Mike Baird answers your questions on local education issues

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When Premier Mike Baird agreed to be interviewed by North Shore Mums, he probably didn’t realise that the would be faced with such hard-hitting questions. While popular in the polls and a very busy man, he’s still taken the time to give detailed responses to all the concerns raised by North Shore Mums – so much so, that we’ll be running his answers over a two-part series. Today, Mike answers your questions on local education issues.

‘With the increased density along the rail corridor there has been an unprecedented influx of students into our primary schools. Popping numerous demountable classrooms on already scarce outdoor/playing spaces is not the solution – apartment blocks continue to be approved and built and so the numbers continue to rise. When will there be an appropriate and long term solution – that is, an upgrade of existing buildings to accommodate increased student populations?’ – Merrin Hodge

Population growth is one of the challenges we face as a city – and it is something I welcome. But we have to prepare for it and student enrolment demands is an issue we take very seriously.

In fact we are currently in the process of preparing plans for groups of schools across metropolitan Sydney which take into account areas along key transport routes where we know we can expect significant population growth.

During the campaign we copped a lot of flak for our proposed 99 year lease of 49% of our poles and wires – in fact one day one of my daughters came home and said – ‘dad what are you doing?’

But the lease of these electricity assets will net us at least $20 billion we need to future-proof the state and as part of those funds we have committed $1 billion to education.

What that means in real terms is an additional 1,600 new or refurbished classrooms and we have already prioritised the North Shore; for the very reason that it is one of the areas in Sydney we know there is enrolment growth.

I know that plans and blueprints aren’t always very reassuring, but this is not just pie in the sky – we have shovels in the ground and a number of projects that have been completed or are currently underway including a major upgrade of Killara High School; and extra classrooms for Mosman High School and Chatswood, Artarmon, Neutral Bay, Cammeray, Willoughby and Lane Cove West public schools.

We are also building a new public school on the former North Sydney Anzac Memorial Club site in Cammeray for up to 1000 students and this is due to open for Term 3, 2016.

We have the refurbishment of Bradfield College at Crows Nest to create Cammeraygal High School, a new comprehensive, co-educational high school, which opened for Year 7 in Term 1, 2015 as well as a major upgrade of Mowbray Public School which will provide new classrooms, new administration facilities, a canteen and staff facilities, expected to be ready for Term 2, 2016. We are also planning Lindfield Learning Village in 2019, which I’ll talk about in more detail shortly …

‘What is being done about the public high school at UTS Lindfield site? What is being discussed is not filling the essential need for the area. The hi tech/ research facility etc education centre is aspirational. We first need to meet basic needs and resource the existing schools before creating a hybrid – which does not meet the need of the ‘catchment area’ . There are many families who have been depending on the UTS facility providing the much needed high school for the area which only has two overcrowded / restricted options for public high schools. There is not much transparency around this site, plans and the Minister promise to provide another public school to the area. Why has it been delayed another few years?’ – Marianne Kopeinig

Mike speaking at Australia Day Council Lunch, 2015

Mike speaking at Australia Day Council Lunch, 2015

The UTS site has enormous scope and opportunity and we need to ensure that we make the most of that. This is not a decision for the Government but for the community – and that is why we undertook extensive consultation which resulted in a number of proposals in relation to educational models and site utilisation, including early childhood/long day care, a preschool, primary and secondary schooling and before and after school care.

Currently we are expecting UTS to vacate the Lindfield site in late 2015, and to establish the Lindfield Learning Village which will have a preschool, and a mixed primary and high school that may eventually include university-level subjects.

We decided to open this new school to ensure that there are enough learning spaces in the community, but it is important to get it right and so we have had  to review the facilities proposed for the site and as a consequence the original opening date of 2017 has had to be revised to an opening date of 2019.

‘What do we as a community need to do in order for a co-ed public high school to be established in the Warrawee to Berowra area? It seems so unfair that we have very limited single sex options, or creative arts focus? Why not redevelop the Hornsby TAFE site, seeing as though there are cuts right across TAFE? This is a desperate problem for those of us in this area… and a solution is needed!’ – Linda Lazenby

I can imagine that it must be very frustrating for parents and we are working on a solution for the Hornsby area and hope that we will be in a position to outline what that is in more detail by mid-2016. What I can tell you is that we will looking closely at the need for additional permanent teaching spaces at schools in the area and the adequacy of the existing secondary schools.

‘Why are there not good alternatives for SRE for all students? Ethics is not well advertised and often not available. Time should be able to be spent more productively than colouring in.’ – Leesa Hopwood

I think the most important thing for parents and students is to have a choice and I am a strong supporter of both Special Religious Education and Special Education in Ethics for this reason.

It is the principals who know their community and school best and they decide about appropriate non-Special Religious Education activities for their school; whether they be Special Education in Ethics (where available), reading, private study or completing homework.

Having said that, we do have strict guidelines in place   to ensure that schools provide meaningful activities with care and supervision for students not attending SRE – and if you know of an example where this is not taking place then I urge you to contact the Department of Education.

‘Last budget the government cut funding for 3 year olds for preschool. There is a widely recognised issue with early childhood education and affordability. Studies show access as early as possible significant benefit a child’s long term learning outcomes and also female work participation. NSW already has the highest preschool costs of any state (ACT children receive 15 hours free preschool for 4 year olds for example). Why is the Baird government choosing to increase costs for early childhood education? Why are there only 100 state preschools in NSW?’ – ‪Amanda Mckenzie

I absolutely agree about the value of early childhood education – it is more important than ever. We know that different families have different needs so we want to give parents a choice; whether it is a departmental preschool, a community-based preschools or a long day care services.

The truth is we have actually increased the funding by 20% but shifted it to it is a needs-based funding model so the funds go to children who are most in need.

When we came to office in 2011 one of our key policy areas to focus on was to protect the vulnerable; I am very proud of what this government has achieved economically – we are back in front from number 8 and have the strongest economy in years.

But that is all useless unless we use our economic might to protect those who need it most and our independent review found that we needed to shift the funding to target funding to four and five year old children, and increase funding for children from Aboriginal and low-income families to ensure that cost is not a barrier.

95% of community preschools have seen an increase in their base funding rate under this model, with the highest increases aimed at children from disadvantaged backgrounds

Our model has been designed to ensure all children in NSW have access to a preschool education in their year before school, and that disadvantaged children have access to two years of preschool.

Fees in Community Preschools are set by the services themselves, but the introduction of the new Preschool Funding Model has helped to keep preschool fees stable and in 2014 and 2015 no community preschool service received a reduction in funding.

Are you happy with the education services provided on the North Shore? What are your concerns?

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