From our Chair

by | May 21, 2020 | Bush Voices

The Country Education Partnership (CEP) recently held its 2020 Annual General Meeting via Zoom. More than 50 people attended including individuals from rural education communities, education sectors, and key stakeholder groups who are interested in the work of the CEP.

At the AGM, our Chair, Helen Clark, presented her report to the organisation:

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the extremely difficult time our rural communities have had coping with drought, bushfires, and the impact of COVID-19. I would also like to commend the great work that schools have tirelessly undertaken in response to these challenges.

I am very pleased to present the 2020 Chairperson’s report outlining the considerable impact that the Country Education Partnership (CEP) has had over the last year. The CEP has seen significant growth in our work and influence across Australia: we were invited to contribute to new and major state and federal government initiatives, and we continued and expanded our partnerships program. Some highlights of 2019 included:

Education State Forum

Helen Clark, Chair of the Country Education Partnership

  • The biennial Rural Learning Summit, which focused on recruitment and retention of educators and education leaders. The summit enabled academics, policy makers, key stakeholders and practitioners to identify a range of initiatives that could address these challenges.
  • The Mallee Education Cluster further developed their co-operative approach to   education provision. For the last three years, the Buckland Foundation has generously resourced this successful partnership and their support is appreciated. The Cluster was also successful in gaining additional state resources from the VCE Collaboration Fund to increase the number of VCE subjects offered across the cluster. This will enable greater subject choice for their students in 2020 and beyond.
  • The partnership with the Fairfax Youth Initiative to connect professional arts practitioners with young people in the Mallee and Murray region to develop practical performance skills and create diverse and professional quality theatre work. This consisted of in-community workshops over several days and culminated in a final performance at the Swan Hill Town Hall.
  • The 29th Energy Breakthrough in partnership with the Central Goldfields Shire. Thank you to the Shire, our team of staff, partner sponsors and the volunteers who ensured it was yet again a successful event for the many enthusiastic students, teachers and parents who participated.
  • In conjunction with the Sandhurst Catholic Education Office, we continued to deliver the highly successful Pipeline Leadership program for rural education leaders and aspiring leaders.

In 2019, the Victorian Government established an expert panel to advise on the best strategies to close the gap between country and city student achievement.

As a result of the deliberations, the Victorian Government committed over $82.8 million for new and expanded initiatives directed at improving outcomes of students and to support teachers and principals to deliver high quality learning in rural areas.

CEP’s advocacy has been instrumental in ensuring that the long-standing and often complex issues facing rural education communities are on the path to resolution. The CEP would like to congratulate the Victorian Government on their leadership and commitment in taking on these challenges.

We were delighted to receive funds from the Federal Government to deliver an extension of the very successful Rural Inspire Program. This expanded program will be delivered to all Australian states and territories over the next three years.

The new funding is a testament to the dedicated work of the Rural Youth Ambassadors (RYA) alumni who made the case for supporting young people to engage in tertiary and vocational education. It is pleasing that some of the alumni are now involved in running this initiative.

Throughout 2019, CEP has also reflected on our own performance. To ensure we continue to be an effective advocate for rural education in the future, the Committee of Management has reflected on our strategic direction and organisational capability.

As a result, a number of initiatives have commenced including evaluating projects and  programs, reinvigorating our communications, and broadening our reach to become more inclusive.

To support the expanded work program, I am pleased to advise we have been able to recruit some excellent new staff to CEP for 2020. I hope that you will meet and work with them in the near future.

Under the leadership of our Executive Officer, Phil Brown, CEP has had a productive and impactful year. I would like to specifically thank Phil for his unstinting effort to assist the Expert Advisory Panel on Rural and Regional Education in their deliberations.

A big thank you to all CEP staff – Phil Brown, Trish Hodge, Britt Ditterich, Bill Jeffs, Julia Enter, Rose Vallance and Kate Roache for their work throughout 2019, and we look forward to supporting an expanded team in 2020.

Organisations such as the CEP rely upon the support and enthusiasm of many people. Phil and I are particularly grateful for the guidance we receive from our Committee of Management who generously make time to provide stewardship for the organisation. We appreciate your interest and insights.

We would also like to make a special thank you to our Board Executive members: Sally Baker, Treasurer Fran Waterman, Secretary Jodi Walters, and Deputy Chairperson Mark McLay.

Farewell and thank you to retiring Committee of Management members: former Chair Mike Stephens, Lyn Dwyer, Erin Fush, Kaitlyn Pappin and our former Secretary, John Sciacca.

CEP receives its major funding from the Department of Education; this funding enables us to support rural schools and engage with other important education stakeholders and is greatly appreciated.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank Minister Merlino, the Department of  Education led by Secretary, Jenny Atta, and her Deputy Secretaries and Regional Directors for their willingness to engage in our representations and conduct meaningful dialogue. We continue to be very keen to support the State Government in any way we can.

Thank you also to the Country Catholic Education Offices for the funding and in-kind support that they generously provide the CEP. I would especially like to acknowledge the support of our Catholic Education Office Directors, Paul Desmond and Audrey Brown, for their ongoing support of our work.

Our member schools are vitally important, and we are always grateful for your continuing interest. This year we had an increase in the number of members who contributed financially to the work of the CEP. Thank you for your support, it enables us to continue the great work that we do at a grass-roots level.

The Country Education Partnership is a strong and determined advocate for rural education. As we move through 2020, we will continue to work with our existing stakeholders, as well as develop new and exciting relationships. Most importantly, we will continue to proactively contribute to the combined effort from Government and rural education communities to improve the opportunities for all students regardless of where they live.

Helen Clarke


For a copy of the full Annual Report for Country Education Partnership can be downloaded below.