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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 689


Senator REID(4.16) —I must bring before the Senate the plight of the Curtin Primary School and the problem it has with its teacher numbers for this year. Firstly, I remind the Senate that there are guidelines for the numbers of teachers, for staffing levels, which apply in our schools and that the argument that is being presented at present is not on the basis that the formula is wrong or in principle ought not to be applied. I am saying that it ought not to be applied against the best interests of the school, as I believe it to be, three or four weeks after school has commenced. The agreed figure on the demographic information available for what was expected at the Curtin Primary School in 1985 was 298 students. I believe that was agreed to in November or December last year.

When school commenced in 1985 there were 11 children fewer than that number and subsequently, at the census date, only 10 fewer than that number. As soon as the Principal realised that this had occurred she realised that on a mathematical formula it might mean that she would have her staff cut by 0.3 of a teacher. She contacted the Primary Staffing Officer of the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority and was assured that it was most unlikely, in view of the difficulty of reorganisation, that she would suffer the loss of a teacher as it was inappropriate. I certainly agree that it was most inappropriate. If the situation had come about prior to school starting and the Principal, Miss Chalker, had been told that she would have one less teacher, she may have been able to reorganise her classes so as to take that into account.

There are now 288 students and they are divided into 10 classes. You will appreciate, Mr President, that they are not all of the same year. The classes cover kindergarten to grade 6 and the numbers that Miss Chalker would have to have in her classrooms now if she lost a teacher are considerably higher. There would have to be mainly composite classes throughout the school. I suggest that with composite classes there should be fewer students in the classroom rather than more. As a result she would get an additional 0.6 per cent of a teacher. In a high school this might not matter because there are subject teachers. In primary schools the teachers are classroom teachers, so if the Principal loses 0.3 of a teacher and loses a classroom mistress she has to reorganise the whole school to have nine classrooms instead of 10-and this is after the school year has commenced.

What horrifies me most of all about this is that it is all talked about in numbers. No regard whatever is paid to the fact that the classes cover kindergarten to grade 6. Grade 6 is a particularly crucial year. The children in that year are finishing their primary education and being prepared for high school-a very significant change. If Miss Chalker is forced to reorganise her school there will probably have to be composite classes of grades 5 and 6. I suggest that this is grossly unfair to the students in grade 6. The numbers for the three higher groups in the school would be 34, 35 and 36. I think that is undesirable. I suggest that in primary education the teacher arrangements cannot be readjusted in this manner, especially after the school year has commenced.

I point out also that the Curtin Primary School is the only place in the Woden Valley with two special classes-a learning centre and a junior assessment class. The JAC students are there for special tuition but they also spend some time in the main classrooms, where they get the opportunity to intergrate. I wonder what weighting has been given to that fact. It appears to me that no weighting has been given to it. I do not suggest that the 18 students in that class could be added on to the total number at the school but I suggest that there is a lower number which represents the impact. I wonder whether, in fact, if the school had finished up with more students than the number agreed to, it would have been given extra teachers. I seriously doubt it.

I say to the Minister that I think she must intervene and look at this as a problem of children and education and not just of numbers. The school has been told to get rid of a teacher. It is under great pressure to do so. There is no doubt that it has difficulties. It cannot get an answer from anybody. The Schools Commission seems to think it is a decision for the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority. The Schools Authority says it is a matter for the Department of Finance, which deals only in money and certainly not in numbers of children. It is a matter for the Minister to look into and to resolve. It is an important primary school in the schools system. It has a good reputation. To interfere with its staffing formula at this stage of the year is irresponsible.