27th September 2018
The last 2 posts have highlighted one particular characteristic from the statement, Public Education in South Australia. The six characteristics are:
3. Diversity and cohesion
4. Collaboration and trust
In the case of Paralowie R-12 School the characteristic was Equity and for Woodville High School it was Diversity and cohesion. At the same time, the point has been made that the six characteristics identified in the statement are all interlinked, if not interdependent. While it helps to be able to draw attention each individually, the reality is that all six characteristics are required of every public school. It is the interconnection between the six characteristics that defines the essential nature and charter of public education.
This post examines a situation where the full statement, Public Education in South Australia has been employed in a more holistic way. In brief, the statement was adopted as a template to inform and guide the process of school review and change. The approach was used at Adelaide High School earlier this year (2018).
Adelaide was keen to review its Sports Program and chose to reference the program against the statement. When the statement was released last year, this type of use was anticipated:
At the local level, the statement will be used when schools and preschools decide that it will assist such aspects of their work as planning, policy making, teaching practice, parental engagement, and promotion of public education in the local community.
Adelaide also referenced other frameworks – the AHS Sports Philosophy and the AHS graduate qualities – but the inclusion of the statement represented the deliberate attempt to have the discussion, debate and policy formation set against what have been described as the key drivers of public education. Sitting behind this approach is the conviction that if the statement does genuinely, accurately and succinctly describe the essential characteristics of public education then it should naturally feature in any substantial review or evaluation of school policy, practice and priorities.
In many ways, Adelaide High School is no different from other schools in terms of the challenges faced with any review of its sports philosophy and sports program.
Typically, such a review will cover issues about participation: do girls participate as much as boys, if not why not? do the sports match the scope of cultural diversity in the school? what can be done to increase participation overall? are participation levels driven by the range and nature of the sports offered? is cost an issue and should there be a social justice ‘entitlement’?
There are issues to do with perceptions of status and school character and historical traditions. This is particularly the case at AHS with its long tradition in rowing: are some sports more entitled than others? in the context of the individual school, are some sports genuinely ‘elite’? do some sports add significantly to the image of the school in its community and the wider community? do some sports have special status because of the degree of parental support over, literally, generations?
There are issues to do with support: do some sports attract more support from staff and parents and are they therefore easier to justify and offer?
There are issues to do with resourcing: does the resourcing of some sports place limits on other sports? should the school limit offerings to guarantee success or spread its scope to make involvement the priority?
There are issues to do with monitoring success and effecting change: how can the school monitor its offerings so that they meet the current needs of the student cohort rather than just maintain traditional practice?
There are issues to do with the fundamental issue of how the school sees sport: is sport part of the school’s defining ethos – an essential part of the young person’s emotional, physical and social development – or is it a desirable ‘add-on’, depending on the level of resourcing, staff and parent support, and student interest.
There are many other issues – staff training, coaching qualifications, codes of behaviour, competition between sports and jurisdictions, teachers’ work load, the perceived impact that sport participation can have on students’ work and teachers’ programs etc. This is by no means the extent of the inevitable field of issues associated with the review of the individual school’s sports programs and sports philosophy. Indeed, the potential for difference and division is considerable and any principal will be reluctant to move down this path unless they are confident they have a process that can handle it. In the case of Adelaide High School, the Principal was confident that she did have the right process.
In the specific case of AHS, the introduction presented on the day of the review was seen as key to the overall success. On the day, the school had Gary Costello set the scene. He emphasised both the potential and responsibility that schools, particularly public schools, have to improve the lives of their students:
We can achieve massively improved outcomes in public schools when we are clear about our purpose and the kind of school we want; and we all work together to achieve the vision.
We must broaden our notion of success.
He emphasised the following types of assumptions and beliefs on which staff needed to focus:
- Good schools are great places to live and work in for everybody. They are interesting and fascinating for young people.
- Good schools give young people hope and offer a pathway to a happy, fulfilling life. They have something for every child.
- At its best, education is an expression of affection for young people.
- “Public education is the single most important element in the maintenance of a democratic system.”
He also stressed the vital importance of public education:
- Our public education system is central to the development & wellbeing of South Australian & Australian society.
- Public schools are public spaces where students from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences mix together, learn to appreciate and respect their differences, & develop the understandings & dispositions needed to contribute to democratic life in a multicultural society
- As public institutions, they are necessarily secular and multicultural, teaching students to engage with, critically understand and respect different cultures and beliefs in our society
There was also a focus on change: the nature of change, the drivers for and inevitability of change, people’s responses to change – from enthusiasm and support to indifference, passive resistance and outright opposition – and a range of other issues such as ‘discounting’ and ‘blindspots’.
Also, there was a clear process to guide proceedings on the day. The conceptual framework employed on the day to guide discussion and analysis covered:
Urgency: why now?
Destination: what does the desired end point look like?
Success path: what are the recognisable steps/stages/mile posts ?
Commitment: what do we bring to the initiative and what do we expect of others?
In many ways there is nothing strikingly different in the approach employed at AHS. Other schools would be just as careful in setting the context and deciding on a framework for any exercise in whole-school evaluation. However, what was new in this major review exercise was the central place given to the statement, Public Education in South Australia. As simple as this initiative was, it appears that it had a significant impact. Consider the following summary from the Principal of Adelaide High School (Cez Green):
The value of using the public education document was that it provided a new lens for the people most involved in sport to view what they do. It reassured those who were fearful that sport was going to be so democratised that QUALITY would be lost. There was also a lot of thinking done about what quality would look like beyond the obvious need to ensure that the talents of the elite athletes and teams were nurtured.
There was much discussion about quality programmes needing to foster the graduate qualities and the broader social and emotional development of students as outlined in the Melbourne Declaration. What became evident was that EQUITY had never been a priority and that students and parents felt very strongly that there needed to be a new mindset and provision for students who found it difficult to access the sports programmes in their current form.
COMMUNITY was also a valuable lens as it helped people to think about the diverse needs of AHS multicultural community and how AHS could listen to and engage with “all the voices”. So, in short, the six characteristics helped us look at the situation with new eyes and gave staff a much broader view of the purposes of public education than they had previously considered. It was a wonderful professional learning experience and conversations as well as a very practical tool to analyse the current situation and stimulate ideas about a vastly richer future for AHS sport. (emphasis added)
Principal, Cezanne Green: Cez.Green@adelaidehs.sa.edu.au