Lifting learning with Gonski

SarahRudling.jpgBy Sarah Rudling

Principal, Barrack Heights Public School

If schools don’t have resources their students miss out on opportunities, it is as simple as that.

At our school, Barrack Heights Public School in NSW, we have used our Gonski funding to make sure that all of our students have the chance to benefit from education, and to make sure there are no barriers stopping their learning

Barrack Heights has a high number of low-SES students, with about one-quarter Aboriginal and one-fifth from non-English speaking backgrounds. A lot of our children come from complex backgrounds and a few years ago many of our students didn’t have the capacity or self-esteem to stay in class for long periods of time.

We can’t give up on students just because they are not yet ready to learn, we need to find out why they are struggling and try to fix it.

Gonski delivers individual support

At Barrack Heights we have received $200,000 in Gonski funding from 2014-16, and we have used it to make sure all our students are able to learn as effectively as possible.

We targeted the funding to put children in the best possible position to engage with their learning and be happy and productive at school.

Funding has given us the flexibility to pay for additional staff including speech therapists, occupational therapists, mentors and specialist teachers to work intensively with children with additional needs or learning difficulties.

If a child has difficulty with speech, or with basic tasks like holding a pencil, they can lose confidence and begin to withdraw from school.

At this young age kids can change so quickly with the right support, but every year is precious, because that’s a year of learning they won’t get back. Having such well targeted resources means children that need support can access it without delay.

We have created two Alternate Learning Classes which run from Year 2 to Year 6 for students with behavioural difficulties, learning difficulties or disability. Each class is capped at 15 students with the teacher supported by a full-time aide, and an extra teacher for part of the day.

Giving these students one-to-one support has made a huge difference, with many students able to return to mainstream classes.

Turning students’ lives around

We have a lot great stories from our classrooms. Three years ago I started working with a child who didn’t have the confidence to stay in class or attempt to read and write and interact with his peers.

Just recently I was able to induct him into our school parliament as the Deputy Governor General. He is now confident and committed to learning and doing well at school. That was made possible with Gonski money and the dedicated work of our staff.

Good teaching is labour intensive, we need to invest time in children to get the rewards, and that takes money that too many schools don’t have.

We have also used our Gonski funding to lift the quality of teaching in the school – because that will benefit every student.

This has involved running programs for staff in literacy and numeracy and also professional mentoring and peer coaching. We are also giving them extra training in assisting students with disability and who have suffered trauma, to make sure they have the skills to deal with every student they teach.

A lot of a child’s learning happens outside school, but kids from low-SES backgrounds often don’t get the same range of experiences as other children.

We’re using Gonski funding to run programs in languages, cooking, drama, bike riding, martial arts photography and swimming. These activities take advantage of our teachers’ skills and passions and require a small amount of funding for the benefits they deliver to our students.

These are programs that develop self-esteem and a broader view of the world and are essential for our kids.

Gonski helps the community

Having this funding has made such a difference our students, their families and the broader community.

I don’t think people realise the impact that well-funded schools have on children, not just for their education but for their sense of hope and sense of achievement so they can take that back to their families and to their communities.

Properly funding our school sends a message that our kids are important, and that the broader community values them and wants them to succeed.

School funding is an investment in our future citizens. What we are doing at Barrack Heights is turning political rhetoric like “closing the gap”, “breaking the cycle” and “making a difference” into results-based reality.

It makes sense to continue Gonski funding, for our children and for our community. We need it to make sure that our children grow up with the knowledge, skills, understanding and passion to be the great citizens that we need them to be.

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