By TONY FOSTER
PROVIDING our children with the best possible education must be the top priority for our community.
It is an old Chinese proverb, but true, that if you give a person a fish, he or she will eat for one meal, but if you teach them to fish, they will be fed for life. That is the important message regarding education. If we educate our children, they will become productive members of society and contribute to the well-being of our community and State.
If we are ever going to resolve important social issues such as unemployment, family breakdown, substance abuse, anti-social behaviour and the like, the provision of improved educational opportunities is a key.
It is for this reason that I was deeply involved in leading the Bridgewater and Southern Midlands Education Renewal Taskforce that resulted in the establishment of the Jordan River Learning Centre, and also my recent call for the development of a High School at Brighton.
Brighton is the fastest growing municipality in Tasmania, with the youngest demographic. We owe it to our community to ensure that the children growing up in our municipality have access to the best possible education resources and that this is provided locally.
Following on from the fires that destroyed the former Bridgewater High School, the Renewal Task Force consulted widely and involved some of the best educational, business and community minds available.
The Task Force worked assiduously for some six months and recommended a model that proposed primary education covering kindergarten to grade five, a middle school for years six to eight and a senior school taking in years nine to 12. Despite the strength and wisdom of this recommendation, unfortunately changes in the Education Department meant that the recommended model was dismantled before it even had a chance to prove itself. This was compounded by former Minister for Education Nick McKim who refused to consult with either the Task Force or the community and reverted to the traditional model of primary school up to grade six, followed by four years of high school, or six years in the case of the Jordan River Learning Centre.
Nevertheless, the big positive was the development of the Jordan River Learning Centre which has provided high standard facilities including post high school trade training opportunities and has significantly enhanced educational prospects for our young people, particularly those from Bridgewater, Herdsmans Cove and Gagebrook.
However, the Brighton Primary School community did not participate in the Task Force deliberations. As well, over the years, many parents have believed that a high school was required at Brighton and for a variety of reasons, their children have by-passed the former Bridgewater and current Jordan River campuses.
The reality is that past attitudes have not changed and the development of the Jordan River Learning Centre hasn’t resolved this basic problem.
Today, some eight buses a day as well as countless private vehicles, take children to and from Brighton to high schools and colleges outside the municipality.
This and Brighton’s continually growing school population clearly demonstrates that a high school at Brighton is needed and would be viable from a student population perspective.
Brighton and the surrounding area is one of the State’s fastest growing regions with the youngest demographic profile in Tasmania and the need for a new high school to cater for the area is clearly warranted.
I am advised that the Education Department has undertaken a demographic study of the region that clearly demonstrates the growing student potential and the new Liberal Government’s policy of extending high schools to take in years 11 and 12 further emphasises the need for a new high school at Brighton.
The past decade has seen a strong shift in secondary school enrolments from Brighton from the government to the non-government sector, with those attending state high schools dropping from 81 per cent in 2001 to 69 per cent in 2013.
As well, it’s estimated that 60 percent of all students leave the Brighton and Southern Midlands area to undertake high school studies, with a local retention rate of only 40 per cent. This fact coupled with the travel distances and times does little to encourage students to continue on to years 11 and 12, with only 28 per cent of the local population currently completing year 12 studies.
The Department’s demographic study serves to underline the fact that if the retention rate (those choosing to undertake high school studies locally) increases from the current 40 percent to just 75 per cent, up to 750 students would be accommodated in a local high school. And this figure is certain to increase in the future with the Brighton Primary School already having the largest kindergarten to grade six enrolment in Tasmania, and continuing to grow in line with the area’s population growth.
Undoubtedly , the current demand and predicted population growth in the Brighton and Southern Midlands areas over the next 20 years are more than enough to justify the development of a new high school. Importantly from a budget perspective, if a decision to proceed is made now it could be developed in a suitable time frame to meet the growing need.
The State Government should immediately identify a suitable site and begin planning the development of a new high school and on behalf of Brighton Council, I intend to seek an early meeting with the new Minister for Education Jeremy Rockliff to press the case.