Bold steps needed on ed­u­ca­tion

Shepparton News - - VIEW­POINT - ● Sam Bir­rell is chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Com­mit­tee for Greater Shep­par­ton.

In April, I wrote about the state of sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion in Greater Shep­par­ton.

I quoted Suzanna Sheed as say­ing: ‘‘I have looked at the NA­PLAN re­sults just re­leased of the four state sec­ondary col­leges. In Shep­par­ton and Mooroopna alone, each of th­ese schools are per­form­ing sub­stan­tially be­low the na­tional av­er­age in both read­ing and nu­mer­acy.’’

In re­sponse, the Vic­to­rian Govern­ment al­lo­cated $1 mil­lion for the Shep­par­ton Ed­u­ca­tion Plan.

An ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee was formed and an Ed­u­ca­tion De­sign Work­ing Party, made up of ex­perts in school de­sign and con­tem­po­rary ed­u­ca­tion, set to work propos­ing op­tions.

The fo­cus im­me­di­ately is on sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, though it is ac­knowl­edged that pri­mary and preschool are also key parts of the so­lu­tion.

Those op­tions have been re­leased and ba­si­cally con­sist of two choices.

One choice is for min­i­mal im­prove­ments to all four sec­ondary schools, the other is for an over­haul of the whole sys­tem which would see all four schools close and a new sin­gle Shep­par­ton sec­ondary school built, ei­ther on one or two cam­puses.

This new school would be large (hav­ing about 2000 stu­dents), but would use the schools-within-a-school model. The one ex­am­ple of this in Aus­tralia is Dan­de­nong High School.

Dan­de­nong went through a dif­fi­cult pe­riod with its ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, much in the same way we are now.

In 2007, three lo­cal high schools were closed and the new Dan­de­nong High School was built.

The schools-within-a-school model con­sists of seven houses, each with about 300 stu­dents.

The stu­dents study within their house for years 7 to 10, and con­tinue to use the house as a base, but branch out to a greater range of sub­jects in Years 11 and 12.

The ben­e­fits of this model are ob­vi­ously the im­pacts of scale — be­ing able to of­fer a wide-rang­ing cur­ricu­lum in se­nior years gives stu­dents a greater choice in ca­reer path­ways.

Dan­de­nong High School re­ports it is get­ting very good en­gage­ment of stu­dents in ed­u­ca­tion due to the smaller learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment in the houses.

The stu­dents have a closer re­la­tion­ship with the house lead­ers, teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cers, en­abling is­sues to be iden­ti­fied and ad­dressed early, without stu­dents fall­ing through the cracks.

There is also con­ti­nu­ity to th­ese re­la­tion­ships, as staff tend to stay in the one house.

Is this the right model for Shep­par­ton?

The op­tions doc­u­ments are out for com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion, so ev­ery­one should make an ef­fort to be as in­formed as pos­si­ble and give con­struc­tive feed­back.

No de­ci­sion has been made yet, just rec­om­men­da­tions.

I am sure there will be lo­gis­ti­cal ques­tions such as stu­dent trans­port to one school and the is­sue of which site will be cho­sen for a pro­posed new fa­cil­ity.

This can all be worked out — but I hon­estly be­lieve we are faced with an in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity here.

Im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tional out­comes is pos­si­bly the big­gest thing we can do to in­crease the live­abil­ity of our re­gion.

With a pos­i­tive ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, stu­dents can as­pire to jobs and hope against turn­ing to sub­stance abuse, un­em­ploy­ment and crime.

It is time we as a re­gion took some bold ac­tion for the ben­e­fit of the next gen­er­a­tion.

De­ci­sion time: Peo­ple should give con­struc­tive feed­back on our educ­tion fu­ture.

SAM BIR­REL

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