Community wants freedom of education choice

By TONY FOSTER

THE September issue of Brighton Community News featured a letter I had written to the Minister for Education Nick McKim, raising serious concerns at his department’s proposed changes to school enrolments that will make it extremely difficult for parents to choose the state school they want their children to attend.The new school-home-area policy, if implemented and proposed to take effect from 1 January 2015, will require parents to negotiate a bureaucratic maze if they want to enrol their children in schools outside their home area.

My letter to Mr McKim outlined a series of formidable hurdles the policy would place in front of parents and expressed the view held by many people in Brighton and beyond that the changes were calculated to scare people off from seeking what they believed best for their children’s education.

I pointed out that the proposed changes would adversely affect many young families in the Brighton municipality, which has the youngest age demographic in the state and more significantly, they would remove the freedom of choice for every parent to determine which government school his or her child should attend.

Well my letter certainly attracted the Minister’s attention, and its publication in the newspaper also drew comment from both the Labor and Liberal parties.

In a response that would fit proudly into a script from the television series Yes Minister, Mr McKim reiterated the bureaucratic reasoning of his Department without explaining the need for change or how it would improve education outcomes. He did express a commitment to consult with the community, but it seems he has little respect for the feedback he has received.

For example, as well as Brighton Council, the Brighton Primary School Association, the largest parents’ organisation in our municipality, has vehemently opposed what it views as an irrational policy change and I am aware of similar views held by school and community groups from throughout Tasmania.

Importantly, concerns that the proposed changes are detrimental to parents, students and education outcomes are shared by both the Labor and Liberal parties. Labor Government MP Rebecca White has urged Minister McKim to abandon the policy and Liberal spokesman Michael Ferguson has expressed his strong opposition to the changes.

With both the Labor and Liberal parties (holding 20 of the 25 seats in the House of Assembly) both opposed to the changes, why is Minister McKim continuing to pursue his department’s ill-planned policy?

Is it another case of the bureaucratic tail wagging the government dog, or is it simply Mr McKim’s blind adherence to the Greens’ determination to restrict the community’s freedom of choice?

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