More from the Far Side of the World. Before moving on to the two Melbourne schools we visited yesterday, there were a couple of action points to take from our trip to St Theresa’s Convent School for Girls. There is a strong faith-based vision and the words are at the heart of the school’s plans and practice.
The importance of these words was perhaps unintentionally diluted in overstatement in a series of increasingly complex maps and models:
But, there is something to learn from the ubiquity of the words that sign-post a school’s culture.
Action: Prorsum Semper Honeste – to be emphasised in our new signage plans.
I also really liked the interactive Houses boards. Topical as I read the tweets about the evolution of our House system back at home. This provided an immediate indication of the Houses’ relative positions.Can we have one of these, @stevemargetts? Like a massive iPad really!
In Melbourne we were presented with another polarity in school provision.
Wesley College is a huge Independent School spread across a number of campuses. In addition to the significant fees, it receives state funding – an extraordinary concept for us.
The big idea for improving outcomes at WC is the formation of the Wesley College Institute, a team of leaders committed to stimulating professional development across the settings, homogenising the curriculum and driving digital literacies and modes of learning for staff and students.
Perhaps the most innovative approach to the digital narrative, as the school moves towards a Bring Your Own Device infrastructure, was to emphasise the importance of reflection in a world where information is cheap. The need to synthesise and reflect on learning led to a re-definition of the library space as digitally friendly; libraries have a legacy ambience of silent reflection and this is something we could develop at DHSB also.
The piano in the Library provides a useful metaphor for the difference between Wesley College and University High School in the centre of Melbourne. From a high fee-paying uniformed culture we arrived in the non-uniformed, skate-board racked, hurly-burly of an urban setting. Studied sophistication replaced with a hustle and bustle and a University feel in a secondary school.
Uni High’s approach to pastoral care was radical also. Pastoral support appeared to be limited to the 10% who most needed it. Self-reliance for the majority. The decision was described in economic terms also – pastoral support is expensive. Building resilience – no tutors, no mothering. No assemblies or tutor periods. The students are told that this is a good thing.
The Galileo programme was a response to “stress test scores” for Year 9 (our Year 10). It’s a one term access to projects, community service, presentations and competencies. It led to a significant drop in stress scores following re-assessment. It’s a risk because core teaching is halted. Galileo teachers are rotated between the project and their subject specialism. The programme teaches students how to have “courageous conversations” among other things – as our lives are structured around an ability to explain opinions and feelings when it’s difficult to do so. I wondered if this programme truly replaced the opportunity to have a long term relationship with a tutor and a PSHEEC course.
Self reliance and resilience were embodied in structures and words. For example, the microwaves in the canteen are used by students to heat up food brought from home. They started with two machines ten years ago and now have twenty. Demand suggests they need twenty more, supporting the vision of students looking after themselves.
Schools work because they meet the needs of their communities. Systems that work in some schools don’t work in others. Approaches that appear strange or questionable to us can only be held up against outcomes. Uni High is as successful as Wesley College academically, despite the huge disparity in funding. 95% go to Uni, most to Melbourne, and their retention rate at Uni is better than at Wesley College’s according to the Principal – another expression of the vision of self-reliance?
Interestingly the conservative Australian government appears to be adopting a number of our coalition’s policies. The Australian system has some major difference from ours also. What do you think of these system issues:
- Middle Leadership roles are on a four year tenureship – you reapply for your post at the end of this period;
- There is no lesson observation culture – even in recruitment;
- Performance related pay is being introduced and the Government has an expectation that Principals will apply a 30% failure rate.