The power of determined people with a strong message has been hailed by the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association in the wake of Thursday’s announcement by the Western Australian government that it had reversed its decision to close the state’s five Schools of the Air.
Rural families in that state were dismayed to hear on the day before the 2017 school year finished, that in a bid to “eliminate duplication”, the schools would be closed from 2019, meaning students would be reliant on the School of Isolated Distance Education in Perth for the delivery of the service.
Sensing the message of possibility it sent to governments in general, rural families around the country mobilised behind their WA counterparts in a push to stop the closures.
Federal ICPA president, Wendy Hick, said the news was very encouraging.
“We are still waiting to see the final details but it’s good to know the government has taken on board suggestions,” she said. “There was so much support from across Australia for the families fighting the closures, which shows the importance people everywhere place on localised Schools of the Air.”
She said the announcement was all the more remarkable in that it had happened during the traditionally quiet Christmas holiday period.
In a media statement, the McGowan government admitted it had made a rushed decision that left many people anxious and distressed, in a bid to find savings in the education budget.
Education Minister, Sue Ellery, said they had listened to the concerns raised and took time to further analyse the impact of the savings measures announced, both from a financial and education perspective.
"These changes announced today strike the right balance and ensure that every child receives a high quality education, no matter where they live.
"I won't shy away from finding savings and helping contribute to budget repair."
Initial measures were estimated to provide $64 million in savings. With the decision to reverse some of those measures, the total saving to the Budget is now estimated to be about $41 million.
The government also announced that funding for the Gifted and Talented Program in schools will be maintained, and accommodation at the Northam Residential College will remain open.
Ms Hick understood the Moora college was still slated for closure and said there had been no word on the school camps or funding for agricultural schools.
“There’s a lot of relief now but a few more things need to be discussed,” she said.
A number of measures were instigated by rural families to bring pressure to bear on the government, including a social media campaign using #regionalstudentsmatter and @savewasota, signs displaying messages at the third Ashes test in Perth, an online petition attracting over 32,000 signatures, and a letter campaign.
“It caused a lot of stress and anxiety, particularly over Christmas,” Ms Hick said.