Money for new schools but not librarians

The ACT Government announced its budget for 2019-20 in early June. How did schools fare?

Each year Council submits a wish list for the ACT budget. We gather together the biggest needs and wants of the system, as voiced by parents and representatives at our meetings, into a formal budget submission. Then we watch with anticipation to see if any of our suggestions are taken up and funded.

It’s a process that has been fruitful in the past. So what about this year’s budget?

“One of the biggest challenges for our schools at the moment is growth,” said Council President, Kirsty McGovern-Hooley. “Our submission included the need for more schools in Gungahlin, as well as an additional school in central Belconnen and the Inner North. We were very pleased to see funding for an additional primary and high school in the Gungahlin suburbs of Throsby and Kenny.”LibrarianPic

Council was also very pleased to see funding for expansions to Gungahlin College, Franklin Primary School, Gold Creek senior campus, Lyneham High and Hawker Primary schools, but we remain concerned that more needs to be done to accommodate the increases in student numbers that are expected in the ACT.

An area of major concern and focus for Council at the moment is violence in schools and we had asked for funds to be committed to programs that could assist. “We have been working closely with 

the Directorate on community-based solutions to violence in schools,” said Ms McGovern-Hooley. “We are seeing that more can be done in this space. This is a complex issue that requires a targeted approach for staff, students and parents.”

Our report on the back page of this magazine  has more detail on the outcomes of our work and consultation with parents on better managing school violence, and what it should mean for schools. While we were pleased to see funding set aside in the budget to address occupational violence, there was no direct allocation of funds to support students experiencing violence in schools. Council expects therefore that new initiatives will be funded out of existing Directorate budgets.

Another major item missing from the budget was a commitment to properly staff public school libraries.

“We need targeted funding to ensure that every school has a qualified Teacher-Librarian,” said Ms McGovern-Hooley.

“Students and teachers need strong library services today more than ever. Qualified library staff teach kids to negotiate the morass of information on the internet – to sort fact from fiction – and access and assess information they can trust.”

“Teacher Librarians also excite students and instill the love of reading. They collaborate with classroom teachers and help them cater for individual student needs,” she said.

“I’ve seen for myself how valuable it is when a Teacher Librarian puts a really appropriate book in front of a kid at just the right time – a book in tune with their needs and interests or one which is culturally appropriate.”

“In fact, studies show that qualified librarians raise literacy levels in schools.”

“Every child needs that expertise, regardless of the school they attend. But we know that public schools are much less likely to have Teacher Librarians than other schools,” said Ms McGovern-Hooley.

Council also asked for changes to school funding to accommodate gifted and talented students, and this did not appear in this year’s Territory budget either.

Gifted and talented students often require adjustments to be made to their curriculum and learning plan. At the moment, these adjustments must be resourced from a school’s general revenue. In fact, in some schools gifted and talented students are not formally recognised. Council would like to see specific needs-based funding allocated to gifted and talented students in the same way in which funding is adjusted for students with a disability.

In our submission to the budget process Council also asked for a counsellor or youth worker in every school to address student wellbeing and mental health and to reach out to disengaged students. The Directorate is continuing to recruit school psychologists but more funding is required to address the need.

Council would also like to see the employment of Community Liaison Officers. Some schools have allocated part of their budget to similar positions to provide a vibrant and personal link between schools and families. We asked the ACT Government to fund these positions at two schools for a two year trial, to develop school outreach and communication strategies and build community confidence and understanding. We will continue to ask!

With 2020 an election year here in the ACT, Council will continue to talk to decision makers about the needs of ACT schools and families. Our experience is that persistence pays off. Where we have made repeated calls, and continually said why something is needed, we have managed to get significant new ideas funded – like the school crossing supervisors who are now keeping kids safe on our busiest school crossings. 

This article appeared in ParentACTion Magazine, Term 3, 2019.