From Schools of the future to Gonski and Beyond: Where are we now?

Photo of Hunters Hill, New South Wales, Public SchoolHSV Public Lecture by Dionne Wright (recently retired School Principal) in conversation with Nick Bastow (Speech Writer) at Hawthorn Community Precinct on 9 March 2017.

In 1872 Victoria passed the Education Act, where-by the government said that it would provide free, compulsory secular education. The government built about 600 schools in six years. The population was about 800,000. Education is still a state responsibility. Currently there are 3,000 principals, 43,000 teachers and 19,000 support staff. Education plays an important role in economic and technological development.

Dionne grew up in Cowra in New South Wales, attending the local primary school then high school. Dionne studied Arts/Law at University. On graduation Dionne worked as a lawyer for one year. Unsatisfied with such work Dionne then did a Dip. Ed at State College, then taught at Brunswick Primary School, where there were 900 students, 90% of whom did not have English as their native tongue. Dionne then taught at a number of other schools, including Merri Creek, for 9 years as a teacher and 13 years as a Principal.

As Principal Dionne liked developing a learning community and liked finance; Dionne was not happy about filling online compliance forms – there were about fifty in all.

There is a new curriculum driven by the Education Department – it is a good one. It is clear what teachers have to teach. It is then up to teachers to develop a program so that children do learn what is required.

There is a big move today for children to have a voice in their learning. Particular skills are taught to accommodate children of different needs and abilities. Teachers have to be constantly reflecting on how to do things in different ways. School councillors have no role in hiring and firing staff; they have input on the general curriculum.

Schools have to cater for children with disabilities, e.g. those with auditory processing problems, dyslexia,
severe speech issues, intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities (might have a wheelchair). There are aides for special needs students.

NAPLAN is an annual assessment for all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. It tests skills in reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and maths: number, algebra and geometry. It is not long. It does not measure the skills needed for the kind of world that we are living in. It is not a good gauge of teacher performance.

The funding of education is distorted. Gonski is an attempt to have a needs basis of funding. There is no political will to change to Gonski.

There is a growing expectation for schools to teach matters in addition to the formal syllabus, e.g. financial matters such as how to save, how to bank. Any social ills, e.g. obesity, violence, bullying, it is important to teach about how to remedy in schools – we want a happy fulfilling society. Schools teach that it is important to develop a belief in oneself, on how to stand up for the self and others. Teachers are asked to do so much, including sport, swimming (this is now mandatory).

As Principal Dionne received requests from Access Ministries to teach religion in her school; she refused to allow it and the School Council agreed with her.

The biggest misconception about Principals is that a lot of people think that other people in the Education Department do most of the work that Principals actually do.

Report by Joe Sampson