Council’s campaigning for public schools in the run-up to last year’s ACT election centred on five areas of need identified by delegates at our regular meetings:
- road safety around schools
- better facilities
- support for every student
- strong parent bodies
- co-ordinated management of schools
So how is progress going on the promises made in each of these areas?
Safe school roads
Progress is good against significant promises made which aim to address traffic congestion and student safety around schools. The Active Streets for Schools program has also been extended, which is very positive.
Promise: Trial of supervised school crossings
Progress: Council was able to secure a promise of school-crossing supervisors for Canberra’s 20 busiest school roads which has now been funded to the tune of $3.2 million. Supervisors will assist children to cross roads safely by directing traffic with a stop sign and instructing children. Andrew Crichton, Manager of the Schools Program at Transport Canberra, has let us know that they are working closely with the Education Directorate to investigate how similar programs work elsewhere
in Australia and develop a model that is most suitable for Canberra. They were initially aiming for the program to commence in term three this year but, given it is the first time a program of this type has been rolled out in the ACT, the decision was made to delay the implementation to ensure it “meets the needs and expectations of users”. The selection of schools is well under way, with the selection process due to be finished by term four and supervisors expected to be working on crossings by term one next year.
Promise: Individual traffic-management plans for each ACT school
Progress: Work has begun on these plans which will provide useful information to improve safety, increase active travel and reduce congestion at schools, as well as identify potential changes to roads or road marking around schools. Funding has been allocated in the ACT budget and plans are being developed by Transport Canberra in conjunction with schools. They are due to be completed for the 20 schools selected above by the beginning of next year. Transport Canberra inform us that once the crossing supervisor trial is up and running they will then “start developing traffic management plans for additional schools, however it is yet to be determined how the schools will be prioritised”.
Council is very pleased to see the commitment of funds in this area.
Promise: More funding for building upgrades
Progress: Significant additional funding for school infrastructure upgrades, expansions and new facilities were a highlight of the recent ACT budget where an additional $200million was committed over the budget period. Some works have begun (for example expansions at Amaroo School) and we look forward to seeing plans for how the remainder of the money will be spent and watching improvements being made to the school buildings which need it most.
Promise: Provision of portable devices for secondary students
Progress: The promise of a device for every ACT public school secondary student, eagerly anticipated by parents and students alike, was funded in this year’s budget. We hope to be briefed on the proposed roll-out and device types in our meeting with ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry in September.
Support for every student
Encompassing the need for full Gonksi funding, full implementation of the recommendations of the Review into Students with Complex Needs and Challenging Behaviour, and the allocation of funding for specialist teachers and interpreter services where needed, our wish-list here was long. We were able to secure some specific promises and there has been good progress.
Promise: Implementation of recommendations from the Review into Students with Complex Needs and Challenging Behaviours
Progress: The Education Directorate is continuing a long-running program of culture change and support for schools and parents in response to the recommendations of the 2015 expert-panel review. Parent briefings on progress have been held each term and some significant changes have been made. There is more work to be done to complete the plan and implement it across our schools. Council continues to support this.
The ACT budget also delivered funding for much needed school psychologists which Council hopes will be sufficient to create the promised 20 additional positions over the next four years, without having to cut corners in other areas. Progress has been slow but recruitment has now begun.
Promise: Scholarships for teachers to obtain advanced post-graduate qualifications in science, technology, engineering, maths and languages.
Progress: The ACT budget did allocate money for 25 scholarships a year to help teachers specialise in science, technology and maths.
Strong parent bodies
With the lack of volunteers being desperate in many schools, we asked for commitments which would boost volunteer skills and numbers in schools and provide administrative assistance to parent bodies running school services.
Promise: $1.5 million for small grants for which schools and P&Cs could apply to run projects that enhance parental engagement.
Progress: We were disappointed that this promise is not funded in the 2017-18 ACT budget.
Co-ordinated management of schools
Council believes that schools need stronger leadership from the Education Directorate, and better coordination between Directorates, on all matters affecting schools and education.
Promise: An enquiry into the problems around school autonomy
Progress: Such an enquiry no longer seems to be on the table. Council is hoping to pursue misgivings about the current system in the Future of Education consultation in which the Minister and Education Directorate is currently engaged.
This article appeared in ParentACTion, Term 3, 2017.