LOCAL education providers and representatives say the government’s decision to slash $1.7 billion from the education budget over the next four years will have serious ramifications for students, teachers and the wider community.
The public sector will lose 1800 jobs, TAFE institutes will increase fees, and independent schools will have funding frozen at $960 million a year.
McCarthy Catholic College teacher and state executive member of the NSW Independent Education Union, Denise McHugh, said she was “flabbergasted” by the decision.
While cuts were not as severe as those first reported last week, she said “no cuts are good cuts”.
Ms McHugh said the decision would have a greater impact in rural and regional areas, particularly the job cuts, where those made redundant might not be able to find another job in the same area.
It was difficult to tell what the impacts on non-government schools would be at this early stage, Ms McHugh said, but would likely lead to reduced staffing and increased class sizes.
The loss of administrative staff would also create a larger workload for teachers, a detriment that would flow on to students, she said.
Tamworth Teachers Association vice-president Greg Parker said teachers would lose access to expert consultants to support their teaching through the staffing reductions, which would subsequently affect students.
He said the announcement came on top of the loss of six consultants from the northern region.
Other job cuts had already begun, he said, with some department employees in the New England not offered renewed contracts.
Mr Parker also believes regional areas could feel the impacts more keenly, leading to a widening of the disparity between success rates of regional and metropolitan students.
But the the biggest issue for him was that the funding cuts followed the federal government’s assertion education needed more money after the Gonski review.
P&C Federation publicity officer and New England regional P&C chairwoman Rachael Sowden also said it was “disingenuous” of the government to introduce the savings measures following the calls for more funding.
Ms Sowden said while the promise of losing no teaching positions was welcomed, the teachers would lose their supports.
The need for support was greater given the upcoming rollout of the national curriculum, she said, particularly to ensure resources were rolled out evenly across metropolitan and regional areas.
Ms Sowden told The Leader that it was unfair public education was to lose funding, given it did the “heavy lifting” with a greater proportion of students from disadvantaged or marginalised groups.
Ms McHugh, Mr Parker and Ms Sowden also questioned why education funding should be axed in light of the expenditure on the transport plan and the North West Rail Link, into which the government will pour $3.3 billion over the next four years.
“No money should be pulled out of education at this point,” Ms Sowden said.
Northern Tablelands MP Richard Torbay said he would not support the cuts.
He said the “one-size-fits-all” approach the government took ignored the barriers of distance, affordability and access to services that rural and regional students faced.
The cuts would impact schools in regional areas worse, he said.
Mr Torbay said he would ask Education Minister Adrian Piccoli in yesterday afternoon’s question time in parliament to guarantee the Armidale district department office would not be closed.
“Also I’ll be demanding to see what impact analysis has been done in rural areas on the impacts of teachers, students, and the increased costs in access to TAFE, when we keep complaining as government about skills shortages,” he said.
He also said he was disappointed that it flew in the face of the Gonski review and previous comments about future education needs.
But Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson said education providers knew they would have to make savings because they were outlined in the budget – it was only the details that had been waited on.
He acknowledged it would be tough on schools and TAFE institutes, but said they needed to work within the decision and “acknowledge the targets set by the government”.
Mr Anderson said he was talking with local schools and the TAFE institute, as well as Mr Piccoli, to try make things easier.
But the outrage surrounding the cuts in light of the Gonski review and recommended greater funding should be directed at the federal, rather than state government, he said.
“What we’re seeing here is the federal government making bold statements with an empty wallet,” Mr Anderson said.
Barwon MP Kevin Humphries did not respond.