Thursday 19 June 2008
Debate on the Northern Support School

On the question of education, Madam President, I want to deal with the matter that the honourable member for Windermere spoke about - and other honourable members - and that is the Northern Support School at Ravenswood.  It is regrettable that the Government and the Education department have decided to close that facility, which was having a very beneficial effect on the young people who attended there.  I think the honourable member for Rosevears, when he was addressing the subject, read a letter from the mother of a student from Riverside High School who attended there.  That is typical of, and highlights, the benefits of having this school.  Unfortunately it has been closed -

Mr Aird - I have a note here that says, 'The Northern Support School is not closing'. 

Mr WING - The decision has been made, I think, to close it.

Mr Aird - That is the note I have.

Mr WING - Well, if it is not closed now, I hope it will remain open.

Mr Finch - Staff have had their farewell.

Mr Dean - That is right.  The funding has been cut.

Mr Aird - There is a program that has finished.

Mr WING - The students who were attending and benefiting from that will be sent back to the classrooms of the schools from where they came.

Mr Parkinson - I thought I answered this in a question on Hansard a couple of days ago.

Mr Dean - You did, but the service very clearly is discontinued as it currently is.  The service is discontinued.  It is closed, in that regard.

Mr Parkinson - I thought the answer given emphasised that the need was continuing to be met, and by agreement with the community as I thought.

Mr WING - Need continuing to be met by the students going back to be integrated in their former schools, I think it was.

Mr Parkinson - Apparently the community was involved and content.  That is the way I read the answer.

Mr Finch - Through you, Madam President - I think some of the schools that were in the cluster that were deciding to send their children to the Northern Support School had made the decision that they would prefer to spend the funding that they received for those students supporting those students within their own schools.  There were too many who decided to do that, or enough to make it unviable to keep sending them out to the Northern Support School at Ravenswood.  So the work still continues but not in its present form.  I remember the concern that the member for Windermere had was that the schools may be not supporting the children as well as has been done at the Northern Support School.

Mr WING - And not being prepared to provide the funding for the students from their schools.  I am grateful to the honourable member for Windermere for providing me with some details about the funding for that facility. 

The total funding allocation is less that $450 000 and the breakdown is as follows.  The coordinator's salary of $90 000 is paid from central funding sourced from funding left over from St Michael's School departmental allocation.  Staffing is paid for by cluster schools and is used for 3.4 teachers and aides.  The total staff wages, including the coordinator, amount to approximately $400 000.  Then there is the resourcing for students paid for by the schools with students participating in programs.  Each school pays $300 per student per term.  That is the biggest problem, I think, because those schools are unwilling - do not feel able probably - to provide $300 per student per term for their students who are attending.  I do not think it should be a requirement for them to do so, because they no doubt have difficulty sourcing adequate funding to run their own schools.  So with $900 a year per student going out it is understandable that they are reluctant to do that. 

With the extra money being provided for education, with the widespread appreciation of the success of this scheme in the Northern Support School, I would ask the Government to provide the extra funding that is needed to ensure that the full services are provided.  That makes good economic sense in the long run because the -

Mr Aird - As I understand it, the nature of the problem is that the school communities and the principals had choices to make about the allocation of resources.  The honourable member for Rosevears indicated that some schools chose a different way of supporting their kids with high needs.  You cannot fund all the programs all the way and so there had to be a broad understanding of principals and community support to support the kids. Therefore it is through the school communities, through the principals, that these decisions are made, and that is where I think they should be made.

Mr Finch - Yes.  Through you , Madam President - the way that it was set up was that all the schools, because of the funding requirements, needed to participate, so it only needed one or two to show unwillingness to continue for it to be under threat.

Mr Aird - Yes, but they were making local decisions for local needs.

Mr WING - I hope one way or another, Madam President, that a solution will be found that is acceptable to everybody to ensure that the full programs are offered so successfully at that school will be able to continue.  Generally they are problem children and if they can be redirected away from the life where they cause difficulty to others, they will be better citizens and not a liability on the taxpayers later in life.  If those children who are benefiting from the program now, have to go back and are integrated in schools where the teachers are not trained to deal specifically with them, where they have a disruptive influence on the other students in the classes, then they will not be cured from their unfortunate ways and they will probably get into trouble after they leave school as well, become vandals, finish up in the courts and some finish up in the prisons at great cost to the community.  Not only is it socially undesirable to deny them the opportunity of leading relatively normal lives, but it is costly for the community to take any action which prevents them from having the best possible opportunity.

That would not be very much in keeping with the Government's philosophy of being kind, clever and connected.  It is unkind not to let them have the best possible opportunity and it is hardly clever to do that.  If you send them back to their classrooms, they are connected, but in the wrong way and in the wrong place.

Mr Finch - From the correspondence that I received and the discussions that I have had, it is the pressure from families, the parents who were having difficulty and were concerned about the children, difficulty controlling the children and in having an understanding of what they could do to best solve the problems the children were having at school.  This was a solution.

Mr WING - There were so many benefits in that scheme continuing which did not involve great costs, and it would be a great shame if that fails and is unable to be as effective as it has been through lack of funding, when we know that there is adequate funding available for that.

Mr Dean - Through you, Madam President - the problem with a lot of these children is that they have been unable to assimilate into the proper school system, and that is why they need this one-on-one tutoring in a group like the Northern Support School.  Some have then gone back into the major schools after they have had that tutoring.

Mr WING - Yes, there is every reason for it to continue.  It does not require a large amount of funding and, in keeping with the Government's philosophy, I hope special attention will be given to this with a view to ensuring a continuation of that very important course.

Mr Finch - Hear, hear