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Schools to face closer scrutiny

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PRIVATE schools will have enrolments monitored for steady declines in student numbers or large unexplained changes under a national plan to try to prevent sudden school closures.

The Commonwealth and states will also crack down on how government funding is spent to ensure it is used for the education of students.

The tighter regulations follow the shock collapse of independent schools in Melbourne this year, including Mowbray College, Acacia College and St Anthony's Coptic Orthodox College, and investigations into the alleged misuse of government funding in some schools.

In July, New South Wales Education Minister Adrian Piccoli wrote to Malek Fahd Islamic School in Sydney asking it to repay $9 million in state government funding.

Mr Piccoli said the school had breached funding requirements, which prevented it from operating for profit. He said the school was transferring money to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils without receiving any services in return.

The Commonwealth and all jurisdictions except the ACT require a school to be not-for-profit to qualify for government funding.


Federal School Education Minister Peter Garrett will tell a meeting of education ministers on Friday that all parents have the right to know how their school is funded, where that money is spent and whether their school is viable.

He will say the recent school closures and allegations of misuse of public funding have highlighted the need for governments to work together.

There are nine different regulatory systems and compliance regimes for government funding of private schools and eight different registration and accreditation processes.

Mr Garrett will say it makes sense to have common requirements wherever possible and the Commonwealth will conduct a national consultation until March on the best way of achieving this. It will consult on the establishment of common requirements on private school governance - including how to ensure board members have the skills and experience needed.

When Mowbray College was forced to close in June, after accruing $18 million in debt, administrator Jim Downey was scathing about the financial acumen of the board.

''I think what we've had here is a bunch of parents, I called them well-meaning amateurs, and I mean it. I just think they were totally out of their depth,'' he said at the time.

''They were caught in the headlights and they didn't know whether to go forwards, backwards or what.''