ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry has defended a north Canberra school as experts raise concerns about its alternative campus and teaching methods.
About 40 Margaret Hendry School parents went to a community meeting on Thursday night after 10 parents told The Canberra Times they had left or were in the process of leaving the school because their children were being bullied and falling behind academically.
Ms Berry said she had not received advice that a large number of families were unhappy with the Taylor school, which was the first in the territory built in line with the Education Directorate's future of education strategy.
"Margaret Henry school delivers the same education focus as every other school, guided by the future of education strategy which is a child-centred approach, which includes inquiry-based, but also explicit instruction," Ms Berry said.
Parents said suspensions were regularly issued to students as young as five and this was impacting on their work. One mother said her kindergarten child had been absent from school 18 days this year due to suspensions and she was on the brink of losing her after-school care subsidy.
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Ms Berry said schools used suspensions for a variety of reasons and transfers would be considered on wellbeing grounds.
"I completely understand the frustration from the families and that's why it's so important for the families in the schools to work closely together to make sure that every child, regardless of their background and regardless of their needs, that those needs are met," Ms Berry said.
Ms Berry said the disruptions due to bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic had made it difficult to build the new school community.
Some parents raised concerns about the focus on inquiry-based teaching methods in the open-plan classrooms where different age groups mingle together.
Associate professor at Edith Cowan University's school of education Lorraine Hammond said inquiry-based teaching, where students explore their own interests, had a place in schools but basic skills and knowledge was best taught directly in a traditional classroom layout.
"There are some kids who will pick up reading without too much adult intervention, but they are in the minority, and so if I had a child in a school that wasn't teaching reading directly, I'd be very concerned because some children can be vulnerable simply because we don't get the instruction right," Dr Hammond said.
"It's very hard when they're older to make up for all those years."
Parents and Citizens Association president Phoebe Philips said her children in years one, two and five were doing well at the school.
"We're a Defence family and so my husband was away and from day one we've just been supported," she said.
Ms Phillips' son, who has ADHD and autism, had been suspended from school multiple times but she believed the suspensions were warranted.
"I don't think it's for everyone but ... it works for my family and we're very happy," she said.
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