By Tony Cook PSM
As Director-General of Queensland’s Department of Education, it’s my privilege to lead a schooling system which aims to support young Queenslanders to progress through school and transition to further study or work. Of course, such rhetoric only means something if we establish precise, evidence-based measures. In Queensland, our evidence-based approach is seeing results.
Equity and excellence first
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that successful education systems are those that prioritise excellence and equity to ensure all children can access a good-quality education (OECD, 2012).
This focus on excellence and equity is central to our approach in Queensland and has seen significant improvements in outcomes for Indigenous students, high retention to Year 12, and some of the best improvements in NAPLAN across Australia.
But there is room for improvement. While most Year 12 completers achieve their post-Year 12 goals, some do not. The Queensland Government has set a target to achieve 91 per cent of young people engaged in education, employment or training by 2022. This is an ambitious target, but a necessary one. We want every young person to prosper because the social and economic cost of disengagement is too great (Lamb & Huo, 2017).
OUR PLAN FOR YOUTH ENGAGEMENT
Every student succeeding in inclusive, high-quality mainstream schools
In line with our goal for every student to have access to a high-quality school, our state school strategy, Every student succeeding outlines our commitment to high-quality differentiated teaching and learning. This commitment is more than words: we dedicate resources to our schools and, supported by these resources, school teams can recognise early warning signs and intervene to support their students.
Our research has identified schools that achieve academic gain alongside student retention. We want to learn from these high-performing schools and scale-up their inclusive practices and capabilities.
We have introduced FlexiSpace trials in targeted schools to provide a differentiated environment for students experiencing challenges. These spaces are inclusive, high-quality built environments, with high-impact teaching and learning. FlexiSpaces aim to re-integrate students into their mainstream settings. An independent evaluation shows early signs of promise, with reduced school disciplinary absences and improved academic gain. Our goal is to roll-out FlexiSpaces in up to 52 state schools across Queensland by 2022.
Supporting high-quality alternative settings
Despite efforts to differentiate learning environments, not all students thrive in mainstream schools. Alternative education settings provide an important option for some young people.
- A Statement of Commitment
I have joined with Dr Lee-Anne Perry, Executive Director, Queensland Catholic Education Commission and David Robertson, Executive Director, Independent Schools Queensland, in signing Quality pathways for all young people: A commitment to alternative education. This document outlines quality standards for alternative education settings, reflecting our shared commitment to an equitable schooling system.
- Showcasing Spotlight Schools
We have named 10 alternative settings as Spotlight Schools. These Spotlight Schools enable the three education sectors to provide insights for all educational settings on how schools can deliver high-quality learning environments and strong transitions for students.
Reaching and reconnecting disengaged students
While some young people leave school early and succeed, one in three early school leavers does not make a successful transition.
- Regional Youth Engagement Hubs
Regional Youth Engagement Hubs operate across Queensland to support young people, who are of compulsory age, to reconnect with school, study or work. In 2019, these hubs supported 431 young people in Youth Justice and 1223 Indigenous young people. This is an increase on 2018 support which reached 366 young people in Youth Justice and 931 Indigenous students.
Engaging with young people and their parents/guardians
Research shows that working closely with families supports student learning (Hattie, 2009) and that the most important parent engagement occurs at a school level. Our research also shows that many parents seek online information about how to support their disengaged children.
- Online support for parents/guardians
The Department has launched the SparktheirFuture website to give parents and guardians of disengaged students the information and support they need to help their children re-engage with their education.
- Empowering young people
We have created a youth-friendly website, WetheDifferents to empower young people to make good decisions about their participation in education.
Launching Year 12 completers
Completing twelve years of schooling equates with the greatest chance of success in further work or study. Most of our Year 12 completers make a strong transition. However, the latest destination survey shows that 13.7 per cent of our Year 12 completers are not in education, employment or training in the year after graduating.
- Link and Launch program
The Link and Launch program places specialist officers in schools to support Year 12 completers who are not in education, employment or training, to transition to further study or work. The program is being delivered by 14 Queensland state schools, with up to 30 sites to be established by 2022. Early results indicate that, when supported, Year 12 completers who have not made a transition can move into work or study.
Intentional cross-agency collaboration
Schools play a vital role in supporting every young Queenslander to succeed. But schools cannot do it alone. Other agencies such as Youth Justice, Child Safety, Housing, Health, Employment, Small Business and Training and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships also help support young Queenslanders.
- Youth Engagement Alliance
We established a Youth Engagement Alliance comprising multiple government agencies to scale-up collaborative practice across Queensland. We are mapping services to create better partnerships across agencies, build a stronger evidence base of what works, establish consistent cross-agency performance indicators for youth engagement programs, and build toolkits to support collaboration.
THE WAY FORWARD
Since the Queensland Government set a target to lift the engagement of young people, we have seen improvement. ABS data show there was an increase of 8,700 young people engaged in study or work between 2018 and 2019. However, the youth labour market is volatile and is predicted to reflect the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for some time.
This means that more than ever, we must continue to build on our momentum and early gains. Equitable outcomes for every young person are the hallmark of a strong system. Achieving this requires both commitment and the highest level of professional skill across our schools and agencies. We know it’s not easy work, but we know it’s the right work.
Tony Cook PSM is the Director-General of the Department of Education. Before joining the department in April 2018, Tony worked for six years in the Australian public service as the Associate Secretary for Schools and Youth within the Department of Education and Training.
Tony has held several senior executive positions in the Victorian public service, including Deputy Secretary, Government and Corporate with the Department of Premier and Cabinet; Deputy Secretary, Office for Children and Portfolio Coordination; and Deputy Secretary, Office for Planning, Strategy and Coordination within the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. He began his career with Education Queensland.
In October 2013 Tony was made an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Council for Education Leaders, and in January 2014, he was awarded a Public Service Medal for outstanding public service, especially in driving schools policy and funding reform in Australia.