Fears for country schools

Kate MatthewsCountryman
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Regional communities with only a primary school will be hard hit by the loss of Year Seven students, according to parents.

Two weeks ago, Premier Colin Barnett and Education Minister Elizabeth Constable announced that from 2015, Year Seven students would move to secondary schools.

Parents claim the flow-on effects of the decision will be devastating for small communities.

Williams parents John and Heidi Cowcher said the move would affect the social and emotional wellbeing of children and increase financial pressure on rural and regional families.

Despite two years of lobbying, their youngest son, Michael, 8, will be among the first intake of Year Seven students under the new plan.

Mrs Cowcher said it would mean six instead of five years of boarding school for her son.

She was also worried about bullying, with Year Sevens mixing with students up to the age of 18.

Mrs Cowcher said she knew of families who were considering moving to the city because of the changes.

Isolated Children's Parents' Association president Carina Kopke has called on the Government to put in place assurances that schools with small numbers will not be shut down.

"We don't want to see any schools shut down or the quality of education or resources deteriorate," Mrs Kopke said. "We also want an assurance that the schools taking Year Sevens have the resources."

In a statement to _Countryman _, Dr Constable said the Government was sensitive to the needs of country people and has given a three-year extension for families experiencing challenges.

"On a case-by-case basis, principals at some small schools will offer these families special consideration to help them to be able to plan the most suitable timing and arrangements for the education of their children," Dr Constable said.

"In many cases in country areas we are talking about small numbers of Year Sevens moving out of primary schools and therefore there will be minimal, or no, impact in terms of the number of teachers needed in these areas."

Dr Constable said the previous Labor Government had allowed Catholic and independent schools to offer Year Seven in secondary settings and many parents were sending their children to hostels or boarding schools for this year.

With the introduction of the national curriculum, the State Government said all Year Seven students needed access to specialist teachers currently only available in secondary schools.

The changes will cost $300 million in capital works at 23 schools, with other costs including staffing to be included in the State Budget.

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