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July 1, 2022

Spending cuts threaten travelling show school

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As the rides and trucks rolled out of Mullumbimby towards this weekend’s Bangalow Show their owners were less concerned about the weather and more about the closure of the Queensland School for Travelling Show Children (QSTSC).

The school is a lifeline to education for the children who are part of the community of 2000 people whose lives are working the 587 agricultural shows held throughout Australia every year.

At this year’s Mullumbimby Show all show workers demonstrated their solidarity by wearing their Save our Future Save our School tee-shirts and encouraged Show visitors to sign their petition to the Queensland government against its announcement of their school’s imminent closure.

The school is a travelling classroom that sets up on local school grounds in a region where most families are working. This gives travelling show children the opportunity to gain an education and still live with their parents. Before this program began 12 years ago the show children either went to boarding school or more often their education was virtually nonexistent.

In 2012 QSTSC has 53 students rising to 63 in 2013 if it remains open. The news isn’t good though; with government spending cuts throughout Queensland, the school is marked for closure in May 2013. 

According to opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk the Queensland government’s announcement on 11 September 2012 was a shock to the show community.

‘That decision came out of the blue and threw show families into crisis by giving them so little time to find suitable alternative schooling other than through the School of Distance Education, which does not suit their unique circumstances.’

The new system proposed for show children is the traditional distance education model where lessons are sent out weekly. There is some online content also. The travelling school has two teachers who travel the show circuit all year round.

Chivani McDonald, five, the sixth generation of a travelling show family, started in prep at QSTSC this year and was excited about Year One in 2013. Her mother, Alicia, like other parents in her community, is distressed and frightened for the future of her children’s education.

Alicia explains that the general lack of education among the older generation means they are often unable to assist their children in home-schooling.

‘Distance education has never worked in the past for us and it’s not going to work now. It doesn’t work for the way we live but this school does.’

She clearly loves the QSTSC and the difference it has made in their community.

‘The children go to school normally; they wear uniforms, take their lunch and attend from 9am till 3pm. What the government is offering is three hours online contact a week, which provides no structure or support for parents who are working long hours and who themselves are often not well educated or literate.

‘We are on the road for 10½ months a year and don’t have post office boxes to get lesson packs but we want our children to have an education like every kid is entitled to. We are Australian taxpayers.

‘Many of our children now graduate and one of the girls is going on this year to do veterinary studies.’

Education minister John-Paul Langbroek initially informed families that the school’s closure was due to its ineffectiveness, as the children were not achieving well. This conflicted with a letter from Premier Campbell Newman to the group trying to save the school which admitted that it had nothing to do with Naplan scores and all to do with saving money.

This has Alicia worried.

‘Even if our Naplan scores are poor, we need help; don’t close us down.’

Alicia says that the show community is fearful of what the closure means for their futures. They want their children educated and believe it will split families. One parent will have to become sedentary and send the children to school while the other continues the family business away on the road most of the year. Boarding school is not an option financially or culturally.

‘Once we lose our Travelling Show School families will be torn apart.

‘The children must be with us. This life is passed down. It’s the traditional way.’

See QSTSC students last week present Prince Charles with information about their cause. He asked them some questions about their school and encouraged them to continue to fight for what they believe in. www.facebook.com/Save QSTSC

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