Funding cuts announced by the West Australian Labor Government which will force the closure of the State’s Schools of the Air plus other regional educational programs have triggered a furious reaction from rural groups and families.
WA Education and Training Minister Sue Ellery said a range of budget measures will be implemented next year designed to reduce duplication and improve efficiency, saving an estimated $64 million and affecting around 170 positions.
She said six camp school sites run by the Department of Education will close, along with the Schools of the Air (SOTA). Funding will also cease for the Landsdale Farm School, an educational and rural environment for people with disabilities..
The School of Isolated Distance Education (SIDE), the major provider of distance education for rural and regional students, will take over the provision of education services delivered by SOTA, a move designed to eliminate duplication according to the Minister.
“The Department of Education will work with SOTA staff, students and families in 2018 to ensure SIDE offers the same quality education, including pastoral care services,” a media release announcing the cuts said.
“When the dollars are stretched to the limit, the State Government – like every responsible business and household – has to do things differently,” the Minister said in the release.
“This has not been easy, but tough decisions have had to be made to get WA’s finances back on track to fix the mess left by the previous Liberal National government.
“We’ve asked all parts of the community to help contribute to budget repair – the public sector, business, industry, individuals and families.
“Unfortunately, the Liberals and Nationals blocked a reasonable change to the gold royalty rate, and chose to protect profitable gold miners from doing their bit. This has meant other parts of the community, like education, have been forced to shoulder more of the burden.
“I understand this process is a difficult and challenging time, particularly for staff, and our biggest priority is to minimise any impact on students.”
Once again rural students hit hard by politics: WA Farmers
WAFarmers Senior Vice President Lyn Slade said regional and rural students were being “hit hard once again by politics”.
“We have already had the Boarding Away from Home Allowance cut which will see boarding school fees incrementally increase over the next four years, followed by the uncertain future of the state’s agricultural curriculum,” she said.
“Add on top of this the impending closure of a number of facilities important to the educational journey of regional and rural students, including six of the seven dedicated school camps run by the Department of Education, and it could be said that agricultural education in WA is being cheated.
“We understand the need to reduce duplication of services, however the removal of five independent schools in the regions in favour of one overarching online-learning hub in Leederville is not the way to do it as students will lose valuable face-to-face interactions with their teachers.
“Clearly, these changes may have devastating for regional and rural families which rely on the existing residential accommodation and camp school options.
“How are we meant to keep children in the regions when services of this nature are being cut left, right and centre?
“We also question the timing of these cuts, given the announcement earlier this week that a new $68 million inner city college will be built in Subiaco – this can’t be mere coincidence?”
Mrs Slade said the lack of consultation between the government and groups advocating for rural families and education was extremely disappointing.
“This decision demonstrates utter disrespect for regional, rural and remote education, and for the students and their families who rely on these facilities and deserve fair access to education.”
NTCA: Schools of the Air Critical to the Outback
In the wake of the announcement, Northern Territory Cattlemens’ Association President Tom Stockwell paid tribute to the staff and students of the NT’s ‘Schools of the Air’ in Alice Springs and Katherine as they hold their end of year functions, and described the WA Government’s move to close their sister schools as an “unbelievable” decision.
Mr Stockwell said Schools of the Air were part of the glue that held remote communities together as children grew up and were taught at home by parents and governesses and had ‘on-air’ lessons from teachers over the Interactive Distance Learning Satellite Internet service from the NT Education department.
Most important for the students were the few visits to school in town where they get to spend time with their teachers and class mates.
Mr Stockwell’s wife Bev, who schooled their three children through the Katherine School of the Air, said the School of the Air community was absolutely critical for remote children who don’t get the same chances to play team sports or share in school activities as town children.
“The quality of the education provided is evidenced by how well KSA students do when they by necessity go away to boarding schools for secondary education”, Mrs Stockwell said.
“Over generations the schools have educated bush kids, and been central to life-long friendships and community support and learning in a challenging remote environment.”
Family life in the outback of the NT would be ‘unthinkable’ without the Schools of the Air, the NTCA said.
As of this morning a Change.org petition calling for the WA Government to reverse the funding cuts had attracted 21,320 signatures of the 25,000 sought. More details here