THE State Government has been called into question over its willingness to promote rural education.
At last week's Isolated Children's Parents' Association of WA (ICPA WA) 44th annual conference, ICPA president Liz Sudlow said:
- The Department of Education is no longer writing curriculum materials for distance education.
- A lack of face-to-face contact with remote students, less teachers, larger classes and attracting and retaining principals in country areas was also a growing issue.
"Many district high schools have their budgets reduced, some severely, resulting in less teachers, larger classes, more corner cutting, poorer curriculum choice and delivery, with many families looking for alternative arrangements," she said.
"Some will leave, resulting in fewer enrolments and the cycle will continue to spiral downwards."
- "The closure of two primary schools in the Mid West, one in the Upper Great Southern and one in the Esperance region, have created gaps in education facilities in pockets of rural WA."
Ms Sudlow said there was no primary school between Dalwallinu and Perenjori, a distance of about 120km, which discourages rural community development.
- ICPA WA lobbying to increase the BAHA (Boarding Away from Home Allowance) and the conveyance allowance had "fallen on deaf ears".
"But we are not deterred and will continue to plead our case," Ms Sudlow said.
Ms Sudlow said it was an understatement to say that the past two years have seen great changes in WA economic situation, with a huge blowout in State debt.
"The education dollar continues to have to be stretched further," she said.
"In September we learned that as of 2016, the five Schools of the Air would swap to the student-centred funding model, which has seen a flat rate paid per student with some extra allocations thrown in for additional needs such as disability, English as a second language, Aboriginality, social disadvantage and locality.
"This means over a five-year transition period, there will be a 25 per cent reduction in the budget, the greatest permitted.
"Perhaps for the first year or two, the losses will be manageable, but after that the budget reductions are likely to really bite."
Ms Sudlow said since the announcement last year, the association found it very difficult to get an accurate picture of the situation.
"We learned that the locality allowance is paid according to the location of the school and not where the student actually lives," she said.
"In some cases this can be up to 800 kilometres away from the school.
"In our minds this is certainly not a student-centred funding arrangement - it doesn't take into consideration the needs of each student, as the student-centred funding model (SCFM) claimed to."
Ms Sudlow said the system needed to be more flexible for unique and small country schools.
"The fact is, it does cost far more to educate students who live remotely," she said.
"Distance does cost money. These students live in these remote locations because their families choose to.
"They should not be penalised for something beyond their control. Already remote children throughout Australia are considered an at-risk group.
"The SCFM is hardly going to help their prospects."
The ICPA WA collated figures on the 2016 cost of tuition and boarding at all WA schools, citing the average cost of tuition is a little over $16,000 a year and the average cost of boarding is about $19,500.
Ms Sudlow said school fees typically go up by four to eight per cent each year.
"This figure includes the government residential colleges and the ag colleges, and many of these are full to capacity,'' she said.
"If you are eligible for AIC in 2016, you can receive $8015.
"The BAHA is currently $2105 and has not increased since 2010 and then it was a mere $50.
"It is not indexed to the CPI.
"The fact is not all regional students can attend a government residential college.
"It is not really practical if you live in the Pilbara to send your child to Geraldton, where there are vacancies, due to the difficult travel arrangements.
"This is another reason why families are leaving the bush.
"We call on the government to increase the BAHA and to address the situation for those families who have their children at non-government schools and are really paying out large amounts for education. "