F is for Fabulous Achievements

Dr Kevin Donnelly is wrong in his Telegraph Article today. As a Principal in the NSW Public Education System (and Fairfield Primary Principals Assocaition President) I strongly refute the suggestion that our system is “an inflexible, bureaucratic model that consolidates the power of the Teachers Federation and the department’s centralised bureaucracy.”

1. The Gonski funding has allowed my school the freedom and flexibility to engage a community nurse, speech pathologist and occupational therapist for the provision of early intervention support of our students and families. In a bureaucratic system, the majority of education funding would be centralised and dribbled out for targeted programs with schools told how to use it while our students would be struggling in learning while on a public health waiting lists for support. Other schools have used their funding to meet their own needs. Gonski has made a huge difference to our school and Minister Piccoli gets an A for his Advocacy.

2. I have a lot of input about my staff component in my school through either a merit selection (choosing staff through an interview process) or choosing teachers through a graduate recruitment program, or accepting transfers from other schools. Good teachers flourish, while struggling teachers are supported by various mentoring programs and collegial teamwork. Just this week, one of the new 257 NSW Department of Education teachers started her teaching career via the graduate recruitment program in my school (my school’s choice and not the so call bureaucratic system). The old bureaucratic system never provided for mentoring programs, instructional leaders to work with new scheme teachers, nor gave additional time to adequately plan, watch colleagues teach and evaluate their own performance.

3. My staff and I have a lot of say in the curriculum and the pedagogies that we use in our school. The starting point is to look at our students and their needs. Our school is different from the school down the road, around the corner and to other schools throughout NSW and Australia. No two schools are alike. Our student population is predominantly Middle Eastern, European, Asian and Pacific Islanders with disruptive schooling through various reasons. English for many students is an Additional Language or Dialect. Therefore, we do not just pick up the curriculum and start off by saying these children are in Year 3 and this is their curriculum as those all students are a homogenous group. We look at the whole child and personalised their learning so that those students who are struggling receive the additional support they need but work at a particular level while other students may be able to work beyond their designated stage of learning. What does this mean? We have students who code well, design websites, explore robotics, and create animations and movies, write books and all while still learning English. At the same time, we want our students to excel in sport, the creative and performing arts and having outstanding citizenships skills with a voice to speak up against social injustice and bullying.

This term, our students will be embarking on a ten week social entrepreneur program while other students will be continuing with their coding experience. A bureaucratic system would prescribe what my teachers and I have to teach, and every student would receive the same, regardless of their cognitive development.

4. My school has taken a lot of practicum students from many Universities over the years. The majority of students are successful in both their University Studies of a Teaching Degree and also in their practical component. I should know as our school has accommodated many former practicum students as casual or temporary teachers. However, like all profession, my personal opinion is that we do need to lift the entrance standard in education courses so that we are back on par with many other courses. A teaching course should be seen as something that you aspire and work towards rather than a lesser option based on a low ATAR. This is just one option to lifting the standard of teaching rather than just rely on my teachers and I at the end point after teachers have graduated. It is a joint collaborative process of lifting the standard of teaching in NSW but it starts at the entrance and not after the exit.

5. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that NAPLAN is not an external measure of my school and students. Every year, all our students sit NAPLAN regardless of their length of time in Australia. Yes, that means some of our students will struggle without the required English skills to just simply read the questions and we don’t add to the state’s exemption figures. When the results arrive and sent home, not one parent has come to my school in the past few years to discuss the results. Why? We take steps beforehand to talk to parents about their child’s achievements and outcomes. In other words, like most schools, we know our students and we provide realistic judgements about their learning beyond just NAPLAN.

6. Our school has just commenced the 4th year of flexible schools hours from 8am to 1:15pm. This initiative was made from extensive community consultation and a survey which indicated 72% of families wanted the change to suit their needs. It was also support by the NSW government and the ‘so call’ bureaucracy. In my opinion, a bureaucratic system would mean that all schools would have the same or similar starting and finishing times with little room for deviation regardless of community contexts.

7. My staff and I are trusted to make the necessary changes to our school environment and to create learning spaces for the present and future. We have made tremendous strides in this area after extensively research into of space used by the way corporation and business work in the community and no longer does our school look like a factory where teachers stand out the front and do nothing but direct instruction. Our teachers use a range of pedagogies for our learners and utilises a range of learning spaces. There is no ownership of classrooms, furniture or even space and teachers’ desks have become extinct. In a bureaucratic system, I would be told how my classrooms and my school should look and the way children should learn.

The freedom and flexibility of the NSW Public Education system has resulted in our students being more engaged with learning and having a lot more tailored programs according to needs. In 2015, our suspension rate for aggressive behaviour or continued disobedience was 0% while our students were able to demonstrate knowledge and skills in various situations. Our students are not failures and our teachers are not in a performance competition with Victoria nor any other state or territory. Instead, we work collaboratively with educators from all sectors and all educational jurisdictions to ensure that we have the best possible learning opportunities for our students. A bureaucratic system would have us all work in silos, not knowing what other schools were doing and left wondering one school was resourced differently from another.

Just aside, the measure of the Minister Piccoli’s successful work, (along with Secretary Bruniges and the NSW Department of Education) was seen at the 2015 NSW Primary Principals State Conference where principals throughout the state lined up one evening to share stories about the impact for their students from the Gonski funding and the NSW Public Schools Reform Agenda while having the odd ‘selfie.’….. I guess that’s a good sign that Minister Piccoli gets an F for Fabulous Achievements.

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