‘It’s got to be better’: Wodonga education forum hears country schools are falling behind

HEARING THE ISSUES: Senator Bridget McKenzie and Professor John Halsey met with about 20 education representatives at The Cube on Wednesday. Pictures: SIMON BAYLISS
HEARING THE ISSUES: Senator Bridget McKenzie and Professor John Halsey met with about 20 education representatives at The Cube on Wednesday. Pictures: SIMON BAYLISS

Regional students are fighting for success against a widespread trend that shows schools’ results become worse the further away they are from capital cities.

Professor John Halsey revealed this was one of the challenges the sector faced, when he visited Wodonga on Wednesday to host a forum in the rural, regional and remote education inquiry.

The event was attended by about 20 representatives from Border universities, TAFEs, high schools, and disability, apprenticeship and entrepreneur groups.

“In order to ensure we have vital, productive rural communities, critical issues like education have to get a better rap,” Professor Halsey said.

“There’s some absolutely fabulous stuff out there, some great achievement, but it’s patchy and it’s got to be better across the board.”

He said results at regional schools were linked to poverty and disadvantage.

“It produces a toxic effect: kids are behind not just one eightball, but if you want to put it somewhat colourfully, about eight eightballs,” he said.

Albury High School principal Darryl Ward

Albury High School principal Darryl Ward

Albury High School principal Darryl Ward said his staff were often dealing with students’ disadvantage, mental health and social issues.

He called for an improvement in support from health agencies.

“Schools are very much at the forefront of first intervention and supporting the community in the very difficult cases,” Mr Ward said.

“Education is not always the answer to everything – there needs to be a whole of community response and that’s not always happening, which makes it hard for us.”

Albury Wodonga Community College chief executive Rodney Wangman said it would be helpful to predict how many families would be struggling with socio-economic issues.

“It’s the teachers that see that, the schools and the principals who work to try to deal with those things,” he said.

“If you’re looking to the future, you need to address that.”

Professor Halsey said he was happy to see people involved in apprenticeships and entrepreneur programs at the forum because although the government’s goal was to have 40 per cent of the adult population with a degree by 2055, all forms of education were important.

“It’s not one is better than the other, it’s we need both and dynamic combinations of them,” he said.

Albury Wodonga Community College chief executive Rodney Wangman and Senator Bridget McKenzie

Albury Wodonga Community College chief executive Rodney Wangman and Senator Bridget McKenzie

Review’s aim to help regions

Something needs to be done about the “exceptionally expensive” cost for rural students to move away and attend university, Senator Bridget McKenzie has said.

Teenagers graduating high school often take a gap year to earn money before they are hit with what could be bills of $30,000 for education and accommodation.

“(The education review) started with a discussion about youth allowance – our kids are having to use the welfare system to access the opportunities,” Senator McKenzie told Wednesday’s forum.

“It really grates on us that live and work in the regions because these are not wealthy families.”

Albury-Wodonga teachers were dealing with cross-border issues such as not being able to move from a Victorian to NSW school without a second registration.

“We were today talking about the role of parents and the role they play in ensuring their child has a great start to schools and that they’re inspired right throughout their schooling and have those experiences,” Senator McKenzie said.

“Rural and regional, what it means here in Victoria and Southern NSW, is very different to what it means in the Northern Territory or WA. 

“Being able to do something of this scope, as a federal government, we have an understand of the unique issues of Albury-Wodonga and how that is very different to those in Dubbo for instance.”

She said the key to getting qualified doctors, lawyers or accountants to return to the country was to create a vibrant economy with well-paying jobs.

“They know what we know and that’s living in the regions is a great way to raise a family and a great lifestyle,” she said. 

“I don’t necessarily see it as a negative that young people want to move away. 

“We need to ensure that country kids, regional kids, have the same choices, that they are not trapped to have a destiny that they have to stay local.”

Professor Halsey was expected to deliver his report to the government by January.