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Your say on improving schools

By 3 August 2010 10

[First filed: Aug 2, 2010 @ 13:51]

paper cover

The ACT Department of Education and Training has issued a discussion paper on “Improving ACT Public High Schools and Colleges”.

The discussion component seems to be driven by two pages asking “What if?”:

    … high schools and colleges worked together as connected learning communities to offer greater choice to students?
    … some schools offered courses in a range of locations?
    … schools developed their curriculum in partnership with the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) or a university?
    … students were able to combine school and work more formally?
    … partnerships between schools and business gave students regular access to work-based training, mentor support and pathways from school to work?
    … some schools had flexible timetables?
    … the virtual school became a reality?
    … some students worked from home or elsewhere?
    … some schools offered two-shift days?
    … we had girls’ or boys’ schools, or some schools offering single-sex classes?
    … some schools offered accelerated learning for academically gifted students?
    … we had selective entry schools?
    … some schools developed specialist programs for students with interests in particular sports (golf, tennis, athletics, rowing, football, hockey) or the performing arts, visual arts, graphic design, media and communications?
    … some schools developed centres of excellence for students with talents in areas such as mathematics, science and technology, languages and the humanities?
    … students could develop personalised pathways across a range of education settings—schools, universities, CIT, industry and the community?
    … schools in a local area became a federation of schools and pooled their resources to offer a broader curriculum to their students?
    … partnerships were developed between public and non-government schools?
    … new processes for graduating from high school to college were developed?

Comments close on 7 September 2010, there’s a web page with the detail.

UPDATE: The Liberals’ Zed Seselja has responded a day late asking “won’t anyone think of the private school children?”

“The Canberra Liberals have always championed choice for parents on the education of their children. ACT Labor has never genuinely supported parental choice. Mr Barr’s discussion paper appears to be providing options for replicating many elements of the private sector and incorporating this into the public system.

“This comes at a time when funding to private schools has stalled, despite the percentage of Canberra parents sending their children to private schools remaining high.

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10 Responses to Your say on improving schools
#1
Thumper1:56 pm, 02 Aug 10

Well, firstly, I’d build my school on land, not in a lake.

#2
sepi2:12 pm, 02 Aug 10

I’d like a school that went from 10.30 to 4.30. This would keep school drop-offs out of peak hour.

#3
emd2:35 pm, 02 Aug 10

I saw this thing earlier via ABC News and have thankfully calmed down somewhat from the choice words I uttered when I first read it.

We suggested to the ACT Government back in 2006 that we could set up federations with other local schools, partnerships with business and other community organisations, pointed out the special programs and focus areas of our local school’s curriculum etc. When they sent the letter advising they had decided to close the school, they acknowledged that we had submitted feedback but they didn’t even address our suggestions or why they wouldn’t take up on it.

Why on earth do they think I would put effort into this consultation now? I’m too busy driving my kids to the next nearest public primary school, two suburbs away (too far to walk or ride bikes and across major roads).

Having schools we can actually GET TO would go a long way towards keeping our family in the public system. As it is, our PEA pre-school and PEA primary school are three suburbs apart, no school bus to get home from primary school, and yet I’m expected to pick up two children at these different schools AT THE EXACT SAME TIME and CANNOT BE LATE. Well duh, guess why I made the effort to not use our PEA public schools!

Assuming I could actually get to the schools, I would also like a school with a special program (eg art, science, environment focus – not just the special needs programs) to give priority access to out-of-PEA kids who actually want to participate in that program. Otherwise, you end up with kids getting access to programs based on their postcode, not their level of interest.

I also strongly dislike segregating public schools into a class system by making some schools selective entry. It means public schools that do not have selective entry will become the dumping ground for kids who couldn’t make it into the selective entry school, or whose parents can’t logistically manage the transport or other requirements for the selective entry school. Having a program within a school for academically gifted kids is great, but the high-IQ kids still need to learn to mix with the regular and low IQ kids if they’re going to function in society as adults. Segregating them out to a selective entry school does nothing for their social development.

#4
housebound3:21 pm, 02 Aug 10

Barr said in 2006 that one aim of closing schols was to make public schools the school of choice for families. No suprises such a contradiction didn’t work.

#5
neanderthalsis4:25 pm, 02 Aug 10

What if… partnerships between schools and business gave students regular access to work-based training, mentor support and pathways from school to work?

The ACT Govt was given a sizable bucket of federal funds to do this after the federal Labor govt canned the RICA program (which successfully created schools/business partnerships and brokered structured workplace learning and school based apprenticeships). DET ACT has chosen to sit on the money rather than work with the business community to develop meaningful partnerships.

And how about a concentration on basic educational development, improving basic literacy and numeracy, science and mathematical literacy, social sciences and environmental sciences. Instead of all the feelgood wankery, why don’t they build an education system that focusses on producing well rounded and well educated graduates.

Meaningful PD for teachers in their subject areas should be a central focal point for increasing education quality.

… we had girls’ or boys’ schools, or some schools offering single-sex classes?
… some schools offered accelerated learning for academically gifted students?
… we had selective entry schools?
… some schools developed specialist programs for students with interests in particular sports (golf, tennis, athletics, rowing, football, hockey) or the performing arts, visual arts, graphic design, media and communications?
… some schools developed centres of excellence for students with talents in areas such as mathematics, science and technology, languages and the humanities?
… students could develop personalised pathways across a range of education settings—schools, universities, CIT, industry and the community?

These are already done by the many private schools servicing the community.

#6
clueless708:48 pm, 02 Aug 10

Neanderthalsis,

all the feelgood wankery
Could you be a bit more specific?

These are already done by the many private schools servicing the community.
Have you noticed that private schools charge high fees for their services? By definition they are out of reach of a majority of the population. The questions appear to be about the idea that publicly funded schools provide the services; so, that private schools exist, or that private schools provide any of the services being asked about, is not relevant to a discussion based on the questions.

I would recommend two main reforms to the present education system and have more than once raised them at dinner parties:

(i) attendance at school be made voluntary, not compulsory
(ii) teachers be required to complete as a minimum masters-degree-level or equivalent study in their speciality before beginning teacher training.

The typical immediate objection to suggestion (i) expresses an anxiety about what to do with all the young people who might decide voluntarily not to attend school. This can lead to insight into the underlying purposes and general ambience of schools. If the discussion gets any further than this troubling point, progress is determined by the assumptions the participants make about the value and capabilities of young people themselves.

Suggestion (ii) usually meets with quick approval because it implies that teachers ought to work harder than they presently do, a truth universally acknowledged. But when the consequences of a large publicly-funded workforce gaining higher qualifications are considered more closely the idea seems to lose its appeal.

Talk then reverts to more comfortable and well-travelled territory such as the ‘wankery’ versus ‘basics’ debate.

I still put these suggestions forward because they challenge our deep assumptions about school education – and where I do agree with the ‘wankers’ and the ‘basics’ alike is in their judgement that public schools are typically demoralising, ugly, ineffectual places for the students and the teachers, who show remarkable adaptibility and tolerance to a system that cries out for reform at every level.

#7
26049:46 pm, 02 Aug 10

neanderthalsis said :

… we had selective entry schools?
These are already done by the many private schools servicing the community.

Are there any “selective entry” private schools around? IE schools that rank applicants academically and then only grant entry to the top students?

As far as I know, no catholic school operates like this, and Radford and the Grammar schools certainly don’t.

#8
rebcart10:53 pm, 02 Aug 10

emd said :

It means public schools that do not have selective entry will become the dumping ground for kids … whose parents can’t logistically manage the transport or other requirements for the selective entry school.

As a selective school kid from NSW, I’d be a bit concerned that a kid who gets into a selective school can’t manage to get to high school and back on their own.

#9
shaneb5:53 pm, 03 Aug 10

Ultimately Australia will move towards an education voucher system. It seems to have bipartisan support at the federal level with the Liberals preparing to attempt it about a decade ago before the minister responsible got himself into some strife on an unrelated matter. Labor has set some of the foundations with initiatives such as My Schools to allow parents to make informed decisions once private entities are allowed to enter the market. Abbot indicated his support for the concept with a similar voucher system for disabled students a few days ago. I am not sure whether the market will be open to commercial entities or only not-for profit entities, but the experience with the Nordic system (Sweden in particular) has indicated that commercial entities usually provide better educational outcomes at a similar price point.

(… and yes I realise that education is nominally a state responsibility, but with the huge fiscal imbalance between the states and federal government thanks to the poorly conceived companies head of power it is the Federal government that really runs this show)

#10
emd10:58 pm, 03 Aug 10

rebcart said :

As a selective school kid from NSW, I’d be a bit concerned that a kid who gets into a selective school can’t manage to get to high school and back on their own.

I was mostly referring to primary schools. But there might be very sensible reasons why a high school kid can’t logistically manage the requirements for a selective school. Logistics isn’t just about catching the bus – it’s also about fitting in with the school culture, parent involvement requirements, very high “voluntary” fees etc.

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