Local member for Stuart Dan van Holst Pellekaan has assured the Port Augusta community they have “nothing to fear” with the Liberal’s plan to incorporate year seven into high school, should the Liberal party be elected government in the upcoming state election.
Minister for education and child development Jennifer Rankine has recently slammed the state Liberal’s proposal, labelling it a potential “trail of devastation” for regional communities.
She said the risk of closure to small community schools will be exacerbated by an average loss of 12.5 per cent of students, which is likely to compromise the viability of many smaller, regional primary schools.
Mr van Holst Pellekaan has since fervently denied that the move will endanger regional schools.
“In Port Augusta we have one high school, five primary schools, Caritas College and the Special School and none of them have anything to fear from year seven gradually transitioning over the next eight to 10 years,” he said.
“Very importantly this is not a one size fits all approach being imposed, so small regional primary schools will be eligible for funding to continue offering year seven in accordance with the preferences of the school community.”
Minister Rankine has further suggested that the shift is in itself, an entirely unnecessary endeavour.
“There is no evidence that bringing year sevens into high schools delivers better educational outcomes and there hasn’t been any significant demand from parents for such a move,” she said.
Mr van Holst Pellekaan said the shift is designed to improve South Australia’s National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results.
“Every other state has adopted this policy and, while there is nothing wrong with our teachers or our students, all other states have better NAPLAN results than we do,” he said.
“The minister is just scaremongering and trying to divert attention from the fact that, in spite of best efforts from our teachers, our state has the worst NAPLAN results in the nation and if elected, we will improve this.”
Local Port Augusta parent Amanda King pointed out the notion of moving year seven students into high school may have repercussions on an individual student level.
“There’s a big difference between a 12 year old and a 13 year old, both mentally and emotionally,” she said.
“If you send a child into high school too soon you don’t know what kind of effect it will have.
“A child who is ready will thrive, a child who is not ready is setting them up to have trouble for the rest of their schooling.”
She also voiced concern about how the system might cope with this added pressure.
“When it comes to that, it will have a bigger effect on the teachers, as schools are already understaffed,” she said.
Minister Rankine also said the expenditure figures released by the Liberals are just a fraction of what the actual cost of the initiative would be.
“The Liberals have quoted a figure of $29 million which would only cover the cost of staff, not the construction work required for such a large scale transition,” Ms Rankine said.
The cost of moving the current 11,300 year seven students enrolled in SA primary schools and building the infrastructure to accommodate them is estimated by the Labor government to be closer to $300 million.
Minister Rankine said in Queensland and Western Australia the cost of the shift exceeded $600 million and $800 million respectively.
Mr van Holst Pellekaan rejected these estimated costings (for SA) from the minister.
“The true cost of implementing this programme over the next eight to 10 years will be much lower and I know that parents and families will welcome expenditure that significantly improves the education of their children,” he said.