Mr STONER (Oxley) [5.17 p.m.]: On 28 February last year I referred to the withdrawal of Priority Schools Funding, previously known as Disadvantaged Schools Program funding, from Melville High School, in South Kempsey. Melville High School had been funded under the program for many years and had been doing fantastic things for children from disadvantaged backgrounds with that funding. When I raised the matter previously I made the point that I believed there was an anomaly in the process for determining eligibility for this much-needed funding.
Melville High School caters for a large population of indigenous students, students from lower socioeconomic groups, as well as quite a number of students with disabilities. Melville High is surrounded by other schools that retain Priority Schools Program funding. They included South Kempsey Primary, East Kempsey Primary, and Kempsey High School. On the surface, Melville High School had more students from disadvantaged backgrounds than many other schools that attracted the funding. I understand that part of the problem may have been due to the way in which survey forms had been completed by some parents associated with Melville High. Despite the best efforts of the school community, including some wonderful teachers and parents, Melville High ultimately was forced to cease many of its ground-breaking and highly effective programs.
As a result, students in need of targeted and individualised learning programs have been going without in an area that has one of the State's lowest school retention rates and highest unemployment rates. It is a tragedy. Recently, the Minister for Education and Training announced a new program, Priority Action Schools, which I very much welcomed because it would benefit students from several schools in the Oxley electorate, including Bowraville and Kempsey. Unfortunately, it has had the unintended consequence of exacerbating the funding gap between Melville High School and other neighbouring schools. A precondition for the Priority Action Schools funding was that the school be in receipt of Priority Schools Program funding.
I understand that the Minister has spoken to the President of the New South Wales Teachers Federation, Maree O'Halloran, and that he is considering this matter. I have not yet had the opportunity to raise this matter with the Minister. This is my first communication with him. Together with the local Teachers Federation branch and the President of the New South Wales Teachers Federation, I am representing the school community to bring to the attention of the Minister what appears to be an anomaly in funding caused by problems with the surveys and exacerbated by the advent of this new program. I thank the Minister for agreeing to consider the matter. I urge him to treat Melville High School as a special case.
I am unsure whether the current Minister for Education and Training has visited South Kempsey and, in particular, Melville High School, but if he did he would realise that it is an area of great need. The school has a large number of indigenous students. Absenteeism, truancy and retention rates are of great concern. Melville High School needs special programs such as a special breakfast program, which I understand is in place in some schools. But Melville is struggling for funding. I urge the Minister to provide funding that would allow the school to resume its excellent programs that have helped many disadvantaged students to achieve academic and employment outcomes. As the President of the Macleay Valley Teachers Association, John Jeayes, said to me recently,
At the end of the day it is the kids that matter.