ARARAT - Ararat College principal, Geoff Sawyer is hoping the school will feature high on the State Government's list of priorities following Friday's visit from Victorian Education Minister, Martin Dixon.
Mr Dixon paid a visit to Ararat College to gain a better understanding of the school's needs in the lead up to the next state budget.
Mr Sawyer took the opportunity to discuss both the school's successes and its shortcomings with the Minister, on his first ever visit to the college.
Mr Dixon and Department of Education assistant regional director, Peter Henry were given a tour of the school by Mr Sawyer and four students.
Mr Dixon conceded there were clear disparities between the school's old school buildings and the new facilities funded by the Federal Government.
"There's a mixture here. First of all the school is very well maintained and they take great pride the school. No matter what the age of the buildings, that's really important because that creates an important impression for visitors, but most importantly for the students," he said.
"You've got some really up-to-date teaching spaces, then you've got some other teaching spaces that are obviously past their use-by-date and there's obviously maintenance issues as well that were pointed out to me."
Mr Dixon said the State Government was waiting on the final results of an audit of every government school in Victoria, which had just been completed.
"It's going to identify more than $300 million of maintenance across Victoria, in our schools," he said.
"Then at the same time you've got capital needs. The school's got a building that doesn't help with modern teaching and learning, and is run down and just old. Next year's budget we'll be making announcements about how much we'll be spending on capital in the future and how long that will take so that schools will have more certainty as to when their turn will come up."
Mr Sawyer is hoping Ararat College will not have to wait too long.
"The school desperately needs refurbishing - Actually, a good half of it needs bulldozing and rebuilding," he said.
Mr Sawyer said many of Ararat College's buildings were 'way past their use-by date' and that it was remarkable they had held up so well considering how much use the school has gotten out of them and how many students have used them.
He said most of the credit went to the school's grounds keeper, Chris Barwick.
"He's wonderful at making things look good on a shoestring budget," he said.
Mr Sawyer said the school had received little funding from the State Government and that the college's new buildings, such as its state-of-the art language and science centre, had been federally funded.
"I raised the issue of State Government support for state government schools. Whether they meant to or by accident, an endless amount of funding has gone to non-government schools," Mr Sawyer said.
"The significant work here has all been funded by federal money. They are all fantastic facilities, (but) State Government funding has been sorely lacking and we're desperately in need of getting some."
Mr Sawyer said he realised this was not Mr Dixon's fault.
"It's been there a long time and it's non-political, it doesn't matter whoever's in government. There are just so many state government schools falling down around our ears at the moment."
Mr Sawyer said the opportunity to meet with Mr Dixon and show him around the school was productive.
"Although we're doing a lot of good things, we do need help and he's receptive of that," he said.
Mr Dixon said an important part of his job was to get out of Melbourne to meet with principals and see schools first-hand, particularly in country Victoria.
He said he enjoyed speaking with Mr Sawyer about the specific issues concerning Ararat College.
"In a positive sense too. There's some great things that are happening here and really quite innovative education," Mr Dixon said.
"We had a good chat because I think there's things happening here that can be replicated in other schools."
Mr Sawyer said the pair discussed Ararat College's broad curriculum and the importance of its 'virtual classroom', which allowed the college to offer a broad range of year 12 courses through video conferencing.
"We also have a really successful VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) program. We have a high proportion of young people involved in the program, probably about half doing VCAL and half doing VCE," he said.
"Cuts to VCAL have hurt us, especially since we have more than the average amount of kids taking part in it. He showed an understanding of that."
Mr Sawyer said other positive initiatives that impressed Mr Dixon were the school's strong work experience program, the significant emphasis placed on student welfare and the college's involvement in the Victorian Alpine School program
Ararat College is also part of a strong VET (Vocational Education and Training) cluster, working closely with Marian and Stawell Secondary colleges.
The three schools were awarded more than $3 million in federal funding to build a commercial cooking trade training centre (Ararat), automotive trade centre (Stawell) and a laboratory (Marian).
Mr Sawyer said he was pleased to be able to show the Minister how hard Ararat College was working.
"I've been in education for 28 years and this is the first time I've ever had the opportunity to talk to a Minister," Mr Sawyer said.
"Since he has been in office he's made an effort to talk to as many principals as possible. He likes to hear from those at the 'coal face'.
Mr Sawyer said it was important to be able to showcase the school's strengths as well as areas that require improvement.
"Firstly, we have good kids and we have good staff. That's the most important thing," he said.
"I know there's an industrial campaign going on, but from my point of view, the value was in talking to the Minister rather than not.
"It was too good an opportunity to pass up."