Fund amount:
$329,000 over three years

Program area:
Educational Equity

Location:
Gippsland

Year:
2019

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Finding the hook to keep students engaged

Gippsland students will be the first in Victoria to benefit from a program designed to make a significant impact on learning outcomes for vulnerable students, by ensuring they make successful transition from primary to secondary school.

Australian Schools Plus has taken the opportunity to bring the concept tried in NSW to Victoria with the assistance of philanthropic support from the Ross Trust.

Schools Plus has been running the NSW model since 2015 with significant investment from the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation. The program is also growing in Queensland.

Fair Education Victoria will develop the capacity of school leaders in disadvantaged schools and aim to influence one of the real keys to success; stronger engagement of families and the whole community in student learning.

Fair Education Victoria has at its core two key research findings:
• disadvantage has the greatest impact on a child’s educational opportunity and achievements
• students do better when families are engaged with their learning and the school community, which is much less likely when they come from a position of disadvantage.

Location, low socio‐economic background, disability and being from an Indigenous or non‐English speaking background can influence a student’s level of disadvantage and this applies to students in more than 900 schools across Victoria. This is precisely the cohort targeted by Australian Schools Plus, with a focus also on students from rural and remote areas. The program will benefit those aged between 4 and 17.

The Lakes Entrance region has been selected for Victoria’s trial to improve the transition of vulnerable students from primary school to secondary school.

Lakes Entrance Secondary School, Lakes Entrance Primary School, Toorloo Arm Primary School and Nowa Nowa Primary School will be involved in activities which seek to improve the engagement, attendance and ultimately learning outcomes of their students.

The funding will go towards the cost of experienced coaches, who will work with principals and their leadership teams to help design and deliver projects, as well as monitor and evaluate the outcomes. Leadership capacity will be developed in participating schools, to bring about transformational change in their cultures and practices.

Fair Education Director, Maura Manning says “It’s very early in the planning stage for the East Gippsland schools, but one of the really positive steps is that the schools are already working together more closely; creating opportunities to meet regularly and look at common issues.”

Maura says one of the big benefits of the Fair Education programs in New South Wales and Queensland has been the building of communities of practice, particularly when schools have similar contexts and that has been of enormous benefit to the teachers.

“One of the first things the schools in East Gippsland are doing is understanding who are the children and families they have in common. Why are the kids not attending regularly?

“What we’ve learnt is that it’s never the same reason in every family, so we need to look at family in an individual way. You need to build trust.

“If we can build mutual trust – between the school and the community, between teachers in leadership and the students, between the parents and the teachers – taking careful consideration of everyone’s perspective – then that allows progress and change because people can move forward and take steps together. It takes time to build that trust.

“One of the ways trust has been built, particularly in areas such as East Gippsland with large Indigenous populations – who have had poor experiences of institutions, or where there has been intergenerational unemployment and education is not valued highly – is to work hard on understanding the parents’ perspectives.

“It can be challenging to improve attendance if parents’ experience with school was negative.

“Opening up opportunities for conversations that are not threatening or patronising and seek to understand where they are coming from, is so important,” Maura said.

Maura says one of the best findings so far, from implementing this program in other States, is that the best projects keep the focus on learning.

“Keeping the focus on learning encourages parents to get involved – we need to make space for them.

“It’s fairly universal that parents want their children to do well but they don’t always know how to enter into a conversation about it.”

The other key element is student agency – students becoming the directors of their own learning.

Maura says some high schools are looking at learning design. “How do we make it more relevant and interesting? Can we bring back a new learning proposition which changes the way learning looks, adding in more experiential and practical elements – find the hook, get them engaged.

In an interview published on the Schools Plus website, Ross Trust CEO, Sarah Hardy, explained some of the decisions behind the grant and what impact the Trust was hoping to see.

“What attracted us … was their connection to schools facing disadvantage and their unique knowledge of the school’s needs and the challenges they face.

“For the Fair Education project, we were particularly impressed by the [Schools Plus] school and community partnership approach, encouraging teachers and school leaders to activate students’ families and communities for better long‐term learning outcomes.

“We are proud to be part of the first pilot of Fair Education program in Victoria.

“While this project is in its early stages, there are two major outcomes we hope will emerge over the next few years.

“We would like to see the work we’re supporting re‐engage or stop young people from leaving their educational journey – empowering children most at risk of dropping out of school at key transition points, particularly from primary to secondary.

“We would also like to see schools in rural and regional Victoria come together to talk about the challenges they face with disengaged young people. It is always a surprise to us who don’t work in schools, to see that they don’t necessarily work together, often due to time and financial restraints. Bringing schools together to have these conversations is one of the main things we enjoy hearing about.”