BRIGHTON Council’s serious concerns at the impact of the Department of Education’s proposed changes to school enrolment have drawn the ire of Education Minister Nick McKim who claims the amendments are not about taking freedom of choice away from parents.
Brighton’s concerns, outlined in a detailed letter from Mayor Tony Foster to Minister McKim published in the September issue of Brighton Community News, pointed out that proposed criteria for out-of-home-area school enrolments would discourage parents from seeking what they believed to be best for their children.
Brighton’s representations have drawn support from Labor Government MP Rebecca White and Liberal spokesman Michael Ferguson.
Mayor Foster says if the proposals are implemented, parents will have to negotiate a formidable series of hurdles and bureaucratic maze if they want to enrol a child in a school outside their designated home area.
He said the Department of Education had not attempted to explain the need to change the existing policy or outlined how it would improve education outcomes.
“The irrational policy proposal is vehemently opposed by the Brighton Primary School Association and Council is aware that the changes, if implemented will adversely affect many families in the municipality,” Cr Foster said.
In a letter to the Mayor, Minister McKim said the proposed changes would provide schools and the community with a consistent approach for considering out-of-home-area enrolments.
“I would also like to point out that there has never been unfettered choice for every parent to determine which government school his or her child should attend. Attendance at another school outside the individual child’s home area has always been subject to availability of a place at that school,” Mr McKim said.
Cr Foster said he was well aware of this, however the new proposals would impose significant hurdles and appeared more designed to scare parents off from making the best educational choice for their children.
Mr McKim denied that parents and schools had not been cut out of the consultation process on the changes.
“Any feedback that came to my office was forwarded for consideration by the Reference Group, and many submissions from schools, school associations, individuals and councils were received by the Education Department,” the Minister said.
Cr Foster said as concerns had been raised throughout the State, it appeared neither the Department nor the Minister were giving due consideration to the feedback from the community.
Labor Government MP for Lyons Rebecca White has also raised concerns at the proposed changes.
“I acknowledge the many issues raised by schools within my electorate about the proposed changes and agree that the proposed policy would have a detrimental impact on the right of families to choose the state school that best suits their child’s needs,” Ms White said.
“I have also written to Minister McKim and urged him to abandon the proposed changes and will continue to work with my Labor colleagues to ensure concerns about this policy are made clear to the Minister.”
Brighton’s position is also supported by the State Opposition with Shadow Education Minister Michael Ferguson also writing to Mayor Foster to encourage Council to continue to press for the abandonment of a poor policy decision.
“Excluding choice is clearly not going to encourage better educational outcomes and in my view, will only lead to more parents feeling they have no choice but to leave public education,” Mr Ferguson said.
Mayor Foster said with both the Labor and Liberal Parties critical of Mr McKim’s proposed changes to school enrolments, it was time for the Minister to “listen to the community, reject his ill-considered policy and allow freedom of choice in education to prevail.”
“Despite the Minister’s protestations, we will not let this go.
“The Brighton community, like communities throughout Tasmania, want what is best for our children and we will not stand by while good education outcomes are jeopardised by what promises to be a bureaucratic nightmare and a Minister who fails to listen,” Cr Foster said.