By Garry Carter, principal of Casino Public School, NSW
What price can we put on giving students from disadvantaged backgrounds the help they need to succeed at school?
When you have a parent come up to you in the playground, crying because her son is reading for the first time, you know that the price is worth paying.
Gonski funding has delivered huge improvements at Casino Public School. It is giving students skills and confidence they will carry for the rest of their lives.
We have been able to lift literacy and numeracy results by improving how we teach and increasing the support and early intervention for students. We are setting our kids up for life with what we are doing in their first years of school.
Casino PS is the kind of school that Gonski was designed for. We are a primary school which is a long way from the nearest capital city with high numbers of low-SES and Aboriginal students.
We have always faced the challenge of how to provide our students with all the opportunities they need despite our location and a lack of resources.
Our school system needs to have high expectations of students, regardless of where they are from. That means ensuring every school gets the resources it needs for every child to reach their potential.
Primary schools are where children learn the basics for a life of learning, and where we can offer early intervention to break down any barriers that are stopping children achieving.
Extra programs bring results
Gonski has given us the freedom and flexibility to bring in new programs which have already made a big difference for our kids.
The extra resources Gonski has provided to us (as well as the targeted “Early Action for Success” initiative which gave us extra funding from 2012) meant we can focus on improving the quality of our teaching and the results of our students in literacy and numeracy.
We have introduced new programs for our early years, including the Language, Learning and Literacy (L3) and Targeting Early Numeracy (TENS). We have been able to add more collaborative teaching to lift the quality of what we are doing in our classrooms.
Together that means students have increased their focus and willingness to learn and are making faster progress in literacy and numeracy.
It’s a great cycle – increasing their skills makes our students even keener to learn, which imporves their skills even further.
- In the K-2 classes, where the investment has been highest, students are routinely making 18 months progress in a year in literacy.
- In the Kindergarten class every student met expectations for reading and comprehension in 2015.
- We now have a high percentage of students at-or-above statewide targets for literacy and numeracy.
Individual support changes lives
We can also offer individual support to students who need it. We use our funding to bring in an Occupational Therapist and a Speech Pathologist for two days each week to provide in-class assistance for students who have specific learning needs.
These are services are not always easy to find in regional Australia, which means many students don’t get access to them until they start school. That’s not ideal, but we can make a huge difference by responding to a problem as soon as it is identified.
We have also been able to build our links with the local Aboriginal community by employing a liaison officer, which has led to more involvement from parents in their children’s education.
I see this as being just the start of what Gonski can offer for our students.
The full six years of funding means we can extend the support programs from the early years right through the school – which means we can help students who move to Casino in the later years of primary school. We can keep lifting the standard of teaching in the school and ensuring new staff get professional development.
We can also offer more support to students who need it, particularly those in our Support Unit with intellectual disabilities.
I don’t want to see our students miss out on opportunities simply because of their background and where the school is located.
We have as much potential here as anywhere in Australia, and we need to make sure we take advantage of it.
We have achieved a lot so far, and we are not going to go backwards, but without the full six years of Gonski we won’t be able to build on what we’ve done.
In a small town like Casino, the school is a big part of the community. The investment we’ve made in our children and the results they are getting is something that the whole community can be proud of.
When I look around the school I see a Gonski investment that will pay off for the rest of our students’ lives.
We can’t just let this progress stop or stagnate because we are not being given the resources. We need the full Gonski in every school in Australia.