Tantanoola Primary School’s Council chair Colleen Roberts has her daughter enrolled at the school. (Supplied: Colleen Roberts)
How many students does it take to make a school?
- An SA town of about 500 people has voted to keep open a primary school with three children enrolled next year
- A parent whose daughter is at the school says her learning has not been compromised because of its size
- The town’s businesses have welcomed the news that the school will remain open
For Tantanoola Primary School in the south east of South Australia, it takes just three.
Enrolments at the school have hovered in the teens for the past few years, making it one of the smallest schools in the state.
Student numbers from Term 1 this year show there are seven South Australian schools with enrolments equal to or below Tantanoola Primary School.
Raukkan Aboriginal School in the Coorong region has the smallest enrolment in the state with seven students.
A significant drop in student numbers at Tantanoola Primary School means there will be just three students enrolled next year.
Ms Okholm hopes the school’s population will grow in 2020. (Supplied: SA Education Department)
In South Australia, a government school can be closed if the majority of parents of the students attending the school vote in favour of the closure, or after an external review, as ordered by the Education Minister.
The School Council took its concern about the future of Tantanoola Primary School to the community and asked in a poll whether the education facility should remain open.
The majority of the 26 people who participated voted to keep the school open.
While it will remain open for now, principal Lesley Okholm said another vote was likely.
“This is a positive thing for the community that it’s staying open.”
“However, it [the poll] could be a recurring, every year event.”
In 2020, one of the three students enrolled at the school be in reception, or the initial year of primary school in South Australia.
“You’ve got to question … with two children is it a school?” Ms Okholm said
The principal said she was concerned that those students who remained at the school were missing out on the social experiences which children have at the bigger schools.
“We never hear the noise of children.
“The only day we hear kids is when play centres on and there’s a few little ones running around,” she said.
“That’s just not normal.”
Small school no disadvantage
The school’s original buildings from 1883 are still used today. (ABC South East SA: Selina Green)
School Council chair Colleen Roberts had conflicted feelings on hearing her daughter would be one of the three enrolled students next year.
“Yes, there’s not so much social side in the school but then in this day and age, there is such a huge social area with sports.
“In regards to her learning, we have had no problems.
“She’s done all her schooling at Tantanoola and we have no problems with any of her learning.”
Sue Billet, the president of Small Schools Association of South Australia, said the students’ learning was not compromised because of the size of the school.
“For teachers going into a small school, it can be challenged from the point of view that you do have multi-level classes.
“I often find that people actually work to compensate.
“If they think there’s a need, then they try to think of ways that that can be overcome.”
The Tantanoola township with its nearly 500 residents sits on the South Australian south east coast near the Victorian border.
The school was built in 1883 and its original buildings are used as the library and staff room.
Buildings have been added over the years to accommodate three more classrooms and more recently a school hall.
The next schools are 14 kilometres away in Millicent or 35 kilometres in the other direction at Mount Gambier.
Community spirit keeps school alive
Ms Okholm said the community made the school feel special.
“When you look at the school, it is quite idyllic.
“The families, the kids are just delightful and almost perfect.”
But as in many small communities, there was a fear in Tantanoola that if the school closed, other facilities would follow.
“One of the conversations at that meeting was if the school goes, then maybe the footy club goes and then what’s left?
“I think any small community needs these institutions to keep the town alive.”
School Council chair Ms Roberts said business owners were relieved that the school would stay open.
“The businesses in town are very happy because in the long run, if you take away the school … it does affect the whole area.”
“Especially the post office and the service station, you haven’t got the traffic coming through, I definitely think they will notice it in the long run.”
For now, Ms Okholm was hopeful enrolments will increase before the 2020 school year.
Ms Roberts said the parents of up to five children who will be in reception next year have indicated they may enrol soon.
“At this stage we’re talking to mainly the reception children to help them with their transition in starting school.
“Then get the feelers out for the other families that might have older children at still primary school age in the community.”