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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The future SACE School-to-Work Literacy Project

Lyn Wilkinson
Lecturer, School of Education, Flinders University

This article has been prepared in collaboration with other members of the School-to-Work Innovation: Literacy project team.

In 2009 a new South Australian Certificate of Education will be introduced into the State’s Government, Catholic and Independent schools with senior secondary enrolments. Known as the future SACE, the Certificate will cover students in Years 10, 11 and 12.

Earlier this year, the Minister for Education in South Australia, the Honourable Dr Jane Lomax-Smith, released funding for four innovation projects connected to the future SACE. One of these programs, School-to-Work Innovation: Literacy, specifically targets some young people in Year 10 who are likely to have difficulty with the complex literacy demands of senior secondary schooling, as identified by the Year 9 NAPLaN test results.

A team of University of South Australia and Flinders University educators, led by Professor Barbara Comber, is designing and implementing the project. The university team is working with 32 teachers from 11 schools, including rural and metropolitan schools across Government, Catholic and Independent sectors. These teachers have a commitment to the targeted group of 76 young people.

The project aims to produce materials that can be used by schools across the State to address literacy issues in their own site. A report on the project will provide, among other things, a description of the professional development program and an evaluation of its effectiveness. Exemplary strategies used by project schools for identifying and working with students on literacy will be documented, and case studies of individual students will be written. These materials will be distributed by the future SACE Office to support senior secondary teachers to develop successful whole-school literacy across the curriculum programs.

The project evaluation will also assist schools to consider the advantages and challenges in implementing whole-school, sustainable programs which continue to support the literacy development of all students – but most particularly those who face the greatest challenges in this area.

The project runs between May 2008 and May 2009 and is being conducted by the university team in collaboration with the future SACE Office and the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services.

The project is both timely and important. Literacy skills are critical for young people’s success because those who do not achieve in literacy often face restricted opportunities within curriculum offerings in senior secondary school and again when they leave school. Students are being mentored by project teachers, who are helping them attend to a variety of aspects of literacy both in current school requirements and in transition to work.

The future SACE Certificate foregrounds the importance of literacy not only by making it a compulsory part of the final two years of school study but also by requiring that each subject explicitly state how literacy will be addressed. This poses challenges for all senior school teachers: to learn more about literacy so that they can clearly articulate the kinds of literacy demands made on students in their subject area, and to make explicit how they will work with students to support development of the required literacies. So together with English teachers, who sign off on the literacy requirement, the project includes Science, Mathematics, Technical Studies, Community Studies, and Society and Environment teachers.

The project aims, in part, to identify the barriers and obstacles to improving literacy so that the teachers and focus students can develop strategies to help overcome them. Additionally, practices that make a real difference to students with literacy difficulties will be identified and promoted. Some of these practices will be connected to each student’s Personal Learning Plan (PLP), which is an integral component of the future SACE. As part of their PLP discussions with a teacher, Year 10 students identify the kinds of literacies needed in the area of work they are interested in and their current strengths and weaknesses in literacy. They are then able to set the personal literacy goals that are most likely to contribute to a successful pathway through Years 11 and 12 and on to work.

Seven of the schools have undertaken explicit work-related literacy tasks, while four have focused on the explicit teaching of language features and genres necessary for success in the senior secondary curriculum. Two schools have ‘mainstreamed’ their project intervention, so there is potential for it to be incorporated as part of the Year 10 curriculum in the future. In seven schools, focus students have been withdrawn from mainstream classes.

The project has three interrelated components:

  • teacher professional development
  • teacher action research of a planned intervention strategy
  • project evaluation.

The professional development strand has been delivered through whole-day workshops with the teachers participating in the project, and has focused on:

  • expanded understandings of literacy, including digital and multimodal literacies
  • the place of literacy in the development of the PLP
  • strategies for identifying students experiencing difficulties in literacy
  • teacher understandings of interventions that might work to improve literacy outcomes for the focus students
  • school structures and teacher practices that contribute to improving literacy outcomes for students
  • how to conduct action research, and
  • the interpretation of data as evidence of student achievement.

In the action research strand, the group of teachers from each school has articulated a research question related to a literacy intervention they are trialling in their school or classroom. Action research questions include:

  • In what ways can we engage the focus group students to examine and improve their overall communication skills (oral, written, visual) through their work experience journey?
  • What impact will explicit teaching and the provision of scaffolding have on our currently underperforming students' abilities to produce quality pieces of genre-based writing in English?
  • In what ways will the introduction of a SACE Stage One English work-based literacy unit engage students and improve their overall literacy?

Baseline data collection revealed that every school had some kind of individual support strategy for focus students. More than half of the schools used a literacy support teacher to work with students either one-to-one or in small groups in a withdrawal context. The participating schools used nearly 100 different strategies in all, but many were used by only one school. These findings have prompted schools to question the effectiveness and consistency of their current programs for the focus group of students and to consider the most effective ways to marshal their resources.

Although the project has only been running for a few months, gains have already been seen for some students. In one school student attendance and engagement has improved markedly, with three absences of a possible 56 over eight weeks. One student in that school has become so motivated that she completed work in advance, submitted it for assessment, and organised and successfully undertook her work experience placement.

In another school, nine of the ten focus students have undertaken work experience, with three of these placements having direct links to the English Curriculum Integration project undertaken by one of the Year 10 classes. The teacher researchers are tracking the grade point averages of each of these students across each school term, and while these indicate fluctuations for several students, six of the ten students have recorded improvement. Notwithstanding these successes, teachers in the school are not complacent and are directing their energies towards further improvements for all students, particularly those who are frequently absent and whose lives are complicated by issues of family ill-health and marginalisation.

Members of the project team are Professor Barbara Comber, Professor Marie Brennan, Associate Professor Phil Cormack, Associate Professor Rob Hattam, Dr Rosie Kerin, Dr John Walsh, Ms Lyn Wilkinson, Ms Lyn Kerkham and Ms Annmarie Reid. Further information about School-to-Work Innovation: Literacy can be obtained from the Project Officer, Annmarie Reid (08) 8302 4220 or email: annmarie.reid@unisa.edu.au.


Subject Headings

Educational planning
Educational evaluation
Education policy
Secondary education
South Australia
Senior secondary education