Northcote: Parents blast government for lack of school funding


Image supplied by NESSA

Parents and students at the NESSA launch in front of a fundraising stall. Their buckets illustrate how much money they need to raise every year for basic school services.

The Northcote Electorate State Schools Alliance (NESSA) is a new lobby and activist group that was launched a few days before the Victorian state election. The launch at the Northcote town hall saw a large number of people showing support for the new group.

NESSA consists of parents and school councillors from 12 schools in the electorate. Many of these schools already have individual campaign groups in order to achieve their funding goals. However, one of the key reasons NESSA was established is for these schools to work together, rather than compete, to collectively advocate for funding.

Many parents spoke of how it felt to have to fund basic maintenance and facilities at their schools. Bec Yule, a parent and school council member at Thornbury High School said that it’s “incredibly frustrating, incredibly depressing to constantly feel like you’re working towards something that is a basic job of the government”.

Another parent from Westgarth Primary pointed out that, “members of the community have had to fund raise to make essential upgrades to fund important school infrastructure, such as music rooms, changes to administration areas, and updating learning areas”.

The group is also advocating for school funding decisions to be made by an independent body rather than for political reasons by the government of the day.

Maintenance, ageing facilities and safety

Maintenance of buildings and the age of facilities is a common problem across the electorate. Safety issues often occur due to a lack of response to funding requests submitted by these schools. One Westgarth Primary parent spoke about leaking roofs causing mould in the school’s two campuses. The Department of Education agreed to repair the damages but has not committed to fixing both roofs.

Bec Yule, spoke of how Thornbury High was built on a cheap and temporary basis as one of Melbourne’s “chicken coop” schools constructed in the 1960s to alleviate increasing student numbers. However, since then the school has had no major maintenance or facilities funding from the state government and has maintained its buildings through the efforts of the school community.

“You spend so much of your time working and giving up your time running fetes… so you can keep your toilets operational and you can have air conditioning in classrooms for hot days”, said Ms Yule.

A parent from Northcote High agreed adding that, “Our dedicated teachers have to ‘make do’ with old, outdated learning environments…the situation is disheartening, because our school provides outstanding education and opportunities, and is the centre of a rich, diverse, inclusive community. However, our school buildings and facilities don’t reflect that”.

Plans for the future

In order to receive any funding for major works, public schools have to use some of their funding to create master plans. This was acknowledged as a good idea so schools were showing they are planning for the future with any facilities constructed. However, many parents pointed out that while the state government has approved a number of these plans over the years, little actual funding has been received by the schools. And in some cases where funding has been received it has only been a small part of what is required.

Ms Yule said that the government had signed off on the masterplan for Thornbury High worth between $25 to 30 million.

“But there is no indication from them as to when that money might be coming or if we will even get that money”, she said.

Ms Yule also pointed out that Westgarth Primary School, which her children once attended, had its master plan approved a number of years ago, but still had no indication of when they will receive the funding for it.


Overcrowding has also become a common issue for schools across the electorate. Around 50 per cent of all students in the area learn in portable and temporary class rooms. Many schools cannot fit their students into their halls for assemblies. Some of these schools hold outdoors assemblies or broadcast assemblies over PA systems when it’s raining.

Likewise, a number of schools have inadequate sporting facilities. Northcote High school councillor Gabby Ostrognay pointed out that only one in five physical education classes are able to be held in the school’s gym.

One parent said that Fairfield primary removed its library a number of years ago to make additional space for classrooms and still have no dedicated space for it. Like many other of the primary schools in the area, portable classrooms have taken up space in what was once the student’s playground area.

A Westgarth Primary parent pointed out that students have been, “moved around between classrooms to allow the expansion in school numbers” and that staff rooms are too small to fit all current staff.

Even seemingly mundane tasks such as students storing their belongings have been affected. At Northcote High, where around 50 per cent of lockers are outside, students are called out of class to rescue their belongings and materials from being waterlogged when it rains heavily.

Government response

At the time of writing, the Government and Education Minister James Merlino have yet to respond to a request for comment on the issues raised at the launch of NESSA.

Despite the lack of school funding from successive governments, many parents that UniPollWatch spoke to praised the advocacy of current and former state and federal local members who have advocated on behalf of their schools.

Despite the issues raised, all NESSA members interviewed praised their school staff.

“The staff at Thornbury High are exemplary… They go above and beyond in every situation”, said Ms Yule.

NESSA parents and school council members from Fairfield, Westgarth Primary and Northcote High School agreed pointing out that “the school leadership and staff [at their schools] are excellent”.

Many also believed that despite facing challenges their schools continued to deliver engaging programs for their students and quality education.