Saturday, 24 February 2018

Wealth and privilege on display.

While state school struggle.....we have this!

A $25 million library designed to look like a Scottish castle, an orchestra pit and a chapel nestled into nearby bushland are just some of the new features planned for Sydney's elite private schools, despite complaints from neighbouring residents and local councils.

Seven schools are planning to spend a combined total of more than $365 million on new facilities and school redevelopments, an analysis of development applications currently waiting for approval from the NSW Department of Planning and Environment has revealed.

A rendering for Scots College's proposed $25 million new library by JCA Architects. 

Scots College in Sydney's east has submitted plans for a $25.1 million major upgrade of its library building, including a "complete recladding of the exterior in a Scottish Baronial architectural style" complete with castellations, a tower, a turret, and "grand bay windows".

Loreto Kirribilli has submitted plans for a $103.3 million staged redeveloment of the school, including a new five-storey "innovation centre", outdoor rooftop learning terraces and two "vertical connection pods".

Cranbrook's $75 million redevelopment plan includes a new aquatic recreation centre, a drama theatre, "teaching terraces" and a new academic and liberal arts facility, while SCEGGS Darlinghurst's $48.7 million plan includes a new six-storey "multi-purpose building", possibly with new swimming facilities.

St Catherine's School has submitted modifications to its previously approved $62.5 million redevelopment, which still includes an orchestra pit, a ballet studio, a playbox theatre and a new aquatic centre.

St Aloysius' College is also planning a major redevelopment, including a new sports facility and extensions of its great hall, chapel and existing learning facilities. The plan does not provide an exact value but will cost over $30 million.

Loreto Normanhurst is planning to construct a number of new buildings and a "bush chapel" and increase its student cap from 1150 students to 2000, with costs expected to exceed $20 million.

The school's principal Barbara Watkins said the projected student increase "is in line with the expected growth in demographics in schools over the next 30 years" and that the school funds its physical site through loans, fees and fundraising.

"Government funding goes directly to the educational needs of our students alone," Ms Watkins said.

Associate professor in the school of education and social work at the University of Sydney, Helen Proctor, said the top private schools often become "caught in a bit of a cycle".

"It becomes an arms race where those schools are charging very high fees and they feel like parents want something very visible for those fees, they want the state-of-the-art sports stadium, library and performance centre," Dr Proctor said.

"It would be difficult to find a top school that doesn't have a current building project.

"It's hard to imagine what more they need. It does seem extraordinary that those very top schools would need government funding."

Two of the schools with planned redevelopments were revealed as being among the most overfunded private schools in the country.

Loreto Kirribilli last year received federal government funding equivalent to 196 per cent of its appropriate level, as calculated under the Gonski Schooling Resource Standard (SRS), and St Aloysius' was funded at 183 per cent of its SRS.

Sydney's high-fee private schools raised fees by up to 5 per cent this year and SCEGGS and Cranbrook are currently two of the most expensive, with annual fees rising to more than $37,200 for year 12 students this year.

The combined price tag for the seven schools' planned developments is close to the $390 million allocated by the NSW government last year to address an enormous maintenance backlog across the state's 2100 public schools.

A number of the plans have been met with concerns from local residents and councils over ongoing traffic issues in areas surrounding the schools.

A spokeswoman for Woollahra Council said it has raised concerns about "ongoing parking problems and traffic congestion" with Scots College, and has refused a previous development application by the school due to traffic issues.

Similar traffic congestion issues have also been raised by local residents and local councils in relation to the submissions by SCEGGS, Loreto Kirribilli and Loreto Normanhurst.

Two letters of opposition from local residents to Loreto Kirribilli's planned redevelopment said nearby streets are "gridlocked" in the mornings and afternoons, and residents and North Sydney Council told the Department of Planning that the school should be required to build dedicated pick-up and drop-off areas on its grounds.

Loreto Kirribilli, Scots College and SCEGGS did not respond to questions by deadline.

Teachers speak out about Guy

When Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy tries to whip up a moral panic about the state of our education system it is only so he can propose kicking it further down an authoritarian path.

The Victorian Liberal-Nationals School Education Values Statement released last month points to the stagnation of literacy and numeracy test results as evidence of the breakdown of "discipline", "teaching the basics" and "instilling sound values".

Mr Guy's draconian plans – which include installing police in our 10 most "high-risk" schools, abolishing the Safe Schools program, pumping up parochial Australian nationalism and stamping out celebration of diversity in the curriculum – are bound to have a devastating impact on the educational opportunities of our most disadvantaged and marginalised students.

But if Mr Guy's fear mongering about falling standards touches a nerve for some, it is because we really do have good cause to be worried about our education system.

The Australian Education Union's response to the Coalition's statement, published in The Age, gets it right when it champions the great work teachers and support staff can do when they are adequately funded and trusted. However, as teachers currently working in schools, we were disappointed by the failure of the AEU to address the reasons why this trust and support for teachers is rapidly disintegrating.

The plateauing NAPLAN results Mr Guy refers to are a reflection of a much deeper crisis in our schools, the cause of which remains both Liberal and Labor policy – the thoroughly discredited market-based model of education – which research suggests has been a key factor in the recent flatlining of student results.

Mr Guy claims billions of government dollars spent over the last 15 to 20 years have done nothing to improve educational standards. Frankly, many teachers would agree, although not for the reasons that Mr Guy suggests.

In the first place, public schools have not seen the majority of funding increases. Between 2006-07 and 2015-16 government funding to public schools increased by around 23 per cent. In the same period, government spending on private schools increased by 42 per cent.

Victoria's education reforms are bearing fruit

This madness is justified as governments supporting parent choice in the marketplace of educational options.

The Liberals' not-so-invisible hand reached peak corruption last year when the Turnbull government legislated to federally fund 80 per cent of private schools' basic needs (regardless of their capacity to charge fees many times this amount), while funding only 20 per cent of government schools' basic needs.

But the problem of marketisation runs deeper. Public schools have been set in competition not just with private schools, but also with each other.

We have had nearly 10 years of Labor's MySchool website, which encourages parents to play the school system like the stock market. Low scores are punished with low enrolments, as privileged families flock to high-performing schools, and the least socially mobile remain at schools with the least resources to support them.

As a result, when public schools in Victoria have received meagre funding increases, these are too often wasted on programs that principals think will boost scores and reputation – even if they undermine real learning. Despite plenty of evidence that streaming actually reduces student achievement, select-entry programs are breaking out like algae plagues around the state. As are uniform policies that mimic private schools in pettiness and pricing.

There are so many commercial consultants offering to sell schools magic-bullet strategies for lifting literacy and numeracy results that the Department of Education and Training has developed a "preferred suppliers list" to help principals choose between them.

These data merchants are wreaking educational havoc; their trade relies on principals remaining in perpetual suspicion of teachers' competence. "Coaches" at my school are interrupting excellent teachers in front of their classes, mid lesson, to tell them they aren't implementing the right strategy for the moment.

Teachers across Victoria's public schools waste hours and hours of precious preparation time reformatting lesson and unit documents to fit each new guru's formula – only for the model to be replaced at the behest of the next guru. And whoever the consultant is, teachers are encouraged to see their students as data points on an array of commercial, internal and external tests.

Education market ideologues such as Matthew Guy (and sadly, Labor's James Merlino) are hostile to funding preparation time for teachers to plan to the individual needs of their students, and craft bespoke lessons to engage and challenge everyone.

The kind of education that starts with the students, not the test, is particularly terrifying to conservatives like Mr Guy. He is so disturbed that teachers could tell our students that LGBTIQ people and same-sex attraction are nothing to fear that he would axe the Safe Schools anti-bullying program.

He is so petrified of students learning that Indigenous and non-"Western" people have profoundly shaped our world that he would cut non-compulsory curriculum references to them. What a nightmare for Mr Guy, that we might teach students that literacy and mathematics are powerful tools for understanding and changing society; he would rather we keep our eyes on the "basics", i.e. test scores

Smokescreen fails to hide who's really to blame for education cuts

The apex of Mr Guy's fearful vision is his call for police in schools. It suits his agenda perfectly to stigmatise and threaten young people who are being fleeced of a world-class education, rather than rethink the marketised mess that is leaving teachers and students demoralised and angry.

Teachers are appalled by the Liberals scapegoating our most disadvantaged students. But in order to truly defend them, we must also fight to stop the marketisation of our schools. We must demand that Labor breaks with MySchool and NAPLAN and starts funding a public education system that trusts and resources teachers.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Updated Storm boy unit

An update for my Storm Boy unit. Fixing up some errors nobody told me about! ....and added some material and included a bonus unit for Klontarf. All for a discount price of $4.00!....this is insane!

Literature unit for grades 1-3 for The story of Ferdinand

 Ferdinand unit for grade 1-3 includes literacy activities, graphic organisers, writing ideas, reading tasks and craft tasks.
Only $2.00

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Surely not in a private school.....

Several Gold Coast students treated after suspected drug overdose

Ambulance crews have taken seven students to hospital after they took an unknown substance at a private northern Gold Coast school.

Emergency crews were called to Saint Stephen's College at Upper Coomera just before 1:00pm to treat multiple patients.

Four of the boys are in a critical condition, one is in a serious condition.

The boys, aged between 14 and 15, were taken to hospital in varying levels of consciousness.

Queensland Ambulance Service's Patrick Berry said tests would determine what the teenagers took.

"At this stage, we're leaning towards overdose," he said.

"We are still trying to ascertain toxicology results of what is possibly a substance that they have ingested.

"Any drugs at all are a danger to take, it's just Russian roulette."

He said paramedics were called after staff at the school noticed the children deteriorating.

"These boys started to become very not aware of their surroundings, one was having trouble with his consciousness, others were feeling nauseous," he said.

The toxicology results are yet to be obtained by the Gold Coast hospital

Inspector Tony Wormald said police were investigating.

"The police take a very dim view of this," Inspector Wormald said.

He said it was too early to say if the teenagers would be charged.

"We're more concerned with where they got the drugs from, why they took it and hopefully everybody pulls through safely.

"The supply of dangerous drugs to anybody is of a concern, however, in this case it's school children and we are making some inquiries into whether they purchased it off the internet themselves."

Other students are being questioned by police.

Headmaster Jamie Dorrington said he would be visiting the students later.


In the 23 long years I have been a head teacher principal we have been complaining about stress effecting school heads. DET Have been playing lip service to us ( even though countless surveys have supported our concerns) and done sweet fuck all to support us. This is one more story about this and again I fear nothing will be done. 

One in five school principals are overwhelmed by workplace stress, a survey has found, with an expert saying the results point to a "looming crisis".


·         Survey found almost half of principals have faced threats of violence at work

·         One in three experienced actual violence

·         Half of all principals worked 56 hours a week, 27pc worked up to 65 hours

Results from the Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey 2017 revealed almost half of respondents had faced threats of violence at work, and one in three had experienced actual violence.

The figures were the highest since the national study began seven years ago.

Just under 2,800 principals, deputies and assistant principals from across the country took part in the latest survey, which was conducted by academics from the Australian Catholic University (ACU) and supported by school associations and teachers' health unions.

School heads from all sectors were represented.

The survey found more than half of all principals worked more than 56 hours a week, and 27 per cent worked up to 65 hours every week.

Principals reported higher levels of burnout than the general population, twice as much difficulty sleeping as a result of stress and were at higher risk of depression.

While job satisfaction was generally high, teachers across all sectors said they did not feel supported by their employers.

The sheer quantity of work and a lack of time to focus on teaching and learning were the two biggest causes of stress.

Principals said red tape and the increasing accountability requirements demanded by governments was hindering teaching and learning in the classroom.

ACU Associate Professor of educational leadership Philip Riley, the chief investigator on the survey, said the results indicated the employment demands on principals were unsustainable.

"When you have one in five principals showing serious signs of distress then we have a systemic problem, not an individual problem," Dr Riley said.

"They're paying a very heavy toll in terms of their general health and certainly on their mental health."

Dr Riley said the most worrying finding was that school principals rated the level of support they derived from their employer at less than one, on a scale of one to ten.

They also expressed frustration with political and bureaucratic interference in the job of educators.

"Politicians love to be able to say they're going to radically change education for the better," Dr Riley said. 

"What that usually means is a hell of a lot of extra work for principals without actually very much real change.

"Rather than trusting principals to do their work with honesty and integrity, it's been replaced with massive checklists that they spend a lot of time filling out.

"We're really at a point where we have a looming crisis, I think, in terms of school leadership.

"And we have to address that. The very first thing is to say we have a serious issue and we need to change the way we've designed this job. It's virtually become impossible to be a school principal and survive for a long career."

In 2014, parents and students were shocked by the suicide of popular Melbourne school principal, Dr Mark Thompson.

An 18-month WorkCover investigation found that work related stress contributed to the death.


Today the Victorian Government will announce it will roll out a program of free health checks for school principals.

The check-ups are voluntary and confidential.

They involve pathology tests that measure cholesterol, liver function and kidney function, mental health screening questionnaires and risk factor identification. 

Principals are then linked back for further follow up with their regular GP if required.

After taking an initial questionnaire, Mr Butler said he was given a wake-up call.

"It was clear to me that there are times when I suffer very high degrees of stress," Mr Butler said.

"Often when it's smooth sailing and everything is working in a harmonious fashion it's a very pleasurable job, but there are critical times when the stresses and anxieties really mount up on each other."

Mr Butler said he wanted to set an example to all teachers at his school.

"I really encourage all my teachers and middle school leaders to develop a healthy diet, take time during the week to have regular exercise and breaks, but also do basic things like come to the staff room and have a laugh with each other at recess break and lunchtime," he said.

"In the end everyone in the community will benefit because you'll have much more effective and highly energised teachers who enjoy the job and principals who are passionate but are capable and continuously energised about the job."

Story from the ABC

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Important initiative from Labor

Labor has proposed a $280m independent education institute to evaluate what works and what doesn’t in Australian schools.

Labor’s education spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, said the Evidence Institute for Schools would “put an end to decades of ideological battles about school education” and “take politics out of the classroom”.

The institute, to cost $73m over the first four years or $280m over 10 years, would commission research, assess programs promoted and sold into schools, and provide educators with guides summarising the evidence of best teaching practice.

The policy is designed to spread the best teaching practices and educational programs, saving money by helping schools avoid products that don’t live up to claims to boost educational outcomes.

'Gonski 2.0' review to allocate resources as funding is cut to private schools

Plibersek said the institute “will help improve schools by ensuring teachers and parents have high-quality research at their fingertips”.

“Armed with the best and latest evidence in digestible, easily applicable formats, teachers will be able to exercise their professional judgement about how to best help their students,” she said.

“The institute will be independent of government. Politicians shouldn’t tell teachers how to do their jobs, or be using schools as ideological battlegrounds.”

In 2016 the Turnbull government released its quality school reforms, including measures to reward more experienced teachers, improve teacher quality and test phonics skills in year 1 students.

The reforms replaced Labor’s national education reform agreements, which included targets for improving literacy and numeracy.

Learning methods are the subject of political controversy, with the use of phonics as a tool to learn reading favoured by many, including the Centre for Independent Studies . But a recent proposal to test synthetic phonics – where children practise sounding out letters and sounds – prompted a backlash among teachers’ unions and some academics.

In 2017 the Turnbull government announced a review into regional schools, which provided its report to the government in January, and a second review led by David Gonski to ensure that education funding was spent on evidence-based initiatives proven to boost student results. The Gonski review is due to report next month.

The president of the Australian Primary Principals Association, Dennis Yarrington, said it had proposed a school evidence institute to the second Gonski review and welcomed the initiative.

Yarrington told Guardian Australia there is currently “no one place I could go to for valuable independent, peer-reviewed research”, as schools relied on their links to universities, non-government institutes and private companies for research on education programs.

Coalition's Gonski 2.0: less peace in our time than a new front in education wars | Katharine Murphy

He said the Australian Council for Educational Research, a not-for-profit but private body, was popular with schools but charged for programs and research.

“If [the institute] is about developing research and providing evidence around particular programs, then it’s a service to schools,” he said.

Yarrington said given the Evidence Institute for Schools could commission research, it could investigate the best assessment practices, including gathering “better data around student growth and achievement, that is not based around standardised and high-stakes testing”.

The Evidence Institute for Schools is modelled on similar initiatives in the US and UK.

The UK’s Education Endowment Foundation assesses programs like Texting Parents, which it found improved students’ maths results with automated text messages about upcoming tests, whether homework was submitted on time and what children were learning.

It found the Chatterbooks program, which aimed to improve literacy by having university students volunteering to read with upper primary students, did not improve results.

Labor has also promised to restore $17bn over 10 years to schools by reversing cuts in the 2014 budget and fully implement needs-based funding.

“Our institute will help make sure Labor’s extra investment achieves better results for our kids, so we can quickly scale up programs that work and dump those that don’t,” Plibersek said.

PS: Apparently Professor Halsey's report into rural and remote education was delivered to Government sometime last month. The final report is currently being 'considered by Government'. I wonder what they are considering?

PPS: Hooray 148000 views

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Time for the Catholic Church to pay survivors of abuse properly

From the Age

The Catholic Church in Victoria is worth more than $9 billion, making it the biggest non-government property owner in the state and much wealthier than it has admitted in evidence to major inquiries into child sexual abuse.

A six-month investigation by The Age has found that the church misled the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse by grossly undervaluing its property portfolio while claiming that increased payments to abuse survivors would likely require cuts to its social programs.

Figures extrapolated from a huge volume of Victorian council valuation data show the church has more than $30 billion in property and other assets, Australia wide.

Based on these figures, the church is clearly the largest non-government property owner, by value, in the state, and close to the largest in Australia, rivalling giant Westfield, with its vast network of shopping centres and other assets.

 “These figures confirm what we have known; there is huge inequity between the Catholic Church’s wealth and their responses to survivors,” said Helen Last, chief executive of the In Good Faith Foundation, which supports abuse survivors.

“The 600 survivors registered for our foundation’s services continue to experience minimal compensation and lack of comprehensive care in relation to their church abuses. They say their needs are the lowest of church priorities.”

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Birmingham and his Liberal mates at it again!

Teachers groups say a new push to make it easier to enter the profession would be similar to letting tradies into operating theatres to conduct surgeries, and will not be tolerated by parents.

A national review of teacher registration to make it easier for people with experience in specialist areas such as nurses and tradies to become teachers, which was announced by the Turnbull government on Saturday, has been strongly opposed by two of the biggest teachers groups in the country.

"The medical profession would not support lowering their registration for tradies to conduct surgery, and we don't support it for teachers," said Correna Haythorpe, president of the Australian Education Union, which represents 185,000 educators.

"Children deserve fully qualified and registered professionals as teachers and parents expect that."

President of the NSW Teachers Federation, which represents about 67,000 educators, Maurie Mulheron, said lowering requirements will "downgrade teacher qualifications and lower the status of the profession".

The review has been signed off by the Education Council, which includes all federal and state education ministers.

It will be led by the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership, which has been tasked with looking at whether existing registration requirements are creating excessive barriers to becoming a teacher.

"[We] want to make sure that if you're teaching a year 11 or year 12 student skills in terms of the caring industries, in aged care, or skills in terms of the building industries, that you have some personal experience and expertise there if at all possible," Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said.

Ms Haythorpe and Mr Mulheron said teachers groups have not been consulted about the review.

"It seems to be just another policy brain snap by a minister who refuses to consult the teaching profession," Mr Mulheron said.

"We will be going to [NSW Education Minister] Rob Stokes and putting forward a strong view to reject this in NSW. It runs counter to everything the NSW government has been saying about increasing teaching standards and qualifications."

Mr Mulheron said the requirements for becoming a teacher in Australia should be increased, in line with "other high-performing countries".

"It's the opposite of what we should be doing, which is moving from a four-year teaching degree to a five-year degree composed of a two-year postgraduate teaching qualification," he said.

Professor of teacher education and the arts at the University of Sydney Robyn Ewing said not enough information is available at this stage on how qualifications would be simplified, but similar initiatives have failed in the past.

"As well as having expertise in a particular area, it's also important to know how to teach," Professor Ewing said.

The review comes as Australian schools face a shortage of qualified teachers in areas including IT, physics and maths, according to the Australian Council for Educational Research.

However, Mr Mulheron said lowering standards is not the right way to address shortages.

"You don't fix an undersupply of teachers in some areas by lowering qualifications, you fix it by increasing the salary and status of teaching to make it more appealing," Mr Mulheron said.

Racist bullying in religious Texas school

From Huff Post

A teenage student and his family have sued a religious private school in Texas after the teen allegedly experienced bullying of a racist nature. The student claims the school did next to nothing to stop the bullying. But the school says its religious doctrine makes it immune from legal repercussions. 

Legal experts told HuffPost the school’s argument is highly unusual in this context.

The school’s counsel filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on these grounds in August. A judge is expected to decide whether to move forward with the lawsuit later this month, per public documents obtained by HuffPost.

Maureen Beans and her son, C.R., had a horrible experience at Trinity Episcopal School in Galveston, Texas, according to the lawsuit filed in May.

C.R., who attended Trinity for sixth and seventh grade, starting in 2014, was a black student at the overwhelmingly white private school. He claims he was relentlessly bullied, sometimes in ways that appeared racially motivated.

In one incident, his three tormentors allegedly gave him pieces of origami designed to resemble hoods worn by Ku Klux Klan members.

Throughout this time, school administrators ignored the problem, even after C.R.’s family brought it to their attention, the lawsuit says. Even though the students admitted to the bullying, according to the lawsuit, they were only given one-day suspensions and required to apologize ― consequences the plaintiff deems sorely lacking.

Days after the school doled out the punishment, Beans decided to pull her son from Trinity and enroll him elsewhere.

Now, in a move that’s raised eyebrows among lawyers and legal experts, the school is trying to get the lawsuit dismissed by invoking the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.

This legal principle, also called the church autonomy doctrine, holds that religious institutions do not need to follow the same laws as non-religious entities, like public schools, if it conflicts with their religious doctrine.

It applies in cases where a decision from a civil judge would infringe on the internal religious organization of a group, like how a religious organization can choose to have only male or female clergy members perform specific tasks.

Trinity says it disputes the assertions made in the Beans’ lawsuit. But it is also essentially arguing that because it is a religious organization, it is allowed to maintain its own discipline system, which may or may not involve consequences for racist bullying.

Experts told HuffPost they are surprised a religious institution would make this argument with regard to racist bullying. Some say this is a step too far.

Robert Tuttle, professor of law and religion at George Washington University, said if the law were applied this way, courts would not have been able to intervene, for example, in cases where sexual abuse was reported at Catholic churches.

“There is very little reason to think that religious institutions should be immune from the state to the degree that they claim,” Tuttle said. 

But Trinity Episcopal School is attempting to claim that immunity. 

“As a religious institution, Trinity has a constitutionally-protected freedom to make decisions regarding the discipline of its students without judicial interference,” the court document states in the school’s motion to dismiss. “The courts cannot second guess those decisions, even in the guise of purportedly ‘secular’ causes of action.”

Lawyers for C.R. and his family reject the school’s argument. 

The family is suing the school and its former head for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, saying the school failed to protect C.R. The parents of the three alleged bullies are also defendants in the suit.

The bullying had a deep, scarring effect on the teen, the lawsuit says. C.R. was so traumatized by the alleged bullying that at one point he spray-painted the word “hate” on the walls of his home.

C.R.’s grades dropped precipitously. He experienced depression and anxiety, and was unable to attend the four subsequent educational institutions in which he has been enrolled.

“This is a simple negligence case ― whenever you send your kid to a school you expect a certain standard of care,” Sounia Senemar, the family’s lawyer, told HuffPost. “They allowed this kid to be bullied, and they are trying to use religion as a shield.”

When asked to comment for this story, lawyers for Trinity said in a statement that the school is “committed to upholding standards that reflect our mission in Christ.”

“The school has a policy that prohibits any form of bullying or discrimination,” the statement read. “As soon as the school was informed of an issue over a year ago, it addressed it immediately, consistent with its policy.”

Multiple experts told HuffPost that Trinity’s tactic will almost certainly not succeed.

“The defendant here certainly qualifies as a religious school,” said University of Missouri School of Law Professor Carl Esbeck. “That’s not the problem.”

School bullying, however, is “not a matter of internal ecclesiastical governance,” he added. “They argue that it is, but it’s not. And it’s not even close.” 

Attorneys say they will be closely watching the outcome of this case.

“If other religious schools see that this school here was successful in avoiding liability under this legal theory, then they are going to be more likely to invoke it if they face similar lawsuits in the future,” said Alison Tanner, legal fellow for the nonprofit group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Jane Caro says lay off Principals. I agree!

IT’S THE start of a new school year so, of course, there are a flurry of stories in the media about schools, what is going on in schools and what schools and school principals should or should not be allowed to do. 

The two most recent ones are about a Queensland public school principal who has caused a ruckus by insisting students wear a particular kind of school shoe. (It’s something to do with the type of heel, apparently, but other than that it’s beyond me.) And the other is about Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham sticking his oar in by saying schools should ban mobile phones. Apparently, this will help reduce cyber-bullying.

I am not going to venture an opinion about either of those issues, to be honest, because my view is that individual school communities, school principals and staff are the people who are best placed to decide what works for their school.

I have the greatest possible sympathy for principals, in particular. They have one of the most difficult jobs in our society for which, especially if they work in the public system, they receive somewhat less than spectacular wages. Principals are responsible for — not just the education of — but the health and safety of what can be more than a 1000 children and young people. They must manage and organise a large staff, manage and maintain classrooms, buildings, playgrounds and public spaces. They must liaise with often jumpy and politically driven education departments who demand ever-increasing levels of accountability (aka filling in forms). Plus deal with parents, the wider community, the P&C and, of course, a media ever-hungry for a school-based scandal. And that’s not to mention attending constant meetings after school hours, going to all school concerts, performances, sporting events, assemblies, award ceremonies and various community events.

I have watched principals be hung out to dry in the media over school formals, bullying, uniforms (see above), technology (see above), parental behaviour outside school grounds, students behaviour outside school hours (hello parental responsibility), the content of school plays and performances, songs that are sung or not sung, flags that are flown or not flown, religious holidays observed or not observed, discipline — either too much or too little, remarks in school newsletters and just about anything else you can think of.

No wonder it is becoming more and more difficult to attract teachers to apply for principal’s jobs — across all systems. They watch what their principals do and conclude the game is not worth the candle.

And that’s the trouble with all the rest of us — whose only qualification is we once attended a school — being so quick to judge and criticise what goes on in them. It has the opposite of the desired effect. We are not improving our schools. In fact, we may be making them worse. In fact, if you want to help your child do well at school one of the first and most productive things you can do as a parent is work with your child’s teacher and principal, not against them.

It is as destructive to a child’s learning if their parents and teachers are at loggerheads as it is to their emotional development if Mum and Dad constantly undermine one another. If we want to minimise bullying, it doesn’t help for an aggrieved parent to respond by bullying the school. What does help is if all the adults involved — parents, teachers, principals — present a united front against such behaviour.

I’m not saying that principals and teachers are always perfect and never make mistakes but before leaping on social media, I’d suggest you have a civil discussion with the teacher and principal who you feel has done the wrong thing and see if you can sort it out that way.

There is an old saying I have always liked: “The best thing a man can do for his children is love their mother.” I think that the best thing a society can do for its students is love their teachers and give them the professional respect and authority they need to do their increasingly complex and demanding job.

Let’s go back to giving an apple to the teacher rather than constant brickbats.

Jane Caro is on the Board of the Public Education Foundation. She has co-authored two books on the subject The Stupid Country, How Australia is Dismantling Public Education and What makes a good school. Follow her on Twitter: @JaneCaro

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Jane Caro talking sense again!

St Posh vs Bog Standard High: how the school system can fight poverty and privilege


I often think that the greatest risk any of us take in our lifetime is to be born because none of us have any idea the circumstances into which we are going to arrive. Even in prosperous Australia some kids are born lucky and some kids are not.

And that is something it is vital to remember; no child is disadvantaged through their own doing. They are disadvantaged because they have been born to parents who have been less able to navigate their way through life than another child's parents.

Poverty is still intergenerational in Australia and so, unfortunately, is privilege. And that's the trouble with handing over all responsibility for educating kids to parents. It can do nothing else but entrench privilege and under-privilege.

Universal, secular, public education provided by taxpayers, open to all children regardless of their parentage, religion or circumstances remains the best mechanism any society has ever come up with for narrowing the gaps between kids and their opportunities.

Yet Australia is an outlier when it comes to governments, particularly federal governments, doing all they can to encourage the parents of the luckier children to desert the public education system. It seems to be government policy to create ghettos of privilege and underprivilege, to the detriment of everyone.

Indeed a recent OECD report warns that Australia's disadvantaged kids are becoming less likely to overcome their background than children from similar countries. What a criminal waste of talent, potential and hope.

Poorer schools need more

Public education and a well-functioning, robust democracy are indivisible. You simply can't have one without the other. Any tin pot dictatorship can (and does) create a highly educated elite.

It is the mark of a civilised society that it has a well-educated general population and does everything it can to equalise opportunities for kids.

However, it is true that there will never be a completely equal education system. Even in those countries that have very few private schools (most other developed democracies, as it turns out). This is because if you offer a place to every child, you must zone schools to local areas.

A well-heeled neighbourhood, therefore, will accrue advantage to the local schools. A struggling neighbourhood will do the opposite. That is one of the things the Gonski loadings for disadvantage are meant to help. But even they can't do much about the very different social and educational capital kids bring to a school.

That's why the schools serving poorer communities really do need more teachers, more remedial programs, bigger and better libraries, breakfast clubs, homework clubs, tutors, IT and lots and lots of opportunities for enrichment.

It is the schools that serve the poorest that should be the best equipped and resourced because they do the heaviest lifting. In Australia we shockingly combine private and public resources to create the opposite.

Indeed, some seem to argue that because no school system will ever be entirely equal we should just throw up its hands and instead do everything we can to make such inequalities worse. Perhaps that's why we hear fatuous pronouncements about how "throwing money" at the problem won't help.

No-one is throwing anything at poor schools, let me promise you, unless it is thinly disguised insults. I still struggle to make sense of the common attitude in this country that large public subsidies apparently make no difference to poor schools but are absolutely indispensable for rich ones.

St Posh vs Bog Standard High

So, when it comes to choosing a school for your child, what should you do?

First, don't believe the gossip about your local schools, particularly from people who don't send their kids to them.

Remember that if you are paying anywhere between $5,000 and $35,000 for something you can get for virtually nothing down the road you have to claim the nearby public schools are ghastly, otherwise what kind of idiot are you?

Second, remember that even the poorest schools have high achieving students who go on to do great things and the richest schools have abject failures.

Kids do both well and badly in all kinds of schools and if you want to see what really makes the difference, I suggest you look in the mirror. Do you have books in the house? Do you read to your kids? Are you well-educated? Is your home comfortable (not glamorous just warm, dry and safe), are meals regular and sufficient? Do you have a reasonable and dependable income that covers your expenses? Is your family relatively stable and secure with no substance abuse problems or mental health issues?

VIDEO 7:48 Parents turn to education consultants to find a good private school for their child


If the answer to most of those is yes, you can send your kid to any school with reasonable confidence. If it's no, there are no schools that can overcome those issues on their own, not even St Posh. (Actually, especially St Posh.)

Third, teachers and principals are all trained in the same universities and many work across systems, so the single most important element of a school — its staff — is no different in Bog Standard High than it is in St Posh.

There are good and bad teachers in all schools, just as there are good and bad practitioners in all professions and workplaces. Indeed, in NSW, the top graduates from education degrees are specifically targeted by the Education Department and snapped up for public schools.

Even better, there is a good case to be made that teachers who have worked in difficult schools are much more highly skilled than those who have had a cushier workload. Necessity being the mother of invention, teachers in tougher schools often have to be more creative and inventive to engage their students. Real innovation (not "wellness centres") is often found in lower socio-economic schools.

Fourth, while students from private and selective schools tend to get slightly higher ATARs than those from comprehensive public schools (which you'd expect as they select their students, either by exams or via ability to pay fees) there are numerous studies which show that, by the end of their first year of university, the public school kids are outperforming both their private and selective school peers and continue to do so.

Fifth, the most important thing you can learn that will help you make a success of life is not calculus, or STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine), or any other academic or even creative subject.

It is social skills and the richer (I don't mean financially) and more diverse the educational environment your kids find themselves in the better their social skills are likely to be. And, as a bonus, they will also learn calculus, STEMM and all the other subjects.

Go public and increase your house value

My advice? Save your money and send your kids to the local public school from kindy to year 12.

Not only will you be able to spend the literally hundreds of thousands of dollars you save on much more useful and cost-effective things than school fees, you will likely increase the value of your house, especially if you persuade your neighbours to support the local school too.

You will also reduce the financial stress on your household making you better parents with more energy and time to help your kids with their homework, get involved with their school and read to them — all the things that have been proven to make a real difference to your kid's chances of success at school.

Even better, by participating in our public schools, by lobbying for them and supporting them, you will be making a difference to every child learning in a public school, including the ones born with the least. By leaving it you are doing the opposite.

Educational apartheid based on the lottery dip of birth is not a recipe for a successful, stable or competitive nation. Nor is it a recipe for producing successful, stable and productive citizens.

Jane Caro is a board member of the advocacy group Public Education Foundation and has written two books on education: The Stupid Country: How Australia is Dismantling Public Education and What Makes a Good School.