Ahead of a comfortable election victory in 2002, the Victorian government of premier Steve Bracks released its ambitious Melbourne 2030 plan, describing how our city and state would respond to anticipated surging growth in coming decades. Appending the slogan "Melbourne @ 5 million" to the plan in 2008, Bracks' successor, John Brumby, looked ahead to the challenges of meeting the needs of a substantially bigger population.
Melbourne 2030 as it was initially set out was looked upon favourably by many civic planners, but it was scrapped in 2011 by the newly elected Baillieu government. The Age had anticipated its demise in 2009: "The primary responsibility for the failure of Melbourne 2030 lies with a government that has made nonsense of its own plan."
The point is that successive governments have expected and indeed welcomed massive population growth and its impact on every aspect of our state, going all the way back to Henry Bolte's "green wedges" in 1971. So the question must be asked, in light of today's report in The Age, which details how as many as 220 new schools will be required in Victoria in the next decade to cope with rising student numbers, how has such a situation come to pass?
Further, our report notes, for the first time in 15 years, no new state schools will open when the 2016 school year begins this month. In his Innovation Statement in December last year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pinned much of Australia's hopes for the future on innovation. "Our innovation agenda is going to help create the modern, dynamic 21st-century economy Australia needs," he said. But with Victorian schools needing to find space for 190,000 more students between 2016 and 2026, according to a report compiled for The Age by the Grattan Institute, where is this innovation going to come from? It seems reasonable to expect that a well-educated populace would be inclined to greater innovation.
When asked for a response to the impending shortfall in classrooms, however, Education Minister James Merlino's spokesman said the government was "working to address the issues created by the Liberals' chronic underinvestment". And yet as far back as 2010, after many years of Labor rule, the Australian Education Union reported that Victoria was spending less per state school student than any state or territory: $1151 per student below the Australian average.
The Grattan report suggests some existing schools could take in extra students, some up to 25 per cent more, which would mean fewer new schools required. Instead, the issue would become one of our desperately overcrowded classrooms, and of students unable to attend schools where they live being forced to travel long distances to get to an available classroom (as is already the case in the Docklands precinct). Regardless of whether these children are in new or existing schools, Victoria will need about 7200 new classrooms over the coming decade. Meanwhile, there will likely be an attendant shortage of teachers, which will also require intelligent solutions.
Our children must be given every opportunity to thrive. The government needs to craft and implement as quickly as possible a strategy for the construction of new schools and classrooms – built where they are needed now but also taking into account future growth indicators. Planning decisions must be based on the needs of families and should be open and transparent.
There are schools that have unused capacity and could take more students. Schools have also been closed ( and continue to close in the country in particular) DET lacks the imagination to develop strategies to reopen schools and fill schools. There are lots of unemployed teachers at the moment so there is no teacher shortage. In growth areas DET needs to get in early and grab the good locations. Too many students are travelling to go to 'good schools' rather than local schools. What is DET doing to combat that? What is their strategy to help struggling schools?( often it is just a perception problem. Small rural schools have never really recovered after Kennett and his 'wrecking crew' closed so many branding them 'ineffective') DET need to promote our state schools. They may not need to build so many new schools if they invest more ( How about those Gonski funds Abbott/Turnbull government? ) in what we've got!
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