"Overcrowding" in Sydney State schools?
Class-size is a snark. All the evidence shows that it is teacher quality that matters, not class size.
A point not mentioned below is that the turning to State schools mostly seems to be happening in affluent suburbs, where the quality of the pupils keeps standards up
STUDENTS in government primary schools are struggling in classes of more than 30 children as wealthy families turn their backs on expensive private colleges to save thousands of dollars in fees.
Booming public school enrolments have stretched teachers in many popular and high performing primary schools to breaking point as class sizes have jumped to as high as 32 after Year 2.
Children in their first three years of school -- who are not required to sit national literacy and numeracy tests -- have government-mandated small classes with as few as 19 students.
But in senior primary school years children are often forced into large classes, exceeding the upper ceiling of 30 laid down by the NSW Department of Education and Communities.
Data showed enrolments in the best government primary schools has been rising rapidly in recent years, particularly since parents have been able to monitor school performance in the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (Naplan) tests.
Public school enrolments have increased by 8400 across the state since 2009, with northern Sydney a major hot spot.
Government schools in the city's north, up against heavily marketed independents, have recorded the greatest increase in students -- 5100 over the past three years.
At Caddies Creek in western Sydney enrolments have jumped from 220 when the school opened in 2003 to 925. Mona Vale Public on the northern beaches has increased from 799 three years ago to 900. Others have risen by more than 60 per cent in six years.
Relieving principal at Mona Vale Public Greg Jones said families who would have opted for a private education were saving $20,000 a year by choosing the local government school.
"It reflects the community having increasing confidence in public education . . . we are not losing them (new students) so there is very little leakage," he said.
But a rigid staffing formula administered by the Education Department, under which schools can lose a teacher if student numbers decline by just a few, has made it almost impossible to keep all primary classes at under 30.
The Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations said large class sizes in the upper years of primary school was an issue, particularly as students in Year 3 and Year 5 were required to sit the Naplan tests.
Allison King, from Wahroonga, has three children. Her eldest, six-year-old Malachi, is in Year 2 at Waitara Public School. She believes small class sizes are important: "They're still quite little in Year 3 and with all the literacy and numeracy tests they are doing they need so much attention. I wouldn't like Malachi to be in a big class."
In a bid to juggle a limited number of teachers and classrooms, schools are forming composite classes or using "team teaching" -- with 45 or 50 students in a room with two teachers.
Education Department data showed some schools now had up to 19 composites.
The carer of two primary school children in southwestern Sydney, who did not wish to be identified, said she had been told by a teacher that the quality of learning dropped when classes became larger than 25 students.
"I once complained to a teacher because they didn't mark my child's homework when she was in Year 3 -- the teacher said they didn't have enough time to get around to marking every child's work," the carer said.
"This year the principal wants classes to stay at 27 but I think it will increase. This is because some children haven't even come back from holidays yet and are yet to be placed in classes."
Chairwoman of the Public Schools Principals Forum Cheryl McBride said most of her classes at Canley Vale Public in Sydney's west had 29 or 30 students.
"We would love to have smaller sizes . . . if you are a quality teacher you can be even more effective with smaller numbers," she said.
"Disadvantaged schools also find (larger class sizes) more challenging than affluent areas.
"But it is about competing priorities and I rate the need for more counsellors, help for special needs kids and teachers' salaries ahead of reducing class sizes."
Ms McBride agreed public schools were attracting families who might otherwise have sent their children to private schools.
An Education Department spokesman said $710 million had been spent reducing class sizes in primary schools. They now averaged 24 across all grades.
Sydney regional director Dr Phil Lambert said improved academic performance, exciting programs and "connectedness" between the school and parents of students were reasons why government schools had become more attractive. [Dream on!]
Dam engineers accused of using report to cover up their negligence
The sleepy public servants who misused Brisbane's perfectly adequate flood-control dam and flooded Brisbane, killing several people
A SENIOR Seqwater executive has defended the writing of a critical March report by four dam engineers accused of mismanagement of the Wivenhoe Dam during last January's floods.
Seqwater general manager of water delivery Jim Pruss has taken the stand Saturday morning at the flood inquiry to explain his role in the preparation of the report released in early March 2011.
The report is at the core of serious accusations levelled against the four engineers alleged to have disobeyed the dam manual and used low release strategies during the critical January 8/9 weekend before the flood peak last January 13.
Counsel assisting Peter Callaghan has directly accused the engineers inside the inquiry of confecting the March report to cover their tracks.
Mr Callaghan has also questioned why the engineers created a "retrospective" report by going over old data instead of recalling exactly what occurred.
Mr Pruss told the inquiry he had played a supportive role in the creation of the report and acted in "a governance role".
During the report's preparation the dam engineers would meet and decide on a process to meet the deadline which only allowed one month's preparation, he said. "We were really kicking this around in interactive sessions."
Mr Callaghan said there were concerns the report was compiled with reference to data without any attempt to capture any personal recollections of the dam engineers.
Mr Callaghan asked whether Mr Pruss agreed there was the danger of a "displacement" effect in the retrospective manner in which the report was prepared. "The record... might displace unrecorded memories of the engineers," he said. "I agree that is possible," Mr Pruss said.
Paramedics detail Queensland Ambulance Service staff shortages
Your government will look after you -- NOT
SERIOUS staffing shortfalls in the Queensland Ambulance Service have been revealed in a secret file that has been compiled by frontline paramedics.
The covert audit of crew shortages and station closures, obtained by The Courier-Mail, shows communities in some of the state's busiest areas are regularly being left exposed.
Despite fears of career damage or job loss, paramedics logged almost 150 examples of understaffing in recent months. The campaign, not driven by their union, includes details of shifts not being filled, 24-hour stations unattended - often at night - and officers working alone or cobbled together with staff from other areas.
Officers say the "roster holes" are caused by a "cost-sensitive management" and there simply are not enough people to cope with a rising workload, or to cover leave.
The QAS has denied the service is undermanned and says the recent Report on Government Services 2012 showed it had the highest ratio of officers per 100,000 people in the country. It said it had increased numbers by 29 per cent since 2006-2007 and there were now 2596 officers.
However, the on-road figures are considerably less, with an average 450 frontline staff on annual or accrued leave (time off in lieu) each week. Illness also takes a toll, with paramedics each averaging 79 hours of sick leave a year.
The most regular cases of understaffing logged by officers were on the Gold and Sunshine coasts. Staff shortages were also recorded at Redland Bay, Kenmore, Beenleigh, Logan West, Rockhampton and nearby Yeppoon. December was the worst month, with 83 shifts not filled at the Gold Coast, Beenleigh area and Ipswich.
On January 21, the Gold Coast was two crews down when surf lifesavers called for help after a mass rescue of six tourists at Coolangatta. First on the scene was a single officer. QAS confirmed the first unit assigned, at 2pm, was a single responder who arrived within 10 minutes, followed five minutes later by a back-up crew. Six officers attended.
A QAS spokesman said the single officer had been left short after her partner went home sick.
The Gold Coast was 15 paramedics down that day, 12 were replaced by relief or overtime provisions, but then a further two had gone home ill, leaving the region five short.
A paramedic logged that, on September 28 last year, the night shift at Coolum was moved to Nambour and a heart attack in Coolum led to a 17-minute response time. QAS confirmed the incident but it denied that Coolum had been closed.
Boxing Day brought the high-profile case where celebrity chef Matt Golinski waited 29 minutes for a paramedic at a Tewantin fire tragedy while nearby crews attended other jobs. A lone officer came from Maroochydore and a police officer had to drive the ambulance to hospital.
Paramedics told The Courier-Mail their unprecedented "snapshot of the real state of resourcing" had been a last resort. They said the log told a story of increasing pressure and mounting potential for disaster. "All we want is our shifts to be filled so we can serve the community effectively," an officer said. "The system is running too lean and the pressure on us is enormous.
"There are holes everywhere and busy areas like the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are seriously short, especially over the holiday period where they run the same rosters as the rest of the year. This is madness given the population can double during these times."
Paramedics say the QAS would rather see a station close for the night than pay overtime or source casuals: "We only have bare-bones staffing and are worried about what would happen if we have a major incident, such as a bus crash."
Another officer said he believed management was doing the best it could, given the funding available. The QAS gets $575.8 million a year as part of the Department of Community Safety's $1.8 billion allocation.
QAS said it had a three-step plan for filling vacancies caused by sickness or leave. First, it can draw on excess staff from a 13-week relief ratio. If this is not possible, casual staff can be employed and, if neither of these options are possible, overtime can then be utilised.
The service's January data shows that even with this strategy, 26 shifts could not be filled on the Gold Coast and seven on the Sunshine Coast.
"Shifts may not be able to be filled for a variety of reasons, including sick leave, parental leave, maternity leave, military leave as well as WorkCover absence and resignations," a QAS spokesman said.
Carbon tax to hit car jobs
CAR parts and plastics manufacturers warn their industries could be the next to shed jobs because the carbon tax will hit them hard.
And the future of Alcoa's Geelong smelter and 600 workers' jobs was no clearer after high-level meetings yesterday involving the company's bosses, Premier Ted Baillieu and federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Regional Cities Minister Denis Napthine revealed only that discussions had been "frank" and Alcoa had made no specific demands.
Mr Abbott called for the carbon tax to be dropped to save the jobs, saying: "With the carbon tax, the aluminium industry is essentially dead in this country."
The Federal Government, which is giving the aluminium industry $3.5 billion in compensation, said the big problem for Alcoa was the soaring dollar, not the tax.
Despite previously flagging that the carbon tax would be a significant cost to the company, Alcoa said yesterday it was not a factor in its decision this week to launch a review of its loss-making smelter at Point Henry in Geelong.
But car parts manufacturers, who employ about 43,000 Victorians, took the opportunity to warn a carbon tax could be a decisive impost on a fragile industry.
Federation of Automotive Products Manufacturers chief executive Richard Reilly said continuing government help would be needed. "We are going to be impacted by a carbon tax, and our competitors (overseas) won't," he said. "If we want to have a car industry, we need continued co-investment."
Vinyl Council of Australia chief executive Sophi MacMillan warned the combination of a high Australian dollar, imported products and the impending carbon tax would "weed out" many exposed businesses. "It is difficult for the manufacturing sector in Australia at the moment across the board whether you are in plastics or other materials," she said.
Another triumph of airport security
A STUN gun found on an aircraft departing Melbourne has sparked a federal police investigation, amid concerns about airport security. The stun gun was discovered by cabin crew during final checks of the aircraft before the take-off of Virgin Australia flight DJ229 from Melbourne's Tullamarine airport to Adelaide yesterday.
Virgin Australia spokeswoman Emma Copeman said the stun gun appeared to have dropped out of a passenger's bag as a member of the cabin crew rearranged items in the overhead locker.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) were called and confiscated the weapon. Police questioned passengers sitting nearby before clearing the aircraft for take-off, Ms Copeman said. No one was removed from the flight, she said.
Ms Copeman said the airline thoroughly checked flights upon arrival, and the stun gun was not detected when the aircraft arrived arrived earlier at Melbourne Airport.
"They check the flights completely after they arrive and depart and there was no reports of anything on the flight beforehand," she said. "I believe (the stun gun) fell out of a bag that was on the aircraft."
The AFP said investigations into the incident were continuing, adding that there had been no danger to travellers on the aircraft, they said.
Melbourne Airport spokeswoman Anna Gillett said the flight, scheduled to depart for Adelaide at 2.40pm (AEDT), was delayed only a little by the incident.
She said although the airport would work with the AFP investigators, it would not be conducting its own inquiries into how the stun gun could have evaded airport security.
Australian whisky catching up?
Australian wine has certainly caught up with the best in the world
A NEW multi-million-dollar whisky distillery run by renowned maker Lark will be developed at heritage Redlands Estate in the Derwent Valley [Tasmania]. The distillery and tourism project in Plenty will convert the 150-year-old estate, built by convicts, into a unique, world-class attraction.
Project developer and Redlands property owner Peter Hope said the development would include a distillery for premium, single-malt whisky. There would be cellar door sales at a visitor centre, a gift shop and tasting room housed in the old coach house.
Mr Hope said it would also include tourist accommodation in the restored building, restoration of one of Tasmania's earliest bakeries and a carriageway through Redlands Estate to the adjacent Salmon Ponds.
Bill Lark, internationally known for his award-winning Tasmanian whisky, said it would be one of only a few distilleries in the world which grew its own barley and made malt on site using a traditional process.
Mr Lark said the proposed distillery would produce 60 barrels a year initially, or about 10,000 bottles of whisky. "We'll be the only distillery in Tasmania and one of only a few in the world with a paddock-to-bottle process," he said. "We will be growing the barley, malting, distilling and bottling on site."
Mr Hope said tourists would be able to see the barley grown on the estate, irrigated by Australia's first convict-built irrigation canal system, which links with the Salmon Ponds.
The Hope family bought Redlands Estate, formerly a well-known hop farm, about four years ago. They are restoring many of the hidden features of the unique property. These include its heritage-listed buildings and gardens, which boast specimens of some of Australia's oldest European trees.