SOUTH-WEST educators highlighted student and community mental health to be among major challenges at a statewide panel investigating regional and rural education outcomes.
Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority chair David Howes visited Warrnambool on Wednesday to meet with principals and community groups as part of a state government review of education outcomes in regional and rural Victoria.
Dr Howes, who hosted discussions in other regional areas this week, said the Warrnambool forum had highlighted an increase in students reporting challenges with mental health.
"There were concerns that there needed to be adequate support put in place for those students," he said. "It has been raised in the other forums, but people did want to make sure that issue was tabled."
Woolsthorpe Primary School principal Simon Perry, who attended the forum, said families faced long wait times when accessing mental health services.
"Often when families go to their GP and go to find that support in town, there's a long waiting list and we're talking 12 months. Often parents are trying to find support for their child in town but it's just not there," Mr Perry said.
"We try to help the families and deal with it on a school level."
He said wider community substance abuse issues were "different challenges" rural communities had "never been faced with before" and the added stress on families was felt in schools.
Dr Howes said the forum also highlighted positive opportunities for education in the south-west, including that rural and regional schools formed stronger ties with local industry than metropolitan schools.
He said that rural schools also in some cases outperformed regional and metropolitan schools.
"One of the ideas put forward about that was the strength of connection and the strength of relationships with teachers can be stronger in those areas where a teacher knows their students really well," Dr Howes said.
He cautioned about a perception that differences between regional and metropolitan education outcomes were due to difficulties attracting teachers.
"That's not the case in all areas. People will say they have struggled to attract a teacher to a particular position. They are local conditions rather than things you can generalise about."
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