Online comments in the Moreland Leader

The online comments for the Moreland leader article - HAVE YOUR SAY: Brunswick MP Carlo Carli slates Coburg high school bid - have been running hot over the last two days. Interesting reading, I encourage everyone to visit and chime in.

Councillor Update from High School for Coburg

This is the text of an email sent by Catherine Hall to the Moreland Council on 23/08/09

Dear Mayor and councillors,

Thank you to councillors John Kavanagh, Toby Archer and Kathleen Mathews-Ward and to Barry Hahn for attending HSC Q&A on 19 Aug. Special thanks to Cr.Oscar Yildez for being a panelist on the night. Apologies if we missed any other councillors.

On being informed councillors are to have a meeting with Wayne Craig from the education department Northern Region we thought it best to give you a quick update.

Families supporting HSC 1,250

High School for Coburg (HSC) have had two meetings with the department to date. At the July one with Kyrs Hendrickson and Peter Enright it soon became apparent that their numbers were very different to council's projections. ID who did council's, predict the only significant growth in youth demographic is going to occur in Coburg, which already has the greatest number of young people in Moreland. The department's demographers say the growth is going to be in the north of Moreland and don't predict anywhere near the same growth. HSC directed them to Robyn Mitchell, council research officer to verify the numbers we are using and they agreed to meet us again and review the discrepancy. When we met with them on 17 Aug we reiterated that ID have the best record for projecting accurately compared with ABS and DSE and are the only company that comes to council to do local research for their projections. The department response was to say that ID come and see what council want and gear the results that way because they want the work.

Apart from being a slur on ID and indirectly, the council this is a flawed supposition because why would council want inflated projections? This would entail expensive preparation for provision of services that aren't required. Also it doesn't explain the excellent record ID have for accuracy and the fact that 95% of councils use them.Example of projections done by the dept demographers: Moreland population will increase by 4,000 by 2031.This is patently extremely underestimated because there are 16,000 new homes estimated to be built in that time.

We say the numbers are here in the Coburg area now and even more so into the future.

HSC applauds work being done at Box Forest and Fawkner high schools to increase profile and enrolments and this should help enrich those communities however indicating that there are spaces at those far away schools is not a blow to the campaign for a high school for this community. I imagine there are also plenty of spaces at the Coburg Senior High site.

There has been an idea put forward from a certain political quarter that the HSC campaign will work against Brunswick high school's submission for funding to enable 150 extra places.We do not wish to get into an either/or scenario but if forced into that corner, I will make a very big noise about the numbers for high school aged young people below:

12 -17 year olds in 2006 /2016 /2031.

The 2006 number is indisputable ABS, the next two are ID forecast projections.

Brunswick 739 / 807 / 883
Coburg 1,509 / 1,795 / 2,020

This school is very big, has just decided they want to cap preps at 100 and the school council has voted in support of HSC. The department do not include it in their calculations but it is part of this community needing a high school. Coburg West Primary, which is beyond capacity, capped and zoned is the most represented school in HSC working party and furnished us with 100's of supporters at their fete. Brunswick East Primary parents are also big supporters and Carlo Carli has said that the increases in Brunswick primary enrolments are mainly Coburg families.

This is to illustrate to you the large area we represent which contains families considering moving away because their community has no high school. We will be able to show you evidence of that once our survey has been input and analysed and we thank council for assisting with that process.

Kind Regards and apologies for lengthy email,
Catherine Hall

Chris Bonnor's speech from the HSC Q&A

If you were at our Q&A (or even if you weren't) and you want to know why a local school for the local community is so important, please read our keynote speaker's address below.

Chris Bonnor
Chris Bonnor

A couple of years ago I wrote a book with Jane Caro called The Stupid Country, how Australia is dismantling public education. We started with a fictitious letter from a principal to Year 6 parents saying in effect: if you want to enrol here you best be quick, because there are now fewer public high schools nearby.

Jane and I thought we were guessing about the future – but this future has already arrived for you, here in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.

We said that more and more people would be forced to knock on the door of schools that set an entry test, charge fees, teach a particular religion or schools, which for other reasons, would turn them away. What we long regarded as one of our birthrights, a quality, free local secondary school, is progressively becoming harder to find.

Communities and social capital
Like many of you I grew up in a community with just one school – and the community poured all its energies into making it a quality school. I know some things have changed. Yes, most of us live in dormitory suburbs where people sleep at night and go elsewhere to work during the day. Families pay a big enough price for that. Many working parents often don’t see their kids in daylight hours. They no longer make a contribution to their community because they are rarely in it. We see the evidence of loss of community in so many ways.

But it shouldn’t be like that for our kids. Their growing years should be years they spend in their local community, growing up with their friends, enjoying and contributing to the networks.

This is a big part of social capital: friendships, professional and vocational circles, clubs, neighborhoods, churches and various other networks - when we can bond with others and bridge across the social and cultural divides. In this way we provide mutual support and benefit from learning from each other – and we welcome strangers in our midst.

This is the stuff of democracy. Strong social capital helps us all and each of us individually. It creates higher educational achievement, better performing institutions, faster economic growth, less crime and violence in communities and even better health and longer life expectancy. You can’t easily put a dollar value on all of this but there are certainly dollar costs when we don’t have it.

The importance of community schools
Schools are a big part of this because local schools are a focus for our interests, values and expectations. Schools are increasingly the most reliable source of stability and social support for many children and families.

But the effectiveness of schools in these ways depends firstly whether they exist and secondly on whether they are strongly supported.

When students travel to attend a school somewhere else the focus of the student’s family shifts to the other community. In effect the social capital in the home community is transferred to someone else’s school and community. This is especially noticeable when the student commutes away from a disadvantaged community because families don’t want to mix it with strangers. When this happens some communities, and their schools especially, suffer.

The new marketplace
Over the last two decades Governments have shown that they don’t fully understand what a school is. In one sense you can’t blame them. They have been driven by numbers and the idea that the economic marketplace will solve all our problems: if people don’t want to use public transport then let’s build freeways. If people don’t want to attend a school just close it.

Education changed from being a community and social benefit to being an advantage for individuals. To help families make individual choices we have now created a lopsided provision of things which we see as being desirable: selective schools, senior colleges, single sex, specialist schools, private schools.

Governments were also told to butt out of providing services. Private providers would do it better, we were told. The irony is that we did all this to increase choice, but in the process denied some communities of the most important choice of all: an accessible quality public school. Governments were told to save money and never go into debt. So many schools were closed.

Every time it happened it was couched in the free-market language of choice, advantage, diversity and opportunity. It probably made you feel all warm and runny at the time. We now know what the unregulated and rampant free-market did to the world economy. It’s been a shock. The same focus has also damaged our framework of schools. There are now worrying social and cultural as well as educational divides between schools – and as a result, between communities. We are going to pay a price for this.

Dollars or sense?
But tonight gives cause for so much hope. Maybe we’ve all had a big enough shock to prod us back to valuing community and social good – and valuing everything that schools provide. Maybe when we open or close schools we’ll also look at all the benefits and costs. A school is more than just a place of learning, more than a VCE factory. It isn’t a branch plant of a business, to be given the flick at the first sign of red ink on the ledger book.

Do we really save when kids have to commute to bigger schools in more distant locations - or has the real cost neatly been flicked from governments to parents? How do we measure loss of family time and community cohesion and the longer term costs and benefits in dollar terms?

Sometimes we have to carry smaller schools and remember one of the basics of urban geography course 101, namely that towns and suburbs go through phases of growth and relative decline and in so many cases re-growth – and that in this time there are fundamental services which will always be needed. It might be enticing to sell off a school – but they are extremely expensive to re-establish.

When you seek to establish a new school, as you are, you gather the figures to show that there is strong local demand. But we also have to re-educate political leaders about the whole purpose of schools. They need to re-learn about social capital and the part played by schools in creating the bonding and bridging between people within our community. A whole generation of leaders and opinion-makers have forgotten these things.

Taken for granted
In one sense this campaign in Coburg and in other places shows that communities cannot be taken for granted. The wake-up call is not only needed for governments but for us. We can’t just assume that the people and institutions which create communities, and become the glue which binds them together, will always be there.

We can’t just allow education to become a commodity or product - something that you might have to purchase to gain a private advantage. We’ve taken our schools, especially our public schools, for granted and we have lost many of them.

Sure, some public schools also had to relearn the meaning of service and learn about the value in having parents as part of the life of the school. But much of it comes back to us: we use it or we lose it.

So congratulations to the high school for Coburg campaign on its notable achievements to date and, I’m sure, the promise of much more to come.

Chris Bonnor

HSC Q&A forum

by Denis Matson

Last night (19th August, 2009) about 170 people skipped dinner and found someone to care for the kids so that they could attend the High School for Coburg (HSC) forum at the Coburg Town Hall.

Chistine Campbell speaking at HSC Q&A
There is not one open-entry all-years high school between Brunswick Secondary College, which is bursting at the seams, and Box Forest College, miles away in Glenroy. The forum was a chance for parents in the area to exert pressure for the opening of a secondary school. While many parents want to have "choices" about the best school for their children, residents in & around Coburg don't have any choice.

Chris Bonnor, from University of New South Wales, made the trip to speak on the night. Chris is co-author of "The Stupid Country" about the dismantling of Australia's public education. He made a strong case for the government to improve its funding of public education and threw his weight behind the campaign.

Catherine Hall speaks for HSC
Angry parents responded to ridiculous statements from the Education Department about there being "insufficient demand" for a school in the area. Cate Hall, from the HSC committee, said that there were already nearly 4,000 secondary-school aged children in & around Coburg who had to travel out of the area to go to school.

The forum was chaired by Rod Quantock and speakers included comedian and columnist Catherine Deveney and local identity Phil Cleary, all of whom went to school in the area. Ex-Education Minister, Barry Pullen spoke and added his support. Barry was heavily involved in the successful campaign to re-open Fitzroy High.

Phil Cleary with the roving mike at question time

HSC representatives urged the large crowd to continue their vocal support for the campaign, which already has a subscriber list of more than 1,200 families. The HSC group has been lobbying the Education Minister, Bronwyn Pike, local politicians and the Education Department.

Join Education Minister Bronwyn Pike for a live Q&A 11:30am Wednesday 19 August.

Education Minister Bronwyn Pike is making herself available on line tomorrow for a live Q & A on the Premier’s website. This is a great opportunity (on the same day as our own Q&A session) to fire in your questions as to why there is still no all-years, open entry High School in Coburg. Please send in a question now or tune in tomorrow at 11.30am tomorrow.

Policy background to the HSC story

by Catherine Hall

The suburb of Coburg is at the epicentre of a big black hole with regards to inclusive, comprehensive secondary education. The northern metropolitan region contains 50% of the lowest socio-economic status (SES) government schools in Melbourne and Moreland has been ranked 7 in the top 10 disadvantaged suburbs. We know that successive government policies have resulted in a huge divide between rich and poor schools (see Stephen Lamb, School reform and Inequality in Urban Australia: A Case of Residualizing the Poor,2007)

The chart below shows how federal funding to private schools (the dark line) has been disproportionately greater than federal funding to government schools.

Figure 1: Commonwealth Government Recurrent Expenditure on Government and Private Schools: 1995-2004 ($’000,000)(see Stephen Lamb, 2007 page7)

Exposure to the free market has resulted in poor schools becoming small schools, further increasing the disadvantage. This needs to be turned around, with funding targeted where it is need most. The graph below shows the declining enrolments in poorer schools.

Figure 2: Changes in Mean School Enrolments, 1980-2004, by SES (quintile): Melbourne Secondary Schools with Enrolments in Every Year (see Stephen Lamb, 2007 page 19)

A recent survey by the The Equality Trust comparing 20 developed countries showed that those with the greatest divide between haves and have-nots had the worst social health outcomes, for example violent crime, teenage pregnancy, obesity and levels of trust across all levels of society, even in the upper and middle class (see the The SpritLevel: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Richard L Wilkonson and Kate Pickett and as reported in The Age article on 20 April 2009 Shattering the myth of equality and again in The Age on 16 August 2009 Whatever Happened to the Classless Society?). According to the United Nations Development Programme, Australia is the fifth-most unequal developed country and unequal access to quality education is surely a big wedge in the equity gap. The whole community will benefit from the provision of a local, general access high school for the young people of the Coburg region.

Chris Bonnor , co-author with Jane Caro of The Stupid Country, Austalia's dismantling of public education, has shown that when a school is supported by all sectors of society, for example as happens in some remote country schools, it prospers (read Chris Bonnor at National Public Education Forum March 2009 -Schools and the Marketplace -fallacy and fallout for a description of such a school in Tumut). Closer to home, Debney Park Secondary College is an example of a school that has gone from one regarded by many as a "default school" for poor migrant families living in the nearby commission flats to a school that also attracts middle class parents, resulting in a more diverse school community and better educational outcomes for all the school's students. Read the full story of Debney Park's success here.

The High School for Coburg group believe that the families who have recently flocked to this region, including those with one or more tertiary educated parents, are very community minded and would strongly support a quality, all inclusive secondary school in Coburg in preference to crossing town for private education or moving to be closer to a public secondary school. Local state MP Christine Campbell's recent Intern's report showed 50% of grade 4 and 5 families who filled out her survey would choose a Coburg high school. We believe this school would be embraced by families from all walks of life, promoting social inclusion and providing local jobs and local spending. Reduction in car travel is also a more environmentally sustainable option. Helping to bridge the equity gap will result in better social, health and education outcomes for local students and the whole local community.

Can you help spread the word about the HSC Q&A forum?

Next Wednesday night, the 19th of August 2009, High School for Coburg are hosting a Questions and Answers, forum panel and discussion evening at Coburg Town Hall. Full details are here.

Our poster is available for download in English and in Greek on our resources page over here.

HSC Q&A poster

Please help us spread the word! Thank you.