HURSTVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOL
Dr JOHN KAYE
[6.58 p.m.]: On behalf of the Greens and supporters of public education everywhere, I congratulate the teachers and parents who have battled so hard to stop the Department of Education and Training's plans to cut Hurstville Public School in half and force primary school age boys and girls into the neighbouring Hurstville Boys High School, obviously a boys-only institution. Yesterday, according to a report in today's Sydney Morning Herald
, some progress was achieved in the battle to save the primary school from being sliced in half. It appears that local member, Cherie Burton, who previously had run cover for the department's plan, has finally recognised the problems it poses. Thanks to the pressure applied by parents and the community, Ms Burton has decided to work for a solution that does not involve the splitting up of Hurstville Public School and the moving of years 5 and 6 students to the boys high school.
While we have been publicly critical of Ms Burton's support for the move to date, we congratulate her on seeing reason and working with, rather than against, the local community. With her help, it is now to be hoped that the Minister and her department will see sense and abandon their current plan. It is also to be hoped that they will continue with the much-needed redevelopment of Hurstville Boys High School and also provide the additional capacity at Hurstville Public School that is so sorely needed to accommodate the growing number of children who wish to attend that school. Hurstville Public School is an exceptionally successful school whose success has led to increasing popularity. Along with opportunity classes, the school enjoys excellent staff and leadership, and an active and involved parent body. These are some of the key ingredients for a highly successful school.
Whilst the achievements of Hurstville Public School are to be celebrated, the school is to some extent a victim of its own success. It has long since passed capacity and everyone—parents, teachers and the department—recognise the need for more teaching space to alleviate current and projected future overcrowding. However, the department wants to cut corners and avoid the costs of a new development at the site of Hurstville Public School. Instead, its $14 million so-called Hurstville Educational Precinct plans to move the years 5 and 6 students to Hurstville Boys High School. The plan is primarily focused on redeveloping the boys school—an outcome the Greens, parents, teachers and the community warmly welcome.
While the department has assured parents that the primary students would be provided with a separate entrance and accommodation that would be fenced off from the boys school, a careful examination of the plans provided to the community clearly shows that the boys would be able to easily access the primary school facilities. Parents, particularly of young girls, are concerned about the implications for their children's safety, welfare and self-confidence in an all-boys environment. Parents are also concerned about the loss of school identity and the loss of leadership opportunities for the senior primary classes. An important part of the development of young people would be lost as the years 5 and 6 students would no longer have the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership potential. Young students would miss out on the benefits of being mentored by their older peers.
These entirely reasonable concerns have been shown to be held by the overwhelming majority of parents. The parents and citizens executive conducted a survey of school parents. From the more than 800 families at the school, 515 responses were received—an outstandingly high response rate. Information about the precinct project was supplied to parents along with a survey questionnaire. Of those parents who responded, 90 per cent rejected the proposal by the Department of Education and Training. Most of those who did not reject it expressed significant expectations of stringent management controls to protect the children. Teachers are also deeply concerned about the move. The St George Teachers Association condemned the move and criticised the Department of Education and Training and the local member, Cherie Burton. The association also wrote to the parents and citizens executive supporting their campaign to stop the project from going ahead.
It must be understood that at no time has anyone involved in this debate criticised Hurstville Boys High School. The concerns of parents and teachers would apply equally to any all-boys school. Attempts to paint this as an issue with Hurstville Boys High School or its student body are mischievous. Parents have been very constructive in their approach to this problem. A site for a new building to alleviate overcrowding at Hurstville Public School has been identified that would not necessitate the loss of any playing space and would allow for the orderly development of the school. Up to now the parents and citizens executive feels it has been shut out of decision-making. Jason Yeo and other parents had to resort to the media to get the attention of decision-makers. For the first time in this sorry saga it appears that they have been heard, and there is now a sense of optimism that this story might have a positive outcome both for the high school and for the public school.