Community outrage after Brisbane Catholic Education announces closure of school for vulnerable children

Seton College is a Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE) secondary school which has been operating at Mt Gravatt East since 1964.  It specialises in personally tailored learning programs for vulnerable students, with a holistic view of supporting a child’s social and emotional development.   On July 28th, 2020, BCE sent an email to parents and caregivers stating that the college would close by the end of 2024.  The Seton College community have expressed their frustration and sadness at the news and have begun a SAVE OUR SETON (SOS) campaign aimed at stopping the closure.  A current year 10 student who is devastated by the impending closure has started a petition to keep the school open and, at the time of printing, has over 6200 signatures. 

Seton College has been a leader in fully inclusive education since its beginnings and is now highly sought after amongst parents whose children do not thrive in the mainstream system.  There is currently no other educational institution in Brisbane that is a close alternative.  The email that was sent out to the school community stated that the current students in years 8 to 12 will be able to complete their schooling at Seton, whilst the year 7 cohort will have to transition to a new school at the end of year 10. This will be a major disruption for these students who will be forced to start-over in a new school.  The reasons given for the closure were directly linked to an external school review that took place in 2018.  Despite numerous requests for a copy of this external review document by parents, BCE have denied access.

 
A series of parent forums were arranged at the request of parent representatives.  These forums were designed for stakeholders to “better understand the factors which led to this decision.”  At the forums, BCE’s Executive Director stated that the reason for the closure was because “demand has declined” and enrolment numbers were dropping.  Parents were frustrated by this statement, as, just six months prior they received an email from the school which stated “no further enrolments will be taken for …. 2019. Our College is set to be at the maximum capacity in 2020, with a waiting list already in place.”

After the forums took place, parents and caregivers continued to raise questions and concerns with BCE through the only means provided, a central email address.  The concerns raised included the lack of guarantee that the school would actually continue until 2024, as the BCE representatives confirmed that the closure date was entirely reliant on enrolment numbers not dropping below a particular number (the figure was not disclosed to those present.)  

BCE has referenced the ‘body of supporting evidence’ that suggests all children learn best in an inclusive environment, and yet still made the decision just last year to move to a model that was exclusively for children with disabilities.  The conflicting opinions of BCE were raised several times throughout forums and via emails, asking for details on what led to the first decision to change the school model to a school for disability, and what time frame was given to judge success before reverting back to the inclusive model.  Neither question has been conclusively answered to date.  

BCE have almost entirely stopped communicating with parents on the issue, with many emails still not responded to, and questions left answered.

In the weeks that followed the announcement of Seton College’s closure, Speech and Language Development Australia (SALDA) who run a school for students with varied speech and language challenges in the Brisbane area, expressed interest in continuing the operation of Seton College.  BCE met with SALDA to discuss the opportunity; however, no agreement has been reached.  BCE stated only that they were uninterested in discussions that pertained to the land that Seton College currently sits on.

Families are outraged that they were not consulted and kept informed during the decision-making process, and even more so when they were informed by BCE that the feedback of the teachers and the Principal of Seton College were also not considered.  It has left many feeling that the education and wellbeing of their children is insignificant to BCE.

Many of the students currently attending Seton College have been part of the mainstream education system at some point in their schooling.  Parents have said it was a less than ideal situation, with children struggling to fit in and cope with the rigours of the daily routine, and many suffering from anxiety, depression, and bullying.  The stories can be hard to listen to, but are all too common – young, vulnerable children taking any action they can to avoid attending school each day.  Admission into Seton College brings a huge relief for families, allowing their children to feel safe and protected, whilst excelling in their own personal style of learning.   Seton College’s focus on a student’s social and emotional development is a valuable addition to the curriculum.  For many families, it is this holistic focus which takes precedence over academic results.  

Parents have expressed that the prospect of finding another school like Seton College is grim, with no other schools in Brisbane practising the same high level of tailored, supported education.  The community is at a loss as to why BCE is not championing the successful, inclusive model they have developed, but instead shutting it down at a time when many more children are in need of a school like it.  They are frustrated by the dismissive way they feel they have been handled, and angry that BCE, an organisation whose values include “advocating for and empathising for those at the margins,” could remove such a valuable resource from the community they aim to support.  

Parents are still waiting for answers to many of their questions and have vowed not to stop asking them.  SOS members are actively seeking concerned community members to help support their mission to stop the closure of Seton College.  The petition is available to be signed via the change.org website

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