Education

Where do upper house members stand on super school?

By James Bennett

It should not come as any surprise where three of the Northern Victoria Region upper house state members stand on the Shepparton Education Plan.

However, Greater Shepparton is represented by five members. As Mark Gepp and Jaclyn Symes are Labor members, it is easy to assume they are in favour of the plan, where as Liberal member Wendy Lovell not so much.

But what about Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party member Tania Maxwell and Liberal Democrats member Tim Quilty? The News asked both members the following questions:

1. What is your stance on the Shepparton Education Plan and the government’s plans to merge four school’s into one?

2. Are you aware of the concerns voiced by many parents?

3. Do you have your own views on how to improve education in Shepparton?

4. Have you visited Shepparton to speak with locals about the plan? If not, will you in the short term?

Tim Quilty, Liberal Democrats

What is your stance on the Shepparton Education Plan and the government’s plans to merge four school’s into one?

We think it is a mistake — and now the government don’t want to admit they have made a mistake,’’ Mr Quilty said.

‘‘The consultation process was lax. Parents weren’t given proper information and their concerns have been dismissed or ignored.

‘‘The proposal itself is bad idea. Culling schools reduces competition and removes incentives to improve. ‘‘Key to improving educational outcomes is allowing choice and having competition.

‘‘There may be some advantages to having schools work together to provide a wider curriculum, particularly in higher grades, but this doesn’t require the physical destruction of individual campuses and forcing students together.

‘‘A bigger problem is that the scheme will be expensive. The plan costs $100 m and requires demolishing two campuses and constructing an entirely new one.

‘‘$100 m could go a long way toward improving the existing school facilities and these options where never given to Shepparton’s citizens.

‘‘We didn’t want to dive straight into this, Wodonga did a school merger a few years back and, on balance, at least for the short to medium term, it has worked out.

‘‘However, as best we can tell, the Shepp plan has all the downsides and very few of the positives of the Wodonga plan.’’

Are you aware of the concerns voiced by many parents?

‘‘We have recently been contacted by a number of concerned parents. The school merger will strip parents of choice and cause logistical problems for parents with multiple children,’’ Mr Quilty said.

‘‘Parents won’t have anywhere to turn if their child is being bullied or if they have a problem with the school — unless they can afford private education,’’ he said.

Do you have your own views on how to improve education in Shepparton?

‘‘Improving outcomes requires addressing incentive structures. Schools should benefit from their success and parents should have choice for where their children go,’’ Mr Quilty said.

‘‘The Liberal Democrats support a voucher system that would tie funding to outcomes, and allow greater mobility between schools, both government and non-government.

‘‘This is generally the opposite to how the education department allocates funding; the worse a school performs the more it’s rewarded.

"Schools should also have more autonomy at a local level to set teaching methods and curriculum — and more input from parents.

‘‘To make competition effective, schools need to be allowed to differentiate themselves according to student needs. Squashing everyone into a single model makes it worse, not better,’’ he said.

Have you visited Shepparton to speak with locals about the plan? If not, will you in the short term?

‘‘We haven’t yet been invited to any forums, but would happy to speak to locals to discuss this and invite people to engage with our office on the issue,’’ Mr Quilty said.

Tania Maxwell, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

What is your stance on the Shepparton Education Plan and the government’s plans to merge four school’s into one?

‘‘I’m watching this issue carefully and have requested a meeting with the Minister for Education to get a briefing on a range of education issues, which will include the Shepparton Education Plan,’’ Ms Maxwell said.

Are you aware of the concerns voiced by many parents?

‘‘I have been contacted by a number of people from the Shepparton community voicing concern about the model that has been developed and how that will work,’’ Ms Maxwell said.

Do you have your own views on how to improve education in Shepparton?

‘‘I’m sure the answers to improving education in Shepparton, indeed in any school, are more complex than just one thing,’’ Ms Maxwell said.

‘‘Having worked in youth services for a number of years before entering Parliament, I am a big advocate for early intervention and primary prevention measures, including in the education sector and with close connection to services and families.’’

Have you visited Shepparton to speak with locals about the plan? If not, will you in the short term?

‘‘I have visited Shepparton numerous times since being elected in November 2018 and will continue to do so,’’ Ms Maxwell said.

‘‘To now, my visits have not included schools, on the basis that the Shepparton Education Plan was already well into its transition phase. ‘‘But I welcome the opportunity to continue to engage with the community and schools,’’ she said.

The Victorian Government has total control of the lower house and near majority of the upper house, so it required three of 11 crossbench votes to pass bills and legislation regarding the Shepparton Education Plan.