Gonski breaks down barriers to success

 Merrylands High School is using Gonski funding to lift aspirations for its students and ensure more complete Year 12 and go on to further studies.

Principal Lila Mularczyk says Merrylands is one of the most disadvantaged schools in NSW, with 80 per cent of students from low-SES backgrounds and 72 per cent having a language background other than English.

 “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,” Ms Mularczyk says.

“For disadvantaged kids, school is the bridge that lets them into Australian society. We need that bridge to be as strong and wide as possible.

“Gonski is already beginning to give opportunities to students at Merrylands who didn’t have them before.”

Better engagement means better results

Gonski funding arrived at Merrylands High School in 2014, and allowed the school to build on what it had already started through the National Partnerships program.

The school wanted to improve learning and academic outcomes for students, but knew this would require an investment in improving engagement and attendance, and in individual support for students.

Gonski funding has been used to set up Attendance and Engagement Teams within the school.

Regular attendance is the first step to improved learning, and the school’s Attendance Team works with students and their families to get students to stay at school.

The Engagement Team is made up of teachers and other professionals, plus past Merrylands students currently at university, to support students in small groups and direct their learning.

As well as more small-group learning, every student at Merrylands now has an Individualised Learning Plan, which has involved a parent or carer in its development.

The school has also focused on literacy and numeracy with programs that help to involve students’ families in their learning.

It has entered into partnerships with the University of Western Sydney and University of Technology Sydney to give students who want to go to university mentoring and support.

Improved results right through the school

Ms Mularczyk says that there has been a cultural change across the school which has been driven by increased resources.

Extra funding has lifted the academic results of students. Now, 100 per cent of Higher School Certificate eligible students complete their HSC. More students are scoring HSC’s in the upper bands and fewer in the lower bands.

In 2014, 28 per cent of graduates were offered a university place, compared with just 13 per cent in 2011. The majority are the first members of their family to attend university and many come from refugee families who might never have imagined such an outcome for their children.

This improvement is likely to continue because the school’s Year 9 NAPLAN results have also lifted. Now only 7 per cent of students are below the national minimum standard, compared to 16 per cent in 2011.

Building a strong school culture for the future

Ms Mularczyk says the full six years of Gonski is vital to provide continuity of funding for the school.

She says it will be used to expand existing programs, increase professional learning for staff, and ensure that more students can achieve HSC and tertiary success.

“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,” she says

“The full six years of Gonski funding is how Australia can future-proof access to quality education for all young people in our schooling systems.”

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