Public education advocates, the Australian Education Union (AEU) and Save Our Schools (SOS) have questioned the effectiveness of new reporting laws for private schools, introduced this week by ACT Education Minister, Joy Burch.
From next year, all critical incidents involving student safety at private schools in Canberra will need to be reported to the ACT Education Directorate.
Burch also announced tightening of directorate approval processes for new private schools being built in the ACT.
However, SOS national convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said the new rules “made a farce of the Education Act” and that new private schools would be able to choose how much evidence they provided “on community demand”.
“There is no requirement for schools to provide specified evidence of community demand to meet the provisions of the ACT Education Act. It makes a farce of the Education Act,” Cobbold told The Canberra Times.
Cobbold also warned that the panels appointed by the minister to assess applications for new private schools were vulnerable to a conflict of interest.
"It is still possible for major conflicts of interest to occur in the assessment of applications for new private schools,” Cobbold said.
“It is still possible for a panel appointed to assess an application to consist of a majority of representatives of private schools as has occurred many times in the past.”
The AEU’s ACT secretary, Glen Fowler, was cautiously optimistic about the incoming changes.
While Fowler welcomed the requirement that new schools must nominate a location at the time of application as well as annual reporting requirements, he said he had written to the ACT Education Department to seek clarification on a number of issues.
Fowler questioned whether it was possible for a panel to have more non-government school representatives than government representatives, as well as what appeared to be a lack of appeal rights for interested parties,
He also questioned why the ACT Government had not made a commitment to ensure that all new suburbs received a government school prior to opening the way to non-government schools.