NSW public school enrolment policy should be more flexible to benefit Hunter students | Editorial

It’s rare that rigidly sticking to the rules provides the best results for everyone, all the time.

That assessment certainly applies to the state government’s approach to public school enrolment boundaries.

The NSW Department of Education has been called on in recent weeks to be more flexible when it considers whether to allow children who live outside an enrolment zone to be able to attend a given school.

For some, that flexibility would mean the difference between whether or not they can go to school with their older brother or sister.

A Cessnock mother is the latest to draw attention to the way this enrolment policy has failed some families.

Tammie Spicer lived inside the enrolment zone for Ellalong Public School when her son Riley was old enough to start kindergarten.

But because the family since moved beyond the zone boundary, the school wouldn’t accept Riley’s younger brother Callum into kindergarten this year.

So the young family has to go through the daily ritual of trotting their two young boys off to different schools, because the rules weren’t flexible enough to allow common sense to come into play.

The policy has been in place since 1997 and is aimed at making sure school populations don’t bulge beyond the capability of their infrastructure, while at the same time ensuring that all students have access to a place at their local school if they want one.

This idea makes sense in an ideal situation, but there are always exceptions that prove the rule.

In this case, that rule is being tested by Riley and Callum and, by any real measure of common sense, it doesn’t stand up.

Schools are given the power to use some judgement as to which outside enrolments they accept, but they are hamstrung if their enrolments are at capacity for a given year group.

It’s not acceptable for the state government to try to reduce the risk of having to put its hand into its pocket to provide more infrastructure for schools by leaving young students and their families to face the consequences.

But if the current policy is the best general solution the government can come up with, there should at least be some flexibility so other students aren’t put in the same situation as Riley and Callum – so young siblings can enjoy their schooling together.