A simple school equation: money in = results up
The Government’s consideration of the Gonski Review, which recommends an additional $5 billion annually in funding for schools, has cast a strong spotlight on school reform in Australia.
Much of the debate at the moment is rightly focusing on what we need to do in order to tackle our most pressing problem: the underperformance of children from disadvantaged areas, who can be up to three years behind their peers of a same age.
As the principal of a secondary school in one of the most disadvantaged areas of Australia, I feel I have some insights to offer on this topic. Glenala High School has 470 students from 24 nationalities, with the most prevalent population being Pacific Islander students, followed by Australian Aboriginal and Vietnamese.
The majority of students are new Australians, with more than 30 per cent of students speaking English as their second language. According to the national Index of Community Socio-Economic Advantage, Glenala students are drawn from the lowest socio-economic quartile.
Poor attendance, truancy, poor behaviour, a lack of a strong culture of learning and a refusal to submit assessment are all issues that we have dealt with in the past.
I say past because, despite our students’ challenging circumstances, during the last 12 months Glenala State High School has seen:
• 90.09% Attendance (up by 12%) from 2010;
• 84% of Year 12 students graduate = with a QCE (up 11%);
• An incredible 50% of Year 12 students now pursuing tertiary education, up by 45%;
Not only are suspensions down and enrolments up, the vast majority of parents and carers are now satisfied their child is getting a good education at our school. This year we were the proud recipients of two regional awards for excellence in education and a State Finalist.
What caused this turnaround? As principal, I believe our school’s recent achievements would not have been possible without the additional $350,000 annually our school has received as a result of the National Partnerships Agreement.
In practice, what difference the National Partnerships Agreement makes for our school? In 2011 and 2012 it meant:
• A full time Pacifica Liaison Officer whose primary role is to “inspire students, parents, teachers and community to aspire” and build community and parent relationships to support a strong focus on learning and high expectations;
• A new teacher to provide more non-contact time for Year Coordinators so they can focus on supporting students with attendance, uniform and work ethic;
• An additional .5 Guidance Officer to ensure our students have access to a Guidance Officer every day; and
• A new position called the Director of Student Achievement who tracks the achievement of every student in the school, alerting teams of teachers when a student is falling behind.
These new services have made a world of difference, not only for our students and school, but for the whole community. Glenala State High School is truly at the heart of our local community. In tackling the education challenges our students face, we are working hand in hand with their parents, and the issues they are dealing with.
The Inala Community know the expectations we have of them but they also know that we will support their individual circumstances with practical solutions.
Sometimes this involves taking risks and working outside the traditional routines of a school. For example, for many parents having younger children or infants makes involvement harder in the secondary setting. So, when we hold school events we make sure there are food and activities such as face painting to amuse younger children.
We know language is a barrier as is access to computers and the internet, we ensure our school communications are printed in up to three languages. We also invite parents and an Elder to attend our Homework Club so that their own education levels do not prevent them from participating in their child’s schooling.
We work closely with ethnic community leaders and continue to invest in staff who speak fluent Tongan, Samoan and Vietnamese to better support and assist parents.
I have no doubt that this approach is delivering results that have long-term community-wide benefits. But without the additional investment our school has received, we could not fund these additional support services.
I know without these services students would get left behind. Not because of any fault of their own, but because our school would not have the financial resources to meet all our students’ needs.
Unfortunately, the National Partnerships Agreement funding is for a limited period only. Once it finishes, our school will need to find alternative ways to fund the new services we are providing – or see them end too.
The beauty of the Gonski recommendations is that they would make additional resources permanent for our school. They would do away with ad hoc and temporary funding arrangements whilst also providing a better measure of need for all schools.
It’s been over six months now since the release of the Gonski Review. Now it’s time for the Government to make a commitment to the funding and to passing legislation this year that will make Gonski laws.
Because when it comes to ensuring every child – no matter their background, or the individual challenges they face – there is no question the difference that proper resourcing makes.
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