School closures by stealth

The Victorian state government has been forced to reveal that over 150 state schools have been closed or merged with other schools since 1999.

Education minister Bronwyn Pike has come under increasing pressure this year to declare the number of schools that have been merged or closed.

There has been growing speculation that schools have been starved of funds and therefore had no alternative but to close or merge.

In a June 23 article in the Age, Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Brian Burgess said: "We are tired of the mantra that it is up to each school community when the reality is that schools that the (department) didn't think would 'survive' were pretty much starved of facilities funding anyway."

In the July 4 Age, Pike responded: "It's always a decision that the community themselves make."

Australian Education Union state councilor and member of Teachers Alliance, Mary Merkenich, disagreed. She told Green Left Weekly: "When schools don't receive adequate funding it impacts on their enrolments and it's very hard for schools to attract students. It becomes a vicious cycle. Schools get little support and the only option many feel they are left with is to merge with a neighbouring school or close altogether.

"What is needed is a campaign to address the lack of funding for government schools, which is the root cause of these mergers and closures."

The department has not disclosed how many more schools are due to be merged or closed in future.

[Bronwyn Jennings is a Victorian primary school teacher and member of Teachers Alliance. Teachers Alliance can be contacted at ]