Rural schools and communities will stand or fall together

halseySustainable rural communities are vital to Australia’s wider viability in terms of food production and provision of other basic resources, but if rural schools are not properly supported the survival of such communities is at risk, according to Flinders University’s Professor John Halsey.

In a submission to the Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling, Professor Halsey, Sidney Myer Chair of Rural Education and Communities (pictured), argues that schools constitute vital institutional capital in rural towns, and require specific funding to meet their needs and ensure their survival.

“Being able to access quality human services in rural areas without a sense of struggle is ‘a must’ for ensuring there are people in sufficient numbers with the required skills and knowledge to produce the food and develop the other resources for a growing national population,” Professor Halsey said.

“This in turn requires approaches to funding education which recognises that sustaining rural communities is an essential component of rural schooling funding.”

Maintaining local access to essential human services in rural communities is fundamental to them being vibrant and productive, Professor Halsey said.

Without innovative approaches to ensuring that critical institutional capital like schooling is available, affordable and accessible in rural communities, he said that sustainability as both a national goal and a national outcome will be jeopardised and a “downward spiral of decline and dysfunction will occur”.

“At the risk of over-simplifying the rural community sustainability challenge: no  school equals no community, and no community equals no contribution to national sustainability.”

Professor Halsey conducted a national survey of rural school leaders in 2010 that identified the most difficult aspects of their work. These included

•    securing services for students with disabilities
•    lack of funding to do all they believe needs to be done for students
•    ICT
•    professional development of staff
•    curriculum diversity challenges
•    maintaining the viability of the school
•    maintaining facilities to required standards
•    attracting staff
•    managing staff absences.

”All of these have funding implications for rural education,” Professor Halsey said.

“It is essential that we stopped pretending funding formulae for urban and rural schools can be, or should be, a level playing-field. They operate on different scales, creating a special set of circumstances and challenges for rural school leaders and staff.

“The Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling is a unique opportunity for allocating a community sustainability component into the funding formula for our country schools.

“Failure to respond adequately will mean that rural schools, their communities and ultimately the future of the nation are placed at risk.”

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One thought on “Rural schools and communities will stand or fall together

  1. I work in a rural school which suffers from current funding models which have recently been changed to a per student model. Each year we also suffer the threat of closure and this has put off at least one family that was considering moving to our town. There has been pressure put on us to close the school and drive the students (many of whom are junior primary) approximately 180 kms each day there and back, along a major trucking highway, which is also prone to suicidal emus and kangaroos jumping out in front of vehicles. It was also suggested that a driver would volunteer their time to travel four hours a day to do the driving.

    Our families set up their lives in this townm, with the fact that there was a place for their children to attend school as a major factor in their decision making. They have already lost their highschool and all children from the age of 13 must leave home and board in a town two hours away.

    Our situtation is unusual. Yes we have small numbers and if there was another choice, parents would be willing to take it – they are not unreasonable. But we are not within reasonable distance of another school. Most parents work and to do school of the air would mean giving up their jobs and businesses or hiring a governess at their own expense, as well as finding and paying for accomodation.

    We have looked into other models of school management and my own conclusion is that if there was one centralised small schools unit that took on the role of principal and admin for a cluster of schools, so that we were all organised as campuses of a bigger school, it could reduce the staffing at each school to one SSO, teaching staff and cleaner. The grounds could be maintained by a centralised crew that went to each school in turn. Staff meetings could be held over Centra, providing staff, which are currently working in quite isolated conditions, with a sense of belonging to a broader community and the support of others facing similar difficulties. This could be helpful in solving issues that come up, that are peculiar to small schools. It is not a perfect scenario but it would cut down the cost of small schools and does have some advantages over the current isolation that staff work with.

    One thing is for certain, we need to stop cutting services to rural areas, so that they have a chance at keeping and attracting families.

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