What would your school do with Gonski money?

Throwing more money at schools isn’t the answer yells Dr Scott Prasser. This is the man who has defended every red cent that the Government has allocated to Catholic schools – even the 50% of them who were overfunded after the SES model was introduced and their funding level was grandfathered.

The Gonski Review Panel did not address the issue of how the additional funds so sorely needed by public and needy schools in Australia because this was outside their terms of reference.

But it is an important question. Glen Fowler in an article in the Canberra Times, How Money Makes a Difference tells the story of Richardson Primary school – one of a very small number of ACT disadvantaged schools and how they managed their Low SES National Partnership funds to improve learning outcomes for their children. He is what they did

Richardson Primary started by enhancing its capacity to gather and analyse data about how their students were performing. They purchased licences from the Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER) to administer annual internal tests in literacy and numeracy at all year levels. That way, they didn’t have to wait for NAPLAN results. They had up-to-date information about where students were falling behind and needed extra support.

Drawing on hard data that indicated students were struggling with vocabulary development and reading comprehension, the school set about enhancing teacher capacity to address these issues. Every staff member attended a five-day intensive course in Dr Spencer Kagan’s high-impact collaborative learning strategy. Kagan’s approach aims to engage every student, especially those who are struggling, by structuring activities so that students feel individual and collective responsibility for their learning.

Additionally, every teacher attended a two-day seminar with educational expert, Dr Dylan Wiliam, on using his formative assessment strategies to enrich each student’s learning journey.

The school also purchased teacher and classroom resources to complement structured and supported teacher-learning teams that ensure effective school-wide implementation of these key strategies. This razor-sharp focus on improving instructional practice through collaboration and reflection has led to more confident and skilful educators, adept at engaging every learner every moment of the learning process.

The school’s final strategy was to build community partnerships. Working with the YWCA of Canberra, the school established an Intel Computer Clubhouse for 10-18-year-olds in the area. The Clubhouse is an out-of-school-hours high-tech digital studio where young people can work with industry-standard hardware and software and collaborate with mentors on passion projects.

 

This is an interesting set of initiatives for a number of reasons

Firstly, This school understands that particularly in relation to students who are not achieving agreed benchmarks in reading outcomes, NAPLAN test results come too late. Fowler doesn’t state it but I am sure the school also understands that NAPLAN does not provide information for this group of learners. It is too narrow and not diagnostic in design. It is interesting to note that after using these more diagnostic assessments it was found that the real barriers to reading developments were vocabulary and reading comprehension. These are of course quite linked but neither is well tested by NAPLAN.

Secondly, the professional development focus was cooperative learning using groups of differing ability students using a well-researched evidence based approach. Now cooperative learning has a long history in education but there is a big difference between a few teachers across a school taking this approach and a well-prepared well-trained school adopting it en mass. Its worth noting that recent research has identified a growing trend for schools to adopt streaming approaches in their classrooms – not because it is well researched but because this makes it easier to teach based on NAPLAN content as the key organiser.

Thirdly, basing classroom learning experiences around information based on formative assessment allows for learning personalisation and ensures that the time spent on learning is both accessible and challenging.

Finally, there are things about Richardson Primary school that are not mentioned in this report but that matter a lot. First of all the principal is Jason Borton, who is known to many twitter-active educators as a wise, brave and outspoken leader on key education issues. High quality leadership for low SES schools is critical and systems should be investing in strategies to ensure that. Secondly, I don’t know how but Richardson Primary have managed to have relatively small class sizes – 19 at most in all but kindergarten where the ration is 16-1. Don’t let anyone id you that the size of the class does not matter.

So there you have it, this school has not wasted a cent on extrat resources to drill down on NAPLAN, new fancy learning packages aligned with NAPLAN. In fact they appear t have completely ignored it – and righty so in my view.

Instead Richardson Primary is well placed to support all its children through high quality leadership, a whole school focus on well evidenced pedagogical strategies, intelligent and focussed use of formative and diagnostic assessments across the school and a classroom student teacher ratio that is workable. I don’t know how this school will adapt to the highly financially constrained environment they will find themselves in if the full 6 years of Gonski are not agreed to, but it wont be good and students will be negatively affected.

It would be interesting to collect accounts of what other schools are currently doing that will need to stop. I do hope someone is doing this.

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One thought on “What would your school do with Gonski money?

  1. Subject: Please share with others – the latest from Margaret P. Clark I have

    Dear All,
    Please share. The Federal government is telling me, through my local MP, it supports Gonksi but Mr Pyne poured money into Queensland, Northern Territory, and Western Australia which had not signed on to it and he has not required that they work in anyway on a needs-based approach to support the schools with the greatest needs in the most intelligent way and they are not required to co-fund in any way. While it says it will keep supporting Gonski, which Mr Pyne jeered at as ‘Shonski”, not surprising since he does not value equity in education and what it must mean in terms of investment to enable students of all ages and all backgrounds and conditions to have access to the opportunities on offer, until 2016, it is not expecting those States or territories to sign on or contribute to the provision of funds where they are most needed. Moreover there is concern that Mr Abbott is considering not continuing the support. In NT the new school the NT government is crowing about is relatively near Darwin. We do know this Federal government is providing more funds for private schools than public schools. We do know that the funds they are providing included support for Christian chaplains in public schools. While the High Court has struck that down, I doubt the Federal government has made that adjustment in what it says it is providing. And of course, with its co-payment in Medicare, it is increasing costs to parents having difficulty to provide the contributions needed for public schools. And in SA immigration officers stood outside a school gate to capture and take away two students who had been here and at school for three years – and doing very well – to return them to detention and removal to either Manus island or Nauru – I don’t know which. We also know they intend to return public education and public hospitals to the States, even though their mentor, Menzies, began the process of providing Federal funds for private and public schools. And we know, thanks to this Federal government, the States will the largest manufacturing base – and the Minister for Defence is probably softening us up to buy defence weapons from elsewhere and decrease the skilling of Australia’s workforce in the process in the name of ‘efficiency’ – will have increased unemployment with its consequent impacts on families. And 40 applications a month if you are unemployed? And they cut the funds – over $300 million from Trade Training in Schools. I bet that cut of $300 million was not taken out of the figures provided as supposedly increasing the federal government’s contribution to education. Please share this example of the lateral thinking of this Principal of an ACT public primary school using the funds wisely. The ACt did sign on to the Gonski Report. if you know of any schools being equally inventive, please let Margaret and me know about it. You can comment on her blog.
    Best wishes
    Erica

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