17 April 2023

Demerger of Murrumbidgee Regional High School – five key priorities

| Oliver Jacques
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Murrumbidgee High break-up image

Murrumbidgee Regional High is set to go back to two schools. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The incoming NSW Labor Government has promised to demerge Murrumbidgee Regional High School (MRHS) – the fraught ”one school, two sites” marriage between Griffith and Wade High School in 2018 that nobody seemed to want.

“I have instructed the Department of Education to review Murrumbidgee Regional High School to ensure a strong future for Griffith’s two public high schools,” new Education Minister Prue Car told Region.

”Our priority is minimising disruption to students and staff through the demerger process.”

But what exactly does a demerger mean? Will everything return to the way it was in 2017? Will each school have a separate uniform? Separate sporting teams?

According to the NSW Teachers Federation, these issues are still undecided and will be discussed in Term 2, when Minister Car is expected to visit the school and consult with teachers, parents and students.

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But there are five key reforms teachers and union representatives broadly agree need to be a priority: having a principal on each site; separate NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) numbers for Griffith and Wade High; a guarantee of no staff reductions; improved incentives to attract teachers; and genuine consultation before final decisions are made.

Principal on each site

Currently, there is one MRHS principal who has to travel between the Griffith and Wade sites.

Griffith Teachers Association secretary Susan Forner says this isn’t working.

“We have wellbeing issues on a daily basis like every school, but we have no-one there who can make the final decision. We need a principal on each site to be able to make decisions quickly,” she said.

NSW Teachers Federation organiser Brett Bertalli and representative Richard Wiseman both agree this must be a top priority.

Separate NESA numbers

Mr Bertalli said having the one NESA number across both sites was a nightmare for teachers trying to do assessments for year 11 and 12 students.

“Two teachers [on each site] have to collaborate to cover everything identically – there was no wriggle room for personal and professional differences between the two sites … the teachers have to travel between sites and talk to each other – it’s all extra time that teachers don’t have,” he said.

“If you had two NESA numbers, they wouldn’t be obliged to collaborate across the sites. That would take out the additional workloads and give teachers more autonomy and professional judgment to teach the students on the two separate sites and differentiate from there.”

Woman with sign at teacher protest

Teachers at MRHS have staged several protests over the past few years to improve pay and conditions. Photo: Supplied.

No staff reductions

Ms Forner and Mr Bertalli said both sites were desperately understaffed and that a demerger should not result in any staff redundancies.

“We want the Government to guarantee our staff for at least three years,” Ms Forner said.

Mr Bertalli said: “We cannot afford to lose any teachers in Griffith. Any staffing reduction should be through natural attrition.

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Increase teacher incentives for both sites

“The demerger won’t work unless we address the staff shortages. There are a number of vacancies at both sites. We urgently need to improve incentives to attract more teachers to come to Griffith.”

The NSW Teachers Federation has long pushed for MRHS to be classified as a “four-point transfer school”, in line with nearby Darlington Point and Leeton – which would improve pay and prioritise teachers for placements in other schools.

Genuine consultation

“The main thing I would like is for the teachers and community to be properly consulted, which was the main failing in the first place [when the schools merged in 2018]. Our needs weren’t considered, it was a fait accompli right from the beginning, so it didn’t work,” Ms Forner said.

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