THE WA Labor Party has slammed the State Government for its handling of the Year Seven issue.
In 2007 the Department of Education and Training, headed by a Labor Government, completed an independent report on the future placement of Year Seven students in WA public schools.
The report found there was no evidence that outcomes improved when Year Sevens were in secondary settings, that it was an extremely costly move and there was significant community anxiety about students' wellbeing.
Leader of the Opposition Mark McGowan was Education Minister in 2007 when the report was completed, and was at parliament last week when the petition tabled.
It called for a review into the compulsory transition of Year Seven to high school.
Mr McGowan threw his support behind the 4073 country people who had signed the petition.
He said the current policy had already been looked into, but scrapped by the Labor Party when it was in power.
"We scrapped it for three reasons, there is no educational benefit, it would be a huge cost and the impacts on small communities were concerning," he said.
Shadow Education Minister Sue Ellery was surprised the WA Liberal Party had made a commitment to have all Year Sevens in secondary school, despite no absolute evidence that showed significant improvements in academic results.
"There has been no independent review that shows any difference in academic outcomes," Ms Ellery said.
"But the State Government has committed to it, and now we are concerned for a number of reasons.
"They still don't have a clear plan in place for training the number of teachers they will need.
"There is no clear plan on what they will do for those small schools most affected by the move.
"Will they even have adequate physical buildings to house the Year Sevens?
"This is rolling out in 2015 and it looks to us like there are a whole lot of key areas that have not been resolved."
Ms Ellery said the petition was a clear indication the community was not confident the State Government could make the policy work for everyone.
"A total of 4073 is a large number of signatures on any petition and Education Minister Peter Collier really needs to listen," she said.
"We hope he can take the petition in the spirit it was offered.
"There are seriously concerned parents and he needs to allay those concerns."
The petition was tabled by Labor Member for Agriculture MLC Darren West who presented it to the Legislative Council and called for a review into the compulsory section of the policy.
Mr West said he wasn't expecting to hear any news for a few weeks but hoped the strong opposition would force the government to act.
He said he was hoping for an Upper House investigation.
Mr West was shocked that two Ministers of the same department could have such polar views on the same subject.
"There has to be some common ground and we need to find a better plan," he said.
"We probably won't be able to make everybody happy but I'm confident the result will be positive.
"I am sure they (the State Government) don't want to be seen as heartless or careless, but if they don't make some compromises then they are all of those things," he said.
The compulsory transition of Year Seven to high school by 2015 has caused huge amounts of angst in rural and remote WA.
The policy was announced in 2011 and since then had been met with strong opposition from rural and remote families who want the option of keeping Year Sevens in country schools.
Mr Collier defended the government's decision to relocate Year Sevens to secondary schools and said it was made with the best interests of students in mind.
"Secondary school will give Year Seven students access to specialist teachers, resources and facilities such as laboratories and workshops which they need for the new Australian curriculum," he said.
"The majority of other Australian States and Territories already operate under this system and by 2015, more than 90 per cent of Year Seven students nation-wide will be educated in secondary schools.
"The State Government believes in high quality public education for all students throughout the State, no matter where they live.
"If we did not make this opportunity available to students in regional areas, it would be to their disadvantage and create a two-tiered education system which would be inequitable."
Mr Collier said he understood the change would have an added impact on country families which was why a three year transition period has been established.
He said as part of the three year transitional arrangement, special consideration could be given to families whose children attend small schools in isolated communities.
"Parents can discuss special consideration with principals and principals may be able to offer some parents the option of their child remaining at primary school for Year Seven in 2015, 2016, or 2017," Mr Collier said.
"It is also important to note that because of changes to the school starting age, students are now on average six months older and currently about half are celebrating their 13th birthdays while still in primary school."