Another ACT election has come and gone. At first glance it appears as if nothing much has changed. Labor will continue to govern with the support of the Greens, leaving the Liberals in opposition as they have been for the past 15 years. But what impact will this have on public education in Canberra?
Over the past year or so Council has been lobbying each major party. We’ve met with their candidates and pushed our five election priorities: support for every student, safe school roads, strong parent bodies, better facilities and co-ordinated management.
Council’s main election event, our education forum, was a great success. It enabled Council to clarify the various positions of each party. Parents and community members were given an opportunity to ask their own questions directly to the candidates.
Utilising all information available to us, Council’s election work group scored the response of each major party to our five priorities and issued our own Education Report Card.
There were a number of policies that stood out. The Liberals’ infrastructure commitment was significant as was their promise for flashing warning lights near every school. Council was impressed with the Greens’ $20 million promise of individual traffic management plans for every ACT government school. Council also got each party to agree to an enquiry into the problems around school autonomy.
At the end of the day, Labor won the election fairly convincingly, though they will again need the support of the Greens. It remains to be seen whether any of the Greens’ education policies will be adopted by the Labor/Greens coalition (the Greens’ focus seems to be on housing, political integrity and public transport). So what should we expect to see in the coming years?
First of all, more school psychologists with funding for an additional 20 around Canberra. A range of scholarships will be introduced for teachers to obtain advanced post-graduate qualifications in science, technology, engineering, maths and languages.
P&Cs should keep their eyes out for over $1.5 million in promised grants to schools and parent groups for projects that will enhance parental engagement.
There will be an extension of the active streets pilot, looking at ways to address traffic issues and road safety around schools. Twenty Canberra schools will also see ‘lollipop people’ patrol their road crossings.
School facilities should continue to improve with an extra $40 million or so to the school infrastructure upgrade budget. Money has been devoted to a new school in Molonglo and the expansion of others in Gungahlin.
All secondary students will also receive a tablet for use at school. While the details around the policy are yet to be confirmed, Labor have been mindful of the preference of many parents for chromebooks and other devices that include a keyboard.
Election promises are always welcome, but they’re just a start. Our schools need continued infrastructure upgrades to remain inspirational centres of learning. In a complicated and increasingly convoluted regulatory environment, P&Cs require additional backroom support so they can continue the important work that they do.
Over the past few years the ACT has witnessed the largest percentage increase in student numbers compared to the rest of the nation and we need to start planning for the future today.
There is a high degree of inequality in our schools. The gap between the educational outcomes of low socio-economic students and students with well-educated parents is huge. This disparity is simply not getting any better.
In the face of the bungled “cage” incident last year, the unique challenges of students with a disability and their carers cannot be ignored any longer.
As the election-induced excitement and energy recedes, Council will work hard to ensure our public school system gets the attention it deserves.
This article appeared in ParentACTion, Term 4, 2016. See other past editions of our quarterly magazine.