STEM centre guaranteed for Shepparton students and tech school still on the cards

By Madi Chwasta

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has assured Greater Shepparton Secondary College students they will “absolutely” get a new STEM centre, and says a tech school is still on the table for Shepparton's 10-year Education Plan.

His comments came after State Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell raised concerns about the Victorian Government’s commitment to the STEM centre and tech school, detailed in documents she obtained through Freedom of Information.

Mr Merlino said the new Greater Shepparton Secondary College building would include a dedicated STEM centre, offering facilities in science, technology, engineering and maths.

He said a STEM centre was not the same as a tech school, which is a separate institution hosted by a university or TAFE college to encourage high school students to pursue their interest in science and technology.

He said the “most important” plan was building the new high school for Greater Shepparton Secondary College — a merger of four high schools across Shepparton and Mooroopna — due for completion by 2022.

He said the tech school would be a “future project”.

“The brand new (high) school includes the STEM area, and our aim is to have the doors open by 2022,” he said.

“It can’t all be done at once.”

According to the design plan for the one-site school, the STEM centre is be part of an ‘Enterprise & Innovation Centre’, which is about 5000 square metres in size, and includes science labs and specialist facilities for woodwork, metals and electronics.

In the draft community engagement report of the Shepparton Education Plan from November 2017 — obtained by Ms Lovell — a tech school was considered "integral" to the community.

The document said “consideration should be given to delivering these facilities”, but then added community engagement participants “may not have fully understood the concept” of a new tech school.

This document did not specify a commitment from the State Government to deliver the tech school in the first stage of the Shepparton Education Plan.

A ministerial briefing for Mr Merlino from late March 2019, also obtained by Ms Lovell through Freedom of Information, indicated a tech school in Shepparton would be considered in later stages of the 10-year education plan.

“Any proposed tech school will be considered as part of future stages of the Shepparton Education Plan and state budget processes,” the document said.

The briefing defined a tech school as a "STEM centre of excellence" — but different to the STEM centre that Mr Merlino said would be built in the ‘super’ school.

When asked whether he made these plans for the STEM centre and the tech school clear to the community, Mr Merlino said he "absolutely" had.

As reported in The News last year, State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed called on the Victorian Government to build a tech school in Shepparton, and The News understood then there was no detailed commitment to this project.

Ms Sheed told The News yesterday a tech school would be a “very valuable” resource for the region and beneficial to schools across her electorate.

“I have been lobbying the government to deliver just such a project and it is one of my asks for the 2020/21 state budget,” she said.

“This is not to be confused with Greater Shepparton Secondary College’s STEM Centre of Excellence, which is an integral part of the Shepparton Education Plan that the minister has undertaken will be delivered by 2022, along with the rest of the new campus construction.”

There are 10 tech schools in Victoria, including in Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Gippsland.

Ms Lovell said the community expected the tech school to be completed with the new Greater Shepparton Secondary College.

“Everyone expected the tech school to be done at once — it is a component of secondary education,” she said.

The $21.5 million allocated by the State Government is to begin construction of the new school and the Mooroopna children’s centre.

The school construction project is estimated to cost $120 million, and Mr Merlino has promised more funds will be allocated in future budgets.

Greater Shepparton Secondary College opened this year across three campuses in Shepparton and Mooroopna.