Gonski can deliver opportunity

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Matt O'Hanlon
Principal of Beenleigh High School, Brisbane

I want my school to be the best school possible for the local kids and increased Gonski funding will help us achieve that.

Sometimes our area has less than positive publicity so our staff recognise the challenge to ensure the potential of our kids is realised.

 

We are about aspiration and achievement, in a caring way, and not about letting postcodes dictate our students’ futures.

I’ve got a great group of teachers who have bought in to what we are trying to do with opportunity, and a supportive P&C. Our community also recognises the effort we make but these need to be backed with resources.

Our school is in a lower socio economic area of Brisbane and this was recognised by the National Partnerships Program which gave us about $800,000 extra per year from 2010.

Focus on Engagement

With this funding we focused on engagement because if you don’t have students in school, there’s not a lot you can do with them. Every student is an individual, with their own issues, and we have looked at all the reasons why an individual student is not attending or is not participating.

We used the funding to look at our data and develop a strategy to lift retention. We invested a lot of money in literacy and numeracy. We brought in engagement support co-ordinators, and began programs aimed at retention to Year 12 and reducing truancy.

Another benefit was that we were also able to support a lot of extra programs and excursions for kids. That’s important because our students need to be exposed to the programs and opportunities  they may not get access to otherwise. These also assist in getting students engaged in school and help retention.

Our results have included a decrease in School Disciplinary Absences, and a Year 8-12 Apparent retention rate that matches the state average.

On NAPLAN we are adding more to student results between Year 7 and 9 than most schools, with an increase in NAPLAN Mean Scale Score improvement way above the state improvement.

Yes, you can actually make a difference in these areas, but you need staff to work with the kids.

We need funding certainty

Unfortunately the NPP money is now finished and, middle of 2014, we have been hit by an effective fall in resources because the previous Government in Queensland didn’t bring in the full Gonski.

Instead we’ve got the Great Results Guarantee which gives us some extra funding, but because it’s not really based on student needs, it doesn’t make up for what we used to get under the NPP.

To me, differential needs-based funding, that gets resources into disadvantaged schools is a key plank and that’s what at stake in the fight for the full six years of Gonski.

It’s not just the extra funding, it’s making sure it goes where it is needed.

At the moment we are in a bit of a holding pattern. We’ve been able to maintain the programs we brought in under the NPP, but we need to build on those earlier successes if we are to continue to move forward. We’re also in the dark about exactly how much we’ll get over the next few years, which makes it difficult to long term plan.

This is a huge disappointment to me because we have shown what we can do when we get the opportunity of extra resources.

There are a lot of things I want to do for our students, but many are dependent on funding.

We have a large Special Education Program that caters for our students with disabilities but there are other students who don’t get enough support as they just fall outside the criteria.

It is not uncommon that disability rates are higher in low SES schools, and it is something that effects every teacher and every classroom.

There is no way to deal with this issue except by providing individual support for students in need and this further assists the learning process.

I know first- hand that the extra funding under Gonski does matter -  it is the difference between an aspiration and a reality. 

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