded information and community technology infrastructure; the ongoing issues of car parking and traffic management; and the increased need and demand for security systems by way of fencing or closed-circuit TV and other preventative and surveillance measures to reduce vandalism.

One constant issue is whether we have adequate heating and cooling throughout all our schools. In 2014 the Australian Education Union requested the education directorate to conduct an audit of all ACT classrooms. The directorate’s own audit showed 73 of our schools lacked comprehensive cooling systems and 11 of our schools did not have cooling in their libraries. Admittedly, work has been done since then to reduce the number of affected schools, but I would be interested to know, if an audit was taken this week, what the new figures would be.

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