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

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