Parents Voice in Government School Education

Education State Forum

“Workforce, wellbeing and pathways: New perspectives on education” was the theme of the 2022 Education State Forum – Schools.

PV promoted the opportunity for several government school parents to attend this Forum in the April issue of Parents Voice, and we are really pleased that several parents were able to join us.  Here is an out-take from parent Ben (standing, in photo above): 

On Thursday 11 August, I was able to attend the Department of Education and Training’s (DET) “Education State Forum” thanks to Parents Victoria. It was a great opportunity to converse with a number of senior Department representatives and policy makers. I left feeling that our campaign and concerns are attracting action, but also noting that the wheels of bureaucracy can turn slowly.

Natalie Hutchins, Minister for Education addressed the room before departing for Canberra for a national meeting of ministers.

The first session focused on the challenges facing schools, and the education sector as a whole, attracting and retaining staff. Professor Jim Watterson presented. This article in The Conversation provides a brief summary of some of the challenges.

The second session was around FISO 2.0.

As an overview, it links student wellbeing as being integral to learning.

Please feel free to have a look at the policy in the Policy and Advisory Library. 

In light of the first session, at our table discussion, I did ask if there is policy in place to assist in teacher well-being.

The final session was about the senior secondary reforms, which will merge VCE and VCAL. This stimulated an interesting discussion, particularly around people’s preconceptions of the VCAL pathways. We also discussed the use of ATAR scores as a perceived measure of a schools success at providing students with an education that best equips them for life after secondary school. Yet also how ATAR scores are one of the “selling points” used by school.

The Firth review was often referred to during this session.

Parents Victoria’s observations and take-outs

Through a parent lens (by Gail McHardy, PV CEO)

It was great to attend an in-person event and catch up with all the Victorian Government School education stakeholders – DET central and regional staff, schools, community, parent and student representatives.

The highlight of the morning and setting the tone for the day, was the wonderful Djirri Djirri Wurundjeri women’s dance group members (Mandy and Dharna). Some of Mandy’s wise words and suggestions stuck in my mind – reminding us all to make sure we create a culturally safe place; teaching Bunjil is key; and when Mandy visits schools – some even sing the acknowledgement of country.

Morning speakers included DET Secretary, Jenny Atta who explained the key topics for the day were Workforce; Wellbeing and Pathways.

Then we heard from the new Minister for Education & Office for Women, the Hon. Natalie Hutchins.

Deputy Secretary Stephen Fraser introduced Professor Jim Watterston, Dean, Melbourne Graduate School of Education to talk about University and School (…and Department) Partnerships – Are they optimal or imbalanced?

This topic closely related to Workforce issues such as:

  • What problems are we trying to solve
  • Evidence base
  • What’s COVID got to do with this?
  • What would the optimal partnership look like?
  • Quality of initial teacher education (ITE) students
  • Do we need more mentor teachers?
  • So what now?

He highlighted the world has changed and students are different after this recent experience; if we want to lift student performance, we need to make sure that future teachers are school ready; and understand teacher vacancies are up and teacher registrations are down.  COVID has given “cause to pause” and to rethink a number of things – partnerships between universities and schools, purpose of schooling, digital literacy and the world we live in, the curriculum, data and assessment, learning and learners, teaching and teachers.  PV would add family engagement and relationships to this list.

Initial questions from the floor included:

  • Where do students (in schools) fit into this partnership?
  • Why are new teachers not staying in the profession beyond 5 years?
  • This was followed up with a panel session with DET staff from the People and Communications Division and school representatives from Tarneit P-9 and Monterey Secondary College, Frankston North.

Discussion was then conducted at tables and DET staff captured contributions and suggestions, such as:

  • Employing and matching people into the right roles
  • Providing more opportunities to retain people in the profession / schools (e.g. flexible workforce, part-time employment options)
  • Recruiting people into school support and administrative roles so teachers can focus on teaching (e.g. Personal Assistants for the Principals)
  • Building the incentives to teachers – not just at the beginning of their career, but giving them other incentives to live/stay in rural and regional communities.  (I.e. A sense of belonging and social connection was highly emphasised for teachers who miss their families and support networks, especially when they start their own young families)
  • Get better at sharing the success and recognition-of-service stories with the Victorian community, to celebrate what people don’t see – change the narrative
  • Support mechanisms for teachers need to be personalised
  • Create pools of trained people schools can draw upon and partnerships with universities and TAFEs to enable employment of casual education support staff
  • Fix the issue of Permission to Teach   (Victorian Institute of Teaching)
  • Address the issue of Universities requiring 8 week practicums when it impacts on school staff availability
  • DET Recruitment Team to support schools with administering the process to onboard potential new employees
  • Better access to pre-service teachers
  • Talking up the profession with young people earlier and with the wider community

After lunch we moved into discussing the Wellbeing priority of the new FISO 2.0.  It has been redesigned to place learning and wellbeing at the centre of school improvement and is a direct response to the findings of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and advice from the profession.  Justin McDonnell@DET introduced the panel speakers from Balwyn High School and Woodville Primary school.

A question from the floor was:

  • Can you provide specific examples of how you engage with families from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds?

Table discussions included:

  • There needs to be an emphasis on psychological safety (for students and teachers)
  • Funding of Family Engagement Officers (FEOs) in our schools (PV’s ongoing objective with the Victorian Government)
  • Structuring adequate time for teachers to call families at home or via home visits
  • Family led camps and activities
  • Continued use of online communications to strengthen connections for convenience of working parents (more flexibility)
  • Communication is Key – explain the WHY (not all families know or understand what their child is learning and why schools make certain decisions)
  • Maintaining a long-term proactive approach
  • Providing more student agency and voice in this work – needs to be more collaborative
  • Recent funding of the Mental Health & Wellbeing Coordinators has enabled schools to target and focus on areas of most need ie social emotional regulation for students
  • Some schools are utilising their multicultural aides to support families to communicate more easily with the school.  This is why FEOs are an essential support.
  • Identifying and working with other local organisations, practitioners and agencies to support the school and families
  • Better wellbeing support for teachers

The final session of the day was on the topic of Pathways and prior to a panel discussion with a former VCAL graduate and a school principal we watched a video produced by Bendigo Tech School on ‘Building an electric Range Rover’.

The main thrust of this conversation is how do we change community perceptions of senior secondary pathways and also ensure all school leaders and teachers support all students when messaging future pathway opportunities

Table discussions included:

  • Some schools still see the university pathway as preferred and don’t recognise or talk up vocational education
  • Some schools streaming students to the former VCAL, in order to attain better end of year ATAR results for the “academic” students
  • Parents reinforcing and imposing their traditional/cultural expectations on their children is not always constructive
  • Not introducing the benefits of vocational education prior to secondary school – more needs to be done in the Primary years, some children do know what they want Ask Hannah (panel speaker)!

It was clear from the discussions that the world of work and learning has changed – so must the narrative!

The Plenary session shared reflections from student representatives Sophie, a Rural Ambassador from Country Education Partnership plus Aakriti and Joseph from the VicSRC Executive.

In summary, we all have lots of work to do!

 

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