Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Australian National Curriculum (ANC)

I've just spent considerable time perusing the ANC (Version 8.2.  It is in my view a great curriculum which provides the details across the range of subjects that teachers will welcome.  I would love to be back in harness implementing this curriculum as a teacher and as a principal.

I realise that you will be implementing the version of the ANC that has adjustments made by your State or Territory as compulsory education is constitutionally a State or Territory matter in Australia.

Included in the detail F-10 and Senior Secondary are well explained achievement levels which will assist teachers to rate student performance and inform the structure of student reports.

The links from the general subject outlines to the underlying detail are excellent.

As a Principal I would be organising for my teachers to have ample time to get together to discuss the ANC in detail so that they are all on the same page when it comes to implementation.  In a large primary school I would group the teachers of say the year 4 classes together; in a smaller primary school the groupings could be teachers of F-2, 3-4, 5-6.  For very small primary schools I recommend the taking on of a mentor large primary school and utilising the results of their discussions or joining in with their discussions.  For secondary schools discussions would be arranged within specialist subject departments.  This is a also a standards setting exercise opportunity as discussion covers Achievement Levels as outlined in the various syllabuses.

Depending on how far you have moved in implementing ANC version 7.5 you may have to go slowly to guide your teachers as they transition to version 8.2.  It is unfortunate that their is a change to version 8.2 but this is the way with major curriculum developments.  Let's hope that this it for the time being.

To all my colleagues out there enjoy working with this exciting document.

Enough already!


Monday, 15 August 2016

Independent Public Schools In Western Australia

It has been reported in TV news and by Bethany Hiatt, "Results for independent schools fail to improve", The West Australian, 16 August 2016, p6, that this trend to Independent Public Schools (IPSs) has "...failed to improve student outcomes and has increased existing inequalities between schools, a parliamentary inquiry has found."

The Western Australian (WA) scheme started in 2010 with 34 IPSs and now there are 445 (Hiatt p6).  The inquiring Committee found that  the IPS initiative "....had reinforced inequalities between public schools by giving some the chance to recruit the best teachers and not others." (Hiatt, 6)  The Committee also reported that the monitoring system for IPSs lacked rigour with too much reliance on self assessment. (Hiatt p6)

As a retired school principal and regional superintendent of schools I have watched the trend to IPSs with interest and some concerns. These are:

  • Whether principals will be sufficiently prepared for new responsibilities like one line budgeting and recruiting teachers?  To be fair I note that the Education Department of WA has established in-service training opportunities for principals one of which is at an overseas prestigious university.
  • Will the IPS principals have the training to run their schools on a development plan embedded with criteria of school effectiveness that enable them to know, based on hard evidence from measuring these effectiveness criteria, how their school is travelling?
  • Will the IPS schools be required to follow a recognised curriculum like the Australian National Curriculum rather than have schools having too much freedom to do their own curriculum thing?
  • Will the additional administrative responsibilities weigh the principals down and detract from what for me is their prime role of educational leadership?
  • Will remote schools and non independent public schools in general be able to receive appropriate teachers?  The central Education Department staffing system would need to ensure this.  
Commenting on some of the above dot points:

Staffing the school:  

Staffing what are known as disadvantaged schools and remote schools has always been an issue even under a fully centralised Education Department staffing system.  The remote schools usually with an indigenous population of students tended to receive graduate teachers who rarely stayed beyond two years.  These graduate teachers took at least six months in the initial year to come to terms with the cultural nuances of the remote communities so the schools probably got 18 months of good service then the teachers left.  Such a turnover was not helping these schools.  I wanted my Education Department to encourage young married couple teachers to take up the positions and remain for a lengthy period, giving them incentives like low interest home loans to purchase their home in Perth or wherever on the coast and if they had teen age children provide then with a free boarding place in a top coastal senior high school with free air fares in and out of the remote community.

Staffing large disadvantaged schools also had problems as one didn't find teachers clammering to teach in these schools.  Effective principals of these schools could ensure best practice from their teachers by assisting them to feel good about the profession and creating a culture where the teachers sought to improve so that best practice was the status quo.

The actual process of recruiting staff is complex.  Fortunately applicants would come to the school already accredited by a recognised Association that does this work in WA.  Theoretically this should mean for example, that the principal does not have to carry out the difficult task of ensuring the bona fides of an applicant's qualifications to teach.  I have come across independent schools where this process was not done with rigour and due care.

Interviewing applicants requires a lot of training and at best is a rough guide as to the quality of the applicant.  Referee statements are very important and judging the bona fides of the referees is vital.  Some referees do not fully understand the responsibilities of writing a reference and may shy away from refusing to do so when they should have done so.  I have experienced a case of a reputedly high level teacher training institution letting a trainee through to teach, leaving a principal and yours truly having to deal with an incompetent teacher.  I learnt from a contact from that training institution that they knew the young person would struggle with teaching.  I am confident such cases are rare as I have assessed many wonderful young graduate teachers striving for permanent status with their employer.

Principals ensuring that their school is effective:

Every principal worth their salt would want their school to be effective broadly on two counts, the first being that as many students as possible achieve as many of the prescribed curriculum outcomes as possible and secondly that the students operate in an environment in which they feel safe, respected and even loved.  I understand that Western Australian IPS schools are under a charter to accept regular external reviews however each principal would want the reviewers to come to an effective school as described.  The Education Department external reviewers would need to be highly skilled as it is not an easy task to rigorously review a school.  The reviewers must be able to see through the school's self review process to ensure that it is valid and reliable.

Choosing the learning program:

I hope that IPS schools do not have too much freedom in choosing a curriculum.  Teachers do not have time to be curriculum builders. Their main role is to be curriculum implementers.  All hail the advent of the Australian National Curriculum (ANC) .  I love it.  My understanding is that the States and Territories of Australia are embracing the ANC with some amendments as is their constitutional right as the authorities who provide compulsory education.


The IPS trend is a big deal and one hopes that it will not become another casualty to poorly conceived change process in education.  We have been subjected to this in WA in the past with the  major most recent example being the failed outcomes-based approach.

Good luck all principals out there whether yours is an IPS school or otherwise.

Enough already!


Thursday, 4 August 2016


4/8/2016:  NAPLAN has come under fire this week as an expensive exercise producing plateauing results.  Is it all worth it?  Watch this space.

9/8/2016:  Today I read an article by Bethany Hiatt, "Test just part of school kit", The West Australian, 9 August 2016, p19, citing the evidence that students and teachers have become used to the routines of NAPLAN testing and the worry for both groups has diminished. The same article indicated the improvements from 2008 but also highlighted the plateauing that is now occurring. The ACARA Chief Executive Robert Randall was quoted as saying: "Plateauing results are not what we would expect or assume from our education systems." The Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham agreed indicating that 'flat' results were not good enough.  He was reported as complaining that "improvements to NAPLAN results had been insufficient despite a 23.7 per cent increase in Federal funding since 2013."  Hiatt indicates that this is consistent with the Turnbull government's position that "the way education funding is spent is more important than the amount."  Senator Birmingham calls for evidence-based measurements that will get results for our students..."

According to Hiatt the evidence-based measures referred to include "assessing children's skills in their early school years to see if intervention is needed.....and providing incentives for top teachers to work in disadvantaged schools."

As a school principal I would welcome the data that NAPLAN provides but maintain that the emphasis in the learning program is on having every student achieve as many of the outcomes required in the curriculum as possible based on effective teaching.  This is the day to day data that teachers obtain :  it is the bread and butter of explicit teaching.  In the normal course of admitting early childhood students the teachers will ascertain what they can do and know and will proceed from there.

On the matter of top teachers for disadvantaged schools, I was a superintendent of a district containing many disadvantaged schools and I disagree with the top teacher sentiment. It is a naive and destructive view.  The quality of the teachers is paramount to an effective learning program in an effective school.  In an effective school every teacher wants to be the best that they can be and they work hard to keep up to date and to use best practice teaching because this is how it is in the culture of their school, disadvantaged or not.  No child should have a teacher who is not as I describe.  Effective school principals know this and work hard to ensure that quality teaching is a given within the culture of their schools.

Money is well spent if it is focussed on allowing and encouraging teachers to be the best that they can be.  If changes are to be made within a school to achieve this best teacher goal then the money spent must be embedded in viable change process.  I have witnessed so much money wasted because the change processes have been poorly designed.  It is worth emphasising that some of the most effective in-service for teachers is when they are given the opportunity to discuss in relevant teams the various syllabus outcomes they will be working with so that they have an agreed position on what the outcomes mean and the student performance(s) that indicate the outcomes have been achieved.  It is a standards setting activity whereby teachers share their expertise and learn from one another.



Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Great teachers are the key to student well-being and academic learning

As a school principal I recall the little ones first days at school when there was a fair bit of crying and wanting to go home with mum and/or dad.  Great teachers eased them through this and they set off on their school journey with confidence because they were immediately nurtured by the teachers and felt safe and cared for.  Today I took my young granddaughter to pre-school which she loves.  We played with some small plastic toy creatures before it was time for me and the other parents to leave.  One little girl was sobbing on her mother's shoulder and the mum brought her to the mat where I was interacting with my little one.  The crying stopped as the interest in the toys took over and the mum gave me a nod of gratitude.  This is what reminded me of the first day at school blues.

Just the other day I was also reminded of the exuberance of youngsters when they find something that ignites their curiosity.  I spent the day with my granddaughter who is 4 and one half years old.  She wanted to search for insects and observe what they do.  Off we went and captured all sorts of creatures in our observation jar.  We looked at and discussed them.  I am gradually teaching my granddaughter what characterises an insect but didn't raise this when the majority of creatures captured were snails.  We let the snails loose and watched through a large magnifying glass talking about what they looked like and how they moved.  Of course we freed our subjects at the conclusion of this interactive time.  It was golden time.

Learning is a brilliant thing and the best teachers are constantly attuned to the wonder of it. This wonder is not only to be had with live subjects like insects but I experience it all the time with mathematics from the youngest students to the halls of university lectures in statistics.  I recall a wonderful stats lecturer who spoke with excitement about the parsimony of certain statistical formulae that had their roots in calculus. It was for me the switching on of a light.  I could do calculus problems as a final year secondary student but never experienced the wonder of what they were really all about.  It took a great teacher to open this door.

I am privileged to experience the wonder of the research outcomes of our scientists.  It never ceases to thrill me when I come across another wonderful discovery.  These are Crick and Watson moments. I know that great science teachers immerse their students in such wonder.  I am weird but as a student organic chemistry was a big new world to me and my interest has never dimmed.

I am privileged to experience the richness of words that the best wordsmiths put together in literature and in the great orations.  The hair stands up on the back of my neck when I am reading a book and come across another pearl of sentence and paragraph construction.  Recently I sent to my journalist son a line from a book on the Middle East set around 1917 and the struggles of the various powers and nationalities for control at that time : the author wrote:  "Those acorns of misunderstanding which become the great oaks of prejudice."  My son's response was that he wished he'd written that.  Great teachers will create for their students this wonder in the words and I was lucky enough to have two of the best literature teachers that ever trod the classroom.  I was even luckier when as a teacher I worked with them as colleagues.

I was and am no giant brain so full credit to the great teachers who broke through for me and gave me moments of unforgettable wonder.

As school principals it is worthwhile working hard to be leaders who inspire our teachers about this wonder in learning.  It is an exercise of reinvigorating the teachers, assisting them to marvel at the richness that is their profession and feel good about the skills that they daily demonstrate and the positive influences that they have.


No Australian Viewers

I can't seem to get Australian viewers of this blog.  Either the subject matter is rubbish or I am an IT incompetent or both.

I'd love to know if anyone out there has some advice on my audience issues.


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Being an Australian Independent Government School (IGS)

I've just read a report on an IGS by an Education Department central office review panel. Such periodic reviews by central office are a requirement of the IGS contract.  The reviewers set out to critique the school's self review system.  In order to respect the independence of the school it seemed to me that the reviewers were hesitant to set the context of the overall organisation of the school and then within that context to make their comments on the school's self review process.  There is no point in reviewing a school's self review process if the school is not well organised.

Being well organised for me as a principal is that the school have a comprehensive School Development Plan (SDP) that covers the key elements of an effective school over a chosen duration like 3-5 years.  Within the appropriate elements of the SDP there should be embedded explicit school effectiveness criteria.  In the report I read there was regular mention of the schools' Business Plan (BP) but no convincing comment on how comprehensive it was.  The BP was probably some form of an SDP.  I can't warm to the BP nomenclature as the sense that a school is a business just doesn't resonate with me.

The SDP elements for me are:

1          1. The mission statement

2. The goals/aims of the school

3. The school leadership organization, inclusive of distributive leadership.

4. The organisation of the school for learning – staff/student configurations or class structures

5. The curriculum and standards moderation, inclusive of NAPLAN testing.

6. Core principles of best practice teaching and student learning processes as applied in the school.

7. The teacher driven assessment program to ascertain student learning progress in the subjects/learning areas of the chosen curriculum and the associated data bases of student records, inclusive of NAPLAN testing and data bases.

8. The NAPLAN assessment program: processes and practices.

9. The role of teachers and administrative staff in monitoring the outcomes of student learning from the prescribed curriculum to provide conclusions about the overall effectiveness of that learning across the school.

10. The state at any one time of student well-being across the school student population and the effectiveness of the monitoring of this #1 priority school effectiveness criterion.

11.Communications within the school.

12. The representation on and role of the School Board and the role of the P&C.

13.Parents the school and the learning of the parents’ offspring.

14. Written and oral communications with parents, with the main area of communication being the school reports on student progress with their learning.

15. The infrastructure of the school as being appropriate to student learning – included new structures, maintenance of existing structures.

16. Student population predictions and the concomitant staff and infrastructure needs.

17. Staff recruitment procedures in terms of the needs of the school teaching and learning program and staff induction programs.   

18. Roles of non-teaching staff who support in the classrooms and the administrative clerical staff.

19. Budget processes, inclusive of evaluation of efficiency and effectiveness of budget decisions as applied to facilitate the student learning program.

20. Occupational health and safety procedures.

21. Staff welfare, inclusive of procedures when staff are performing below the core standards expected in the school.

22. Best practice teaching and the related staff professional development.

23. Maintenance of and respect for the symbols that are part of  the culture of the school, such as the uniform, the school flag, the school song, the traditional award trophies and ceremonies that define the school.

24. Relationships with quasi government assessment bodies appointed by the Sate or territory. This applies more to secondary schools and the need to meet tertiary entrance requirements.

25. The Myschool website requirements.

26. The Annual Report.

For each element there would be a statement about its purpose, how it was to be organized, how it was to work, an itemisation and costing of any resources needed and a set of strategies about how to evaluate the effectiveness of this element of the SDP. The timeline over the 3, 4 or 5 years of the SDP would show which items were up for evaluation in the particular year.  Elements 7, 8 and 9 focused on student learning would be in play week by week as they are part of the ongoing learning program.  Element 10 would be evaluated regularly according to a manageable schedule.  Element 9 would be  organised around the school processes for reporting to parents, to the School Board and to any external authorities as required. 

The School Effectiveness Criteria for me in order of importance are: 

Criterion #1 My School Respects Me Every Day  (Aligns with SDP element 

Criterion #2  My School Helps Me To Be Fit And Healthy And To Feel Good
                           About Myself (Aligns with SDP element #10)

Criterion #3  My Teacher(s) Talk To Me Personally Each Week (Aligns with SDP element #10)

Criterion #4  My School Helps Me To Learn How To Learn (Aligns with SDP element #6)

Criterion #5 My School Makes Sure That As I Progress I Don’t Develop Gaps
                           In My English Language, Mathematics And Digital Skills
                           Learning (Aligns with SDP elements #s4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

Criterion #6  My Child’s School Gives Me The Opportunity To Be Part Of My
                            Child’s Learning (Aligns with SDP elements 12, 13, 14)

Criterion #7  My School Cares About Me As A Staff Member And Has
                           Reasonable Expectations Of Me (Aligns with SDP elements
                          #s17, 18, 21)

Criterion #8  My School Was Rigorous In Taking Me On (Aligns with SDP
                           element #17)

Criterion #9  My School Gives Me Leadership Opportunities (Aligns with
                           SDP element #3)

Criterion #10 My School Relieves Me Of The Stress Of Severely Disruptive
                             Students (Aligns with SDP element #21)

Criterion #11  We The School Staff Accept Responsibility For Keeping Up To
                              Date (Aligns with SDP element #s6 and 22)

Criterion #12 Our School’s Budget Spending Is Focussed On Improving
                             Student Learning  (Aligns with SDP elements #s 15,16,19)

Criterion #13  We The School Staff Are One With The School Board (Aligns
                              with SDP element #12)

Criterion #14 Our School Has Reassuring And Necessary OHS Procedures
                             (Aligns with SDP element #20)

Criterion #15  Our School Focuses On Change That Improves Student
                              Learning (Aligns with SDP element #s 9, 15, 20)

Criterion #16  Communication Works In Our School Community (Aligns
                              with SDP element #11)

Criterion #17  Our School Respects The Traditions Of The School Culture
                             (Aligns with SDP element #23)

Criterion #18  We Laugh A Lot In Our School (Aligns with SDP elements
                              #s10 and 21)

A Special School Effectiveness Criterion:  Our School Has An Effective
                                                                  School  Development Planning Process

 I place this effectiveness criterion separate from the listing in order of importance.  It reflects everything about the school and deserves its separate positioning.

For me the key features of an effective SDP are:

·      It covers the main elements describing the school as listed above.

·      The elements of the SDP align in large part to the criteria for school effectiveness.

·      It ensures that all staff, parents, the School Board and the students had appropriate opportunities to contribute to the development of the SDP.

·      The SDP is cast over a suitable time period such as 3-5 years so that targets 2, 3, 4 years ahead can be set for each element of the SDP as appropriate.  In any particular year of the duration of an SDP some elements will have development objectives activated and other elements will be in a status quo situation.

·      The SDP has built into its requirements an evaluation agenda for finding out whether it worked as an SDP.

All of the above on the SDP and the School Effectiveness Criteria is explained further in my treatise on school effectiveness which is at the draft #4 stage.  In this treatise I have set up an example of a working SDP for primary schools.  The SDP process is vital also for secondary schools.


Friday, 24 June 2016

Semester 1 2016 draws to a close

I guess you are somewhat weary and needing a break.  I am sure this is true of your teachers.

I hope that your staff members can take time to refresh ready for semester 2.  A vital part of this is for them to spend prime time with their close loved ones and their friends.  These relationships are far more important than any job.  I have a sense of hypocrisy in saying this as I was a workaholic. Reflections about my working life contain painful regrets of how on many occasions I let work commitments dominate.  Fortunately my family were more than patient.  Every day I am grateful for a long suffering wife and we are now enjoying the lesser pace of retirement.

I am concerned about mounting reports of school staff, including principals, being attacked by students and parents.  My entreaty to view the work done by Kambrya College is worth following up.  Kambrya College processes provide insights into how to deal with this unfortunate problem through a vibrant student wellbeing program.

Note also how Kambrya teachers were willing to put their classroom approaches to the test and make significant changes to improve student learning.  Very brave and very professional of these teachers.

Good luck for semester 2.

Enough already!