The ACT government has approved three new private schools - two Christian and one Islamic - to be built in the ACT despite vehement protests from public education groups that they threaten the viability of government schools and could ''cannibalise'' enrolments.
The Australian Education Union and Save Our Schools Lobby are also furious that the government has made no public announcement on the approvals despite ACT Education Minister Joy Burch giving the green light in December 2012.
Brindabella Christian College has been allowed to establish a campus at the old Charnwood High School, while the Seventh Day Adventist-run Canberra Christian College will build a school in the new Molonglo suburb of Wright, and the At Taqwa Islamic School has been approved for Gungahlin.
A spokesman for Ms Burch said the approvals could be found on the Education Directorate website and did not warrant a press release.
The union's ACT branch secretary Glenn Fowler condemned government ''secrecy'' surrounding the decision saying there had been high community interest in the outcome.
''The fact that vast sums of public money will be used to subsidise these private creations means that the public must be informed of the ACT government's decisions,'' he said.
Save Our Schools campaigner Trevor Cobbold said the the decision would draw enrolments from existing schools in Belconnen, add to excess capacity and threaten the future of some schools.
''The minister's approval of a new school in Belconnen defies all logic. It contradicts the government's own long-term policy to reduce excess school capacity in the region,'' he said. Both believed it was insulting to the public to approve a private school in Belconnen after the distressing closure of Flynn Primary School in 2006.
''Cannibalisation is the only possible outcome,'' Mr Fowler said. ''This represents a significant shift in priorities and members of the public should have a genuine say as to whether this is the way they want the ACT to go.''
Mr Cobbold said the new Brindabella Christian School campus in Charnwood would be within a few hundred metres of Charnwood-Dunlop Primary and St Thomas Aquinas Primary schools. Flynn Primary - just over a kilometre away - was closed despite public outcry because the government said there was over-capacity in the region.
Mr Cobbold said there was no case for another private school in Belconnen given there were nearly 2000
excess places in government schools in north-west Belconnen and projected population growth in Belconnen to 2021 was estimated at only 0.3 per cent a year, compared with the ACT average of 1.4 per cent.
But Ms Burch countered that the latest ACT school census showed North Belconnen enrolments had shown continued growth - up by 135 students this year. At Taqwa Islamic School's application indicated Belconnen or Gungahlin as potential sites, but approval has been limited to Gungahlin.
While Mr Cobbold accused the directorate of failing to adequately assess the impact on schools as required by the ACT Education Act 2004, Ms Burch said she followed the act's requirements and it provided ''limited grounds'' on which an application could be refused.
She invited the union and Save Our Schools to make submissions for changes to the decision-making process with respect to in-principle approvals of non-government schools. ''The government's firm belief is the continued growth and community confidence in government schools is achieved through our continued investment … in quality teachers, and quality infrastructure,'' she said. ''It is not achieved by stifling the growth of the non-government sector.''
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