‘No plans’ to register school, Riverside Grammar founder says

The founder of Riverside Grammar School, an unregistered school in Melbourne’s east, says he has no plans to apply for registration and insists it operates more efficiently without being caught up in what he says is the bureaucratic nightmare of government regulation.

But Education Minister James Merlino said he was “extremely concerned about any entity masquerading as a school without the necessary regulatory oversight, educational reporting and school-specific child safety standards required by law”.

Dr Jon Carnegie, founder of Riverside Grammar School.

He said he had asked the Education Department “for advice to further strengthen the legal framework surrounding educational entities”.

Riverside Grammar, founded by former Trinity Grammar staff member Jon Carnegie to cater for young people who struggle to fit within the mainstream system, is being investigated by the state’s education regulator over whether it is compliant with the legislation.

But Dr Carnegie described Riverside Grammar as “a support centre for students”.

“We operate more efficiently without government money or support because we can address the real issues rather than be caught up in the bureaucratic nightmare which currently pervades the sector.”

Riverside Grammar School in Hawthorn.Credit:Justin McManus

Riverside Grammar charges more than $7000 a term.

Unlike “university”, the word “school” is not a prohibited term. However, it is an offence under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to “carry on or conduct a school” unless it is registered, and breaches can result in fines.

All Victorian primary and secondary schools must be registered with the Victorian Registrations and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) and are required to meet minimum standards for governance, financial management, curriculum, teaching practice and providing a safe environment for children.

Dr Carnegie said these minimum standards were “little more than a set of ambiguous benchmarks established as ammunition to close down schools like Riverside Grammar because we do not fit the cookie-cutter model the government prefers”.

Registered schools receive government funding and must disclose their educational outcomes annually.

Dr Carnegie said he was confident that “any child at Riverside is far safer with us than they are being duck-shoved from one service to another until they turn 18”.

“I fail to see. What is the bad thing we are doing?“

Dr Carnegie rebranded his former school last year after a previous iteration had its registration cancelled. He said on Wednesday that it was first deregistered about 2010, and then again in 2012.

“I then looked at alternative models, took on board everything I’d been told by VRQA, and opened what is essentially a support centre for students who are having social and emotional difficulty and don’t want to disengage from school.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to register [Riverside Grammar], it’s that I have been deregistered by the VRQA on two prior occasions. I have no confidence that going through the re-registration process for the third time would be beneficial for the young people who we work with,” he said.

Riverside Grammar says on its website it is not under the authority of either the state or federal education departments. Students either remain enrolled at their school of origin while attending Riverside Grammar, or enrol in a different Department of Education institution such as Virtual School Victoria, “which will then become their school of origin for the purposes of statewide academic assessment and regulation”.

Dr Carnegie said there was no formal relationship with Virtual School Victoria, which was formerly known as Distance Education Centre Victoria. Virtual School Victoria did not respond to questions about what steps it had taken to fulfil its duty of care for students attending Riverside.

A VRQA spokesman on Wednesday said the regulator was responsible for “ensuring that schools meet minimum standards that provide the foundation for high-quality education in a safe environment.

“Child safe standards are a key component of all schools’ obligations because the safety and wellbeing of children is always of utmost importance,” he said.

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