Learmonth Primary: the school with no kids

TWO country schools north-west of Ballarat will remain open, but without children, next year.

Windermere Primary School will officially be unstaffed when school breaks tomorrow afternoon.

This follows the nearby Learmonth Primary School, eight kilometres away, that has been left unstaffed and without pupils since the start of term four.

The Department of Education said both schools were moved into recess due to declining student numbers.

Grampians assistant regional director with the department, Peter Henry, said Learmonth started the school year with a student population in the “high 20s” that dwindled to 12 and “declined rapidly” to about two or three.

The reasons for the quick decline in numbers are not clear.

Windermere Primary School’s fall in student numbers was gradual through the year, opening with 17 pupils and finishing with just nine this week, including grade 6 graduates.

Windermere principal Reg Farquhar said the school’s two teachers, including himself, would be relocated to other schools next year but would remain as Windermere staff unless the school officially closed.

Parents of remaining pupils could choose where to send their children next year.

A six-month community consultation process will be launched in the new year and Mr Farquhar was hopeful the school’s prospects were promising.

Ballarat City Council last month approved a 130-block development in the neighbouring Cardigan Village.

“There is the possibility of closure during the process, otherwise the department will keep the facilities maintained. If the need and desire is there for a school, it is there,” Mr Farquhar said.

Windermere’s school council opted to move into recess but is working to keep existing structures, like existing portable classrooms, on site.

Learmonth has begun a community consultation process with local government.

An initial general public meeting with the department formed a reference group, which has since met twice to study opportunity and strategies for the town’s future schooling needs. A third meeting is already planned for early next term.

Mr Henry said the reference group would offer the community a recommendation for action.

“The obvious options are to re-open at some point in time in the future, or to close completely,” he said.

“In between those two options there are a number of other considerations coming out of the reference group at the moment, including partnerships with other schools, with community enterprises, with early childhood providers.

“I anticipate that list will grow before each one of the options are given a thorough investigation.”

The Courier understands Learmonth has a promising group of pre-schoolers in the region, fast approaching school age.

Education minister Martin Dixon and Ripon MP Joe Helper were unavailable for comment yesterday.

melanie.whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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