Bendigo Education Plan consultation hears calls for safety as city prepares for different looking-future

BOOM: As Bendigo grows, so will its population of schoolgoers. The biggest group, those aged five to 11, will top 14,000 come 2036. This is the world the education plan for which the education plan in preparing.

BOOM: As Bendigo grows, so will its population of schoolgoers. The biggest group, those aged five to 11, will top 14,000 come 2036. This is the world the education plan for which the education plan in preparing.

The place is Bendigo. The year? 2028.

The city’s population has increased dramatically, well on the way to reaching 200,000.   

By 2036, it looks likely Strathfieldsaye will have about 4000 schoolgoers, with Kangaroo Flat not far behind with 3700. 

The job market is also undergoing dramatic change. Construction, manufacturing and retail sectors that once reigned supreme are on the decline. In their place, demand for healthcare, education and agriculture employees has grown.  

This is the world for which the Bendigo Education Plan 2018-2028 is being developed. 

Education stakeholders – politicians, school principals, city planners and business heads – who attended community consultation sessions at the Bendigo office of the Victorian Department of Education and Training this week were asked to reflect on the question, “ What would really fantastic, world-class education services look like and feel like?”

Smoothing the transition between different levels of schooling, and sharing information between education stakeholders so fewer students fell through the gaps, were among the most common suggestion raised at a consultation with early childhood and primary school educators on Wednesday.  

The 2005 precursor to this education plan focussed heavily on schools, especially secondary schools. But Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority chairman Chris Wardlaw, who facilitated the sessions, said the 2018 iteration would be for young people aged 0 to tertiary age.  

For the community to meet changing demands, work was needed to address a shortfall of students who excelled at school, Mr Wardlaw said. 

Future graduates must be ready to take on roles in an employment sector different to the one that exists today, experts have said.

Future graduates must be ready to take on roles in an employment sector different to the one that exists today, experts have said.

Others were just struggling to reach benchmarks for their age group. 

"There's still too many students not getting to a level of learning that they can progress to the next stage comfortably," Mr Wardlaw told participants on Wednesday.

Keeping students in school until they completed year 12 studies was also an area in need of improvement, he said, as the local labour market demanded more skilled workers than before.  

Data from 2015 shared at the sessions showed that for every five students who graduated from year 12 in 2015, three young people left school prematurely. 

The plan will address four key objectives outlined in the Victorian government’s Education State program, including breaking the link between social disadvantage and poor school performance. 

"We know seriously disadvantaged kids can excel, but on average, there's an impact, and we've got to try and break that link," Mr Wardlaw said.

Health and wellbeing need attention

Students have raised the issue of personal safety, and teachers have asked for tools to deal with “challenging” students, as Bendigonians are asked how schooling should look in 10 years’ time. 

Representatives from the early childhood and primary school sectors this week attended community consultations inside the regional office of the Victorian education department, telling facilitators their schools needed to attract and retain highly-skilled staff capable of managing student behaviour.

“Many find it challenging to manage behaviours they don’t understand,” one kindergarten leader said, believing training was required for those staff.  

Primary school heads said students with behavioural difficulties who had aides during pre-school arrived into their first year of primary school without funding for the same supports. 

School students were also involved in the education plan discussions, with grade 6 classmates from Strathfieldsaye primary school believing all schools should become places free from the scourge of bullying. 

Students should also be prepared for the advent of social media harassment, they suggested.

Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Meredith Peace, whose organisation is contributing to the Bendigo plan, said it was imperative all staff and students felt safe in their schools.

“Federal and state governments have an obligation to ensure sufficient funding and resources are provided to both schools and their staff to reduce any risks that may arise, and to provide healthy and safe workplaces,” Ms Peace said. 

“Violence is never acceptable, and the safety of Bendigo’s students and staff must be a priority for the education department.”

Fears for the wellbeing of Victorian principals were last month acknowledged when the education department announced regular health check-ups for school leaders. 

The Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey found almost 30 per cent of Victorian principals were physically assaulted. 

More than two in every five were threatened with physical violence.

Staff retention was also floated as a concern in need of addressing, as was educators’ rates of pay.