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HomeNewsParents furious as Department of Education halves Opportunity Class 2025 intake

Parents furious as Department of Education halves Opportunity Class 2025 intake

The NSW Department of Education has infuriated parents at Balgowlah Heights Public School (BHPS) over their (as we understand it) abrupt decision to halve the school’s 2025 intake for Opportunity Classes (OC).

“No reason was given by the Department for their decision at BHPS, or the six other affected schools across Sydney,” says Diana Worman, President of the BHPS P&C.

“There was no advance notice and no consultation. The announcement made it sound like they were creating new OC spaces in a new school, when in fact the total number of OC spaces will remain the same, but they are just shuffling them from schools experienced in delivering the OC program to those with no experience.”

Opportunity Classes are a specific program dedicated to academically gifted students in Year 5 and Year 6. BHPS has had two classes with 30 students in each year. Under the new announcement, starting next year, the Year 5 intake will be reduced to 15 (Year 6 will remain at 30 to accommodate the current Year 5 students). In Year 2026, the classes will be combined to form a composite class with a total of 30 students with reduced staffing.

The “other” 15 spaces will be moved to Brookvale Public School and in 2025, they will have their first Opportunity Class for Year 5 with 15 students. In 2026, they will form a composite class of Year 5 and Year 6 students.

Opportunity Classes aren’t just for local students – it is common for children to travel long distances to attend these classes with students from Epping and Olympic Park attending BHPS.

The changes also affect more than BHPS alone. Seven schools across Sydney have been affected: Artarmon Public School, Blacktown South Public School, Caringbah North Public School, Colyton Public School, Kingswood Public School and Woollahra Public School. And they are all coming together to fight the decision.

Balgowlah Heights Public School
Balgowlah Heights Public School

“Parents and students are upset and angry as the Department’s decision will have clear impacts on student and teacher well-being, as well as, the quality of the overall OC program,” Diana adds.

“We welcome new schools delivering OC programs, but it doesn’t make sense to do this at the expense of our existing program.”

A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education says, “the recent decision to redistribute OC places was informed by ongoing system wide analysis of enrolment data and school capacity”.

“We welcome new schools delivering OC programs, but it doesn’t make sense to do this at the expense of our existing program.”

They claim that there was a lack of enrolments at BHPS and these spaces could be better utilised at Brookvale Public, where there is both a need and place for sibling enrolments.

“The recent changes will create OCs at more schools, resulting in a fairer spread of OCs across Sydney and make better use of school infrastructure and improve access for local students.”

Diana says demand for the class is not an issue, informing Manly Observer that the BHPS OCs are always extremely competitive.

“Last year, over 300 students applied for BHPS as their first choice and there is always a waiting list with positions filled if they become vacant,” she says.

“The recent changes will create OCs at more schools, resulting in a fairer spread of OCs across Sydney and make better use of school infrastructure and improve access for local students.”

Joeline Hackman, a former Independent Candidate for Manly, is undertaking a post-graduate course at UNSW in Gifted Education and has experience within the OC program. She has taken on an advocacy role backing some of the affected schools, including BHPS, Artarmon and Kingswood.

“The OC model at BHPS works and we shouldn’t be dividing it, we should be expanding it elsewhere,” she says.

Last week, she met with NSW Department of Treasury to advocate for additional funding to ensure BHPS OC spaces can remain at 30 each year.

“They were surprised to learn that BHPS has not received any state funding for infrastructure since 1966 and it’s the school’s P&C and Federal funding that have contributed to building improvements,” she says.

“They have recommended the issue be reviewed by the Department of Education.”

Joeline Hackman is backing the BHPS P&C. Image via Joeline Hackman

From Joeline’s academic research, she’s found that there has been a 17 per cent increase in primary school students across the Beaches for the past three censuses. However, the number of OC places has remained at 60 on the Northern Beaches (30 at BHPS and 30 at Mona Vale Public School).

Joeline’s once political opponent, Mr James Griffin MP, Member for Manly, is also against the move.

“The Minns Labor Government promised improvements to public education, not cutting Opportunity Classes,” Mr Griffin tells Manly Observer.

“These changes don’t create any new spaces. It is a sleight of hand, not even Principals were made aware.

“This is an issue that impacts thousands of parents across NSW and we will be leading the charge from Balgowlah to do our best to reverse this bad decision.

“These changes don’t create any new spaces. It is a sleight of hand, not even Principals were made aware.”

“I stand shoulder to shoulder with other parents and my local P&Cs in asking the Minns Government to stop and rethink this decision.”

Three P&C associations, Balgowlah, Artarmon and Kingswood Public School, launched a NSW Parliamentary e-Petition on Wednesday 8 May, which Mr Griffin presented to the NSW Legislative Assembly.

James Griffin MP presented an e-Petition to overturn the decision. Image via Instagram.

“We encourage anyone in the community, any resident of NSW, to sign the e-Petition,” Diana says.

“If signatures exceed 500, it will trigger a response from the Minister for Education, and if it reaches 20,000 signatures, it will be debated in the House.”

You can sign the e-Petition here.

The fall out of the new announcement

While the Department of Education says that, “over half the current department opportunity class schools have a composite OC class”, BHPS P&C says the decision was imposed on the school without consultation.

“Forcing the two-year program to be delivered in one composite Year 5/6 class creates several concerns,” says Diana.

First, it reduces learning resources and highly qualified staff at BHPS which flows on to other teachers, students and the broader community.

Second, it places greater strain on the teachers and students, affecting learning outcomes and well-being.

Finally, it gives less opportunity for students from outside the area to attend BHPS and access the well-established, quality OC program.

Zali Steggall, Federal Member for Warringah, agrees.

“While it may seem helpful to divide student places between locations, there can be limitations in practical terms,” she says.

“For example, with lower OC students at each school, there can be a need for more composite classes and less specialist teaching staff available to support these children’s special needs, neither of which are likely to better education outcomes.

“Balgowlah Heights Public School is a high performing school that already supports Opportunity Class students from a wide geographical area.”

A recent Instagram post by James Griffin MP on the issue. Image via Instagram

Joeline echoes these concerns.

“For many families, OCs are the first time that their children have mental-age and social-age peers,” she says.

The real issue for Joeline is the composite structure.

“Previously, you’d have 30 children, who may have been the victim of bullying, or felt like an outsider, coming together to start afresh,” she explains.

“Now, you’ll have 15 Year 6, older and bigger, students who know each other very well, and 15 Year 5, younger and smaller, students coming into the mix with their own social-emotional issues trying to fit in. That is a big power imbalance.”

The composite classes could have students from nine to 13 years old.

“A composite class introduces significant social risks at a critical time in their development,” she adds.

Adequately trained staff in the new schools, like Brookvale Public School, is another major concern.

“OC teachers require specialist training and experience in the needs of these kids, but we also need time to develop a new OC class and culture and it’s about retaining BHPS’s teacher collaboration and wellbeing, adding more places and developing the culture at Brookvale so the places grow to meet the increasing population,” Joeline says.
“Brookvale and Balgowlah should not be pitted against each other. They are both worthy of resources to accommodate the growing demand.”

When we raised the question of training staff to teach OCs at the new schools in the next six months, the Department said, “professional learning is available to support school leaders and teachers to effectively implement the [OC program]. The department will support all impacted schools and communities throughout 2024 to implement these changes from 2025”.

Sign the e-Petition here.

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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

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