Strengthening the Future Provisions of Public Secondary Education in the Inner Sydney Area
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- End Date
- Targeted Demographics
- Racial/Ethnic Groups
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Decision Methods
- Not Applicable
- General Agreement/Consensus
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- Public Hearings/Meetings
- Traditional Media
- New Media
Problems and Purpose
In 2014 the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities initiated a public consultation process to gather community input on how to meet the future challenge of providing public education in the inner city area. The engagement covered three local government areas and needed to engage meaningfully with a range of groups including teachers, parents, councillors, students and interest groups. It also needed to ensure that these diverse views were represented in the collective feedback, so that the department could have confidence in their planned outcomes (Straight Talk 2015). In addition to this, organisers needed to ensure that discussion did not tend towards polarised discussion about the quality of individual schools, but focussed on the needs and solutions for the future.
Three key questions were to be addressed:
- Options for managing public secondary educational needs in the short term (1-4 years).
- Options for managing public secondary educational needs in the medium to long term (5-10 years).
- The best way to create public secondary schools that meet current and future educational demands, in a highly urbanised environment with finite resources (Straight Talk 2014e, p4).
The population of Sydney is predicted to grow by 1000 people a week in the next 15 years. In particular, urban renewal and redevelopment in inner Sydney has led to an increase in families living in the area. This places extra demand on public education. Whilst current provision and short term demand is dealing with this, medium to long term increased demand will result in a shortage of teaching and learning space (Dept of Education 2014). Following the planned construction of a new, large primary school in 2013, the Inner City Schools Working Party (ICSWP) then turned to consideration of secondary education provision in the future.
New South Wales has been prominent in community engagement and consultation in a number of local government areas on a number of issues. You can read about some of them here on Participedia.
Originating Entities and Funding
The process was instigated and funded by the NSW Dept of Education and Communities. It was designed and developed by Straight Talk, an independent community engagement specialist and the Inner City Schools Working Party (ICSWP). The ICSWP was established by the state government in 2012 to work on the challenge on future education provision.
The engagement program needed to engage with a range of diverse stakeholders and groups in the community, including groups considered ‘hard to reach’ such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and those from a culturally and linguistically diverse background (Straight Talk 2015). To meet this challenge, Straight Talk developed a series of separate targeted community consultations to engage with the following groups:
- Councils: invitations were by email to councillors and council officers in five council areas. Five council members from four areas attended the workshop (Straight Talk 2014d, p5).
- Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG): invitation was sent to President of the AECG who forwarded it parents with an aboriginal background. Two people attended the workshop, but several other parents with an aboriginal background attended another community workshop (Straight Talk 2014d, p5).
- Secondary and primary school students: two focus groups were held for both secondary and primary students from three schools. Students were recruited through their schools with whom ICSWP liaised with. Schools were asked to recruit up to 12 children for each focus group, with a mix of year groups and attainment represented. Overall 37 students attended (Straight Talk 2014d, p6).
- Future parents: three focus groups were held for future parents. Attendees were recruited via random telephone calls by an independent organisation, Jetty Research. Straight Talk also contacted pre-schools in the area to recruit parents whose children will be affected by the issue. In total, 17 people participated across the three focus groups.
- Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) parents of primary and secondary students: three schools were asked to identify CALD parents to attended one of two focus groups. Recruitment criteria was that parents did not have English as their first language or that they had moved to Australia in the past two years. 23 parents attended in total, plus several more CALD parents attending other community workshops (Straight Talk 2014d, p6).
- Randomly selected community members: 20 people participated across two workshops held for the wider community. Participants were recruited via random telephone calls.
In total, 104 people participated in targeted consultation activities. Other activities also used a range of participant selection methods, including:
- P&C workshops: three workshops were held specifically for representative from Parent and Citizens’ Associations (similar to a school board). Attendees were invited by principals from 20 different schools. P&C reps could also choose to attend a different workshop if they wanted. 37 people participated in total in the two hour workshops (Straight Talk 2014b).
- Principal and teacher workshops: principals and teachers from 101 schools were invited to attend workshops, with three for teachers and one separate workshop for principals. Invitations were sent by email to principals who then forwarded to their staff. Staff were also able to forward the invitation to interested colleagues they might have, even if they did not work for one of the designated schools. Teachers were given three dates and locations to choose for their convenience. 44 teachers and principals attended in total (Straight Talk 2014a, p6).
- community workshops: three community workshops were held. Attendance was open to all and the workshops were advertised through principals, social media, local papers and local stakeholder groups. In total, 173 people attended, with 122 attending the first workshop in inner East Sydney. Given the large attendance at one workshop, the feedback collected is skewed toward that area (Straight Talk 2014c, p5).
In addition to these facilitated, face-to-face activities, participation was also encouraged through kitchen table discussions and an online forum. Kitchen table guides were distributed through school principals, dept of education websites and at all workshops. They were also highlighted on social and local media. The estimated number of participants in kitchen table discussions was 158 (not all groups disclosed the number of participants). 14 kitchen table guides were returned with feedback (Straight Talk 2014e, p6).
The online forum was promoted through the same channels and received 4,000 unique visits. 586 comments were made by 98 participants (Straight Talk 2014e, p8).
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
A wider range of activities were undertaken; they are summarised in the diagram included with this entry (Dept of Education 2014b). Face-to-face activities are outlined below.
Workshops followed a standard format and were all facilitated by Straight Talk. However, activities varied slightly depending on the needs of participants. For example, primary students were asked to draw their ideal high school, whilst CALD parents were asked if there was anything special that they looked for when selecting a school (Straight Talk 2015).
“The workshops commenced with an introduction by a member of the Inner City Schools Working Party to provide the context, followed by input from an officer from the Department’s Assets planning group showing the projections for public secondary school demand in the inner Sydney area. Following this input Department representatives left the workshop to ensure all participants felt at ease giving their honest and open opinions.
The majority of the workshop time was spent discussing the three consultation questions. Unless time was limited, small groups were given the opportunity to feed their ideas back to all workshop participants to enable an understanding of the synergies and differences in ideas and possible solutions raised” (Straight Talk 2014a, p5-6).
“Following some contextual information and whole group introductions the focus groups commenced with a presentation from a Straight Talk facilitator to show the projections for public secondary school demand in the inner Sydney area.
The focus group discussions allowed time to explore the options for managing short and medium to long term demand for secondary education in greater depth. Participants were presented with a range of option cards and not prompted on which topics to discuss. This allowed the facilitator to ask further exploratory questions to gather in-depth feedback on the options and other relevant topics such as the factors that influence parental school choice” (Straight Talk 2014d, p8)
Three newsletters were issued throughout the engagement process from the Department of Education. The newsletter were designed to keep people informed of the progress of the consultation in a ‘story so far’ way. They also further encouraged participation in the kitchen table discussions and online forum. The final newsletter was issued two months after the engagement ended and gave a summary of the process, including outlines of the activities undertaken as well as the outcomes of the consultation, presented in an accessible way covering short, medium and long term implications.
Straight Talk also provided five ‘issue summaries’ summarising activities and analysis of the outcomes. All documents detailing the activities undertaken during the consultation are available to download here.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The ICSWP stated that they would deliver their recommendations resulting from the consultation by the end of 2014 (Dept of Education 2014). In December 2014, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the ICSWP had ‘finally’ agreed on the development of a new primary school in inner Sydney. However, a google search seems unable to reveal the promised report, save for details of several freedom of information requests for the report to made public in January 2015.
In February 2015, the Department announced a new $60 million (AUD) high school would be built in inner Sydney. The new school promises to house 1500 students and undertake an innovative approach to public education ‘to help students prepare for the challenges of tomorrow’. The press release mentions the consultation process but it is not immediately clear how the consultation outcomes were fed into the new school plan. However, Straight Talk point out that the site selection for the new school was something identified from the engagement process (Straight Talk 2015).
The Department along with Straight Talk received a ‘highly commended’ planning award from the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) in 2015:
“The high degree of transparency about the process and its outcomes contributed to improved relationships between the Department and some key stakeholders, including local Government representatives and inner city parents and has allowed a greater depth of press coverage to more fully illustrate the complexities of forward planning for public education facilities and services in rapidly changing urban environments. In addition, the diverse range of techniques, particularly the self-directed Kitchen Table Discussion Guides, encouraged the active and constructive participation of stakeholders such as the local member, ensuring a wider reach and deeper conversation about how to best meet future educational needs in the inner city” (IAP2 2015, p23)
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Overall, the key successes to this engagement appear to be the level of transparency (constantly keeping people informed of what was happening through newsletters and social media) and the array of tailored activities undertaken to engage a diverse range of people. Straight Talk tweaked workshops to adapt to the needs of the participants, resulting in a total of 18 different processes running alongside each other. Over 4,500 were involved in the process in total.
Unfortunately, the transparency of the engagement program seems to have been let down somewhat by the subsequent lack of transparency from the ICSWP, since the final report was not made public (as far as I can tell). As of 2016, local media reports state that overcrowding in inner Sydney high schools is becoming a problem.
IAP2 (2015) Core values awards 2015 [online], available at: https://www.iap2.org.au/documents/item/420
NSW Dept of Education and Communities (2014) The future school landscape [online], 16 May, available at: http://www.dec.nsw.gov.au/about-us/key-people/secretarys-update/the-future-school-landscape
NSW Dept of Education and Communities (2014b) Community consultation strategy overview [pdf], available at: https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/media/downloads/news/yr2014/inner-syd-consult/WEB_Strategy_Summary.pdf
NSW Dept of Education and Communities (2014c) Inner Sydney high school consultation [online], available at: http://www.dec.nsw.gov.au/about-us/news-at-det/announcements/inner-sydne...
Straight Talk (2014a) Issues summary 1 – Principals and teachers workshops [pdf], available at: https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/media/downloads/news/yr2014/inner-syd-consult/summary1-principalsandteachersworkshops.pdf
Straight Talk (2014b) Issues summary 2 – ‘Invited’ P&C representatives workshops [pdf], available at: https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/media/downloads/news/yr2014/inner-syd-consult/summary2-invitedpcrepresentativesworkshops.pdf
Straight Talk (2014c) Issues summary 3 – Community workshops [pdf], available at: https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/media/downloads/news/yr2014/inner-syd-consult/summary3-communityworkshops.pdf
Straight Talk (2014d) Issues summary 4 – Targeted community consultation activities [pdf], available at: https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/media/downloads/news/yr2014/inner-syd-consult/summary4-targetedcommunityconsultationactivities.pdf
Straight Talk (2014e) Issues summary 5 – Written feedback [pdf], available at: https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/media/downloads/news/yr2014/inner-syd-consult...
Straight Talk (2015) Public secondary education [online], available at: http://www.straight-talk.com.au/2015/05/12/dec/