I am writing in response to Denis Harvey’s recent letter to the editor published in The Courier with regard to staff shortages at Narrabri High School and the response he received from the Department of Education (DET).

I write as a former high school principal with nearly 17 years experience leading schools in rural NSW. My heart goes out to Denis and the whole Narrabri school community.

I can say as a statement of fact that well over a decade ago, principal groups agitated with great vigour to get a level of commitment from the DET to make changes that would result in improved support for rural schools and ultimately for better educational outcomes for rural kids. We could see “the writing on the wall” back then of potential looming issues particularly in regard to properly staffing schools. The Education Minister at the time, Adrian Piccoli, was supportive and had a good understanding of the shortfalls that were evident. The bureaucrats at the DET, however, were a different kettle of fish and showed, at best, a very limited level of commitment, to bring about effective change.

The fact that they peddled out a list of staffing incentives that only apply to a very small number of extremely isolated schools is of no surprise. As Denis notes, most of these incentives do not apply to Narrabri, or indeed to the vast majority of rural schools in NSW, and be assured that the issues Narrabri faces are replicated elsewhere.

The DET for an eternity has been totally disinclined to sit down and meet with rural principals, teachers, parents and local councils to drill into ways that can address short and long term challenges in rural education.

Rural kids are entitled to a level of education the equivalent of the best on offer anywhere else, but this cannot happen under the current structures that are in place.

They deserve schools that are not just fully staffed but staffed with high quality staff and high quality leaders.

Finding solutions is challenging and will require creative and imaginative thinking, and a willingness to accept the current shortfalls and a willingness to commit to improvement.

Sadly all of these things are in very, very short supply from the DET. But improvement can happen if there is the passion and commitment to do so.

I urge Denis and the whole Narrabri educational community to stamp up and down, make big noises, and not accept the reply they were given.

I was privileged to have worked with so many wonderful rural kids, their parents and communities, and know that rural schools have produced, and will continue to produce, so many wonderful and highly capable young people. But they need genuine support, and a genuine level of financial and structural commitment for that to happen.

Bernie Roebuck, Bellbridge

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