Making sure every child, every day is given the support they need to succeed is the key driver of the Learning Guarantee Project which has been established to address the state of readiness of students in Western Port as they transition from primary to secondary school.
The Ross Trust and the Mornington Peninsula Foundation have collaborated on the program, which is part of the Western Port Education Precinct.
And with the commitment of a strong team and a $200,000 grant from the Ross Trust, this year’s work has already started to bear fruit despite the challenges presented by remote learning during COVID-19.
The Learning Guarantee Project was the brain child of the principals of the local area, which has long had pockets of extreme disadvantage, so entrenched that 92 per cent of children start school requiring speech and oral language intervention, and only 30 per cent of students who enrol in Year 7 are at the required academic levels.
The one-year trial to support Year 6 students transitioning from Crib Point Primary and Tyabb Rail Primary to Western Port Secondary College in 2021, aims to test interventions and collect data and intelligence to help shape further work.
This preparation for a successful educational transition is one of the keys to helping break the cycle of disadvantage.
“We need to address the disturbing stats which tell us three out of 10 students are not ready to learn at the high school when they leave primary school,” says Stephanie Exton, Executive Director of the Mornington Peninsula Foundation. “How can you transition to high school if you can’t read?”
“We needed to get to the root of the issue – where are the kids, what do we know about them and what don’t we know? How can we find out?
“The approach we are taking is whoever you are, whatever your background or the circumstances you find yourself in, we want you to succeed and we’re going to wrap the system around you to help you.
“The funding from the Ross Trust has just turbo charged this program.”
And already there are changes.
Stephanie says the hardest thing to measure – but not hard to see – is the culture shift.
“You can see this already. There is a strong sense of optimism in the schools and positive talk in the street.”
Most importantly, the Year 6 students have made significant improvement and look to be on track for transition.
“The team just said, we’re not going to let covid get in the way. There has been much more interaction with the parents, the schools understand the kids better, and they are being connected with the services they need via a regular contact with the Western Port Community Centre.”
Stephanie said the flexible funding had allowed the team to change things as needed, to keep the project running well.
“We’ve just had a mindset (with the pandemic lockdowns), which is about thinking smarter and doing things differently. There are so many things you can do – I’ve been able to call a meeting and get people online later that day to create new collaborations where we pool resources and create more sustainable connections.
“We hope to go full tilt next year and consolidate the work.”
Stephanie also welcomed the Trust’s ongoing commitment to the area. “The Ross Trust could change the game in 10 years. We’ve got committed people on the ground who want to do the work.”
Principal of Western Port Secondary College, Chris Quinn, is one of those committed people.
Chris (pictured above) has been involved in developing the Western Port Education Precinct right from its inspiration in an overseas study tour to Canada and the US, with former Principal Michael Devine and Tyabb Rail Principal, Emma Slater. They saw up close the community-led approach at the Harlem Children’s Zone and how this had worked to cut through the cycles of disadvantage. “We used the model on a smaller scale with our community”.
This year, the grant from the MPF and the Ross Trust has seen full time Learning Guarantee coordinator, Ross Wettenhall – backed up by two part time education support staff – able to spend time connecting with the teachers, students and parents of the two primary schools. With two days a week in each of the primary schools (remotely for much of the year), Ross – a former teacher at Tyabb Rail primary school – has built on his existing relationships and gained an understanding of the learning needs of the Year 6s to bring the intelligence back to the Year 7 teachers, who will be teaching them next year. Already Chris says there have been breakthroughs with the love of learning coming back for some students, with good feedback from the families and with Ross able to provide a strong mentoring role.
“By working alongside the classroom teachers, Ross is able to connect with students one on one and ask them how they are feeling, identify additional supports they may need for their learning and any additional factors that are impacting their availability to learn.”
Chris echoes Stephanie’s view that the pandemic lockdowns have had some benefits. The digital literacy of both students and teachers has increased and there has been the ability to link in with students who require a more flexible and individualised learning program.
“This could be one element of the program that continues even after students are back in the classroom.”
As a result of Ross’s work, there has been a consistent finding that literacy is a significant gap.
In response (and as part of the Learning Guarantee Project), Ross completed professional development training called ‘Sounds Write’, an intensive program in explicit synthetic phonics. Chris says its been a game changer in helping the students become more prepared for secondary school. Additional funding from the Mellett Family, an early adopter of the Learning Guarantee Project, will enable 16 teachers from across the Western Port area to now complete this training in October 2020 to prepare a roll out of this program in 2021.
“Learning Guarantee Project gives us a more intensive focus on what we need to do next year as we help the current group of 34 Year 6 students across two schools, transition into Western Port Secondary College,” Chris says.
“Part of this transition is knowing that relationships with students and families are already well established and baseline data has been collected, so it is clear what academic interventions are required and what psychosocial supports are needed.”
The benefits are not only about the individual students, but also about the reputations of the schools and the local community. Chris says “Western Port Secondary College has a strong focus on both the academic achievement of the students as well as supporting their wellbeing to improve student learning outcomes.”
As a result of this, Western Port Secondary College has already seen strong enrolment numbers for next year – 139 students coming into Year 7, up from just under half that five years ago.
One of the strong benefits of the whole Western Port Education Precinct is the strong connections and commitments across the leadership of all schools in the area – a strong commitment to the ‘moral intent’ of the program, which is to make sure no student is left behind.
“It would be amazing if we have the Learning Guarantee in place across our community and viewed as something of a rite of passage for all our young people. From the start of primary school through to gaining their senior certificate, there was no stone left unturned to identify and provide the required educative and non-educative supports that best prepares students for a strong and targeted pathway of their choosing.”
Mornington Peninsula place-based commitment
This grant is part of a 10-year commitment the Ross Trust has made to a place-based approach in the Mornington Peninsula, with a focus on Hastings, Rosebud and surrounds (Western Port). This is an area with complex social issues and intergenerational disadvantage. All the schools in this area are below 1000 on the Index of Community and Social Education Advantage. Through collaborations and direct support, the Ross Trust commitment will focus on projects addressing barriers to participation in education and local community disadvantage.
Photo: Tyabb Railway Primary School Year 6 student, Tristan Cameron, gives the Learning Guarantee project the thumbs up. Photo by Ross Wettenhall, Learning Guarantee project coordinator.