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Primary school naming fiasco

12 Oct 2017

Primary school naming fiasco Image

Exclusive by Sean Car

The State Government is doing everything within its power to avoid naming its new primary school in Southbank as Southbank Primary School.

With the new Ferrars St school to open to families in four months' time, the school is still without an official title and is known by its interim name of South Melbourne Ferrars St Primary School.

Under the government’s official school naming guidelines, the school should be called Southbank Primary School.

However, these guidelines are advisory rather than compulsory and State Government has taken drastic measures to avoid naming its new vertical primary school as Southbank.

The City of Port Phillip (CoPP) confirmed to Southbank Local News last month that it had received a formal request from the Department of Education and Training (DET) to change the suburban boundaries along Ferrars St.

The school sits within the Port Phillip but is located within the Southbank suburban boundary.

“I can confirm Port Phillip Council has received a letter from the DET requesting a boundary change to incorporate South Melbourne Primary School – Ferrars Street (interim name) into the South Melbourne locality,” Mayor Bernadene Voss stated.

Under the Geographic Place Names Act 1998, local councils are responsible for determining suburb, town and rural district names and boundaries within their municipality. They must do this by following appropriate consultation with essential service organisations and the community.

However, when asked about its request for a suburban boundary change, the DET remarkably told Southbank Local News that the school would be named South Melbourne Primary School.

“This school has been called South Melbourne Primary School since we came to government and has already become a prominent landmark,” a DET spokesperson said.

“The school name will be formalised as South Melbourne Primary School for the start of the new 2018 school year.”

After putting this statement to the council on October 6, Deputy Mayor Katherine Copsey told Southbank Local News that DET had since withdrawn its request.

“The request to change the boundary has since been withdrawn,” she said. “Council does not have a formal position on the school name, rather we have been focused on supporting the Victorian Schools Building Authority (VSBA) to complete the school and community precinct by January 2018.”

Despite the DET withdrawing its request to change the suburban boundaries, its statement announcing the school’s name would appear to be a breach of its own policies and processes.

The policy states that the DET must workshop possible school names with the community to seek input into the school name.

Once this process has been carried out and the suitability of a proposed name has been checked, agreement must be sought from the regional director before proceeding to the formal community consultation process.

A submission can then be prepared and forwarded to the regional director. Ministerial approval can then be sought and the name can be gazetted via formal process.

The DET’s naming announcement suggests it has breached its own guidelines and has unilaterally made a decision without formal consultation.

If the department had followed its guidelines, it should have started the formal process months ago to achieve an official name in time for the February opening.

The department refused to comment on this apparent policy breach. The school’s principal Noel Creece failed to respond to questions from Southbank Local News.

Member for Albert Park Martin Foley said he believed that the DET’s request to change the suburban boundaries was made in an effort to reflect the community’s expectations.

“There’s always the bureaucratic realities that have to catch up with community expectations and I just think a minor tweaking of postcode and suburban boundaries reflect the community’s expectations,” he said.

“Most people have it in their mind that the city council boundaries are the boundaries between South Melbourne and Southbank. I was surprised to learn that that wasn’t the case as well so I just see this is a common sense reflection of historical and community expectation and it’s what we said we were going to do.”

Mayor Voss said that while she had “a soft spot” for the name South Melbourne Primary School, her preference was to see the school opened with a proper name rather than an interim one.

As reported in the June edition of Southbank Local News, Mr Creece said the vast majority of expressions of interest from families wanting to enrol their kids had so far come from the Southbank and South Wharf catchment zone.

Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) president Tony Penna said he believed the school should be named after the suburb it was located in.

“The residents of Southbank, in collaboration with 2 Schools Now lobbied tirelessly for a much-needed school to service Southbank. Newly built on Ferrars St in Southbank, naturally the school should be named Southbank Primary School,” he said.

“Imagine then, learning that the DET is considering moving boundaries just so the school can be called South Melbourne Primary School. The argument that locals will struggle to adapt to a name change, given there once was a South Melbourne Primary School on a different site, is a weak one.”

“To insist the local community can’t cope with a different name given to a newly built school on a new site is to insult the intelligence of the citizens of both South Melbourne and Southbank.”

“The fact that government bureaucrats would even consider an underhanded move like changing the boundaries is outrageous. Hopefully common sense will prevail here.”

With the school set to open in February, the matter is proving to be a major stumbling block for the school’s administration, as an official name will be required for everything from registering an ABN to producing uniforms.

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