Bold steps needed on education
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.