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Armstrong Creek Education Precinct Principal Announced

An inaugural principal has been appointed to lead Armstrong Creek Education Precinct in Geelong’s south in Victoria.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino and Member for Western Victoria Gayle Tierney announced that Evan Savage will be the first principal of the brand new school.

Opening in 2018, Armstrong Creek Education Precinct will comprise a Prep to Year six mainstream primary school and a Prep to Year 12 special education school on the one site. The Government is also relocating Oberon High School, which will serve Years 7-12, to the site.

The Government said Mr Savage has extensive experience and is now recruiting staff and setting the future direction of the school. He has served as principal of Melton Specialist School and made major contributions to the review of the Program for Students with Disabilities.

He also has experience in mainstream primary and secondary education and overseeing large capital works projects.

Mr Savage is working with the community to begin forming a school council. He is also developing an enrolment strategy and looking at how the facilities at the new school can meet the needs of all students.

Armstrong Creek Education Precinct is one of 42 new government schools in the construction pipeline following a $1.8 billion investment by the Andrews Labor Government in new schools and school upgrades around the state.

Enrolments will open later this year, ahead of the school opening in January 2018.

“Evan Savage has an outstanding record working with students with special needs and instilling a culture of excellence. His vast experience will ensure Armstrong Creek Education Precinct gets off to a great start in 2018,” Education Minister James Merlino said.

“I’m over the moon with the opportunity to lead such an exciting new school. Getting the school up and running will be a big challenge, but it’s a challenge I relish and I’m looking forward to getting started,” Armstrong Creek Education Precinct Principal Evan Savage said.

Consolidation in OOSH care ‘causing problems’

Mick Rasmussen is Sherpa Kids Australia’s new area development manager for Victoria. The out-of-school care services provider says this is a stale part of the child care sector in need of “a really good dusting”.
Mick Rasmussen is Sherpa Kids Australia’s new area development manager for Victoria.

When a non-verbal seven-year-old boy with autism and Down syndrome walked unnoticed out of his Western Australian after-school care and into a stranger’s back yard last year, the shockwaves reverberated throughout the education and childcare sectors.

They’re still being felt. The provider involved has been hit with stringent commercial penalties that are impacting its business not only at a state level but nationally as well.

Worryingly, it wasn’t a one-off. Examples of these incidents abound; most recently allegations that two five-year-olds left two separate centres unsupervised in July and August.

None of this should be coming as a surprise to anyone who has watched the evolution of the Australian OOSH (Out of School Hours) care sector over the past decade or so, according to Vicki Prout, development director of before and after-school care provider Sherpa Kids Australia.

Sherpa Kids Australia managing director Vicki Prout says some established OOSH providers are in a rut that is both deep and long. In many cases they’ve degenerated into little more than a corporate baby-sitting service.
Sherpa Kids Australia managing director Vicki Prout says some established OOSH providers are in a rut that is both deep and long.

Part of the issue is that while new laws, regulations and administrative requirements are forcing long overdue change on the sector, very little has had to change in the way OOSH or OSHC (Outside School Hours Care) services are actually delivered, according to Ms Prout.

“Rampant consolidation within the sector has resulted in larger and larger groups of children being placed into single service provision centres, with very little in the way of structured supervision,” she said.

Behind this trends lies a seemingly insatiable demand for this type of child care. Commonwealth reports show that in 2013 there were 100,000 more children in OOSH care (335,000) than in 2004 (225,000). More than two-thirds of that growth (66,950) occurred after September 2010 and demand for after-school care providers continues to outstrip supply in most areas.

“Aussie mums and dads are desperate for good quality, affordable OOSH care,” Ms Prout said. “These days both carers are likely to be employed and working longer hours than ever. And, where extended families exist, potential carers are often too far away to help with before school care or after school activities.”

Ms Prout says volunteer-managed OOSH or OSHC committees are struggling with the issue of out of school care in the face of new regulatory reforms that increase quality expectations but also increase administrative burdens.

“The net result is that senior educators are looking for a better way and OOSH service providers are frequently an attractive option.”

Which brings the story full circle, back to Ms Prout’s view that consolidation within the industry has got to the point where it’s causing problems.

“We’ve been saying consistently over recent years that the business of out of school care in Australia is in need of a really good dusting,” she said.

“This is a stale sector of the child care market. Some of the more established providers have been around for decades and the rut they’re in is both deep and long. In many cases they’ve degenerated into little more than a corporate baby-sitting service.”

This is where the rot starts, according to Ms Prout.

“It’s just not good enough to chuck a few toys and some balls at a couple of hundred kids and tell them to go off and play. Of course a few of them are going to find a hole in a fence somewhere and go walkabout. It’s entirely predictable.”

It’s also preventable, she says. But first real structural change needs to happen in the way OOSH services are tendered and commissioned.

“The big players are now doing their thing on an almost industrial scale. So when they come to tender for a service at any given school they can pretty much buy their way in by way of shovelling much of their fee right back at the school in the form of a ‘financial contribution’.

“Of course principals and OOSH committees are going to look really carefully at these attractive financial models. But, as with most things, there’s a trade-off. And in our sector that’s the large volume, unstructured environment I was talking about earlier.”

Sherpa Kids continues to push at the tendering door of the public education system but Ms Prout says most of the company’s growth is happening in the private or church school arena. The ‘financial contribution’ doesn’t appear to be as much of an imperative here and decision-makers are focused as much on quality and structure as on the financials of the relationship.

The feedback Sherpa Kids is getting from schools is that carers and teachers are becoming “a bit leery and twitchy” about the industrialisation of OOSH.

“They’re now almost instinctively looking around for something more personalised, structured and responsive – and more in tune with school curricula.”

Sherpa Kids Australia has answered this demand with a formula that it says gives schools and communities the best of all worlds. It’s an innovative approach: syllabus-led and structured care provided by members of local communities on a franchise basis.

The focus is on independent local ownership, backed by strong central quality control and guidance.

Services are provided by the franchisees but delivered by fully trained and qualified staff. Activities are highly structured and aligned to complement what the children are being taught in school.

“What’s cool about it is, because our service providers are local to the communities they serve, they can work closely with teachers and families alike to personalise the service they provide and react to anything that’s going on at a school or community level,” Ms Prout said.

So with the business of caring for kids so heavily regulated, centrally-procured, ruthlessly competitive, physically demanding and emotionally draining, what could possibly be the motivation for these franchisees to get involved?

“I get a buzz out of knowing that I’m providing a much-needed service not only for the working mums and dads of my community but also for the children themselves,” says Mick Rasmussen, who runs a Sherpa Kids service in Narellan, NSW.

“It’s a way of becoming involved with the community while also earning an income. And when I’m feeling a little pressured I just have to look at the smiles on those childrens’ faces to remember what the attraction was in the first place.

“Any teacher will know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a very different way to spend the working day.”

Mr Rasmussen said he feels the greatest buzz when she hears children at his Sherpa Kids service talk about how they actually want to be there.

“That, and positive feedback from grateful carers and care-givers. There’s no better feeling. Truly.”

What are the big trends in OOSH and how will these impact teachers and families? Vicki Prout is quick with the answer.
“It’s around change in when and where OOSH services are offered.

“Why? Because these elements offer the greatest scope for disruption in a sector which has become relatively staid and uninspiring. At the moment, many OOSH services are delivered in school facilities. But providers frequently struggle to meet demand because they are restricted by the space that is allocated to them.

“A school might have 500 pupils in it during the day but because we can’t use many of the classrooms after hours it’s creating a bottle-neck.”

As a result, some providers are starting to think outside the square. Sherpa Kids Australia is already investigating the potential for establishing play cafes, for example, or using business premises and public venues like community halls that are closer to where carers work, or more convenient in some other way.

“It’s all part of this drive away from industrialised OOSH care, towards a service that is more personalised, convenient and can cater for growing demand not only from families but also from schools.”

British novelist L. P. Hartley once wrote: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” It’s entirely possible that today’s OOSH landscape will be unfamiliar territory to people a generation from now. Particularly if people like Vicki Prout and her team at Sherpa Kids Australia have anything to do with it.

About Sherpa Kids

Sherpa Kids runs before and after school clubs and holiday activities in schools and other community facilities. The organisation, which has some 100 franchises worldwide, looks after around 5,400 primary school-aged children every day.

Sherpa Kids Australia is currently in 25 schools across the country, providing Out of School Care each month for more than 5,000 children from 3,000 families. The fact that Sherpa Kids services are delivered by the business owners is important; the service is being provided by someone with a significant investment in the business and the incentive to make sure it’s being done right and being done well.

We deliver a highly structured, engaging environment designed specifically to achieve a positive social and educational outcome. We believe this differentiates us clearly from our competitors. Activities include arts and crafts, music and drama, sport and games, cooking and technology.

Many are based on specific themes, such as the circus, recycling, sporting events and space exploration, and tailored to fit in with the individual requirements of schools and their curriculums. More than 80 themes have been prepared, equating to more than two and half years of fun and educationally-engaging activities.

School safety

Report highlights subdued educational attainment

A new report has highlighted the lack of improvement in regards to the percentage of Australian students successfully completing Year 12.

Tom Bentley, principal adviser to the vice-chancellor, RMIT University and Glenn C. Savage, senior lecturer in education policy at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, recently released the paper, titled Educating Australia: challenges for the decade ahead.

In the report, the pair point out that NAPLAN and My School have not led to improvements in literacy and numeracy, with 2016 data showing either stagnation or decline.

“The national reforms since the mid-2000s were designed to address many of these persistent issues,” they write in a recent article published in The Conversation.

“Yet somehow, despite hard-fought political battles and reforms, and the daily efforts of system leaders, teachers, parents and students across the nation, we continue to replicate a system in which key indicators of impact and equity are stagnating or going backwards,” they said.

“The school funding impasse exemplifies this problem. The policy area is continuously bedevilled by the difficulties of achieving effective collaboration between governments and school sectors in our federal system.”

In the paper, Bentley and Savage argue for a more productive interaction between ideas, evidence, policy and practice in education.

They argue that far greater attention and skill are needed to craft and build the institutional capabilities that render goals achievable, ensure fairness, and foster innovation and systemic learning in the public interest.

“Practical lessons arising from recent innovations in teacher education, professional learning, curriculum alignment and inter-school collaboration can help here,” they said.

“We also need to move beyond a fascination with divisions between governments in Australia’s federal system. We must focus instead on harnessing the potential of networks and collaborations across systems.”

“Ultimately, the future success of Australian school-age education hinges on whether powerful ideas can be realised in practice, across tens of thousands of classrooms and communities,” they said.

“If we want reforms to be effective, their design must be grounded in wide-ranging dialogue about the nature of the problems and evidence about what will help to solve them.”

Maths and pencil

Federal Government review to target rural education

The barriers and challenges hampering regional, rural and remote students from improving educational outcomes will be looked at in an independent review.

Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce and Education Minister Simon Birmingham on Thursday announced a review of regional education to ensure those students go on to further study, training and employment.

The Australian reported about one-third of regional and remote students do not complete Year 12, and the number rises to almost two-thirds for very remote students.

University participation rates have remained low over many years at around 18 per cent, despite increased participation in cities under the demand-driven system.

“The Coalition Government’s independent comprehensive review into equity of education access for rural and regional students will seek fresh ideas and fresh thinking to bridge the divide,” Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said.

“There’s a clear disparity between education in the bush and the city — this seeks to address the gap of achievement, aspiration and access to higher education faced by regional students.”

Senator Birmingham said the independent review would be led by Emeritus Professor John Halsey of Flinders University and regional education needed to be looked at as a “complete puzzle” and not as separate school, higher education and training sectors.

“This review will look at education from school entry to job success and how we can improve results for rural and regional people,” he said.

“We must drive and better set policy to encourage ambition among our country students. Regional and remote students made up just 18.8 per cent of domestic undergraduate students at universities, compared to making up 26.4 per cent of the population in 2016.’’

John Dewar, vice-chancellor of La Trobe University told The Australian it was important to lift higher education participation rates.

“We are doing our bit already — such as partnerships with TAFE for dual enrolments — but there is still much more work required,” he said.

“We are fully committed to our regional campuses and want to build on their important contribution, not wind it back.”

Corenna Haythorpe, federal president of the Australian Education Union described the review as cynical and illustrated “shambolic their schools funding policy is”.

“Minister Birmingham is saying on one hand they will negotiate a new funding model with the states and territories in the next months, and with the other he is announcing a review that won’t report until the end of this year,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Gaps in achievement between regional schools and city schools reflect gaps in resourcing.

“The most recent PISA report showed that secondary students in rural and remote schools are up to three years behind students of the same age from high-SES backgrounds in major cities.”

The final report and recommendations is expected to be delivered to the federal government by the end of the year.

Diversity issues in computer science classes.

Smart teaching can eliminate homework, says US expert

Homework can be reduced or even eliminated by innovative and efficient teaching, US teacher, blogger and author Matt Miller says in his new book, Ditch That Homework.

The Indiana-based educator will discuss his book and give a keynote address at the second annual TeachTechPlay conference at Melbourne’s Ivanhoe Grammar School on April 3-4.

Matt’s earlier book, Ditch That Textbook, argued that innovative teaching could positively harness technology. Ditch That Homework says efficient, technology-rich teaching can also minimise the need for homework and maybe eliminate it, even up to Year 12.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if you and your students needed homework less and less until you didn’t need it at all?” Mr Miller said. “If we can be more efficient and effective, we can lessen our reliance on homework — maybe completely.

“This isn’t a homework-bashing session. It’s a practical one with strategies you can use in your classroom immediately. Use brain-friendly activities, creative approaches to assignments, student-centred practices and more.”

Started by Melbourne teachers Eleni Kyritsis, Steve Brophy and Corey Aylen, TeachTechPlay is independently run by teachers for teachers.

The professional learning community inspires learning through empowerment and connection. It hosts online discussion, a monthly web show and an annual conference.

This year’s conference topics include coding, children’s entrepreneurship, 3D modelling, building empathy, using Minecraft in teaching, robotics and carbon-free classrooms.

Ivanhoe Grammar School hosts the event, but does not necessarily endorse the speakers’ views. TeachTechPlay will be held on Monday-Tuesday April 3-4 at the school’s Ivanhoe Campus, The Ridgeway, Ivanhoe. It costs just $395 for two days.

“Every teacher knows his/her situation best, but if they’re like me, they’d like to become more efficient and effective to the point where they relied so little on homework that it was unnecessary.

“There are so many concerns about assigning homework that should cause teachers to worry about assigning it. It gets copied in the hallway before class. Students struggle with it at home – especially those whose parents have less education. It’s not an effective use of students’ time, and it kills relationships with parents and with teachers.”