SIMON BIRMINGHAM: It’s great to be here with Ewen Jones today, it’s wonderful to be spending the day in Townsville looking at a variety of educational institutions and getting a full picture in a sense of the wonderful opportunities that exist here in Townsville. It’s particularly good to have just had the chance to have a tour around and have a look at the Hermit Park State School. It’s a wonderful school here and it’s a shining example of the merits of the Independent Public School system. We’ve seen great leaps forward undertaken by state and federal governments around the country in recent years, to further develop and enhance Independent Public Schools and in doing so, giving the school communities the opportunity to take on the leadership role in their schools. What defines a school in being a good school and a great school is so often the leadership in that school. The leadership from the Principal, the leadership from parents, the leadership from the teacher body, the leadership from the local business community, all of those things brought together help give a great school and give students the opportunity to achieve everything possible. Our government federally, thanks to the drive from local members like Ewen and the Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, has been keen to get states on board to peruse Independent Public Schools and we’ve committed funding right across the nation, but in particular committed some $13 million in funding to Queensland to support the roll out of Independent Public Schools here in Queensland. One of the things that’s concerning out of the change of government which has just happened here, is that the Labor party in their costings document, in the lead up to the Queensland election indicated a cutback of $15 million to Independent Public Schools funding. So at the Commonwealth lever we’re giving $13 million to help with Independent Public Schools, but the new state Labor government is threatening to take $15 million away from the Independent Public Schools initiative. I hope that Labor will reconsider this, I hope the new Education Minister will recommit to the Independent Public Schools model that is delivering such benefits in terms of leadership and delivery of increased academic results to students, in schools like Hermit Park.
EWEN JONES: Thank you very much. Following on from what Simon said, this big thing for us is that around the education system, Simon’s not just here to look at a primary school, we’re going out to the University, we also met this morning with Mums and parents in relation to Down Syndrome and people with disabilities in our school system, about the inclusive nature of what we’re trying to do with schools. For me, it’s a perfect example of a government that is listening to communities. We want the decisions made locally. We want the decisions made by parents and by school bodies and not by bureaucrats and unions based in Brisbane.
It worries me greatly, that the new Member for Townsville, Scott Stewart, who was a Principal at Pimlico State High School, a high school which was an Independent Public School, now seems to be walking away from that very model which supported a great school. I call upon the state government to revisit this decision and make sure that Independent Public Schools aren’t being adversely affected. This is about our children’s education, this is about the building blocks into high school and into universities. Federally we only fund universities, we spend a lot of money giving it to states. We have a great deal of input into what funding goes in universities and we fund that directly. We fund indirectly to states into state school education. We need to make sure that these things are supported. So Simon’s here, we’ve met with parents, we’re meeting with primary schools, the Independent Public School model, we’re going out to James Cook University and we’re meeting with the TAFE sector as well. It’s a very good visit for us and it’s a really good thing for my city.
JOURNALIST: How is this system helping this school?
EWEN JONES: It lets the decisions be made locally. If the principal wants a collaborative approach across a school it lets them break it down. One of the examples we heard, each class under the state system, may have four hours worth of aide time. But in your class, you may have special needs kids who may require more time. Under an inflexible system, you’re not able to get more than four hours. What they can do under a collaborative approach is take aide time, so that aide time goes exactly where it should be. The resources and perspective of the school is straight at the student and engaging the parents in a school board situation, where you have professionals from your community actively engaged in the decision making about the direction of the school. It allows a principal to speak with other Independent Public School models, to find out what’s working in their school, can it work here? It makes it a flexible approach and works and that’s what we’ve always said. We want the decisions made locally. The further away the decision is made, the worse the decision is going to be. We don’t want to be making the decisions for primary schools in Canberra, similarly they shouldn’t be made in Brisbane. It should be made here by the school parents, by the school boards, by the school principal and teacher body. That’s where the decisions are best made.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, just back to the schools, how many independent schools do we have in Townsville?
EWEN JONES: We’ve got Hermit Park State School, you’ve got Pimlico State High School and you’ve got Kirwan State High School. So there’s the three schools there in the initial roll out, that expressed interest. When you push down this line, you’ll find these models become more and more popular as the parent bodies demand better from their schools.
JOURNALIST: So as they become more popular, is there going to be a conversation with the new Minister for Education in Queensland?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely, we will be making sure we talk to all of the state Education Ministers about the ongoing importance of Independent Public Schools, but in particular, we’ll be talking to the Queensland Minister and appealing to Queensland Minister to give Independent Public Schools a fair go. Not to cut funding, but to give the chance for greater success and greater participation. We’ve seen schools like Hermit Park, benefit from this. The principal, the parent body, talk enthusiastically about what’s been achieved as an Independent Public School. We know in other states, like Western Australia, the number of Independent Public Schools has surged, as parents have demanded it when they’ve seen the benefit of it in other schools. I just hope that Queensland doesn’t turn its back on Independent Public Schools, something that is delivering real benefits already.
JOURNALIST: Is there a process to becoming an Independent School? How do the schools around Townsville get to where Hermit Park is right now?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Obviously it’s been a staged roll out in terms of giving schools the opportunity to participate, to apply, to become one of the leading schools. But the hope has always been that more schools will have more opportunity as time goes on. Really at its heart is giving autonomy and freedom to principals, to parent bodies, so that they can provide the leadership that the school needs to address the particular needs of that school. The particular needs of their students, to build the linkages with local employers and businesses and community organisations and to really open the school up, so that it is a fully integrated part of the local community and that’s what we hope to see more schools gets the chance to do. And certainly the Commonwealth will be standing by its funding for Independent Public Schools. We hope the Queensland does so as well.