By Lila Mularczyk
Principal of Merrylands High School and President of the NSW Secondary Principals' Council
As a school principal, Gonski matters to me because access to quality education is a human right and something which changes lives. Give children a good education and they can contribute to their community and enrich their own lives.
My work as a principal involves teaching students with high levels of disadvantage. These students have fewer opportunities in life, so we need to make sure that the opportunities they get at school are as high-quality and accessible as possible.
Delivering the full six years of Gonski funding is how we will future-proof access to quality education for all young people in our schooling systems.
Too much of a child’s achievement at school is pre-determined by their background, and this is something that our school system needs to fight against.
Gonski is already beginning to give opportunities to students who didn’t have them before.
Schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students are already seeing significant improvements in engagement and attendance, where NAPLAN results are improving, and HSC scores and university offers are on the rise.
Gonski success at my school
At my school, Merrylands High School, Gonski is helping us build on our successes and create a culture which realises the potential of all our students.
Our school is one of the most disadvantaged in NSW. All our students are low-SES and 72 per cent have a language background other than English. Nine per cent are refugees.
We are already delivering improved results and I believe that with the full six years of Gonski we will hit a tipping point, where the culture we are trying to build will become self-sustaining.
We have received several hundred thousand dollars in Gonski funding this year, which builds on the funding we received through the National Partnerships Program in previous years.
We have used this funding to set up an Engagement Team of teachers and other professionals, plus past Merrylands students currently at university, to support students in small groups and direct their learning.
Attendance officers are working with students and their families to improve attendance (the first step to improved learning).
We have been able to use Gonski to run or expand Individual Learning Plans for students and provide a refugee support program.
I have employed a Business Manager and an additional Deputy Principal to ensure our educational leaders can focus on leading education and improving our teaching.
All of these programs are designed to improve student learning outcomes, aspiration and retention
We are already seeing an increase in the number of students who are leaving the school and going on to university and becoming involved in VET programs.
In 2014, 27 of our 88 graduating students went on to university, up from just 13 in 2011. The majority of these were the first in their families to attend university, and several were refugees whose proud parents may never have imagined such a possibility for their children.
We are on track to improve our Year 12 results in future years, based on the improvements in our NAPLAN scores.
Between 2011 and 2014 the number of our Year 7 students at or above the national minimum for Reading rose from 84% to 93%, and for numeracy the increase was from 89% to 93%. We are getting similar results for our Year 9s.
Extra funds means extra support for kids
I know from talking to my fellow principals that Gonski is already making a huge difference and is helping the kids who need help the most.
Schools are able to get extra bodies into classrooms to provide support and use their skills and commitment to benefit students.
These include speech pathologists, engagement staff, literacy, numeracy, technology and language programs, additional expert support and educational leaders to lift the quality of teaching in schools
Gonski funding removes the barriers stopping disadvantaged kids from achieving and lifts the expectations and aspirations of an entire school community.
Don’t believe the doubters, we are already seeing amazing results in NSW where Gonski funding is being delivered to schools in a predictable and accountable way.
That’s why we need certainty over the full six years of Gonski funding so that we can build the capacity of our schools to provide the opportunities students deserve.
One of the disturbing trends in our school system is the stratification of students by SES. This is not just about public schools versus private it is about growing gaps within the public system, between schools with high numbers of students from advantaged backgrounds and those with disadvantaged students.
This concentration of need does not create a healthy learning environment and it is something that needs to be tackled as early as possible through extra resources.
Without Gonski our school system will continue to generate an ugly level of inequity.
For disadvantaged kids, school is the bridge that lets them into Australian society. That’s why it is so crucial that we make that bridge as strong and wide as we can.
Good education is life-changing for our students, and the positive effects of their success flow through to their communities, and for the rest of Australia.