Port School a vital support for marginalised students

Published on Thu 10 November 2016 10:12am

Mr Wilson (10:12am) — My electorate of Fremantle, like all electorates, can be considered on one view as a network of school communities. Schools are a particular focal point. They serve a special function, and our public education system in particular should be the foundation of fairness and opportunity in this country.

I think we would all recognise that schools do a lot more than simply teach a curriculum. All schools provide a broad social context; a kind of extended family in which children are connected to one another, are watched over and guided by teachers and other staff, and get to benefit from and contribute to a wider community.

Within the Fremantle electorate, Port School in Hamilton Hill takes that wider function to an extraordinary level of engagement and influence. It works to enable the education of kids who face serious disadvantage and who, in many cases, have multiple and complex needs related to causes like poverty, homelessness or family trauma. The school includes a specific learning facility for young mothers, with an onsite childcare centre that allows them to be at school with their kids and to finish their high school education. You really could not get a better example of the importance and the value of needs-based funding than Port School.

But the Port School experience also shows up the unnecessary obstacles that can develop within support frameworks and the decision-making inertia within government that can make life unnecessarily hard for organisations that are already waist deep in a fast-flowing stream of complex problems. For example, many of the students at the school rely upon income support and other assistance from different programs, and they can find it hard to manage and comply with all their administrative requirements. It often falls to the school itself to assist the students, and it would help if an agency like Centrelink could provide some dedicated assistance a couple of times a month, perhaps even on campus.

On a separate issue, Port is not a big school. It exists on a constrained site and for several years has been pursuing access to adjoining, unused land set aside as a road reserve. The school knows it may not be able to expand into that space permanently, but there is no reason why it cannot gain access to that land for the medium term. Surely this is a matter that an agency like Main Roads Western Australia could bear down upon and resolve in a month or so, if it wanted to.

I want to pay tribute to the principal, Barry Finch, and all the teachers and staff at Port School. They undertake work that is varied and intense; they teach classes that need to be innovative and flexible in circumstances that change day by day; they support young people in myriad ways; and they are drawn closely into their lives and their struggles. I have no doubt it is very rewarding work, precisely because it is so meaningful, but I also know it would demand a lot of you personally and emotionally. I am very grateful that there are people who not only do such good work but are energised by it, who are themselves uplifted by taking their part in the great cause of supporting young people whose wellbeing is so fragile.

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