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Members’ relentless advocacy wins more time to fight for their school
Members at Norfolk Island Central School see a 12 month extension to the provision of education by the NSW Department of Education as an opportunity to continue the fight to maintain continuity of public education on the isle.
The extension follows lobbying by members and Federation Officers.
Students, staff and the Norfolk Island community experienced “incredible angst” on announcement more than a year ago that the NSW’s Government’s commitment to deliver school education would expire on 30 June 2021, Norfolk Island Central School Federation Representative Susie Hale said.
“For students approaching Stage 6 and their HSC, this announcement meant that they were unsure if they would be able to continue with their studies,” she said.
“Some teachers have never worked anywhere else and have lived on the island their entire lives. Many teachers have married Norfolk Islanders; their children are Pitcairn descendants; they have built homes and businesses in the isolated community.”
They are concerned that if they are not re-employed by the public education system they will have to move to NSW — more than 1600km away — to continue teaching in the system or cease teaching.
“It’s not like there is another school down the road to which they can transfer,” Ms Hale said.
Members decided they needed to have their concerns heard.
“We have corresponded and questioned relentlessly since the announcement,” Ms Hale said, “contacting state and federal politicians, and senior personnel from the Department of Education who are involved with the decision making.”
In several letters and meetings Federation officers advocated on behalf of members and 2021 HSC students. The union also raised concerns that the Australian Government would choose a private provider. “A firm principle of the provision of school education in this country is the right of all children and young people to enrol in their local public school,” Federation General Secretary John Dixon wrote in a letter to Special Minister of State Don Harwin.
Then in June 2020 Federation wrote to Department of Education Secretary Mark Scott seeking, as an interim measure, the immediate extension of the operation of the school using current NSW staffing and curriculum until at least the end of the 2021 school year.
“As term 3, 2020 began, and still no provider had been announced, more and more teachers at the school were faced with the dilemma of risking their careers by continuing to stay on Norfolk Island without the reassurance of work at the school post June 2021,” Ms Hale said.
The Department of Education initially offered teachers only six months of employment, early in term 3. “The ludicrousness of this was obvious. They could potentially have to return to NSW in the middle of the school year.”
A survey of Federation members exposed that the offer of six months’ employment meant that Norfolk Island Central School could potentially lose 28 teachers out of 34 teachers, adding to the uncertainty and discontinuity for students at the school.
Following intensified lobbying by members and Federation, teachers were finally offered employment with the NSW Department of Education for all of 2021.
“While members felt some immediate relief when the fight for 12 months of employment was won, and then more relief in the knowledge that the school will be staffed and students will have teachers for 2021, there remains frustration … caused by the NSW Government’s decision to withdraw from public education provision. No reason for the withdrawal has ever been given,” Ms Hale said.
Teachers at the school are unanimously in favour of the NSW Department of Education remaining as the service provider at the school. “It is the system and curriculum that has served the school effectively and successfully for more than 100 years.”“Members would like the whole idea of transitioning to a new provider taken off the table,” Ms Hale said. “However, if NSW will not reconsider being the service provider, members insist that any proposal made by the federal and state governments regarding education provision is a collective one, made in close consultation with the NSW Teachers Federation, the P&C and the whole Norfolk Island Central School community.”
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