Why My School Needs Gonski?

Imagine an organisation on a $150 000 budget a year without the mantra of making an annual financial profit but a moral imperative to invest all the capital to support the development of 370 workers’ talents and skills via 24 managers on a daily basis. The budget has to pay for the training of the managers and their replacement when absences occur, all the utilities (water, sewerage, gas, electricity, sanitation and communication) necessary to run the organisation, and the maintenance of the premises that dates back to 1928. Well, that’s what my public school does every year.

There is a minimal amount available for student resources by the time the budget is allocated each year. My school does not have specialist performing arts, sporting or music teachers, nor do we have paraprofessionals to support students. Instead we have full time classroom teachers to match the number of classes that can be formed, a Learning and Support Teacher,  two English as a Second Language Teachers, a Reading Recovery Teacher, and a Teacher-Librarian. We rely on the multiskilling of primary teachers or the goodwill of the school community with fundraising activities or donations to supplement the learning programs in our school.

My staff and community are fully aware of the implications of our school budget and what is plausible to achieve. Over the past 8 years, we have collectively painted our classrooms, constructed gardens to improve the school environment, repair trip hazards and even arrange for the fixing of toilets in times of emergency. Yes, that’s right! When the aging toilets and pipes overflow, someone has to respond and quite often it’s the principal who is the only person in my school not on class apart from the office staff. We have achieved the maximum output with our budget by self-managing projects where possible and being judicious about the resources that are needed. We have made significant transformation but that’s only the surface to improving our students’ outcomes and engagement in learning.

It is not uncommon for public education teachers (and dare I say all teachers in all sectors) to use their own finances to purchase additional resources for their students, not to mention the provision of voluntary hours beyond class time for those extracurricular activities. Follow Australian educators on twitter and they are regularly using their own personal funds at places like Officework, Bunnings, Kmart, Ikea, Bookshops or similar stores during their weekends or school vacations to provide that little extra for their students knowing full well that the school budget is tight, or paying for their own professional development.

Gonski (now known as Better Schools funding) provides an opportunity for my students to access the resources that are necessary to achieve the highest possible learning outcomes. The additional funding would enable our school to employ a speech pathologist to assist students with expressive and receptive language needs instead of waiting on the two years public waiting lists and experiencing learning difficulties. Likewise, we could employ occupational therapists to assist some students to fully function at school or specialist teachers like Reading Recovery for additional early intervention over the next four years. The additional funding could replace some of our reading resources that are currently held together by sticky tape or invest in additional technological devices to enable our students to fully implement the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities and outcomes.

We only need to view the Channel 2 Four Corners episode about Claymore to remind ourselves that we have so many vulnerable young people and children in our society with limited disposable income by their parents. Gonski can assist schools to bridge the gap by providing educational outcomes that enables students to shift away from the inter-generation of poverty and eventually financial independence through full employment.

I must thank the NSW Minister for Education the Hon. Mr Piccoli MP for his support of Gonski and all the personnel behind the scenes that formulated a position that eventually led to our NSW signing an agreement with the previous Federal Government – a historic decision supported by so many educators, academics and NSW politicians. Gonski is not about education systems or schools – it’s system blind as we’re reminded. It’s about student learning and giving all young people every opportunity to succeed, especially the most vulnerable in our society. No child should be disadvantage because of their postcode, ethnicity or their socio-cultural or linguistic background. For this reason, I have added my signature to the www.needtosucceedalliance.com and voiced my support for the full commitment to the existing Gonski agreement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Do We Win?

The global race to be one of the top five Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) countries is a debate all around the world at the moment. Countries are endeavouring to find that pedagogical panacea and structural reform that will give them an edge over Finland and many of the Asian countries. During the current race, I have often wondered whether anyone has stopped and asked, “What do we win?” Is there a massive global sheep station on offer or a world cup in education?

The Australian National Assessment Programme for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is our local standardised  tests. Merrylands East treats the tests like another school activity due to the Government’s compliance requirements. However, I will create some heresy amongst some education purists by saying that our school does not teach to the test, or focus on it during teachers’ programming, and when the results arrive, they are simply disseminated to our parents without any valued judgements. Our school results over the years can range from the global financial crisis to the Australian mining boom but we don’t measure our school on them. This is not to say that schools don’t need to improve in Literacy and Numeracy – all schools do! It’s the benchmark that we set ourselves that really matters and that will be different for each school.

International and national standardised testing do not reflect the complexity of achievements in a school, nor the breadth of successes. Each school and individual students have their own success stories to tell.  For Merrylands East, the pedagogical shift towards project based learning and genius hour with higher levels of student self regulation and engagement are just some of the highlights. Parents have accepted that NAPLAN is a necessity but place their value on the diversity of school programs and the creative products designed by their child in an open learning environment.

I have asked myself the question, “Do I want to be like countries Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea or the city of Shanghai?” The answer is an emphatic, “No.”  If we truly believe in the concept of lifelong learning, then education is not a race to cram  knowledge into 13 years of schooling within a narrow corridor and constricted area of the curriculum. Instead, learning is collaborative process where students and teachers help each other fulfil aspirations and dreams.

Speaking to Australian employers, they do not ask for NAPLAN results but look for creative designers, authentic problems solvers, good interpersonal skills, teamwork and a love of their product. We need to foster the same skills with a love of learning. Just recently, a number of teachers visited our school and  one student displayed a portfolio of online games that he had created and proudly picked a 3D version. Another 12 year old student showed 3 weeks of project animation called Emma. She explained the thousand photos of each individual line or fill in change and the product was created using MovieMaker. Our students are proud of their achievements and articulate their learning due to their ownership of learning.

The Australian Curriculum General Capabilities and outcomes are the major focus areas of Merrylands East curriculum. Literacy and numeracy are woven throughout learning with students having the opportunity to demonstrate outcomes in a diverse range of evidence. Creativity is highly valued and students will often celebrate the success of themselves and others.

The global top 5 in standardised tests in 2025 produces no prizes. Therefore, let’s create a better future for our students and ensure that they continue to be lifelong learners beyond schooling and a standardised test score.

 

Why Disruptive Leadership?

In the early 1980’s, I remembered walking into my former primary school for a second year teacher education practicum and noticing that nothing had changed. This is despite leaving the school almost 8 years ago. The school’s learning environment looked the same, my former teachers were in the same rooms and most of them were using the same textbooks and resources, and the culture felt like a time warp despite the world moving on. I passed my practicum but little did I realise at the time that the experience would be invaluable in making change at my current school.

Too often, we believe that a situation is difficult to change due to inertia or some form of policy that has lost its currency. Disruptive leadership is about looking at an authentic problem from outside in. Instead of tinkering around the edges, we reconceptualise problems, obtain different perspectives from both within and outside the field and design strategic solutions.

Merrylands East Public School required disruptive leadership to make a shift from conventional wisdom to a new reality.  The school’s Parents and Citizens Association asked a simple question as to why schools cannot start earlier and finish earlier to capture the peak hours of learning for primary students and to avoid the fatigue factor in the afternoon. Many of these parents have very little deep grounding in industrial relations, government policies and procedures, or how schools worked but came with an authentic pragmatic solution without any preconceived ideas. We could have easily tinkered with the school hours by shifting our recess and lunch periods but still ended with a hybrid version of the existing paradigm.

Disruptive leadership is not about the norm but creating new products and procedures and challenging the values, beliefs and assumptions of a society. School hours for the majority of Australian primary schools are 9am to 3pm model with some slight variations. These times haven’t changed since the commencement of NSW public schools in 1848. The Merrylands East change has resulted in teachers having optional afternoon time to collaborate, program, assess and evaluate student learning without the added conflict of other activities. Students have benefited with learning taking place earlier in the morning with additional family time in the afternoons. Most recently when Sydney sweltered above 30 degree Celsius temperatures in the afternoon, our students had a range of alternatives rather than being fatigued at school.

In any organisation disruptive leadership is about making long term change with sudden impact. The Merrylands East school hours had to change overnight rather than gradually. People involved in our school had to make the necessary personal adaptation to align with the organisational change. With any disruption, there is always some form of insecurity, uncertainty and emotional change that needs to be addressed. However, collective community solutions have inevitably resulted in our school being placed in a position to meet the needs of our local community.

Disruptive leadership is evident all around us. Who would have imagine that banks could be automated and funds withdrawn or deposited globally, phones become multifunction, and enterprises operate in  alternative work designed environments? Who would have imagined that students could self-regulate their learning, share their learning globally in a range of multimodal texts and collaborate with other students anytime anywhere?  At a classroom level, disruptive leadership may involve the change of pedagogy and the creation of a better learning environment for students.

I must caution that disruptive leadership is not about being militant or making change for the sake of change. Instead, disruptive leadership is about being solution driven with a totally fresh approach and challenging the current norm. Sometimes, this may involve starting with a blank canvas and designing from scratch with all possible solutions on the table for discussion. It’s also about letting go our prejudices and stepping back from within, and withdrawing emotionally from ownership – not easy to do, especially if schools have long standing traditions and a culture of conservatism.

Disruptive leadership has resulted in Merrylands East changing our pedagogy, learning spaces and the way we operate in the 21st century.