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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1090


Senator REID(10.24) —On 22 March I raised the question of staffing in one of the primary schools in the Australian Capital Territory, the Curtin Primary School. I dealt on that occasion-it being the Friday afternoon adjournment debate-with just one of the 11 schools which we had problems with the staffing formula as it has been applied in 1985 by the officer of the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority. On that occasion Senator Gietzelt, the Minister present, said:

Senator Reid has raised a very interesting problem which obviously requires attention by the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan).

He went on to say:

I will see that it is drawn to the Minister's attention and I hope that some response will be made early next week to the matter that has been raised.

Certainly the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) has discussed this matter with the Australian Teachers Federation and, I guess, with members of the Schools Authority. It was reported in the Canberra Times that she had expressed considerable sympathy for the problem faced by the primary schools, but unfortunately no change has been brought about in the attitude of the Schools Authority to the schools which have been affected. I certainly know that a number of parents who had wanted to discuss the matter with the Minister, and who have not been able to, are disappointed about that fact and hopefully she will at some stage find time to discuss the matter with parents.

Originally 11 schools were affected by the problem that I shall identify. The problem has been resolved, one way or another, in a couple of those schools but the teachers support resolution of the matter in Campbell, Curtin, Mount Neighbour and Wanniassa primary schools. I personally would add a couple of others to the list, but I accept the view of the teachers that there are four schools for which there is still a very good case for resolution.

We operate in the Australian Capital Territory on a formula for the staffing of primary schools of one teacher for 30 pupils. That formula has operated since 1979. It was conveyed by the then Minister for Education to the Chairman of the Schools Authority in a letter which set out the basis of the staffing formula. It stressed the need for organisational stability in the schools. I suggest that it is perhaps that aspect of the matter that is not receiving sufficient attention, in the consideration of the staffing in these four remaining schools. The problem in each case is that this year, on the day that is classified as census day, when school resumed in February, each of the schools finished up with fewer pupils than had been projected. The numbers that were expected had not been put forward by the schools themselves, and they had not been dreamed up by principals and added to and multiplied in the hope that they would finish up with more teachers. They were numbers which had been agreed upon based upon demographic figures of the National Capital Development Commission and the Schools Authority. I am not suggesting that it is the fault of anyone in particular. The consequence of this is that children in our primary schools are having their education disrupted. It certainly was not the schools which made the mistake.

The Evatt Primary School was given five teachers more than it finished up being entitled to. The number it was told it should cater for was 570. The number the Evatt Primary School community expected was in the vicinity of 420 to 440. It in fact got 420 initially and then 441 within a few days. If it had been allowed to accept its figure initially, it would not have been in the mess in which it finished up, of having to reorganise totally.

In a primary school, one teacher being withdrawn or even, as in the case of Curtin, 0.4 of a teacher being withdrawn, means that a whole class is without a teacher and the whole school has to be reorganised to compensate. Children in the Australian Capital Territory do not turn up at school in neat little numbers of 30 to go into a class at any level-kindergarten, grade one or anything else-so some flexibility needs to be used in working out how to put children into classes. There are in a number of cases as a consequence composite classes. In the lower grades, perhaps, this is not harmful and does not really matter. I suggest, though, that when it comes to grade six children it is not in the best interests of their education. Grade six is an absolutely vital year for children to be educated to go into the high school system. One of the schools affected, in a newer area, has finished up with 17 pupils in grade six. The number will probably grow during the year, but it looks as though it will not have a grade six class. It will have to have a composite grade five-six class. I suggest that those children, in spite of the dedication of the teachers who are looking after them, are being disadvantaged.

To look more specifically at the schools, Campbell Primary School finished up with one teacher being withdrawn. Campbell Primary School confidently and reasonably expects its numbers to grow during this year because of the staff moving into the Defence Force Academy, many of whom will be living in the area of the Campbell Primary School and will be enrolling their children there. What is even more absurd is that the teacher in question was withdrawn from the school and sent to the O'Donnell Education Centre. That is another story in itself. At the same time the facilities of the O'Donnell Education Centre have been totally withdrawn from benefiting children at non-government schools because the centre cannot cope with the service being extended. It seems quite absurd that in those circumstances, of withdrawing the facility from all the non-government schools, a teacher should be sent there from the Campbell Primary School. I attended a meeting last night that was held at Stirling College. The principal of the Campbell Primary School, Mr Jarvis, explained that Campbell is now only seven children short of the number which would enable it to have the extra teacher, and yet she is being withdrawn.

In relation to the Curtin Primary School I will not go through again the details that I gave on 22 March. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a letter dated 7 March 1985, which sets out information, and the attachment to it, which gives a breakup of the numbers of the classes depending on whether the school finishes up with nine or 10 teachers.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

CURTIN PRIMARY SCHOOL

Carruthers St, Curtin, ACT 2065. Telephone 81 0555

7th March 1985 Director (Resources)

Office of the A.C.T. Schools Authority

In this submission I propose to outline the reasons why the Principal and Staff of Curtin Primary School believe that the staffing level should remain as calculated on the agreed figure and the possible outcomes if the formula is applied strictly to the present enrolment.

(a) The agreed figure; the agreed figure (298) upon which we were staffed was drawn from the best available information-demographic figures, local information and numbers of children in the school.

(b) Minimal difference; the difference is only 11 children. Since the census date, in fact only 10.

(c) This school community is quite confident that the difference will be made up this Semester. In 1983 the school was reorganised (at the very beginning of its existence) because there were extra children after Census Day.

In 1984 parents made successful representations for extra staff for a similar rise in numbers, and the school was re-organised.

(d) On Census Day (8.2.85) I checked the mathematics of the formula with the primary Staffing Officer, acknowledging a drop in numbers, but was assured that a cut in staff (for .3) was unlikely, and in view of the difficulty of re-organisation, inappropriate.

(e) Substantial re-organisation; Attachment A shows the nature of the changes necessary to re-organise for the deficit of 10 children.

(f) This school community believes it has special reasons for requesting the retention of the present staff. Please see attached letter from the School Board. (B)

Also the school accommodates two special classes, Learning Centre and J.A.C., the only ones in the Woden Valley. Teachers have willingly implemented the Authority policy on integration of special children but with increased numbers, in composite classes, it would be unreasonable to expect them to accept these, sometimes difficult, children, and the programme would suffer.

As can be seen from Attachment A, all classes in the school would be altered. Fifty one families would be distressed by changes for their children, twenty of whom would be seen to have been ''put back''.

The Principal and Assistant Principal spent 25 hours of individual interviewing (apart from work done by staff in 1984) to establish appropriate placings for children.

A re-organisation now would be impossible to justify educationally and there would be discontent and stress for the rest of the year.

Staff have made suggestions about ways to cope with a drop in staff, without re-organising all classes, or having to accept a compulsory transfer-if necessary we could offer .4 of specialist help of various kinds to another school which was both short staffed and nearby.

Two Band 2 Officers with Band 3 eligibility, one of whom is a nominated compulsory transferee for 1985, have and will continue to apply for Band 3 positions. If one were successful it would be possible to replace her with a Band 1.6 part-time teacher until the end of the year.

It would not be possible to use a part-time teacher to avoid re-organisation unless a sharing arrangement was established with one of the senior staff presently providing the relief component. This would mean teachers relinquishing their relief time, and all those special activities which add lustre to our programs would be reduced or abandoned. This proposal would have to come from staff and could not be imposed.

Parent members of the Board are very concerned at the proposal to re-organise the school, both from their own point of view and that of parents as a whole, and about the likely effect on pupil and parent morale. They request the opportunity to discuss the matter with representatives of the Office of the Schools Authority before a decision is taken. Implementation of any adverse decision should be delayed to enable them to consider their position. Dr Price refused an interview on 6 March, but I believe a confrontation of some kind with parents is inevitable.

There has been much talk of children leaving Government schools for the private systems. The numbers of children who have done so at Curtin is insignificant in the overall scheme. However in my experience children (or their parents) do not change systems because of poor teaching, inadequate programs, lowered standards, crowded classes, cranky Principals or industrial action by teachers, or any of the oft-quoted evils of Government systems. They leave because of what their parents perceive as instability, unpredictability, staff intransigence (or in transit-ence). They want to know where their child will be this year and at least next year, and with what teacher. The most important links are the human ones, the relationships which are formed with teachers and other children. It is the sudden breaking of these relationships, and the loss of the rapport which has developed, which is justly seen as disruptive to the learning process and distressing to the parent, teacher and child alike.

The Public Relations aspects of this exercise are most distressing to this staff. Teachers do not wish to be seen by parents as disorganised, or careless of children's welfare. They do not want to renege on the careful placement arrangements they have made for children, and they hate having to tell parents that the situation is out of their control. They are concerned for the good name and credibility of their Principal, their school and their system.

Should this submission be unsuccessful and it becomes necessary to nominate a teacher for compulsory transfer, I will notify the office accordingly.

Mavis Chalker Principal

TO FORM 9 CLASSES IF NECESSARY

Present figures

K 29 + 8 new to come = 37 K/1 17 (to be enlarged from K) = 17 1/2 17 + 13 = 30 2/3 17 + 13 = 30 3 31 = 31 4 30 = 30 4/5 9 + 17 = 26 5 29 = 29 6. 30 = 30 6 29 = 29

288

Reorganisation

K 29 + 8 new - 8 to K/1 at Easter 29 K/1 17 + 8 from K + 6 from 1/2 (25 + 6) 31 1/2 17 - 6 x 1sts + 13 + 6 from 2/3 (11 + 19) 30 2/3 17 - 6 x 2nds + 13 + 6 from 3rd (11 + 19) 30 3/4 30 - 6 (to 2/3) + 6 from 4th (24 + 6) 30 4 30 - 6 (to 3/4) + 9 from 4/5 33 4/5 eliminated - 17 to 5th - 5 29 + 17 from 4/5 - 12 to 5/6 34 5/6 30 + 12 from 5th - 7 to 6th (12 + 23) 35 6 29 + 7 from 6th 36

288


Senator REID —The numbers at Curtin Primary School have already increased. It has 12 more students since the time in question. Mount Neighbour Primary School was 18 students short and, of course, it loses a significant portion of a teacher. I wish that all honourable senators could have heard Mrs Sue Riley, the President of that school's Parents and Citizens Association, explain what the loss of a teacher mid-term has done to that school. The timing is appalling. Surely, if it is to happen, it could have been done quite differently from the way it has been done.

I shall not again go into details of the Evatt Primary School because apparently agreement has been reached that the teachers will go and the school will be reorganised mid-term, which I find extraordinary. The Wanniassa Primary School is losing a teacher to Taylor. Wanniassa is an expanding area. It is quite clear that in Oxley there are a number of children who will go to the Wanniassa school during this year. So the numbers are likely to change considerably. There are currently 250 houses being built in Oxley. At the beginning of the year the Schools Authority apparently forecast 42 extra children and then changed the number to 20. The consequence is that all the other children will have their classes totally reorganised and disrupted. Mr President, I also seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a notice which was prepared by the Principal of the Wanniassa Primary School setting out the points and the impact on the school of what in fact has occurred.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

IMPORTANT NOTICE TO PARENTS OF WANNIASSA PRIMARY SCHOOL

Staffing cuts

Most parents will be aware that for the past three weeks Wanniassa Primary School has been threatened by the removal of a class teacher, which has now occurred, because of the A.C.T. Schools Authority's decision not to staff our school on projected enrolments from Oxley-a decision made in March, ten weeks into Term 1.

There have been many news items in the ''Canberra Times'':

''Teachers given transfer notices''-5.4.85

''Teachers to plan action on transfers at meeting''-11.4.85

and lastly

''Ryan backs decision to move teachers''-13.4.85.

While most information put in the press and TV news bulletins has more or less given the correct picture, up until last weekend at least, the news item in the ''Canberra Times'' dated 13 April 1985 does not.

The first misleading statement is:

''Schools where actual enrolments were different from projections knew that staffing adjustments were likely.''

Taken together with the following paragraph, this could, and is probably meant to, give the impression that Principals of those schools are bad managers for not organising the school to cope with the adjustments when they came. That is how I read it and that is what I am told the tactics are meant to be-to try and put the blame for all the disruption in the schools, and the consequent insecurity and concern, on the Principals' shoulders.

First point: Principals could only know that staffing adjustments were likely, at the earliest, three weeks ago, that is, half way through the term. The statement in the paper gives the impression that Principals knew at the beginning of the year (although, of course, the Schools Authority is careful not to say that). Actually, quite the contrary idea was given to me one week before the school year commenced, when the Staffing Officer said that I would be getting another full-time teacher, extra to my entitlement, based on the predicted 515 pupils by July. I questioned this, checked my calculations which showed, if anything, that I was only entitled to an extra part-time teacher, and so asked why I was getting this teacher. I was given to understand that my Oxley enrolments would be sufficient to warrant her retention, if needed. Hardly a way of telling me that I would be overstaffed and in danger of losing staff!

Second point: Later, after the census, when indeed our February enrolments were down by 32 on the February prediction, Mr Tim Boutsis left and was not replaced. Also the teacher whom I did not want originally was transferred to Belconnen High School. These losses more than compensated for the drop in the predicted February enrolment, and even at that time I had no knowledge that the estimated 42 Oxley enrolments would not be counted as part of our enrolment for assessing staff entitlements.

Third point: About four weeks ago I was told that the demographe had gone back to the NCDC for another assessment of what to expect from Oxley by mid-July, and that the new estimate was to be about 20. Even so, there was little to worry about in regard to retaining our 14 Band 1 teachers, particularly since enrolments were coming in from Wanniassa in addition to Oxley.

Fourth Point: It was not until I was asked to have a contingency plan ready for class reorganisation in case I should lose a teacher that I knew what was being tried. This direction was given just prior to the parent meeting (Monday, 1 April) which was called to explain the Schools Authority's action to you and at which Mr Peter O'Connor, the President of the A.C.T. Teachers' Federation, spoke. The School Board met directly after that meeting, and composed and had typed a letter objecting to the proposed reduction. This letter was addressed to the Chief Education Officer with copies to Senator Ryan and Mrs Ros Kelly as well as the Chairman of the A.C.T. Schools Authority and Staffing Officers. The letter and the copies were delivered by hand the next day. The Chief Education Officer and Staffing Officers would have had the letter in their hands before 9.00 a.m. on Tuesday, 2 April. No reply has been received by the Board or me personally, to date.

Mrs Annette Lewer was given a transfer notice to Taylor Primary School late on Thursday, 4 April, in spite of many phone calls by parents and attempts to see the Chief Education Officer, Dr Hancock. Although Mrs Lewer injured her right wrist and was on sick leave last week (which the Staffing Officers knew because I told them), she was sent a telegram and later a letter telling her that she was on unauthorised leave and therefore could not teach her class even if she wanted to.

For the four days of last week Mrs Lewer's class has been taught by myself and Mr Maher (Assistant Principal), to avoid disrupting the Year 1 classes (reducing three classes to two and taking Mrs Harrison to teach Mrs Lewer's class). The 17 classes were maintained in the hope that those responsible for Mrs Lewer's transfer would see the nonsense in transferring her to a school (Taylor Primary School) which already had an extra teacher, not on a class, and which would then gain two extra teachers (supernumeraries) for the rest of the term. Meanwhile Wanniassa would be forced either to reorganise classes for four weeks, until the end of term, or suffer very difficult administrative restrictions, with the Principal and Assistant Principals trying to make a teacher available from among the remaining staff.

You will see how important it is to receive the truth about what is happening to your school by referring to the school staff or the School Board or the P. and C. Executive who know, rather than be misled by what you read in the paper. It is also important for you to attend the Public Meeting tonight, at 7.30 p.m. at Stirling College, if you can possibly go.

Whatever the outcome of the strenuous efforts being made on your behalf by the School Board, P. and C. and individual parents, as well as the total staff, you can be sure that teachers at this school always consider the children first and will spare no effort to protect them.

Many of you who come into the school often, know that we are a dedicated, unified and happy staff, assisted by generous and happy parents. Left to ourselves we operate an efficient and properly managed school where individual rights are always upheld and where help to those in need is always offered.

We intend to keep the school unified and happy in spite of all this unnecessary disruption and mischief which has caused so much personal hardship.

15 April 1985 Judith Kedge Principal


Senator REID —It seems extraordinary that the teacher being withdrawn from Wanniassa is being sent to the Taylor Primary School, which already has an extra teacher not with a class. So that school will have two supernumeraries. I am at a loss to explain how that would be regarded as reasonable. I understand that one of the teachers from one of the schools was being sent to the Farrer Primary School and the Principal of that school did not even know that he was getting an extra teacher.

The problem exists not only in relation to those schools which are losing teachers but also in relation to the receiving schools. I have heard the explanation of what has occurred at the Duffy Primary School. Again, unfortunately, a grade 6 class is being affected. The class was to have had a particular teacher at the beginning of this year. That teacher was sent relieving to some other school. So the children in grade 6 at Duffy had a casual who replaced their teacher. Now the class is to get a teacher from one of the overendowed schools. The transferee is to take up her position at Duffy either today or tomorrow, which is well into first term. She will be there until the actual teacher who has not been teaching at the school so far this year returns at, I think, the end of June. So by July of this year that grade 6 class will have had three different teachers, not allowing, or course, for any relief teachers it may have had during that time because of the sickness of a teacher or for any other reason.

What concerns me most about all of this is the particular hardship and the particular difficulty for the grade 6 classes which have been affected. I am also concerned about the problems for kindergarten children who just do not get the opportunity to get to know a teacher and who have been put in different classes during the first term. The real problem is, of course, that the children are being regarded merely as numbers in schools; they are not being regarded as young people in need of education. This is not a political issue; it is quite clearly a question of the administration of the way in which teachers are allocated to schools. If a mistake was made in the counting and the numbers that ought to be compensated for. There is no way that it can be suggested that the schools were at fault. If it is a matter of going to the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) and saying 'We have made a mistake and we need a little more money to compensate for this in four schools for a short period', that should be done. But given the transfers that are taking place, I question seriously whether money has anything to do with it at all although I must say that within this community a number of suggestions have been made as to why this has occurred. Everybody seems to be blaming everbody else. The most popular recipient of blame is the Department of Finance. There is no way that I can see that the Department could possibly be making the decisions or be responsible. I suggest to the Minister for Education that perhaps she should intervene to see whether more money can be obtained if necessary, not that I believe that is the case. The Minister should talk to the Schools Authority. Now that it has been agreed that the problem exists specifically and critically in respect of four schools she should see whether a solution can be found for them so that the children in our primary schools can be given stability and can get on with their education without the sort of disruption to which I have briefly referred this evening.

I think we need to know, and the Minister needs to confirm it, whether or not the Schools Authority, if it is able to meet from its resources the teacher requirements of the schools that I have mentioned-that is, Campbell, Curtin, Mount Neighbour and Wanniassa-it has the authority to make the decision in relation to these schools. I ask whether there is meant to be flexibility with the formula so that there is stability in our schools, no matter how the problem arose.