Thursday, 30 September 2010

Parental support for students

We divide issues into portfolio responsibilities, and into federal, state and local spheres of government, but rarely will issues agree to be pigeonholed in the way we hope.

Recently I spent some time at University High School talking to senior staff.

One of the issues staff have to deal with is the number of students at the school without parental support.

There is strong demand to attend University High School - not just locally, but from overseas.

Frequently, an overseas businessman pays a substantial bond (or "designated investment") to obtain a business category visa for Australia. This entitles their children to study in Australia, including at a school like University High School.

In most cases the children are properly supervised, but too often they are in the care of siblings, or a relative who then goes overseas, and then just no one at all.

This places immense strain on school staff, who have to look out for the students when they do not attend, or when they are ill, and who have to deal with personal needs of young students far from home, lonely, and in a strange environment. This is not confined to the school itself: it often requires attending at students' residences. All this is becoming a significant drain on senior staff time to the detriment of other students.

This is not just an education issue. It is also an issue in relation to the terms on which business visas are granted (Commonwealth) and in relation to child welfare (State).

Most of us take for granted that we will support our children closely as they go through their education. Where that doesn't happen, the rules should reflect the reality, not the ideal. In particular, the terms of business visas should be altered so that support for children in our educational system is expressly required.

And if we are going to deal with the problem, we cannot confine ourselves to a single portfolio or level of government.

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