Tomorrow our state goes to the polls, in what appears to be another closely contested election.
Over the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to attend both small and large meetings with Sarah Mitchell, Minister for Education and Early Learning, and Prue Car, Shadow Minister for the same portfolio. The approaching election certainly has meant they have been more available to discuss the current challenges and opportunities facing the education sector.
The Association of Independent Schools actively engages with both federal and state politicians. They have prepared a briefing outlining the major party positions on key issues for this election. You can read this briefing here. Of course, there are smaller parties and independent candidates who are predicted to hold a significant role in the next government. I encourage you to investigate what their position is concerning the critical role that education plays, not just in this election but for our students’ future.
The following points provide some information to help understand how each of the issues covered in the briefing relate to our community.
School infrastructure planning
Navigating the planning process to provide new classroom spaces is extremely slow and difficult. This problem reduces our capacity to meet the needs of our local community. Our area of Sydney is undergoing immense population growth. Like many schools, we are experiencing a large increase in enrolment interest (in fact I am running extra school tours tomorrow because we ran out of spots in our scheduled tours last week). Streamlining the planning process with local councils will be of great benefit to our current and future students.
Building new and refurbishing classrooms comes at a large cost. The government can partner with independent schools by sharing the cost through capital grants. This saves money for both the school and the broader community. We are active in applying to the government for capital grants. We have been successful in the recent past, which will be put into action once the planning stage is complete (see above). However, an increase in grant opportunities will enable the school to do more for our students.
Reducing EVET course costs
External Vocational Education and Training (EVET) courses expand the range of study options for our senior students. These practical courses provide dual accreditation and the opportunity to enter paid work more rapidly. Our school offers both VET and EVET courses. Current funding models share the cost between the government, school, and family. Reducing these costs will increase training opportunities for students.
Maintaining recurrent funding
School funding is a hotly (but not always accurately) debated topic. Most of the government funding for William Carey comes from the Federal government. We do receive some funding from the State government which enables us to expand our operations. While some groups would seek to end funding for non-government schools, without it, many middle and low-fee schools would not be able to remain open. This would move more students to government schools, increasing the cost burden beyond the current funding budget. Independent schools save government funding, and this saving can go where the funds are needed most.
Improving Section 83C
This legislation was designed to ensure that government funds are spent on the running costs of schools. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, it does prevent schools from engaging in positive ways with their wider community. The current laws restrict activities such as before and after school activities or community group meetings or makes running this more complex and costly. An adjustment to this legislation would benefit our school and our broader community.
Addressing teacher shortages
In comparison with many schools, we are blessed with a good supply of teachers. However, the available pool of teachers has greatly shrunk. That is clear and it is a complex issue. It involves incentives, salaries and workloads, however, I believe that an even deeper issue is involved. People are discouraged from commencing or continuing in teaching due to the low opinion many hold of teachers. Negative news stories that paint the teaching career in a negative light are published daily. While teaching is a very demanding career, it is an immensely rewarding one when a teacher knows they are valued and have the support of their community. The rewards of working in education are not spoken of nearly enough. I call on our politicians to not only consider salaries and workloads but to take active steps to change the narrative and positively influence Australian views of the value of teachers.
The past years have highlighted the wellbeing needs of all communities. We have noticed the impact on both our youngest learners, right through to our senior students. This loss of time, interacting in community due to health restrictions, has impacted how they think about themselves and each other. It is evident in both relationships and learning. We have an outstanding counselling team and have introduced social and emotional learning (in conjunction with our most recent parent seminar on emotional coaching) to support our students and families. Further funding to support additional services will enhance the network of both internal and external services that could be available.
Having said all this, elections always raise uncertainty and nervousness, elation for the victors and disappointment for others. The cynical will quote Thomas Jefferson who said “The government you elect is the government you deserve.” While there are elements to this, I remind myself that our leaders are in place because God establishes them (even if through the electoral system!). For me, that means we should engage in elections thoughtfully, but trust that God’s bigger plans will remain true, even if our preferred candidate or party is not elected.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
If you live in the same electorate as the school, I would like to invite you to cast your well-considered vote at our school. It goes without saying (but I will anyway) that we will be running a BBQ so you will be able to pick up a ‘democracy sausage’ as well as vote. Funds raised from our BBQ will go back into Carey Parents and Community. I’ll be onsite through the middle of the day, so feel free to say hello, I’d love to have a chat.
Mr Keith McMullen