Education must become a long term, bipartisan approach not interrupted by elections or politics, writes Dennis Yarrington, President of the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA).
The time is right for all of us to talk about the future. We have the opportunity to provide the policy and practice direction for addressing the needs of schools and communities across Australia. In doing so, APPA makes two important points:
• There is an urgent need to review and update the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, and
• School principals need flexibility to use locally based decision-making processes in developing and implementing learning programs for students. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach does not allow local communities to respond effectively to their needs and requirements. Education authorities should be working with principals and local communities to develop, modify or adapt learning approaches and programs for their community.
The following points formed part of the APPA submission to the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools and was developed in consultation with the APPA National Advisory Council (NAC). The NAC is comprised of a representative from each of the state and territory principal associations covering Government, Catholic and Independent primary schools.
What do primary schools need?
• A new overarching national document that clearly sets out the goals for Australia in the long-term and provides a structured and focused plan for the future.
• Adequate and equitable resources necessary for every child to reach his or her potential. Equity across a country’s system is a key strategy for many high performing countries (e.g. Singapore, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Korea).
• Time to imbed effective practices around teaching and learning rather than schools having to adopt constant new initiatives. (This issue has plagued Australian education for many years with stop-start national or state / territory initiatives.)
A national approach that moves to a philosophy of ‘assessment for learning’ rather than ‘assessment for accountability or reporting’.
• The removal of student NAPLAN results from the My School website. With an autonomous model in mind,
schools would elect whether their students ‘sit’ NAPLAN;
national assessment would be by way of a sample-testing regime, very much like PISA, to chart the progress of systems across literacy and numeracy domains;
• existing formative and summative assessments are used to communicate with parents on a child’s progress.
What students learn and how they learn
There is a strong expectation that schools respond to the demands of the workforce and address society’s problems. This has been debated widely within the profession and across the community. It is time to align policy more closely to the contemporary practice currently being implemented in schools. To support this alignment, APPA would welcome the following:
• A framework is developed to shift the emphasis from what we teach to the how we teach. (Researchers such as Fullan and Hargreaves, and high performing countries, have clearly identified the need to develop the professional and social capacity of teachers and school leaders as a means to achieve educational excellence.)
• Greater decision-making authority is given to principals and school communities in identifying curriculum priorities.
• All children have access to high quality pre-school programs and receive the support needed in the transition to school.
• Develop cross-sectorial professional learning, modelled on the successful PALL and PALLIC programs, in the areas of Digital Leadership, Reading, and Students with Learning Difficulties.
• Innovation and action research should be key practices that are supported and encouraged in schools. Jurisdictions need to actively support school initiatives that respond to local challenges.
Teachers and school leadership
APPA’s 2017 report Back to Balance: How policy and practice can make primary principals highly effective highlights the increasing workload and compliance requirements impacting on principal health and wellbeing. Changes to policy and practice are required to improve the health and wellbeing of our leaders, and attract teachers to leadership positions. The move from a competitive framework to a collaborative approach will reap far greater outcomes.
APPA is advocating for the following actions to support our teachers and leaders.
Establish a national system of teacher registration that provides flexibility for teachers to cross state and territory borders.
• Professional learning is provided at the local level that support teachers developing skills in collaboration and team teaching.
• Establish Central Teaching Schools that partner with universities in delivering flexible and high quality initial teacher education programs that combine onsite and offsite course delivery with in-school experience and teacher educator support.
• The development and implementation of a National Leadership Framework that supports and accredits the delivery of leadership courses or programs that cover the key roles in school leadership and prepares principals to lead their school community in practical and achievable ways.
Parent and community engagement
Parent engagement and community partnerships are very much part of the contemporary education setting. APPA strongly supports the initiatives underway that are enhancing the school-home partnership. However, with this focus comes the need for resources to support the work. APPA is recommending for the following strategies to assist in enhancing the parent and community engagement:
• Increase efforts to improve the collective impact of coordinated services by establishing primary school ‘hubs’ where, particularly in disadvantaged communities, broader health, housing, parent education, early childhood and other non-government agencies and services support students and families.
• Flexible practices, such as sharing school facilities and expertise, working across sectors, combining classes and online classroom interaction with overseas schools, etc are valued and supported by systems and government.
Defining and measuring success in education
This is gaining increased attention with some states and territories beginning to question the value of ‘one size fits all’ assessment and whether this is the approach to provide informative data on student achievement and growth. APPA contends that the My School website has not demonstrated or contributed to any significant change to school performance. So, it is time to review the assessment and reporting needs of schools, ensuring the views of principals, teachers and parents are central to any recommendations. The support this opportunity APPA would welcome the following actions:
• Sample testing for school and system data collection be recognised as providing an effective measure of broad educational outcomes.
• The removal of national school assessment results from the My School website and direct these resources into developing and providing schools with more aligned assessment and evaluation tools for student learning.
APPA’s report, Back in Balance: How policy and practice can make primary principals highly effective (APPA 2017) identifies that the key to ensuring we have effective leadership is trust and support for our school leaders.
Trusting and working with principals and teachers to be empowered to lead their school’s teaching and learning will be the difference between successful reform and more of the same.
Schools need autonomy with curriculum priorities to enable context to be a key component of teaching and learning. Assessment and reporting should be aligned to the school’s need and purpose.
Education must become a long term, bipartisan approach not interrupted by elections or politics. Our school communities need certainty in a changing world. APPA is very cautious of any drop-in solutions from other countries and believes that, while we can learn from other systems, many of our solutions can be found within our country.
APPA wants to ensure that any educational reforms provide equity for all students, no matter their location, context or family circumstances.
Dennis Yarrington has been the Principal of Harrison School, a new and expanding preschool to Year 10 school in Canberra, Australia. The school caters for 1500 students. Dennis has a Masters in Educational Leadership, Masters in Special Education and a Bachelor of Education. He has been involved in education for more than 30 years, including the positions of teacher, executive teacher, consultant and principal of a small country school, a large regional school, special school and establishing a large metropolitan P-10 school. He has been involved with concept designs for new schools in the ACT. He has presented at state, national and international conferences on leadership, school culture and implementing learning communities. Dennis was Vice-President of the Australian Government Primary Principals Association and is currently the President of the Australian Primary Principals Association. He has experience in developing leading schools in the integration of technology, 21st Century learning tools and structures and an inclusive school community. This includes teaching and learning communities and a coaching culture to improve teacher performance.