School improvement? The School Assistance Act: a hindrance or a help?
August 2006; Pages 48–50
Controversy has surrounded accountability requirements imposed on schools and education systems in Australia. There is widespread concern that the collection and reporting of data about school performance may result in ‘league tables’ and the labelling of schools or principals as ‘failing’. While these concerns have some foundation, a larger danger is that the imposition of such accountability measures will ‘make “data” a dirty word’ for schools and school leaders. Much of the concern currently focuses around the Australian Government’s Schools Assistance Act 2004, and the requirements imposed on States and Territories in order to receive Australian Government funding for school education. In fact, a demanding range of reporting requirements for schools was already in place prior to the Act. In the author’s experience as a principal in South Australia, the information generated in these ways did not have a negative impact on the school, but nor did it lead staff or other stakeholders to question school performance. Such data-based questioning was driven by the principal herself. While the collection of data was well embedded in her school, there was resistance when she sought to use it to examine areas for improvement. There was ‘overwhelming’ pressure from staff to ignore school performance data. It is generally assumed that data will be used to identify problems and hold individuals and groups publicly accountable for them, and that data is therefore something to be avoided. Instead school staff should see data collection and reporting as a way to highlight and spread good practice. Efforts to impose data-driven accountability on schools make it likely that principals will avoid performance measurement, or comply with it only in a formal sense, rather than use it to improve their schools.
Partners in time
7 August 2006; Pages 4–5
Nine government schools in
Subject HeadingsEducation finance
Child care centres
New South Wales (NSW)
A teaching partnership
Volume 85 Number 13, 7 August 2006
A science and maths program using bilingual tutors is proving beneficial for ESOL (English as a second language) students at Avondale College, Auckland. Teachers tailored the existing ESOL science program to cater to the backgrounds of refugee students, who were arriving at the school in increasing numbers. The students, coming mainly from Afghanistan and Ethiopia, have a different set of needs to those of previous ESOL students, who came mainly from Asian countries and tended to have stronger educational backgrounds and more subject knowledge. The tutors are former refugees drawn from the country of origin, and their cultural knowledge helps the students both within and beyond the classroom. Students are tested and grouped into ‘developing’ or ‘advanced’ maths and science classes before progressing to mainstream instruction. Language and thinking skills are learnt through the vehicle of science or maths. Students who have a good understanding of the relevant subject but are lacking English skills attend advanced ESOL classes, while those with limited subject knowledge attend developing classes. Lessons are focused on activity and experiment, with visual instruction used to build understanding. The students’ progress is assessed weekly. Cooperative work habits are also promoted. As a result of the program, ESOL students are moving more quickly into mainstream classes.
Key Learning AreasScience
English as an additional language
Restorative justice: the calm after the storm
Number 44, Autumn 2006; Pages 9–11
The replacement of authoritarian disciplinary regimes in schools with student-centred practices has been welcomed by many educators. At the same time, teachers are facing increasing behavioural issues in their classrooms, caused by growing pressures on children and the breakdown of many support structures in society. Schools are becoming frustrated by the challenge of balancing the pastoral with the academic. Restorative practices offer a positive solution to this challenge. Restorative justice blends clear disciplinary expectations, boundaries and consequences with a high level of nurturing and support. Marist Youth Care, a not-for-profit Sydney agency which seeks to assist marginalised youth, has been developing restorative justice programs for schools over the last four years. The programs are based on a whole-school commitment to six underlying principles: focus on relationships, not rules; ensure healing processes are in place to repair damaged relationships at all levels; discuss behaviour in respectful language, without attributing blame; identify learning opportunities in mistakes and misbehaviour; accept that the truth cannot always be discovered and fault may remain unclear; and focus on the future. The strategies in the program range from the informal, such as using ‘language of choice’ to diffuse negative situations, through to ‘restorative meetings’, where key stakeholders in a student’s behaviour are brought together to determine collective solutions. Marist Youth Care has piloted a restorative justice program with the Catholic Education Office, Sydney. Quantitative evidence at the end of the two-year study showed a significant shift in staff, student and parent attitudes, and significant reduction in exclusionary disciplinary measures such as detentions or suspensions. The pilot suggests that schools can make profound changes to their disciplinary culture if all staff are committed to a common ethos, and are well-supported with training in restorative practices.
Subject HeadingsSchool culture
The long spoon: government funding of independent schools in Australia
Volume 65 Number 3, Spring 2006; Pages 50–57
Australian independent schools must meet some regulatory requirements to be eligible for government funding, but they still retain a high degree of autonomy in school operations and curriculum delivery. This autonomy is important in enabling them to maintain quality programs and distinctive cultures. The level of per-student funding from the Australian Government for non-government schools is currently determined by the socioeconomic status of their students. It varies between 13.7 per cent (the ‘basic entitlement’) and 70 per cent of the cost of educating a student at a government school. No non-government school receives the same level of per-student funding as a government school, but all independent schools receive some public funding, some at significant levels. Subsidies enable the independent sector to offer services to students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, and to establish schools based on particular pedagogical or religious beliefs that would not otherwise be viable economically. However, government funding for any school comes with a considerable administrative burden, which has recently expanded with increases to benchmark testing and prescribed formats for school reports. Government funding also makes independent schools vulnerable to policy changes arising from shifting political ideology. Independent schools have at times been challenged on an ideological level as undermining public education, and at others defended by political ideologies based on public choice. The Australian Government is currently investigating the feasibility of providing education vouchers to students with disabilities, so they remain eligible for government services if they attend private schools. Having government funding ‘follow the child’ would represent a significant ideological shift in Australian education. Australia’s declining school-age population presents another ideological question: whether to protect the enrolment share of government schools, or tolerate government school closures in order to reap the benefits of private funding obtained through independent school fees. New funding models have been suggested that would make subsidies to independent schools conditional on fee levels, enrolment policies or even ‘outright “integration” into the public sector’. Such policies would significantly compromise independent schools’ autonomy.
Subject HeadingsPrivate schools
Education and state
Improving student achievement
Volume 5 Number 2, May 2006; Pages 20–23
Research suggests that the Sydney Catholic Education Office (CEO) has changed for the better over recent decades, and is now making a significant contribution to improving learning outcomes for students in its schools. In 2000, the CEO established challenging system-wide annual student achievement targets, and encouraged the 148 schools under its jurisdiction to set local targets as well. Student achievement has steadily increased and these targets are being achieved. Two doctoral studies of the CEO, in 1986 and 2004, showed marked change in principals’ perceptions of how the CEO affected classroom instruction. In 1986, principals were ambivalent about the influence of the CEO, suggesting a lack of connection between the system and its schools. In 2004, 93 per cent of principals felt that ‘classroom instruction in literacy has been enhanced by CEO initiatives’, with high numbers also reporting positively on the CEO’s influence on numeracy and religious education. The CEO has been subject to four major reviews over the past twenty years. The most recent review, by SAI Global (formerly Standards Australia), identified the factors which contributed to the CEO's success in leadership. These factors included a clear statement of mission; a cascading set of strategic priorities, from system to school level; clear organisational values shared by staff at all levels; involvement in academic research and a culture of sustained learning; and a passion on the part of all staff for the learning and wellbeing of students. The continuity of the CEO's leadership, which has remained stable for the last twenty years, was another significant success factor. Leadership continuity also contributed to success at a school level, with 46 per cent of the Sydney CEO’s principals having at least ten years’ experience as a principal.
Subject HeadingsCatholic schools
New South Wales (NSW)
Working together: the effective involvement of parents in the learning process
Volume 5 Number 2, May 2006; Pages 18–19
Research suggests that successful partnerships between homes and schools lead to improved learning outcomes, but also that few schools are able to form or maintain them. Changing family formations and workforce demands are undoubtedly affecting the quality and quantity of time parents have to spend with their children. Many schools are responding to the demands of the ‘busy parent’ market with initiatives such as extended school days or supervised homework time. However, these measures do not address the diminishing ‘parents curriculum’, or what students have traditionally learnt from their parents, including values, politics, and personal growth. The interactions between children and their parents in which the ‘parents curriculum’ was previously taught are decreasing, and other groups such as the child’s peers, or, more disturbingly, the media, are assuming responsibility for this learning. Parents’ involvement in their child’s learning tends to drop off at the end of primary school. Often, it is deliberately sabotaged by students, as they strive to find their own identity and keep their home and school worlds separate. For teachers, an unconscious inclination may exist to favour the most ‘teacher-like’ parents. Parents who appear disengaged with their child’s education due to their own negative schooling experiences may not be seen as worth the time and effort it would take to reach them. Establishing effective school–home partnerships requires a genuine team approach, or at least a significant shift in the discourse which currently frames parent–teacher–student relationships. ICTs have emerged as potentially useful for creating home–school connections, through school websites, blogs or other collaborative learning tools, but experimentation with these options has had limited success. Schools must show that they value active parental input to engage parents with the learning process, as well as ensuring that children’s formal education experiences are transparent and accessible.
Subject HeadingsParent and child
Parent and teacher
Educational leadership: new horizons
Number 44, Autumn 2006; Pages 6–8
UK educational policy has shown a shift in recent decades from laissez-faire to a more prescriptive, standardised approach. Although standardisation has brought about some significant improvements to educational outcomes, a trend is now emerging back to a more enabling policy environment, suggesting that there is a limit on how long a particular policy direction can sustain improvement. In spite of standardisation, schools remain very different entities, as localised creativity has been applied to adapt policy to specific contexts. The relationship between local innovation and national policy is complex. Policy is seldom entirely ideologically-driven, and more often arises as a codification of existing practice. Practice is therefore usually ahead of the policy-making process, with innovations typically taking a whole generation to become consolidated into policy. This creates tension between formal systemic accountability and school leaders’ aspirations for radical change. Many innovations currently underway in schools, such as raising standards, working with communities, building partnerships and rethinking school roles and structures, have the potential to ferment into paradigm shifts and emergent policy. However, leaders need to broaden their horizons for this to occur. Innovation usually happens at an institutional level, and few leaders are prepared to move from highly successful school leadership to the challenge of taking on systemic change. The qualities of school leadership need to be redefined to include the ability to work confidently beyond the school. Leaders must be able to create powerful, multi-layered networks; create knowledge from diverse sources of theory, practice and research; persuade and influence in the broader context; and have the courage, resilience and optimism to assume responsibility for long-term, system-wide educational change.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Education and state
Number 49, Autumn 2006; Pages 22–23
New Zealand human rights commissioner Rosslyn Noonan is well positioned to address the place of human rights in education. She has a background as leader of an education union. A recent survey undertaken by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission showed there is significant room for improvement in public awareness of human rights issues in New Zealand. Noonan believes schools have an important role to play in fostering this awareness, by becoming ‘human rights communities’. This means incorporating human rights standards into school policies and practices at all levels, eliminating discrimination, and empowering individuals to challenge decisions affecting them. One example of a potential area for change is the current trend in New Zealand for school fees or ‘voluntary donations’ to become effectively compulsory, restricting some students’ involvement in school activities. Noonan also asserts that schools need to challenge negative perceptions of them created by politicians or the media. This is true especially for the public school sector in Australia, which faces ‘challenges of a scale that have not been experienced before’. In the 1990s, New Zealand teachers generated public support for their opposition to ‘destructive changes’ in education policy by focusing on ‘positives’, not problems. The Australian public school sector needs to ensure that the stories of its many achievements are told, to gain the confidence of the community and protect the sector from political attacks.
Subject HeadingsState schools
Number 49, Autumn 2006; Pages 18–21
Three Australian public schools have implemented innovative programs to respond to the needs of their school communities. Melbourne’s Fawkner Secondary College faced low attendance and student achievement, as well as the challenges of a highly multicultural student population. Deciding to start with small changes, the school implemented a two-week program called Breaking Out, where students chose a topic to study and designed how they would learn about it. Teachers learnt alongside their students, greatly enhancing teacher–student relationships. Student engagement also soared, as students realised that school learning such as literacy and numeracy opened up opportunities within their areas of interest. Fawkner has since continued the change process, remodelling classrooms to facilitate team teaching, and establishing a partnership with a major law firm to secure additional resources. For Moree Secondary College, a significant NSW State Government grant enabled them to effect significant change. The school hired additional teachers to reduce class sizes, and released teachers to spend time researching and improving their practices. The school also hired consultants in areas such as child psychology and student engagement. Moree’s reforms have achieved the school’s stated aim of literacy and numeracy improvement. In Mindarie Secondary College near Perth, enrolments are skyrocketing, with some students even transferring from private schools. The school’s success stems from a culture of trust. Mindarie treats its population of Year 11–12 students as young adults responsible for their own learning and conduct, with mentor teachers supporting the performance and motivation of around 17 students each. One day per week is left free for extracurricular activities or additional tutoring. Public schools face unique challenges, often having fewer resources than private schools and unable to exclude students who do not meet their criteria. These three schools prove that state education standards are sometimes best achieved through innovative approaches.
Subject HeadingsEducational innovations
Making VELS work in secondary mathematics
Volume 43 Number 1, September 2006; Pages 15–18
The VELS curriculum in Victoria is underpinned by six principles of teaching and learning (PoLT). One of the principles, which refers to ‘deep levels of thinking and application’, is closely linked to Working mathematically, a domain within VELS that covers reasoning, investigating, application of maths to the real world and the use of technology in mathematics. Working mathematically is not a separate content area but applies to many learning experiences. In the area of assessment the author suggests a number of ways other than tests to measure students’ progress in maths. Students learn at different rates, and have reached different points of progress at any given time. They should therefore be tested on what they have actually, individually learned, at a given time. Traditional, test-based assessment of maths, which does not recognise this uneven learning, has damaged students’ confidence. New report cards are to be constructed using software that will use inputs from teachers regarding the individual student’s progress. Teachers are to chart a student’s academic progress using a scale of ‘progression points’, numerical units rising in increments of 0.25. The computer will compare the number that the teacher assigns to a student to ‘what the “average” student should have achieved at this stage in their progress’. The wide range of levels in students’ progress has implications for teaching strategies in the maths classroom. Within mixed ability classes, students should be grouped by their need to develop particular skills or knowledge. Addressing this need may require specific teaching resources, including software programs. Open-ended investigations should be used, using high-quality material such as Maths300. Such products ‘allow all students in a typical class to achieve progress in a non-threatening way’. Groups may need to be restructured for different aspects or topics within maths. Another way to address the unevenness between students is to separate them into different classes based on knowledge and skill needs. Students in the lowest class, who may be stigmatised, should be helped through smaller class size, by having the best teachers and through ‘genuine celebration of progress’. Students should be asked to explore ways in which maths relates to their interests, such as sport or music, or to issues such as gambling or the environment. Primary teachers need to provide clear and accurate transition information about students moving to secondary school, and secondary teachers need to make good use of this information.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Relationships in preservice teacher preparation: from cohorts to communities
Volume 3 Number 1, Winter 2006; Pages 57–74
Schools of education need to create learning environments within preservice teacher preparation programs that model strong relationships between teachers and students, so future teachers will foster those learning relationships in their own schools. A two-year qualitative study on the teacher education experience attemped to evaluate how preservice teachers characterised their own academic community as a model for their teaching and learning, and also how this sense of community influenced the way they taught in their first year. The study examined these themes in relation to their practicum experiences, and in their relationships with peers and with instructors. The study found that all participants made effective efforts at building relationships in their schools.
Subject HeadingsTeacher-student relationships
Teaching and learning
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