Distance education schools growing faster than funding, putting students at a disadvantage, parents say

Distance education schools growing faster than funding, putting students at a disadvantage, parents say
  • PublishedDecember 5, 2023

As interest increases in home schooling, some parents are concerned distance education facilities are struggling to keep up with the demand and their children’s education is being compromised.

Traditionally, distance education has been mostly used by rural and isolated students who live too far from town to travel to school every day.

Key points:

  • Parents say significant growth in distance education enrolments is putting pressure on school infrastructure
  • Rockhampton’s distance education school reportedly has cramped conditions for teachers
  • The campus was not able to host some students for NAPLAN testing this week

But it is increasingly being used by families who find mainstream schooling a poor fit for other reasons, such as disability, religious beliefs or experiences with bullying.

According to the Department of Education and Training, in 2012 Queensland’s seven Schools of Distance Education had a cumulative enrolment of 7,199, but by 2016 numbers had jumped to 9,196 students.

Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association Queensland president Kim Hughes said the significant growth in distance education enrolments was putting pressure on school infrastructure.

Ms Hughes said government funding was not keeping up with the size of the schools.

“In the past couple of years we’ve been working with the Education Department to find out how these schools can be a part of the infrastructure process as state schools are in Queensland,” she said.

“[Mainstream state schools] give their enrolments to the department and plan for the future infrastructure they are going to need to service future enrolments and their unique requirements.”

Rockhampton parents have ‘had enough’

One school that is experiencing growth in enrolments and lagging facilities is the Rockhampton campus of the Capricornia School of Distance Education (CSDE).

The state school, which offers Prep to Grade 12, plus eKindy and vocational educational training, has seen enrolment swell from 244 to 630 in five years.

CSDE Parents and Citizens Association vice president Sam Ware said students at the school, including her son, were at a disadvantage due to a lack of funding support.

“It’s been a battle for quite a few years [and] all we want for our children is just the same things they would get in a quality education at mainstream school,” she said.

Families this week have travelled up to 700km to Rockhampton for their annual ‘mini-school’ visit to the campus, and Ms Ware said the classrooms were overcrowded.

Capricornia School of Distance Education entry sign
Parents say the Capricornia School of Distance Education is under-resourced and crowded for the number of students using the school.(ABC Capricornia: Amy McCosker)

She said teachers faced similar challenges, working from cramped desks while delivering lessons.

“We have a situation where we can have teachers teaching on air through their computers and telephones, and behind them is another teacher teaching,” Ms Ware said.

She said the noisy conditions were not conducive to good lessons being broadcast to students.

Parents are also disappointed students still do not have access to a library, or an extension that the Department of Education said would be ready by late January.

“We have two shipping containers full of books that the kids would love to borrow, but we don’t have any room for a library at the moment … it’s just locked up,” Ms Ware said.

Lack of space ‘a long-term issue’

Clarke Creek grazier Ainsley McArthur said she was disappointed for her four children attending the school.

“I’ve been a parent at the school for 10 years and I’m frustrated because the space issue has been a long-term issue,” she said.

This CSDE classroom has been split into two to accommodate for two classes
Parents from the school say there could be more than 20 students on either side of this barrier, which they say makes for a noisy learning environment.(Supplied)

“As a parent of geographically isolated children, the library and classroom exposure that the mini-school provides for my kids is a really important part of their learning.

“It’s a great opportunity that they are sacrificing.”

Department of Education regional director Kim Fredericks has defended the department’s extension progress, and the school’s lack of a library.

“The CSDE Rockhampton campus has recently acquired two renovated classroom spaces from Glenmore State School, and these new facilities will be ready to accommodate students in coming weeks,” she said.

“All Capricornia School of Distance Education students have access to eBooks Digital Library, a high-quality online educational resource.

“This complements tele-teaching lessons, face to face contact, home visits and in-classroom mini-school activities.”

NAPLAN testing conditions ‘unacceptable’

As Australia’s Grade 3, 5, 7 and 9 students sat for NAPLAN testing this week, CSDE students did their testing at a mainstream primary and high school, close to the distance education school’s Rockhampton campus.

“We have nine 10-year-olds going to a high school to sit their NAPLAN,” Ms Ware said.

“We are grateful to those schools, but we think it isn’t acceptable.”

The Department of Education is comfortable students are not at a disadvantage when it comes to NAPLAN testing.

Ms Fredericks said the students were sitting the test as planned.

“All of these students have access to the required facilities [including desks] within walking distance at Glenmore State High School and Glenmore State School,” she said.

“Extra staff are on hand to assist students to move between the two schools.

“Students who could not attend the CSDE Rockhampton campus this week have been offered the opportunity to sit NAPLAN tests from home next week.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *