What is it?
Principals, teachers, parents and students will all say: time is the most important resource, that the scarcest resource in school change and improvement is time. Time for teachers to discuss students' needs and interests and personalise their learning and design community-based curriculums. Time for teachers and others to guide students through the maze of life and learning opportunities to find a unique pathway that is right for each student. Time for parents and community members to become involved in schools as partners in learning. Time for leaders at all levels to plan collaboratively including with other schools and organisations. Time for all stakeholders to further personalise learning, make the best use of technologies, and create new kinds of schooling including P-12 clusters of schools.
Obligation of governments
All governments have a primary obligation to ensure that all children and young people have access to a 21st century personalised learning experience together with a high-quality, high-equity public education system. Resource allocations should be better matched to student needs and home backgrounds. There shoud be larger allocations of resources to schools with lower SES intakes. The fact that Australia’s PISA results show a greater disparity of achievement according to socio-economic background than many other comparable countries is indicative of the need for a new funding system.
Every school should have state-of-the-art facilities. Many schools were obviously built for a different era in education. There is a growing body of literature that supports a strong link between school design and student achievement. The best new designs optimise the powerful mix of both teachers’ strong guided instruction and students’ independent inquiry, discovery and creativity.
What can I do?
Get involved in your school's buildings and grounds sub-committee. Start a policy discussion about how school time is organised. And from a school council perspective, look at how well time is managed in council and sub-committee meetings. Discuss the adequacy of resources and support for the efforts of staff (in partnership with families and the community) to improve the opportunities and outcomes of students. See also the Great Schools Checklist - Part 10: Resources and facilities - for practical questions. See our guides to identifying community resources and effective advocacy and lobbying.
Useful links and reading
Examples of great practice
The creative reworking of time in education and schooling is one of the single most important enablers for personalised learning and improving learning outcomes. Time refers to:
With languages education, for example, schools work toward the more effective use of time via:
As well, many schools with a building program form a team that brings together teachers, parents and students to look at the links between spatial design and effective learning and, in so doing:
"Parents and citizens in public schools must learn the art of advocacy. They've got to blog, Twitter, text, lobby and argue". Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby
As schools address the challenges of equity and excellence in education but also deal with the pressures to 'do more with less', advocacy and lobbying come to the fore. Both are ways to expose the ineffectiveness or injustice of old policies and practices and suggest how things can be improved. Both can be the decisive difference between something happening and remaining an idea.
Advocacy is speaking out on behalf of a cause (e.g., public education) or a school community. It is an effort to shape public perception or to effect changes in policy, resourcing and legislation. Lobbying can be more focused such as seeking to influence a particular piece of legislation or persuade individuals or groups with decision-making power to support a particular initiative.
School communities and stakeholders at the grass-roots and state-wide levels develop a range of ways to advocate and lobby for:
Based on the experiences of schools, principals, teachers, school councils, parent groups, and local and state-wide stakeholders in education, three key steps in advocacy work include efforts to:
It is obviously best to work as a team – ideally involving teachers, parents and other school community stakeholders. Successful advocacy requires a range of skills, including communication, project management, and research and policy skills. Partnerships are particularly effective when they:
School communities and other stakeholders carefully consider the primary target audience - such as politicians, education department personnel, media professionals, and community leaders - that they want to influence. Their primary targets are those people who are seemingly in the best position to achieve what they want done. In this regard, it is important to emphasise that:
In relation to communicating with a particular audience (and what any one method or mix of strategies may work best for this audience) or communicating with the community in general, obviously careful consideration also has to be given to choosing from various ways of communicating such as:
Position papers are really important. Besides the potential impact on the target audience, the act of writing a paper assists advocates to further clarify their ideas. Effective position papers:
Contact VICCSO and other groups who can assist with the development of a position paper.
Complementing and not dissimilar to broader advocacy work, with lobbying around a particular issue (e.g., school funding or a government policy) it is important to consider the following:
Schools report that better use can be made of grass-roots meetings with local MPs and departmental personnel, and that, in this regard, school councils and parent groups play a pivotal role.
There are obviously many ways to lobby. A school community and other stakeholders can use:
It also involves non-local contacts such as speaking to (and working with) key stakeholder groups with a particular interest in the future of education and schooling. These include the:
There are many other specialist educational groups that can assist with lobbying and exert influence. While lobbying can be a successful one-off thing involving a relatively small group, larger, more concerted, well-publicised lobbying campaigns can be very effective. But these obviously need to be well-organised and coordinated, with training and briefings for those taking part.
To get the most out of meetings with politicians, ministers and others, practical tips include:
What is required is better advocacy to 'get the word out' about the future of education as well as being more effective in lobbying for the new ideas, changes, policies, practices and resources that are needed. Through stronger partnerships, principals, teachers, and school council, parent group and SRC presidents and members have tremendous capacity to influence educational change and improvement.
Contact us if we can assist. Good luck!
There is broader advocacy work around securing the highest level of government funding and support possible for school improvement. Schools also from time to time map local community and state and federal resources and support to identify what may be available. Steps include:
Schools report the tremendous value of this work but also the challenges in committing adequate time to doing it as well as they would like. To share the work and ensure diverse input, team members at the school or cluster of schools level often include representatives of the following:
Use the list below to begin to identify key community resources and support. Brainstorm about the new partnerships your school may need, and tailor your list to those needs. Schools look at new sources of funding as well as in-kind resources, non-material resources like local knowledge, parental expertise and organisations that share similar goals. Current and potential partners may include:
See the School and Community Partnerships section for more information about resource-sharing. It discusses the following three steps that schools use to build and sustain community partnerships:
Some schools create a volunteer position for a parent to be a community partnerships coordinator. Another initiative is to form a family-school-community partnerships team (involving parents, teachers, school leaders and students) to plan for, and improve, partnerships over time. You may want to:
The Victorian Council of School Organisations welcomed the opportunity to provide a submission to the Review of Funding for Schooling. The central contention of VICCSO’s submission is fourfold:
These values that all educational organisations that receive public funding should promote are:
The fact that Australia’s PISA results show a greater disparity of achievement according to socio-economic background than many other comparable countries is indicative of the need for a reappraisal. It is vital that this review recognises the fundamental inequalities present in Australian school education, and makes recommendations to address this situation in order to significantly improve learning outcomes for all students and promote social cohesion, a fairer society and longer-term economic development and prosperity.
Students’ learning and life opportunities are, as the evidence amply demonstrates, strongly shaped by social background. For example, in Victoria, students from the most advantaged backgrounds are up to 16 times more likely to get into a medical course than those from other backgrounds. The most affluent Australian students are also on average three years of schooling ahead of the least affluent in reading literacy.
This sharp polarisation between the life chances of different groups of young people frustrates students, undermines their aspirations and starves a nation of knowledge, skills and creativity. A 21st century nation should have schools and a public education system in which the disparities between the performance of students from families of different social backgrounds are reduced in the short-term and eliminated in the longer-term.
Compounding the problem of the polarisation of students’ learning and life opportunities is the continuing drift of above-average SES students into the private school sector. The extreme variation in student achievement, based on socio-economic background, cannot be addressed in a truly strategic, system-wide way if the market share of public education is allowed to continue to decline.
In 1980, 77.7% of Australian students were in public schools. Thirty years later, in 2010, this had fallen to 65.5%. In other words, from having over three-quarters of all students in public schools in 1980, today there are under two-thirds. In Victoria, the equivalent figures were 73.7% in 1980 to 63.4% in 2010.
Every student should be able to have access to a 21st century personalised learning experience together with a high-quality, high-equity public education system. The question of how to build education systems and schools around personalised learning through better partnerships and governance is arguably the educational challenge of our time. It involves reshaping education systems and schools around all learners’ needs, aspirations, talents, interests and fundamental right to all-round personal development.
Personalised learning requires the right amount and kind of resources, facilities and support. It also sharpens the focus on the totality of resources available for any one student’s learning - at home and at school. It also means that, the more that educational services are personalised, the more that public resources will have to be skewed toward the least well-off as well as invested in multi-school collaborations (as economically efficient forms of reorganising education and schooling around personalisation).
To ensure both greater equity and access for all students to a 21st century personalised learning experience, and ultimately bring about improved learning outcomes for all students, funding needs to be distributed to those schools, where it is needed most. As a parent member of a school council in a Victorian government school wrote to VICCSO:
“When I see the opportunities that students have at a nearby non-government school compared to what my kids have, it is certainly not a level playing field. Students at this school have access to their school’s own camp site, an incredible range of subjects and extracurricular activities, many state-of-the-art buildings and technologies, and their own performing arts centre and swimming pool. I don’t expect every school to have all of this and I don’t begrudge these students for having these opportunities, but all schools should be able to provide a range of minimal standards and opportunities for all students, whatever their background”.
The other side of this equity story is that funding to public schools should ensure that the instruction and resources required to teach the curriculum are free, and that fees for elements essential to participation in the school program are not charged by schools.
The current funding model, which has the twofold effect of sponsoring a decline in the market share of public schools and subsidising competition between all schools for the most ‘desirable’ students, is in need of change. The latest National Report on Schooling shows that for 2007-08 the average total expenditure for government schools was $12,639 per student, compared with $10,826 per student in Catholic schools, $15,576 in independent schools and an average of $12,745 for all private schools. The comparable figures for 2007-08 in Victoria were per capita spending on government schools $9,858, Catholic schools $10,031 and independent schools $16,605.
Such inequities have served to perpetuate an old inputs-based model (i.e., schools seeking to attract students from particular backgrounds and filter student intake via fees, streaming, scholarships, and selective entry) as distinct from a universal value-adding one. Some schools may seek to attract the most ‘desirable’ - and least expensive-to-educate - students so as to ultimately boost - and market - their results. The obvious risk for such schools is that they may be more focused on attracting students from particular backgrounds as ‘inputs’ than on what needs to really change in education and pedagogy to significantly improve learning outcomes for all students (i.e., a value adding model).
The educational value a school adds to student achievement should be beyond that which could be predicted given the social class backgrounds and prior attainments of students. But in those schools, which are ostensibly ‘successful’ and where more fundamental educational and pedagogical change is perhaps unneeded in the shorter-term, much value adding may obviously still occur. But these schools can produce much of what they do by way of the family backgrounds of their students rather than through developing 21st century teaching and learning practices that meet the needs of all students from all social backgrounds.
A new system of school funding should comprise criteria and a formula which ensure that the funding that is available is not only equitably distributed among schools (i.e., directed to where it is needed most so that all students are supported to overcome barriers to achievement) but also gives weighting to the whole question of value adding. This matter pivots on a fundamental question: is a school adding significant value to student achievement or is a school more dependent on attracting the most ‘desirable’ students? The related question is: how do funding arrangements constrain or enable value adding?
A value adding system of funding would bring to the fore the key educational imperatives and strategic priorities - such as educational excellence, equity, reducing the achievement gap and building high-quality, high-equity public education systems - that should drive all public investment in schools. This would mean that every child attends a school which meets an acceptable ‘community standard’ in terms of educational provision and which adds demonstrable value to student achievement. A value adding system would:
All of these elements, if developed by way of a broad educational and funding model, would provide families with the confidence that learning outcomes can be improved for all students and that the links between social background and outcomes can be changed.
A value adding system may mean that all educational organisations that receive public funding would be required - and would receive adequate resources and support - to:
Point three is of the utmost importance and should be a requirement for recipients of public funding. A good governing body in a school supports the development throughout the school of:
In seeking to respond to the challenges of improving educational performance and reducing the achievement gap, there are two different approaches to school funding:
In light of the need to further build high-quality, high-equity public education systems and schools, and educational challenges such as providing increased personalisation of learning for all students, a more strategic approach is needed. This approach would ask: what kind of funding arrangement and formula would serve to equitably support all schools and prepare all students for a future of profound change and lifelong learning?