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Private camp push meets protest

Aiden Boyham and Gareth McKnightSound Telegraph

The fallout from the State Government’s decision to close Point Peron Camp School and five others across the State has continued, with the news that non-government organisations could take over management of the facilities meeting strong opposition.

In December, Education Minister Sue Ellery announced that Point Peron Camp School — with others in Geraldton, Dampier, Bridgetown, Pemberton and the Goldfields — would be closed by the end of this year.

The hugely unpopular decision to close the school camps formed part of $64 million in cuts to the education sector and was widely criticised.

With Point Peron Camp School one of the most popular, affordable and in-demand camp schools across the State, the decision left many scratching their heads with figures from the school’s 2017 annual report showing it cost the State Government $364,538 to operate in the last financial year.

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Further data from the report highlighted demand for visits this year would be even higher, with more than 5100 students booked in, a big increase on the 4603 students who visited last year.

Former teacher and outdoor education and camp schools officer at the Education Department, Meredyth McLarty, said Point Peron Camp School was in an amazing location to provide a diverse range of educational experiences for students.

“The value of the Education Department camps is in the experience and expertise of the teacher running it,” she said.

“Experiential education has always been known to be very valuable to student learning.

“Due to the increasingly sedentary lifestyles of students, it has once again become valued and relevant and is the current catch-cry of education, as has nature play.”

The decision has angered the Huntingdale Primary School community. Nusha Russell, whose daughters Katie, 11, and Grace, 8, go to the school, said families in the area ran tight budgets.

“I went to Point Peron many, many years ago and it’s been a wonderful experience for my kids,” she said.

“It’s affordable, it teaches confidence, builds self-esteem, they have concerts, they get away from their parents... the kids love it.”

Premier Mark McGowan told the Telegraph there were more than 20 places for schoolchildren to have a camp, with some run by local government, others by Department of Sport and Recreation and some by the private sector.

“What we have decided to do is to close the camp schools to save the taxpayers’ money and not have duplication,” Mr McGowan said.

“If we can get a private operator or not-for-profit to run the camp school, and that’s what they want to do, we will facilitate that.

“We have no plans to sell off the land — if someone wanted to take it over, then that’s great.”

However, Ms McLarty said there were a number of factors that would prove detrimental to families and students if Point Peron Camp School was outsourced to private ownership operators.

“The cost of attending privately run facilities is prohibitive and they are not run by educators,” she said. “If the Education Department outsourced the facility, these goods and services would still be needed but what would be lost would be the educational leadership provided.”

Ms McLarty said it was imperative the Premier and Education Minister visit Point Peron Camp School to see first-hand the quality of programs on offer to students.

The Education Minister Ellery said the Department of Education would work closely with other State Government departments, local governments and NGOs to enable students affordable access to camp experiences.

“There has already been interest in the camp school sites from a number of providers — initial discussions have begun and the department will continue to work on this,” she said.

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