This is a second in the series of Putting Our Kids First propositions shaped by the State School Teachers' Union of WA (SSTUWA). The first paper was prepared to support public and political discourse in the lead up to the 2011/12 State Budget. It was focused specifically on students at educational risk.
This paper lays out key education issues and directions the SSTUWA and its members have identified as needing to be at the forefront of consideration by the political parties as they head into the 2013 State Election.
The SSTUWA and its members will be examining the responses of the various parties to the series of propositions contained in this paper as they consider how to vote. The SSTUWA and its members will be raising these matters with parents and in school communities, with WACSSO the parent body and the broader community.
As a nation we recognise that access to education is a fundamental right for our children and young people. As a nation we know the connectedness between a quality education and ongoing social and economic benefits for individuals, communities and nation. As a nation we have had clearly revealed to us in the Gonski Review of Schools' Funding Report that we are (a) underfunding schools' education in Australia and (b) most importantly we are not delivering enough to those students with the greatest needs. In fact we are delivering resources to education in a manner which is and will continue to the widen equity gaps in Australia if not adjusted.
In Western Australia, political parties not only have an opportunity to walk with the vision of Gonski, they have an obligation to explain to the community how they would do just that if elected in March 2013.
This paper proposes some key areas our members who work daily in our schools for and with our students would like the political aspirants who will be seeking to govern W.A. for the next four years to incorporate in their vision and policy for 2013 and beyond.
This position paper identifies key areas in the provision of education through our public schools which we view as needing to be addressed if we are to guarantee high quality educational provision to our children and young people. They include:
Twenty one recommendations are found within the paper. Twenty one recommendations if attended to will make a difference to W.A. children and our community.
Public schools operate in nearly every local community across W.A. Public schools belong to our community. A Western Australian Government must understand it 'owns' the public education system. A Western Australian Government must take pride in its public schools, nurture them and build upon their many strengths to enhance public provision.
Schools' funding has been in the spotlight over the past two years as a consequence of the Federal Government's Gonksi Review. A report with findings and recommendations bedded in Australian principles of equity and access has gathered strong support across the nation. Parents, school communities, academics, politicians and the public have been told and recognise the 'truths' about our current funding model. Not to act on the Gonski Report would be nothing short of reprehensible. This paper demands action on the Gonski Report.
The need to ensure we attend to the mental health and wellbeing of our children is critical. Challenges in Western Australia have been identified by the Children's Commissioner Michelle Scott. As a community we must move to address these issues immediately. Appropriate policy with effective strategies and resourcing is a necessity if we are to help these children engage with life and learning and counter the more expensive and longer term costs of neglect to individuals and communities.
We all recognise the importance of staff in the education equation. Shortages are looming. A more serious and strategic approach to workforce planning is required.
The 21st Century of education, work and play requires high levels of knowledge, skills and competencies in the digital world. Significant investment must begin to flow into schools if we are to give our children a 'fair go' on the national and international stages. The unifying nature of the Australian Curriculum is fast withering on the vine due to lack of 'water and fertiliser'. If the huge investment to date is to be realised fully, any incoming government must listen to the professionals and work fast to provide access to support materials and professional learning. The Andrich Review provided the guidelines …but alas we still wait.
Public schools cater for approximately 70% of all students in Western Australia. Public schools can be found in every corner of the state, and are often the only educational providers in local communities.
Public schools provide a place in the heart of community activity, particularly in our rural and remote communities.
As Richard Teese (1) identified, there has been a change in the expectations placed on public schools in Australia from one of universal provision or ‘opportunity’ to that of achieving quality outcome for all student.
Access to quality public education is a fundamental right for all children and young people in our community. Quality public education is the foundation for wellbeing, aspiration and achievement for individuals. Quality public education provides for the cementing/building of a cohesive, compassionate and socially just society. Quality public education is integral to the economic security of individuals and the nation. Quality public education is the wellspring of opportunity for nation, community, family and individual.
Provision of public education is a fundamental responsibility and essential service of the Western Australian Government to its community and citizens. Such provision needs to be more than minimal and should be sufficient as to guarantee quality provision in all local communities.
The SSTUWA is seeking from all political parties a real commitment to the public education system in Western Australia, a recognition that government 'owns' the public education system, a determination to 'privilege' the public education system, an assurance that government activities will not undermine public provision of education and a readiness to support endeavours to bring quality public education provision to all communities in Western Australia.
Any party privileged to lead the Western Australian Government, and any politician invited by its constituency to represent them, is obligated to ensure that support for quality public education must be an imperative.
The State School Teachers’ Union position is that:
(1) Richard Teese, From opportunity to outcomes. The changing role of public schooling in Australia and national funding arrangements(Melbourne University September 2011)
The Gonski Review Report (2) tabled to the Australian Government in December 2011, and released to the public in February 2012, contained forty one recommendations to the Federal Government. Response to these recommendations is only possible if state/territory governments work in partnership with the Federal Government to meet the challenges identified and develop the solutions.
The SSTUWA is not oblivious to the 'constitutional lines of demarcation' between federal and state/territory governments. The SSTUWA understands the challenges which may exist in the discourse between the parties as they seek to respond to the Report. But, the SSTUWA is strongly of the view that the Australian state/territory and Federal governments cannot retreat from the truths and challenges thrown up by the Gonski Review. To do other than work collaboratively on this issue would be to cast aside the possibilities and aspirations of the children and young people of today and betray our children and young people of the future and ultimately the potential of our state and nation.
In light of the findings in Gonski, any incoming Western Australian Government has an obligation to treat the recommendations seriously and to work with the Federal Government to ensure a new funding model is instituted which will bring greater fairness and equity. One which enables Australian students to take their rightful place in a globalised world, socially, culturally and economically [Finding 1]; one which adequately reflects the different needs of students to enable resources to be directed where they are needed most [Finding 2]; one which recognises that Australia's schooling system is about more than just literacy and numeracy [Finding 5]; and one which aims to ensure that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions and all students have access to a high standard of education regardless of their background or circumstances [Finding 17].
The State School Teachers’ Union position is that:
(2) Expert Panel D Gonski, K Boston, K Greiner, C Lawrence, B Scales & P Tannock, Review of Funding for Schools Final Report December 2011
Australian Curriculum & Implementation
Federal and State/Territory Governments have committed to the development and implementation of the Australian Curriculum. The SSTUWA supports such a direction 'inprinciple'. One assumes that the intention of an Australian Curriculum is to deliver some heightened level of consistency across borders whilst at the same time balancing the need to respond to local context.
The current Government in recognising the recent vexed and fraught history of curriculum change in W.A. undertook a review of change processes associate with the introduction of the Curriculum Framework. A report (3) was prepared by Professor David Andrich and delivered to the Minister in 2009, sufficient time to have enabled the Minister and Government to respond.
The first four areas of the Australian Curriculum – English, Mathematics, Science and History - are in various stages of implementation across the state.
What is clear from anecdotal feedback and the SSTUWA's own surveys is that the Government has to date fallen far short of meeting the recommendations in the Andrich Report. Consequently across our public schools in W.A. we have inconsistencies in implementation, frustration at the lack of access to professional learning and unnecessary replication of activities in schools associated with development of curriculum support, planning and assessment materials and the associated workload. It is hard to fathom why the heralded 'blueprint' to manage this change has been left on the shelf.
School leaders and teachers in W.A. public schools want to be able to engage in this change. School leaders and teachers in W.A. public schools need to be supported appropriately during this time of curriculum change.
ICT & Digital Technologies
A 21st century education requires opportunity for students to develop knowledge, skills and abilities to work in a digital world.
For those in the education profession, a capacity to work in the digital world is necessary to participate in professional learning, access curriculum resources, manage accountability requirements, explore career path activities and attend to employment related matters such as accessing leave.
A huge frustration at the inadequate resourcing for ICT and digital technologies in our public schools has recently brought together an alliance of unions, parent representatives and principal associations to advocate for resources to attend to maintenance, infrastructure and training needs.
In addition there is growing dissatisfaction amongst the 10 000+ school leaders and teachers who contribute via lease arrangement to the Notebook program for what is in effect an essential tool which in any other industry/profession would be being supplied by the employer.
The recent inquiry and report by the W.A. Education and Health Standing Committee (4) of the W.A. Parliament brought down recommendations which are closely aligned to the Technology in Public Schools Alliance objectives.
The three areas highlighted for further attention by the Education & Health Standing Committee Report, The role of ICT in Western Australian Education: Living and Working in a Digital World included:
The State School Teachers’ Union position is that:
(3) Professor D Andrich in the Review of the Curriculum Framework for curriculum, assessment and reporting purposes in Western Australian Schools with particular reference to years Kindergarten to Year 10 (2009)
(4) Education and Health Standing Committee, The role of ICT in western Australian Education: Living and Working in a Digital World (Legislative Assembly, Parliament of Western Australia, Report No. 16 September 2012)
This aspect of the paper covers disabilities, student behaviour, mental health and interventions, particularly in the early years.
Children and young people in our communities are the most vulnerable of our citizens. As the providers of education to the significant proportion of children and young people in W.A. the role and responsibility of public schools is significant. The impact is multiplied by the fact that public schools provide for the overwhelming number of students with identified needs (disabilities, non- English speaking, learning difficulties, low SES, indigenous).
Public schools carry a significant responsibility in attending to the needs of children and young people. The interface between school and family places schools in a unique position to identify and support interventions required for those of our children and young people with developmental, mental health and social needs.
The capacity of our public schools to provide adequately and in a timely manner goes to the availability of assessment processes, access to appropriate programs and support/specialist staff, provision of appropriate professional development to educators and required educational tools and resources being on tap.
The SSTUWA and its members are of the view that there continues to be insufficient resourcing to support public schools in guaranteeing the outcomes we believe are achievable for our most needy students. Consequently, the SSTUWA in the first instance places back on the table the recommendations it tabled to government in the lead up to the 2011/12 State Budget focusing specifically of students at educational risk (SAER). (5)
Mental Health & Wellbeing
The mental health and wellbeing of our children and young people goes to the heart of their ability to engage effectively in educational opportunities provided.
Michelle Scott the Children's Commissioner sought to explore the issue of the mental health and wellbeing of our children via an independent review. A subsequent report was released to the government and public in April 2011 (6). The report identified that one in six children between the ages of four and 17 years experiences mental health problems. This does not take into account the number of children who may be attending school each day from families with adults/carers struggling with their own mental health problems and associated family dysfunction.
The Commissioner was able to say the report disclosed that there are serious inadequacies in the services available to prevent and treat mental health disorders for children and young people. As a consequence schools struggle daily to (a) recognise such causal factors, (b) have confirmed suspicions of such issues confronting students, and (c) be in a position to deliver appropriate and targeted learning opportunities and supports to such students. Yet schools bear the responsibilities and accountabilities for any perceived failings and inadequacies.
Early Childhood Education
The importance of early intervention for children and targeted supports for families has been recognised for many years. 'Front end investment' of this nature has the potential for huge social and economic cost-benefits for individuals, families, community and government. The recent national focus on early childhood education through the National Partnership agenda is noted and welcomed.
The placement of kindergarten and pre-primary education within the school system has better positioned W.A. to respond to this critical agenda. The beginnings of access to 'wrap around services' through school communities is a positive step forward, but projected resourcing under the Child-Parent Centres Program (10 centres by 2016/17) is seriously inadequate if we are to attend effectively and fairly to the needs of our burgeoning early childhood population.
The introduction of and implementation of the Early Years Learning Framework must be supported by effective and accessible professional learning for ECE teachers and school leaders, as well as funding to assist with associated resource replacements.
Professional tensions continue to exist between 'structured play-based' pedagogy and more formal provision in the early years. Given the successful Finnish system does not introduce formal learning until children are aged 7, it would pay us well to undertake some formal and ongoing monitoring.
The State School Teachers’ Union position is that:
(5) SSTUWA State Budget Submission 2011-2012 March 2010
(6) Commissioner for Children and Young People, Report of the Inquiry into the mental health and wellbeing of young people in Western Australia, April 2011
School leaders, teachers and support staff in schools, as well as the specialist staff such as school psychologists are critical ingredients in the provision of quality educational opportunities for children and young people attending our public schools.
The SSTUWA is very conscious of and reminds our political leaders, political aspirants and the community that other factors such as the socio economic status of family and community, the educational attainment level of parents/carers, remoteness, English language facility, disability and health and wellbeing are also significant factors which can impinge on engagement of any one student, or cohort of students, and their capacity to benefit fully in educational settings and must be taken into account.
W.A., as other states and territories, has identified a significant proportion of its educational staff are moving rapidly towards retirement. As a consequence three challenges stand before our politicians and our community in guaranteeing quality education for our children and young people now and into the future:
The attraction and retention of quality and capable staff at all levels of the public school system is an objective the SSTUWA and its members support. The SSTUWA calls on all political parties to commit 'in-principle' to attracting and retaining quality staff to the public education system and to enabling the practical implementation of such a principle through appropriate policy objectives and adequate resourcing.
In exploring the issue of attraction and retention, the W.A. Government established a taskforce headed up by Professor Lance Twomey. It reported in 2007. The Twomey Taskforce (7) identified eighty three recommendations covering remuneration, career path, conditions in workplaces and housing, leadership and mentoring, status of the profession, attraction and transition to teaching, workload, practicums, VET, flexible learning, workforce planning and operations of the Department, legislation, equity and the Federal Government.
The expectations of school communities, the complexities associated with the provision of educational opportunities for all children, the significant transfer of responsibilities to the local level and the withdrawal of support services are part of the changing landscape being encountered by school leaders in our public schools. Significant changes have occurred in recent years drawing to school leaders increased responsibilities, additional workload and expansion of accountabilities. It is clear that while demands have increased and the capabilities, skills and knowledge required to undertake these roles are of a more sophisticated nature the recognition of these changes has been limited in the context of adjusted remuneration, professional support and support staff.
If governments in W.A. and the broader community are to place such expectations and demands on school leaders within public schools then appropriate adjustments to working conditions must be undertaken, particularly if we aspire to continue with high quality leadership.
Pre-service education and investment in induction into the teaching service is undertaken at significant cost at personal, community and education system levels. Of concern to government should be the high attrition rates amongst early year teachers, reputedly 30 to 40% in the first five years.
A recent University of South Australia study (8) has again provided some clear critique of the issues confronting new educators and commentary on possible solutions. The SSTUWA calls on W.A. political parties to make considerations for those in the early years of the teaching profession, taking into account this report.
Key comments under the five themes included:
A 'great deal of cooperation and support from governments, education systems, schools, universities and communities' is required to provide effective support to early career teachers. Huge investments are in behind pre-service education. Short term and longer term ramifications of an effective entre into teaching are measurable for the individual and community. Ensuring that we are providing the right environment for our early career teachers as they enter work is essential.
The key role of school leaders and teachers is to focus on the development of appropriate learning programs for students, the facilitation of the associated learning opportunities and assessment and feedback activities. To undertake such tasks and responsibilities in an environment in which one is required to focus on the individual needs of students, and it is likely a wide range of students are to be catered for, is complex and demanding.
Access to and timely support from various 'expert personnel' such as school psychologist, speech pathologists, curriculum advisors, behaviour specialists and visiting teachers (inclusion and disabilities) is essential. This is needed to (a) support timely interventions and improvement of student outcomes; (b) enable teaching staff to focus on their key responsibilities of teaching and learning; and (c) allow for greater efficiencies and consistency in support materials such as curriculum being used by teaching staff through 'central provision'.
The interplay of the associated recommendations of Gonski, Twomey's Recommendations, Early Career Teachers: STORIES OF RESILIENCE and projections of the Department's workforce planning needs, along with labour demands from within the W.A. resource industry, provide a platform for shaping an aspirational response to the workforce needs of W.A. public schools.
The State School Teachers’ Union position is that:
(7) Education Workforce Initiatives: Report “If you think education is expensive …” Education Workforce Initiatives, the Taskforce 2007
(8) Bruce Johnson, Barry Down, Rosie Le Cornu, Judy Peters, Anna Sullivan, Jane Pearce & Janet Hunter. Early Career Teachers: STORIES OF RESILIENCE
QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION:
SUPPORTING A 21ST CENTURY EDUCATION:
ATTENDING TO THE MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING OF STUDENTS:
A QUALITY WORKFORCE – ATTRACTION, RETENTION AND DEVELOPMENT: