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Byron Shire
August 5, 2021

Calls for Minister to conduct ‘genuine’ consultation on Murwillumbah mega-school

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The Murwillumbah community and SOS (Save Our Schools) are calling on the NSW Minister for Education, Sarah Mitchell to engage in real consultation with the Murwillumbah community over the amalgamation of their four schools into one mega-school.

‘We are trying to expose the fact that the minister has ignored her Department’s protocols in forcing the amalgamation of four Murwillumbah schools into a single super-school,’ said Trevor Cobbold, national convenor for Save Our Schools.

‘These protocols were introduced by the then NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, in consultation with the NSW Primary Principals’ Association and the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council. It followed a NSW Parliamentary committee report in 2015 that castigated the Department’s approach to closing schools as “heavy handed”, ignoring the views of parents and local communities and failing to provide evidence about the relationship between education outcomes and school size.’

Students in the computer room at Murwillumbah Public School, one of the north coast schools to be targeted by state government funding cuts. Photo courtesy Murwillumbah Public School

Small school size supported

Mr Cobbold highlights the fact that international research supports smaller schools, especially for students from disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds.

‘All the [Murwillumbah] schools have a heavy concentration of students from low income families,’ he said.

‘The proportion of low socio-educational students in the primary schools of 48 and 50 per cent is double the national average while the proportions in the high schools of 40 and 44 per cent are also very high. The proportion of Indigenous enrolments in the primary schools and Murwillumbah HS are also double the national average of 5.8 per cent. Each school also has a significant proportion of students with a Language Background Other Than English (LBOTE).

‘There would have to be a very strong case for amalgamating the school,’ Mr Cobbold told The Echo.

‘We are calling for an open discussion to bring all the available evidence to bear so that they community can form a view and put a view to the government. There should be a strong [recognition] of what the community want for their kids but the minister doesn’t want take any account of it.’

The Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell was happy to have a photo of herself and Ben Franklin MLC plastered all over social media, yet a meeting held a few kilometres up the road on the same day was a ‘cloak and dagger’ closed-door event.

‘The Minister has continually refused to meet with parents, students and the wider community since the plan was first announced in October 2020. President of the Murwillumbah East P&C, Kylie Rose, previously told The Echo that she and her P&C have been calling on the Minister to meet with the community for more than six months,’ said Mr Cobbold.

Wollumbin High School P&C President Soenke Biermann. ‘the Murwillumbah community treasures its small and beautiful country schools. Don’t close them, minister! Bigger is not better!’

The Minister did call an invitation only meeting at the end of May but the invitees were not asked to discuss the communities feedback on the amalgamation. Rather they were told they were “being consulted because we might get to pick the colour of the carpet in the new building” according to Wollumbin High School P&C President Soenke Biermann.

‘The repercussions for any professional in the Department, principal or teacher who failed to follow Departmental policies, procedures or protocols would be drastic. They would be subjected to disciplinary action, demoted or sacked. Yet, the Minister has ignored the closure/amalgamation protocols with impunity. She [the Minister] should be subjected to the same disciplinary action as any other professional in education would be for ignoring Department policies and procedures,’ said Mr Cobbold.

♦ The NSW Minister for Education, Sarah Mitchell has been contacted for comment.

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  1. Parents have been taking their children out of the small schools in Murwillumbah. The next most sensible is for any Government to lure back those students with first class delivery of secondary schooling, with direct pathways into the secondary school.
    Smaller is not better especially when the courses being delivered do not meet the needs of employers or tertiary campuses. Consolidation of the resources available is a smart move, it will allow for an increase in the numbers of electives our secondary students have. This will allow the graduating students a wider choice either employment or tertiary opportunities.
    Parents need to wake up to themselves and realise what an opportunity this presents for students.

  2. Mega schools are a pointless experiment in creating havoc in children’s education.
    Small, nurturing schools are needed in this region not impersonal concrete structures with inadequate facilities.


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