Letter to the Education Minister about secondary school provision for Coburg

Coburg parent, Richard sent this letter to the Minister for Education, Martin Dixon on 15/03/2012.

Dear Minister,
Well another school year has begun and my two sons have thrown themselves back into learning at Coburg Primary School. My eldest son is in Grade 6 this year, capping off a wonderful primary school experience at an extremely wonderful school, where a true sense of community thrives. Sadly, next year all will be different for him as we’re still not certain we can secure a place in any of the surrounding high schools, and there’s absolutely no guarantee he’ll be with any of his primary school mates. So he’s going to have to take one or more public transport connections to get to his new high school, in one of four directions, and whatever school it is it won’t be in his suburb. Unlike parents in all the surrounding suburbs, we have no alternative to this.

As far as I’m aware, these distant high schools are rapidly approaching capacity, which may mean our already limited options are further eroded. Add to this is the fact that we want our children to have the best possible high school experience and I’m sorry to say that the current re-branding of the surviving two nearest northern high schools isn’t enough to convince us that they can offer what we want for our children. So given that he will have to travel to a distant high school, we would send him elsewhere to a school with a proven track record.

Regardless of which school ultimately takes our children, it won’t be in our suburb, which is very disappointing for us personally, but it affects our community by making it constantly transitory. The extraordinary lengths Coburg families must go through, either moving to other suburbs with a local high school, or those that stay or have no option, must apply to various distant schools, where either we’re out of the zone, or the school is at or over capacity, or it doesn’t provide a decent secondary education.

Our children have no say in this and it’s their needs that are not being met. There is no connection for Coburg kids to recognize the normal situation of attending primary and then high schools in their suburb. Coburg’s community will always only be interconnected at the primary school-aged kids level and then scattered, as all of our parental interest is directed to other suburb’s high schools. Coburg doesn’t have a High School it can be a part of; its’ adolescents have no investment in Coburg and families will have no continuing bond with which to build a complete community.

Minister, it’s so frustrating knowing there is an empty high school building just down the road from our primary school, that could easily address all these problems. Well not entirely empty, the site houses Coburg Senior High School, the Northern Regional offices of DEECD, plus I think other tenants. There is a three-storey school building, mostly empty, where DEECD offices are located. This is a purpose-built Year 7 to 12 high school, paid for by our taxes, and being grossly under-utilized, and we’re told to go out and squeeze into another distant school. My kids will be walking past this empty school to the bus/tram/train for the next 9 years.

Moreland in general is undergoing a population boom; all primary schools are reporting an increase in their prep enrolments. The 2010 Spatial Vision report showed there is an increase in secondary school-aged students in Moreland and that provision should be increased. Massive housing developments at Pentridge and the Kodak site and Moreland’s proposed urban renewal initiative will only add to this. You know you’ll have to increase High school provision so why don’t you do it now and help keep our community together also.

The current school, Coburg Senior High School, is I suppose, a wonderful addition to the Northern Region’s secondary provision, but it doesn’t do anything for our community’s children as it is a select entry school, and it starts at Year 10. And why is it so that in this fiscally tight age you can spend quite a lot more per student on what is effectively an experimental model while the actual needs of the community are not addressed at all? While it wouldn’t be easy or even desirable, CSHS could even remain as an existing stream alongside the Year 7 to 12 open entry Coburg High School, the site is that big and that under-utilized.

Minister, I know you are interested in this issue. You were present at two large community meetings held at the Coburg Town Hall when you were Opposition spokesman for education. You are a parent and were, I believe once a high school principal. You understand our community’s need for a high school. It’s not good enough for your Government to say, well the previous Labour government did nothing to fix this problem so why should we? You can do better than that. Many are saying your Government needs to invest in infrastructure, in particular in education, to stimulate the flagging economy. Retrofitting the existing building to accommodate a staged reintroduction of an open entry secondary school would do this and provide for our community and secondary education in the northern region, without a huge expenditure.

Our community has suffered enough. The whole northern suburb catchment for high schools will benefit form greater choice and relieved enrolment pressure in their local schools. There are no excuses. The building is there. The need is recognized. It’s part of your charter to provide quality education to all students and this is not being done.

I await your response to this urgent and most heartfelt plea.


Richard Gray

Coburg family contemplates private education due to lack of high school in Coburg

Coburg parent Alexandra shared her family's situation on HSC's Facebook page earlier this month. This is what she had to say.

My eldest son has just entered the school system starting at Moreland Primary School. His three siblings are soon to follow and there is lots of talk amongst parents about where they are going to send their kids to high school. Many seem to think they will get into Uni High or Princes High on the back of their kids having skills in music or entering accelerated learning programs or will try and get them into Northcote or Brunswick Secondary. My husband and I both went to public schools and both have Masters degrees so we are not set on going private but at the same time there are simply not enough good options available in Coburg so we have enrolled our kids in various private schools. If you live in the city end of Coburg then the number 8 tram on Moreland Road is direct non-stop access to Melbourne Grammar and Melbourne Boys Grammar in South Yarra (45 min). Moreland Road buses head to the East to Ivanhoe train which is walking distance to Ivanhoe Grammar, Ivanhoe Girls Grammar (25 min) and Moreland buses heading West take you to Essendon train station which is a walk to Penleigh Essendon Grammar (boys and girls) and Lowther Hall (25 min). If none of our kids get a scholarship then we're looking at about $125k each child after tax for Year 7-Year 12. So about $500k in total. It's either that or heading north to Box Forrest and at the moment, with a lack of a school in Coburg, I would take the private school option any day of the week! Furthermore, recent property reports on Channel 7 made reference to suburbs that would boom when the market corrects itself. The only suburb in Melbourne mentioned was Coburg - becuase of its proximity to the city and tram network.........not because of access to good schools. So we'll make lots of money in our houses, but we'll have to pay private school fees. Nice!

I live a short walk to Moreland Primary School and it makes a massive difference to my day by being so close so I wish it could be the same for high school or a short bike ride. Kangan are going to be selling off their site in The Avenue shortly which in fact was the original Coburg High School. Oh how times have changed!

Letter to the Education Minister calls for the possibility of Coburg Senior High being opened for junior enrolments to be investigated

This letter was sent from Karen, a parent who lives in Coburg to Martin Dixon, the State Education Minister in March 2012.

To Martin Dixon,
I am writing to you regarding a matter of great importance to my family and to other families in our community. We live in Coburg and my son, who is in Grade Five, has two more years of primary school before he starts high school. I also have another child in Grade 3. We live in Coburg, north of Bell St and my children currently attend Bell Primary in West Preston, along with many other children in our street.We have a fantastic local community in our area of Coburg and primary school has been a great experience but now that it is nearly time for my son to start high school, our options are very limited.

Most children at Bell Primary live in the zone for Northcote High School, but after contacting Northcote, I was told that we are too far from the Northcote zone to be eligible. Using the criteria given by Northcote High, it seems that our closest high school is now John Fawkner College in Fawkner.

For my son to get to this school by public transport, as it is important for all of us that he becomes more and more independent, it will take 53 minutes by bus at least .( For him to get to Fitzroy High by public transport, by contrast , takes only 32 minutes.) I do not think that this is an acceptable option. Most people would consider Coburg to be an inner city suburb and would not be expecting to travel nearly an hour to high school.

But more importantly to me, Fawkner is way out of our community. I don’t know of anyone who has children at this school or has gone there. I do not feel at all comfortable with sending my kids so far away to a place that is so far from our community.

Having spoken to many of our local community it seems that all of us with children are facing a very difficult high school future. Where are our kids to go?? We are zoned out of Northcote, Strathmore, Princes Hill and Brunswick High Schools (all easy options via public transport) Thornbury High has also capped recently and are saying “no more boys please” . I know that several families in the area will move in order to get their kids into a high school that is a good match for their kids and one that is in walking/easy public transport distance. It is not want they want to do, but the choices are just so limited.

There is nowhere local for our children to go.

I know that our situation is not unique. A quick survey of other local primary schools has shown an amazing expansion in numbers, with schools being very “bottom” heavy. In many cases the number of Prep enrolments has doubled in the last few years. The birth rate in Moreland is now the highest in the country.

The need for a high school in Coburg has been shown and I believe that you have publicly acknowledged this need. I am very interested to know more about the possibility of Coburg Senior Secondary High being opened for enrolments for Year 7 students up. This campus has the capacity to take 9oo students and for the last few years sits at around the 210 mark. This campus has had a lot of money spent on it and I believe that it offers a realistic solution to the Coburg High problem. I also have seen statistics showing where the current students come from, the majority are not from Coburg. This school can cater to the local community needs and I believe that it is a waste of tax payer’s money that it does not. I would like to make a time to meet with you to discuss this further.

Yours sincerely Karen 

Sydney Road Street Festival

Last weekend High School for Coburg had a stall at the Sydney Rd Street Party. There was a huge amount of strong support and interest from people who sought us out. A number of themes emerged when we talked with  parents and concerned community members.

  • Concern that being a safe Labor seat works against us with both ALP and Liberal governments.
  • Serious anxiety and worry for families about the lack of a local high school. Families don't want to or can't afford to move away but have no option for secondary education.
  • Frustration. The obvious need for a high school in Coburg and the obvious suitability of the Coburg Senior High site provision solution 
  • Concern, suspicion and anger about the Coburg Senior High as it is and as it sits in this community - wasted public facility with empty space which could be utilised. Low enrolments mean huge amount of public money being poured into the school is not the best use of public money. There is a strong perception that the school is selective and there were negative personal stories from prospective parents who have done tours eg being told if they can't buy a lap top to forget it or if they didn't find out about the school via the website forget it because they are not right for the school. Anger about having a low enrolment, effectively selective school with empty buildings sitting in the middle of an area of such desperate need. Many parents said this story needs to be "put out there".
  • Of significance was the strong support from the very large number of Brunswick community parents who approached us.They all said they support a high school for Coburg and do not see it as a threat to Brunswick High. Most were surprised to hear a possible Coburg High had been portrayed as a threat to Brunswick High.They are very aware of the numbers coming through Brunswick Primary schools and are worried about whether they will be able to access Brunswick High when the time comes.

Matt and Bethany's story

by Matt Thomas
With my youngest now entering the last term of grade 5, I feel I may have lost some of impetus and drive required to upset, derail the status quo at the northern region.  The CSHS is of course an elitist blight on the landscape as far as I'm personally concerned. It is by definition anti-community. If it were serious stand alone proposition, then it should not feel threatened by the possibility of an open-entry Y7-Y12 HSC.

The DEECD stats clearly show the need of a HSC. 5,000 kids of high school age living within 4km of Sydney and Bell streets bear this out. The fact that half of them attend private schools, demonstrates in my mind the lack of choice. Whilst Strathmore is generally seen as this regions panacea, it still grieves me to see 4 ex Newlands State Pimary School (NPS) kids take three forms of public transport to get there. Whilst it could be argued that kids of this age are generally pretty resilient, a minimum 1.5 hour (sometimes closer to 2.5hour) daily commute is bloody outrageous given the proximity to the GPO in a city of nearly 4 million people! Not too mention the carbon foot print. A walk or a bike ride for these kids is simply out of the question.

It is also grieves me to see, of an average of 20 kids graduating from Newlands Primary School, over the last 6 years, that there was an average of 7 destination high schools each year. I'm not a genius with stats, but that makes it highly improbable that you'd go to high school, from primary school, than with anymore than maybe one, a maximum of four people you have known for up to 7 years. Not only traumatic for the kids, but it splits parent relationships asunder - so much for community....   There are other avenues for community of course (planting natives down the creek, jambing spuds on politicians exhausts, etc). However primary school, and hopefully high school does necessarily bring parents together, sometimes just to 'shoot the breeze' and catch up with what's happening in the hood.

Carmen's story

by Carmen Lahiff-jenkins
I’ve been a Coburg resident for 12 years. The North Coburg area was home for 10 of those. We turned our front yard into a vegie garden and slowly the neighbors become involved in our labor of love, we trained them as chook wranglers and dog-catchers as our menagerie spilled over our fence; the children called the old man across the road Pa and we attended the funeral of his wife with heavy hearts. The local children would show up on our doorstep most evenings for bike advice and my partner was the coach at a local football club. Every Christmas Eve we organized a visit from Santa, meeting at the park on Claremont street, a few years in a row with Preston Fire-brigade on board, delivering Santa in style.

As our eldest son entered late primary it occurred to us; there was no high school in Coburg.

Investigating our options it became clear that on the North side of Bell Street we wouldn’t have access to a high school of choice and the options were distinctly disappointing. So we moved to the other side of Bell Street and left the relationship with our community behind. But it doesn’t end there. Now two years into our new address and Strathmore, Thornbury and Northcote are closing their doors, to boys especially. The options are still rather limited. Many of the Coburg kids who have schooled together cannot go to High school together, and my son makes lists trying to choose which friends he can let go and with which he want to stay. I have started training him for long travel alone as unless we move again he will have to travel across suburbs for schooling. This will incur extra expenses for our family as well as limiting his physical exercise, as he now travels by scooter or bike to school.
Earlier this year we did the high school open day circuit, and at each school they would ask ‘where do you live?’ and when we answered ‘Coburg’ they would look doubtful and say ‘well, try anyway’.

My children attend a primary school that are already predicting 80 preps in 2012, this year there were 90 preps; in only six short years 90 grade sixes will be looking for a high school in this area. Where are they going to go?