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More spending looms as Govt ponders schools shakeup

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The State Government appears open to relocating preschools onto existing primary school sites as a flow-on from its plan to shift Year 7 students into high schools statewide by 2022 – while the cost of that transition appears set to exceed its current budget.

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The Government has previously acknowledged it would cost around $40 million a year more to run Year 7 as part of the high school curriculum, in addition to the capital expenditure required to equip existing secondary schools for the extra student influx.

Those capital works, however, appear in this year’s state budget under the broader umbrella of the $692 million Building Better Schools package already announced by the former Labor government last year – which InDaily revealed in April would be redirected to specific Year 7 transition programs where possible.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said the Government had committed to honouring existing projects “but we’ve basically said, where relevant, we’ll be saying the money will go towards projects that will help us” transition Year 7 to high school.

But he conceded the existing funding would be unlikely to meet the required building demands, saying “whether that [the Building Better Schools allocation] meets all of it or not is an ongoing discussion, which I guess we’ve got to look at in the context of next year’s budget”.

“I’m not going into the detail of the discussion that’s going on, but it’s fair to say a number of those issues have been canvassed and will have to be canvassed again in 2019-20 budget discussions,” he said.

“That will include whether or not there are enough year 7 classrooms and whether the $692m does all of them or not.

“If that’s not enough, we’ll have to look at future capital works programs… we’ve had some discussions with canvassing those at this stage. There will certainly be an argument for educational capital works we’ll have to consider as part of the budget process.”

He said it “may well be there’s more expenditure that’s required in the next two or three budgets” but “we’ll have that discussion and we’ll have to look at the competing priorities within the context of delivering a balanced budget”.

He said the Year 7 transition would also involve money for “things like extra development as well”, with extra money likely required to retrain teachers in the lead-up to 2022.

“Will we have enough people leaving the primary system anyway, or do we have to retrain some primary teachers to be secondary teachers?” he said.

He said secondary teachers were not only higher paid, but more would be required, with secondary schools operating under a different “staffing structure”.

“In a primary school, you’ve just got the one teacher in the classroom… in a secondary school you might have four or five teachers having to be juggled around [so] the structure of staffing is such that it’s more costly staffing exercise,” said Lucas, who was himself an education minister under the last Liberal government in the 1990s.

While Education Department chief Rick Persse told parliament in July that there was not “a clear body of evidence that it’s necessarily better [or] going to improve NAPLAN results or anything like that”, Lucas said what was obvious was that the “national curriculum is structured on the basis of a 12-year-old being in a secondary environment”.

He also suggested the Government may move in the longer term to “combine pre-schools into these [primary] schools”.

This would enable the Government to utilise existing classroom facilities in primary schools once the Year 7 student body has been vacated to secondary schools.

The new Education and Children’s Services Act currently before parliament – and expected to pass in the new year – spells out that the Education Minister “may establish school-based preschools as the Minister thinks fit”, although it “need not be located at the same campus or site as the specified school in relation to which it is established”.

Lucas noted that Year 7 students were “bigger units” than their younger primary school contemporaries, and it would not be appropriate to put “three or four-year-olds in there with these lumbering 12 or 13-year-olds”.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Education Union – which recently went out on a half-day strike over classroom conditions in the Government’s proposed enterprise bargaining agreement – said the union “did raise a number of questions about the transition of Year 7 to high school with the government negotiating team earlier in the year”

“We were told that the transition falls outside of the Enterprise Bargaining process,” the spokeswoman said.

An Education Department spokesman said a Year 7 to High School project team is “undertaking detailed planning to support delivery of this commitment, including initiating a demographic and facilities analysis to allow schools to better understand the impacts of moving Year 7s on individual school enrolments”.

He said the Department was currently finalising a business case for “key transitional activities such as professional development and transport”.

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