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Byron Shire
January 24, 2022

Small schools ask to keep numbers high

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Parents and students from Coorabell and Main Arm primary schools gathered to protest against a State government reduction in permanent school numbers. Photo Jeff Dawson.

Paul Bibby

More than 150 parents and students from Coorabell and Main Arm primary schools gathered on Friday to protest new enrolment rules imposed on their schools by the NSW Education Department.

The protest was a direct response to steps taken by the department to reduce the number of students at the schools on the basis that there are insufficient permanent classrooms to sustain current student numbers.

In both cases the department has imposed tough restrictions on the number of new enrolments and introduced new zoning boundaries which prevent enrolments from outside the immediate local area.

It is also set to remove one of Main Arm Primary’s demountable classrooms.

The restrictions are part of an education department policy under which a school’s enrolment capacity is determined by the number of permanent classrooms it has, rather than both permanent and demountable classrooms.

Parents not consulted

However, parents from both schools say the restrictions were imposed without consultation and ignore the needs of local families who want their children to attend the schools.

‘The P&C is very concerned about decisions made by the NSW Department of Education…at Main Arm Primary School, deeming that the school has only one permanent building,’ the president of Main Arm P&C Louise Dwyer said.

‘The school in fact has four permanent buildings [including demountables].’

‘This classification has enforced a restriction on the enrolment numbers of the school to 52 students.

Ms Dwyer added that, rather than putting funds into upgrading and rejuvenating buildings at the school, the department appeared to be ‘on a path to defund our small, vibrant, rural school.’

Another local parent, Damien Curtis, said the restrictions placed on Main Arm Primary appeared to ignore the predicted population growth in the area.

‘Parents are concerned that the DoE is making purely bureaucratic decisions that are not based on reality, without consulting the community,’ said Mr Curtis, a member of the Main Arm P&C.

Outside of zone enrolments

However, a spokesman from the Department said both schools had drawn significant numbers of enrolments from outside their zones.

‘To ensure equity for children in neighbouring zones through the continued viability of their local schools, a period of transition to compliance with the statewide enrolment policy was agreed in 2017 for Coorabell Public School, whose interim enrolment ceiling is now 95,’ the spokesperson said.

‘2019 is the last year of the transition, with no new out-of-zone students enrolling other than those with siblings already at the school. There will be no new out-of-zone enrolments next year.

Main Arm Public School’s position is not dissimilar to that of Coorabell Public School, in that in the past it has drawn a number of enrolments from outside its zone, but in the interests of equity for children in neighbouring zones it has been transitioning to compliance with the statewide enrolment policy, with a current interim enrolment ceiling of 52.

The school has one permanent classroom, with another class housed in a well maintained demountable.

This year the school is complying with the statewide enrolment policy.


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