Govt axes funding of troubled school

A prominent Sydney school is set to have its funding axed by the Federal Government after it failed to address concerns over how it was managing its finances.

Malek Fahd Islamic School, which has more than 200 staff and 2,400 students across its three campuses, received $19m in funding over the past year.

However, Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham said funding would be stopped from April 8 because the school was not spending the money purely for educational purposes.

“Unfortunately, the authority that operates Malek Fahd Islamic School was not able to demonstrate to my department that they had addressed the significant concerns about their financial management and governance arrangements raised during the formal compliance review of their operations," Birmingham said.

“Last year the department issued a formal compliance notice when it found that the school authority was not complying with fundamental governance, financial and accountability requirements of the Australian Education Act 2013.”

He added that after carefully considering the response to the issues raised in the compliance notice, the Education Department was forced to make the difficult decision to revoke the funding approval.

“The Act requires, amongst other obligations, that all school authorities operate not-for-profit, be a 'fit and proper person' and ensure that funding provided is used only for school education,” he said.

However, they may be hope for the beleaguered school yet.

John Quessy, secretary of the NSW and ACT Independent Education Union (IEU) told The Educator that there may be some “wriggle room” for the school to avoid the worst case scenario, which he said was the closure of the school, redundancies of the staff and the relocation of its students.

“If I’m reading the Minister’s statement correctly, he said that the school board had been unable to satisfy him that the Commonwealth funding had been used entirely for educational purposes,” he said.

“He did not say there was ample evidence that it had not been. What I’m hoping for is that there is some wriggle room here and that the board has the capacity to provide further evidence and satisfy the department’s inquiry.”

However, Quessy said the IEU’s members were nonetheless very nervous and he was working hard to alleviate the concerns of the schools 200 staff, as well as its IEU members.

“There are a number of staff who are in precarious positions because they don’t have permanency, but now permanency might not mean much if the government carries out the threat,” he said.

“In the event that the school cannot continue to operate, that would mean the winding up of all those employment contracts and a lot of redundancies.”

Quessy added there were also a lot of students who would be affected.

“One way the government could do it is take over the school and put their own staff in – but I’m not suggesting they do that. I would not image that they could find capacity for 2,000 new students and classrooms in those areas between now and April 8,” he said.