Thursday, 16 August 2012
Gippsland Electorate: Sale Specialist School
I appreciate the opportunity to bring to the attention of the House the appalling conditions which are currently being endured by students, staff and parents associated with the Sale Specialist School. The Sale Specialist School is in desperate need of a new site and a purpose-built facility to meet both current needs and future expansion opportunities for students with special needs in my community. The students at the Sale Specialist School are enduring the worst conditions of any school in my electorate. I challenge others in this place to find worse conditions anywhere in Australia for students with special needs.
When the school was built, it was to cater for 15 students; there are now 77 students studying across the two campuses, one of them being a temporary campus. The classrooms are small, cramped and inadequate, and they would not be tolerated by any mainstream school. I have had the chance to visit the school twice this year and meet with parents, teachers and the students themselves. I must say I am appalled by the conditions that the students are enduring. There is no therapy room for speech or physio work or specialist allied health services; they are all conducted in the corner of a storage room at the moment.
Outside playtime for the students has to be rostered because not all the students can fit in the playground at the same time. The situation is worse for the middle year students, who have been moved to a temporary site. The previous Labor state government promised the school that they would be at the temporary site for three to five years. Well, it has been five years and we still have not secured any land to build a new facility. This temporary facility is really a collection of old portable buildings on the back of the Sale High School. These are old portable buildings which other schools have discarded, and they have been cobbled together in something that we are referring to as a temporary campus for these students. While most other schools have a school gymnasium, the Sale Specialist School kids have a shipping container in which to store their sporting equipment; and on days of inclement weather there is no area for them to play anyway because there has been no landscaping on the grounds around the temporary facility.
This school community has been patient for too long. They have been waiting their turn for funding for many, many years now. They were failed by the previous state Labor government, which promised to secure some land for the Sale Specialist School. That never came to fruition. Unfortunately, under the Building the Education Revolution program, this school was failed again by the federal government—because they did not have any land available for expansion, they missed out on their money. Their share of BER funding was about $800,000—that money was absorbed into other schools in the Gippsland region. So the Sale Specialist School has missed out twice, and has no reason to trust either state or federal governments when you see the conditions the students are enduring at the moment.
I despair that we have got ourselves into a position where we have 77 students in a facility which does not even meet the basic needs of students with disabilities in any way, shape or form. I also despair because, across my electorate, under the BER program we got a lot of new halls, basketball stadiums and everything else, but we have this school with the greatest needs and it got nothing at all. That, I think, is the greatest failing of the BER: it did not actually address needs; it was a one-size-fits-all approach. That has been very disappointing for the parents and staff associated with the Sale Specialist School.
On a slightly positive note, I can report to the House that the local state member, Peter Ryan, who is the Deputy Premier of Victoria, and I have met with a delegation from the school. In conjunction with some local real estate people, Peter has taken steps to locate a potential site for a new development. I would hope that the acquisition of the land is not that far away at all. We will then have something to move forward with so the community can lobby both state and federal governments to get on with the job of actually providing these kids, staff and their parents with the type of facility they deserve—particularly because in the 21st century we know much more about the educational needs of kids with disabilities. It could be that in the next six months we will have to turn away some new enrolments from the Sale Specialist School because we cannot cope with current demand. That would be a tragedy for those students and their parents.
In closing, I echo the words of the Principal of the Sale Specialist School, Shelagh Donegan. She wrote to me and said, 'It is a disgrace that we have reached this stage without intervention.' I can only say in this place here this evening that I stand ready to work with the school community and the state government—and the federal minister if at all possible—in partnership with the local community to make sure this project is a priority in the future. We need to secure the land and get on with the design work and actually get these kids into a decent facility because the students at the school have waited too long.