Getting results: two schools that put Gonski to work

Funding transforms ‘political rhetoric into results-based reality’

Gonski funding has improved engagement so much at Barrack Heights that students are reluctant to go home

This is an edited excerpt from the AEU publication Getting Results: Gonski Funding in Australian Schools

Barrack Heights PS

Barrack Heights Public has an enrolment of 250 students, most of them from low SES backgrounds: 70 per cent are in the lowest SES quartile, with 90 per cent of all students in the two lowest SES quartiles. A quarter of its students are Aboriginal and a fifth are from language backgrounds other than English.

The school has received approximately $200,000 in additional Gonski funding in 2014-2016.

Barrack Heights’ objectives for the use of its additional funding have focused on supporting a number of programs to improve learning, teaching and student engagement in the school. These include Aboriginal education, alternate learning for students with disabilities or behavioural and learning difficulties; adjusted learning; protective behaviours; self-esteem and wellbeing; literacy and numeracy; professional learning; mentoring and coaching; and community engagement.

Principal Sarah Rudling says Gonski funding is making a big difference to Barrack Heights Public School and other schools like it. It allows the flexibility to pay for additional professional support personnel including speech therapists, occupational therapists, mentors and specialist teachers; it provides the time for teachers to engage in high quality professional learning; it allows the school to provide assistance to families to ensure that all children have equal access to additional, out-of-school learning experiences that develop self-esteem, self-awareness and a broader view of the world in which they live, and it assists in creating a school environment that is modern and reflects the best practices from around the world.

As a result, Ms Rudling says: “Our attendance data has improved and equals state averages; our teachers are confident and passionate in their ability to meet the individual learning needs of every student in their class; our kids are engaged at school and often don’t want to go home on weekends; and our community is proud to share in our successes.

“At Barrack Heights Public School, the Gonski model of funding means happy kids, happy teachers and a happy community — it’s as simple as that!”

Ms Rudling says that the Gonski model of funding has allowed the school to begin to appreciate what Australian schools could and should look like – well-rounded, appropriately resourced, educationally engaged, community hubs.

“Money provides opportunities, and at Barrack Heights it provides the resources for our students to become active and informed citizens of the future,” she said.

“Schools like Barrack Heights across Australia need this funding to continue simply to equip Australia’s children with the knowledge, skills, understanding and passion to grow into the strong, confident citizens we need them to be.”

Education is not an expense: it is an investment in our future and the future citizens of our society. The Gonski model of funding takes political rhetoric and turns it into results-based reality.

Every student now has an ILP at Merrylands Public

Merrylands HS

Merrylands High School has an enrolment of approximately 720 students from a diverse range of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. More than half of the school’s students are from the lowest SES quartile; 80 per cent from the lowest two quartiles.

Around 72 per cent are from non-English-speaking backgrounds, with more than 50 different cultures represented. Merrylands has 16 Aboriginal students (2.2 per cent) and 8 per cent of the student population are identified as refugees with a further 8 per cent identified as having “refugee-like experiences”. Arabic, Turkish, Afghani, Hindi and Pacific Islander (Maori, Tongan and Samoan) are the most common languages other than English.

The school has received approximately half a million dollars in additional Gonski funding over 2014-2016.

As a school in a low socio-economic and high Language Background Other than English (LBOTE) community, Merrylands has focused its additional funding on continuing and extending the significant improvements made since it began receiving equity funding in 2009. Its primary objective is increasing levels of support to students with the greatest unmet educational needs through whole-school reform.

Key specific objectives include:

  • improvement of the learning outcomes of HSC students and value-added HSC results and increasing the numbers of students participating in university partnership programs, studying an ATAR pathway and entering university
  • lifting student attendance and engagement, providing targeted support to “at risk” students such as those with high absentee rates, and increasing the number of parents/carers involved in the school and their child/children’s achievements
  • improved performance by year 3 students in NAPLAN Upper 2 Bands (U2B) in reading and numeracy (2014), and year 5 reading and numeracy (2015)
  • improvement of the proportion of students achieving high gains in NAPLAN from years 3-5 and 5-7 in reading and numeracy
  • improvement of student performance in classroom English in years 1–3 (2014)
  • development of support plans for the 3 per cent of students across years 3, 5 and 7 in 2014 who were not achieving the NAPLAN National Minimum Standards (NMS) in reading and numeracy with the longer-term goal of ensuring all eligible students across all year levels reach the NMS.

Principal Lila Mularczyk says that since the introduction of the Attendance and Engagement, Learning and Engagement and Senior Leadership teams, and their extension through Gonski funding, the culture of what is expected from students, and their achievement levels, have transformed significantly.

There have been ongoing improvements in attendance, with an increase of nearly 3 per cent in 2014.

Longitudinal surveys and statistical data show increased levels of student engagement such as a 14 per cent increase in submission of classwork and assessment tasks, and increased confidence in the school by the local community. Fully 100 per cent of students now have an ILP or Personalised Learning Plan, with genuine parent/carer involvement in its development.

In 2014, 100 per cent of Higher School Certificate (HSC) eligible students at Merrylands sat the HSC, with results improving across all bands of achievement.

Analysis of the data showed a significant positive shift in students achieving high and middle bands of achievement and significant reduction in students receiving low bands of achievement. The results of high-achieving students (those in Bands 5 and 6) improved by 8.4 per cent, middle achievement students (Band 4) by 5.2 per cent, and those in low achievement bands (Bands 1, 2 and 3) by 13.4 per cent.

The number of students undertaking an ATAR pattern of study increased by 20 per cent in 2014, and the number of students sitting a VET or T-VET exam as part of their ATAR pathway also increased.

In 2014, 28 of Merryland’s graduating students were offered university placements, up from just 13 in 2011. Ms Mularczyk says the majority of them were the first in their families to attend university and several were refugees whose proud parents may never have imagined such a possibility for their children.

University Partnership programs on offer for students and their parents/carers have increased, with students presently receiving tutorial and mentoring support through the University of Western Sydney (UWS) Fast Forward mentoring program, UWS RAS (Refugee Action Support), UWS PATHE (Pasifika Achievement To Higher Education), and University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Tutoring for chemistry, biology, and mathematics.

Merrylands is on track to improve its year 12 results in future years, based on the improvements in NAPLAN scores to date. Since the introduction of significant levels of equity funding, the number of year 7 students at or above the NMS for Reading rose from 84 per cent to 93 per cent between 2011 and 2014, and from 89 per cent to 93 per cent for numeracy, with similar results being achieved for year 9 students. Gonski funding in years 2014 and 2015 has allowed the school to maintain and extend these improvements.

From the improvements delivered to date, Ms Mularczyk says: “the full six years of Gonski would allow us to hit a tipping point where the culture we are trying to build will become self-sustaining.”

The final years of Gonski funding would allow more students to achieve HSC and tertiary success. Without the funding, adequate staffing for the teams which have delivered the results would be in jeopardy.

Increased Gonski funding would ensure, for example, that the paraprofessional and teaching staff in the Learning and Engagement Team could continue to support senior students, and allow Merrylands to extend the team’s support to Stage 4 and 5 students also.