Amazing results with Gonski

Eagleby_State_018.jpgBy Andrew Barnes, principal of Eagleby South State School

If you want proof that Gonski funding can deliver results, and deliver them quickly, then you only need to visit our school.

The progress that our staff and school community have made in lifting attendance, motivation and basic skills at a low-SES school in recent years has been amazing.

We could not have done it without needs-based Gonski funding which recognised the obvious – that we have challenges that you don’t get at a “leafy green” school.

Gonski funding allowed us to get serious and put resources into our early years students. That means we can improve literacy, oral language skills and working memory. These are all very basic and important skills for future learning.

Our school is in outer Brisbane and has a majority of families from low-SES backgrounds, with 20 per cent coming from homes where English is a second language. We also have a high number of students in out-of-home care.

 The reality is that many of our students arrive at the school not ready to learn. They are behind the eight-ball in language, and in basic concepts like chronological awareness.

How do we turn this around? The answer is through building a team of staff who are motivated, experienced and able to give these students the support they need. I would estimate that our students require three-to-four times as much intensive support, and work with parents, as students from an advantaged school.

That can’t happen without extra resources.

Supporting teachers and kids

Gonski funding is helping support teachers in the classroom and improve what they do, and this has been the key to the school’s success.

We have been able to:

  • Employ and train extra teacher aides with a focus on Prep to Year 3 literacy.

  • Introduce 'Rip-it Up Reading' a program designed to address students' Working Memory difficulties.

  • Bring in an expert pedagogical coach to support school-wide approaches to literacy and numeracy teaching and a new reading framework.

  • Focus on identifying and supporting students with intellectual disabilities.

If you focus on supporting teachers and making them better, then you lift results for the whole school.

Our improvement has been swift and dramatic – with NAPLAN results soaring between 2013 and 2015.

In all areas of NAPLAN for both Years 3 and 5, the percentage of students attaining the minimum standards is now around the national average. The school is now performing ‘substantially above’ the expected level of improvement since 2008 in all areas of NAPLAN, with strong results in Writing in particular.

For the youngest students, those in Years 1 and 2, over 50 per cent of the school’s junior cohort is now reading at age level, and Eagleby South’s grade 6 and 7 cohorts have over 70 per cent of students reading at age level, up from 50 per cent in 2013.

Tests only capture part of what we have achieved. We have also lifted the attendance and engagement of our students. Enrolment is up to nearly 400, from just 230 a few years ago because parents trust us to help their children.

We have also used Gonski to free up funds to allow a nurse to be at the school four days per week. That’s important for keeping an eye on the broader welfare of our students and making sure we spot any issues early.

We are no longer losing staff. Teachers enjoy coming to work here because they know what they do is working. Teaching in low-SES schools can be tough, but it also something that can be highly motivating because of the huge difference you can make. Giving teachers the right resources can be the thing that helps you keep good staff.

Full Gonski will take us even further

I don’t know what further proof you need that targeted funding can help turn around results in a low-SES school and that investing in children in the early years of school can pay off quickly.

To put our results into perspective they are the result of only the first two years of Gonski, plus National Partnerships funding before that. With the full six years of Gonski we can set our sights even higher.

The school’s needs are still high and there is an urgent need for some of our programs to be expanded and for new programs…

With the full six years of Gonski we would be able to increase the number of Teacher Aides for literacy and numeracy, and allow the school to buy extra Learning Support specialist hours to improve students’ writing outcomes.

We could also begin to properly tackle the high levels of disability we have at the school, starting with getting extra Guidance Officer time to assist in assessment and identification of special needs and disability.

This is a major issue for us, and many other low SES schools. Although 12 per cent of our students have a verified disability we have many others who need support in class and can’t get it.

Another issue we have due to our low-SES student base, is that many of our students don’t have access to information technology at home. If we want to close the digital gap with more advantaged schools we will need to provide devices ourselves.

It is deeply frustrating to me that there is any debate about the future of Gonski funding. We are proof that a school can lift its results, and lift them quickly, by targeting spending to students who need it.

We are given an extra $288,000 a year through Gonski – that is not much more than it costs to keep one child in juvenile detention for a year – and I know that what we are doing is an investment which will lead to better jobs, better health and better lives for our students.

We cannot sit back and tolerate a situation where a child who arrives at school without the skills needed to learn is left to stagnate or fall behind, especially when the cost of helping them is so low compared to the benefit.

Funding Gonski in full will make sure our students don’t miss out on opportunities and that they are able to be full participants in society when they grow up.

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