What a great result for community action, in yesterday’s reversal by the Governent and Minister of Education Nick McKim. And an affirmation of minority government - fragile enough to be responsive!
It was important that Nick apologized for both the error, and the distress it caused in the process. He had encountered that distress face to face, and it clearly affected him. And the facts of the wider impacts began to be evident.
The Opposition was left looking churlish, blaming him for changing, when that’s what they had asked him to do. Or did they really wish he had not?
Two aspects need to be very carefully examined in determining the future of schools. The first is that a school is deeply connected to its community, and the economic and social impacts of a school closure are very great, and have to be assessed; they may well exceed by many times the apparent savings of closure. In many communities I heard from in the last week, parents were already thinking they would have to sell up and move out (and lose money on their homes at the worst possible time in their financial lives - young kids, single incomes, and so on).
Really schools need ‘stay open’ guarantees in place so that stability can come to country towns. A school can actually grow its community, economically, and it should be viewed in this way - as an investment. Even when numbers are small, they can be built on if the schools existence is guaranteed.
The second is that the bureaucrats are wrong; large schools are not better than small ones. Economies of scale might work in manufacturing but they don’t work with children and community. Huonville school at 500 for example, is actually too BIG. It would have been made dysfunctionally so by bringing Franklin and other small schools in to swell its numbers.
The current research in education is for relational learning as the key to both disengaged kids, low ability kids, and of course boys, who on average have poorer educational outcomes than girls do. Relational learning is a new name for something we all understand, that teachers who know you as an individual, care about you, know and team up with your parents as an extension of your family, win the hearts of their students and get far better results. Education is about forming attachments, and then learning in the context of those attachments. Small schools generally do relational learning the best. Small schools aren’t perfect, and they have their risk factors, but they have a better chance of impacting kids lives positively. If I was designing a school system, I would have no primary larger than 300 students, and no high school larger than 600 (or 800 if it goes to year 12).
If we have to save money (and we do) then almost anything is better than closing schools.
These decisions should be inter-governmental, it shouldn’t be a matter of each department taking cuts in some simpistic view of fairness. Health, and education, encourage net population growth.
Since the decline of regular churchgoing, and many other aspects of community life, schools are now literally the heart of their communities. They anchor them and say - this is a place to live. They make a community young, demographically, and in its spirit.
They have incalculable worth.
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