School Improvement and Governance Network

Four Key Areas

School resources, facilities and the use of time

What is it?

Principals, teachers, parents and students will all say: time is the most important resource, that the scarcest resource in school change and improvement is time. Time for teachers to discuss students' needs and interests and personalise their learning and design community-based curriculums. Time for teachers and others to guide students through the maze of life and learning opportunities to find a unique pathway that is right for each student. Time for parents and community members to become involved in schools as partners in learning. Time for leaders at all levels to plan collaboratively including with other schools and organisations. Time for all stakeholders to further personalise learning, make the best use of technologies, and create new kinds of schooling including P-12 clusters of schools.

Obligation of governments

All governments have a primary obligation to ensure that all children and young people have access to a 21st century personalised learning experience together with a high-quality, high-equity public education system. Resource allocations should be better matched to student needs and home backgrounds. There shoud be larger allocations of resources to schools with lower SES intakes. The fact that Australia’s PISA results show a greater disparity of achievement according to socio-economic background than many other comparable countries is indicative of the need for a new funding system.

Every school should have state-of-the-art facilities. Many schools were obviously built for a different era in education. There is a growing body of literature that supports a strong link between school design and student achievement. The best new designs optimise the powerful mix of both teachers’ strong guided instruction and students’ independent inquiry, discovery and creativity.

What can I do?

Get involved in your school's buildings and grounds sub-committee. Start a policy discussion about how school time is organised. And from a school council perspective, look at how well time is managed in council and sub-committee meetings. Discuss the adequacy of resources and support for the efforts of staff (in partnership with families and the community) to improve the opportunities and outcomes of students. See also the Great Schools Checklist - Part 10: Resources and facilities - for practical questions. See our guides to identifying community resources and effective advocacy and lobbying.

Useful links and reading

Examples of great practice

The creative reworking of time in education and schooling is one of the single most important enablers for personalised learning and improving learning outcomes. Time refers to:

  • The amount, dispersion and intensity of time allocation in teaching and learning
  • How time (e.g., a school day) is redefined, and how the use of time is reworked
  • Strategies and tools to optimise the pace of learning for each individual student.

With languages education, for example, schools work toward the more effective use of time via:

  • Strategies to address the variation in the rate at which students learn second languages, such as personalised, self-paced, interactive language tools
  • Programs, such as the Intensive French program in Canada, to compact instructional time for a second language so that teaching periods are longer, even if the total time does not increase
  • Initiatives that support continuity of languages learning over time even when a discontinuity between primary and secondary school or the loss of a language teacher may occur.

As well, many schools with a building program form a team that brings together teachers, parents and students to look at the links between spatial design and effective learning and, in so doing:

  • Establishes ground rules for dialogue about the school's future
  • Is inviting, open and inclusive at every step of the process
  • Links school building design ideas with solid educational research.

A guide to effective advocacy and lobbying

"Parents and citizens in public schools must learn the art of advocacy. They've got to blog, Twitter, text, lobby and argue". Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby

As schools address the challenges of equity and excellence in education but also deal with the pressures to 'do more with less', advocacy and lobbying come to the fore. Both are ways to expose the ineffectiveness or injustice of old policies and practices and suggest how things can be improved. Both can be the decisive difference between something happening and remaining an idea.

Advocacy is speaking out on behalf of a cause (e.g., public education) or a school community. It is an effort to shape public perception or to effect changes in policy, resourcing and legislation. Lobbying can be more focused such as seeking to influence a particular piece of legislation or persuade individuals or groups with decision-making power to support a particular initiative.

School communities and stakeholders at the grass-roots and state-wide levels develop a range of ways to advocate and lobby for:

  • Policies and programs that support a 21st century education for all students
  • The highest level of government funding and support for school improvement.

Steps in advocacy work

Based on the experiences of schools, principals, teachers, school councils, parent groups, and local and state-wide stakeholders in education, three key steps in advocacy work include efforts to:

  1. Clearly identify the issues and challenges. This also means thinking about possible solutions: How do you want the problem to be resolved? What are you asking for or want changed?
  2. Build support and develop shared goals. It is obviously best to reach out to form networks and partnerships with other people and organisations and to shape shared goals
  3. Develop an action plan for advocacy work: specifying the activities and tasks, people who will make it happen, the desired time frame, and needed resources and support.

It is obviously best to work as a team – ideally involving teachers, parents and other school community stakeholders. Successful advocacy requires a range of skills, including communication, project management, and research and policy skills. Partnerships are particularly effective when they:

  • Bring together different people and organisations with a shared goal
  • Do not just involve the ‘usual suspects’
  • Link local grass-roots initiatives and the support of state-wide groups
  • Rally community resources to support a cause
  • Build a strong case for a proposed change - based on solid evidence.

The target audience

School communities and other stakeholders carefully consider the primary target audience - such as politicians, education department personnel, media professionals, and community leaders - that they want to influence. Their primary targets are those people who are seemingly in the best position to achieve what they want done. In this regard, it is important to emphasise that:

  • The key people that you have to influence are sometimes not the people you may have considered at first, and that it can be very productive to think laterally about who to focus on 
  • If the first chosen path to decision-makers is not working, take a step back and look for a new 'way in'. Effective advocacy and lobbying require perseverance but also great flexibility.

Ways of communicating

In relation to communicating with a particular audience (and what any one method or mix of strategies may work best for this audience) or communicating with the community in general, obviously careful consideration also has to be given to choosing from various ways of communicating such as:

  • Meetings
  • E-mails and texts
  • Telephone calls
  • Websites and blogs
  • Media releases and media conferences
  • Posters and flyers in public places
  • Fact sheets and position papers.

Position papers

Position papers are really important. Besides the potential impact on the target audience, the act of writing a paper assists advocates to further clarify their ideas. Effective position papers:

  • State your key concerns up front
  • Clearly communicate what you want done
  • Provide the background and context of the issue
  • Are no longer than two to three pages
  • Identify your group or partnership (and the breadth of your network supporters), and why the issue is important to you.

Contact VICCSO and other groups who can assist with the development of a position paper.

Who to lobby

Complementing and not dissimilar to broader advocacy work, with lobbying around a particular issue (e.g., school funding or a government policy) it is important to consider the following:

  • Choosing the right target for your lobbying - bearing in mind, once again, that the key people that you have to influence are sometimes not the people you may have considered at first
  • Is your issue a regional, state or federal government issue, or a mix of these?
  • Do you want to lobby ministers and shadow ministers or backbenchers, local members and key party opinion leaders?
  • Policy and ministerial advisers are also useful people to know and to lobby
  • It may be most appropriate to lobby departmental personnel - especially when dealing with the implementation of policy and legislation.

Schools report that better use can be made of grass-roots meetings with local MPs and departmental personnel, and that, in this regard, school councils and parent groups play a pivotal role.

Ways to lobby

There are obviously many ways to lobby. A school community and other stakeholders can use:

  • Letters but not rote letters (to politicians, departmental personnel and newspapers)
  • Submissions
  • Meetings and delegations
  • Conferences
  • Phone calls
  • Targeted calls to talkback radio (being specific about what you seek but not being too negative).

It also involves non-local contacts such as speaking to (and working with) key stakeholder groups with a particular interest in the future of education and schooling. These include the:

There are many other specialist educational groups that can assist with lobbying and exert influence. While lobbying can be a successful one-off thing involving a relatively small group, larger, more concerted, well-publicised lobbying campaigns can be very effective. But these obviously need to be well-organised and coordinated, with training and briefings for those taking part.

Productive meetings

To get the most out of meetings with politicians, ministers and others, practical tips include:

  • Do your homework about the person you are meeting with and their area of responsibility or, in the case of a politician, his or her electorate
  • Prepare briefing material with care - be succinct and avoid a ‘shopping list’ approach
  • Set out clearly what you are asking to be done
  • Keep a group reasonably small (no more than 4-5 people) but, at the same time, make sure your group is diverse and representative
  • Discuss in advance how to handle the meeting
  • Decide who will say what and designate one person to 'chair' the meeting, make introductions, and draw it to a close
  • Make sure that something is agreed before the meeting ends, even if it is just to have another meeting. Sum up what has been agreed and what the next steps are at the end of the meeting
  • After the meeting, send a thank-you note and summary, stay in touch and provide updates.

Conclusion

What is required is better advocacy to 'get the word out' about the future of education as well as being more effective in lobbying for the new ideas, changes, policies, practices and resources that are needed. Through stronger partnerships, principals, teachers, and school council, parent group and SRC presidents and members have tremendous capacity to influence educational change and improvement.

Contact us if we can assist. Good luck!

Identifying community resources and support

There is broader advocacy work around securing the highest level of government funding and support possible for school improvement. Schools also from time to time map local community and state and federal resources and support to identify what may be available. Steps include:

  • Creating a community resources team, involving a single school or a cluster/network of schools
  • Identifying people, groups and organisations in the community as well as their role, programs, activities, services and expertise
  • Developing a list with the relevant contact information. Some of the information may be also be useful for everyone in the school to access.

Schools report the tremendous value of this work but also the challenges in committing adequate time to doing it as well as they would like. To share the work and ensure diverse input, team members at the school or cluster of schools level often include representatives of the following:

  • The principal and leadership team
  • School council members
  • Teachers, students and parents
  • Business manager and school support staff
  • Community organisations.

Useful list of possible partners

Use the list below to begin to identify key community resources and support. Brainstorm about the new partnerships your school may need, and tailor your list to those needs. Schools look at new sources of funding as well as in-kind resources, non-material resources like local knowledge, parental expertise and organisations that share similar goals. Current and potential partners may include:

  • Other schools – including as part of a P-12 cluster of primary and secondary schools
  • Universities, colleges and kindergartens
  • Local and regional businesses and business organisations
  • Local government
  • LLENs
  • Health agencies
  • Student support services including psychologists, social workers, youth workers, speech pathologists and visiting teachers
  • Early identification, intervention and prevention programs
  • Libraries and museums
  • Specialist schools
  • Community organisations
  • Sporting, recreation and outdoor activities groups
  • Cultural and community languages groups
  • Educational non-profit organisations
  • Government departments and agencies
  • Service organisations
  • Environmental groups
  • Arts organisations.

See the School and Community Partnerships section for more information about resource-sharing. It discusses the following three steps that schools use to build and sustain community partnerships:

  1. Consider which partners
  2. Build trust and ownership
  3. Develop a practical plan.

Community partnerships coordinator

Some schools create a volunteer position for a parent to be a community partnerships coordinator. Another initiative is to form a family-school-community partnerships team (involving parents, teachers, school leaders and students) to plan for, and improve, partnerships over time. You may want to:

  • Propose a partnerships discussion on your leadership team, school council or parent group
  • Help write or review your school's partnerships policy. Keep it brief and focused on outcomes.

Funding for schools - what is really required?

Introduction

The Victorian Council of School Organisations welcomed the opportunity to provide a submission to the Review of Funding for Schooling. The central contention of VICCSO’s submission is fourfold:

  1. That all governments have a primary obligation to ensure that all children and young people have access to a 21st century personalised learning experience together with a high-quality, high-equity public education system.
  2. That the present system of school funding constrains this and, further, serves to fuel competition between some schools that is won more through securing students as ‘inputs’ (i.e., schools engaged in a zero-sum game of seeking to attract the most ‘desirable’ students) than adding significant value to all students’ learning.
  3. That there is a need for a new system of school funding which not only ensures that funding is equitably distributed among schools but also gives weighting to the educational value schools add to student achievement beyond that which could be predicted given the social class backgrounds and prior attainments of students.
  4. That, in developing key criteria for the public funding of education and schools and ensuring real value for money, all educational organisations that receive public funding should be required - and adequately resourced and supported - to promote community values.

These values that all educational organisations that receive public funding should promote are:

The achievement gap

The fact that Australia’s PISA results show a greater disparity of achievement according to socio-economic background than many other comparable countries is indicative of the need for a reappraisal. It is vital that this review recognises the fundamental inequalities present in Australian school education, and makes recommendations to address this situation in order to significantly improve learning outcomes for all students and promote social cohesion, a fairer society and longer-term economic development and prosperity.

Students’ learning and life opportunities are, as the evidence amply demonstrates, strongly shaped by social background. For example, in Victoria, students from the most advantaged backgrounds are up to 16 times more likely to get into a medical course than those from other backgrounds. The most affluent Australian students are also on average three years of schooling ahead of the least affluent in reading literacy.

This sharp polarisation between the life chances of different groups of young people frustrates students, undermines their aspirations and starves a nation of knowledge, skills and creativity. A 21st century nation should have schools and a public education system in which the disparities between the performance of students from families of different social backgrounds are reduced in the short-term and eliminated in the longer-term.

Compounding the problem of the polarisation of students’ learning and life opportunities is the continuing drift of above-average SES students into the private school sector. The extreme variation in student achievement, based on socio-economic background, cannot be addressed in a truly strategic, system-wide way if the market share of public education is allowed to continue to decline.

In 1980, 77.7% of Australian students were in public schools. Thirty years later, in 2010, this had fallen to 65.5%. In other words, from having over three-quarters of all students in public schools in 1980, today there are under two-thirds. In Victoria, the equivalent figures were 73.7% in 1980 to 63.4% in 2010.

A 21st century learning experience and equity

Every student should be able to have access to a 21st century personalised learning experience together with a high-quality, high-equity public education system. The question of how to build education systems and schools around personalised learning through better partnerships and governance is arguably the educational challenge of our time. It involves reshaping education systems and schools around all learners’ needs, aspirations, talents, interests and fundamental right to all-round personal development.

Personalised learning requires the right amount and kind of resources, facilities and support. It also sharpens the focus on the totality of resources available for any one student’s learning - at home and at school. It also means that, the more that educational services are personalised, the more that public resources will have to be skewed toward the least well-off as well as invested in multi-school collaborations (as economically efficient forms of reorganising education and schooling around personalisation).

To ensure both greater equity and access for all students to a 21st century personalised learning experience, and ultimately bring about improved learning outcomes for all students, funding needs to be distributed to those schools, where it is needed most. As a parent member of a school council in a Victorian government school wrote to VICCSO:

“When I see the opportunities that students have at a nearby non-government school compared to what my kids have, it is certainly not a level playing field. Students at this school have access to their school’s own camp site, an incredible range of subjects and extracurricular activities, many state-of-the-art buildings and technologies, and their own performing arts centre and swimming pool. I don’t expect every school to have all of this and I don’t begrudge these students for having these opportunities, but all schools should be able to provide a range of minimal standards and opportunities for all students, whatever their background”.

The other side of this equity story is that funding to public schools should ensure that the instruction and resources required to teach the curriculum are free, and that fees for elements essential to participation in the school program are not charged by schools.

Competition for ‘inputs’ versus value adding

The current funding model, which has the twofold effect of sponsoring a decline in the market share of public schools and subsidising competition between all schools for the most ‘desirable’ students, is in need of change. The latest National Report on Schooling shows that for 2007-08 the average total expenditure for government schools was $12,639 per student, compared with $10,826 per student in Catholic schools, $15,576 in independent schools and an average of $12,745 for all private schools. The comparable figures for 2007-08 in Victoria were per capita spending on government schools $9,858, Catholic schools $10,031 and independent schools $16,605.

Such inequities have served to perpetuate an old inputs-based model (i.e., schools seeking to attract students from particular backgrounds and filter student intake via fees, streaming, scholarships, and selective entry) as distinct from a universal value-adding one. Some schools may seek to attract the most ‘desirable’ - and least expensive-to-educate - students so as to ultimately boost - and market - their results. The obvious risk for such schools is that they may be more focused on attracting students from particular backgrounds as ‘inputs’ than on what needs to really change in education and pedagogy to significantly improve learning outcomes for all students (i.e., a value adding model).

The educational value a school adds to student achievement should be beyond that which could be predicted given the social class backgrounds and prior attainments of students. But in those schools, which are ostensibly ‘successful’ and where more fundamental educational and pedagogical change is perhaps unneeded in the shorter-term, much value adding may obviously still occur. But these schools can produce much of what they do by way of the family backgrounds of their students rather than through developing 21st century teaching and learning practices that meet the needs of all students from all social backgrounds.

A new system of school funding should comprise criteria and a formula which ensure that the funding that is available is not only equitably distributed among schools (i.e., directed to where it is needed most so that all students are supported to overcome barriers to achievement) but also gives weighting to the whole question of value adding. This matter pivots on a fundamental question: is a school adding significant value to student achievement or is a school more dependent on attracting the most ‘desirable’ students? The related question is: how do funding arrangements constrain or enable value adding?

A value adding system of school funding

A value adding system of funding would bring to the fore the key educational imperatives and strategic priorities - such as educational excellence, equity, reducing the achievement gap and building high-quality, high-equity public education systems - that should drive all public investment in schools. This would mean that every child attends a school which meets an acceptable ‘community standard’ in terms of educational provision and which adds demonstrable value to student achievement. A value adding system would:

  • Comprise an educationally explicit rationale and comprehensive basis for school funding that includes the fundamental right of all students to have access to a 21st century personalised learning experience and a high-quality, high-equity public education system.
  • Limit the scope of public funding as a means of fuelling competition between schools that can be won more through securing students as inputs, i.e., students drawn disproportionately from advantaged backgrounds, than via value adding.
  • Develop a strategic and coherent program, including through the integration of federal and state funding, of sustained public investment around the development of personalised learning and a high-quality, high-equity public education system.
  • Phase out the primary/secondary funding differential. This disparity has been criticised for decades, but there has been far too little progress in addressing it, with serious implications for developing collaborative, P-12 clusters of primary and secondary schools.

All of these elements, if developed by way of a broad educational and funding model, would provide families with the confidence that learning outcomes can be improved for all students and that the links between social background and outcomes can be changed.

Key criteria for the public funding of education

A value adding system may mean that all educational organisations that receive public funding would be required - and would receive adequate resources and support - to:

  1. Give the highest priority to promoting educational excellence and equity. All schools as well as education systems would need to show how they are making a difference in reducing social and educational inequality.
  2. Contribute to system leadership and create complementary and collaborative services rather than wastefully competitive services. System leaders are principals and other school leaders who work for the success of other schools as well as their own. This takes shape in, for example, a P-12 cluster of primary and secondary schools or a network, and stands in stark contrast to the competitive silo view of schooling that prevents collaboration in the interests of all students.
  3. Develop good governance. A good governing body in a school is based on strong partnerships and substantial staff and parent participation in its own internal work as an effective board and supports the development throughout the school of accountability, transparency and other governance practices.
  4. Build strong school-family-community partnerships including schools as community hubs, the quality of communication between home and school, partnerships with community languages organisations, shared school-family-community goals in school plans, and school community learning compacts.
  5. Support cultural and social inclusion and community cohesion, i.e., the key principle that it is both possible and desirable for educational and societal reasons for all children and young people, regardless of their circumstances or differences, to have opportunities to learn together. Public funding must, therefore, strongly support local schools that are open to all students, and schools should be rewarded for their commitment to culturally and socially inclusive enrolment practices.
  6. Respect students’ voices, leadership and right to high standards such as how schools engage students actively and directly in decisions that affect their learning and guarantee the right of all students to curriculum breadth, depth and balance, and to high standards in all learning areas, not just some of them.
  7. Promote the ‘personalisation of learning for all students, i.e., practical efforts to reshape schools and education systems around all learners’ needs, aspirations, talents, interests and fundamental right to all-round personal development.

Importance of governance

Point three is of the utmost importance and should be a requirement for recipients of public funding. A good governing body in a school supports the development throughout the school of:

  • Accountability, i.e., performing effectively, efficiently and ethically in the best interests of all stakeholders, and in accordance with the law, regulations, probity, accountability and openness.
  • Performance, i.e., setting a school community vision, developing plans, policies and strategies focused on outcomes and adding value, and helping to build strong and productive partnerships between all of its stakeholders.
  • Transparency, i.e., providing to parents and the wider community as much information as possible as well as financial disclosure of all sources of income (fees, subsidies, business interests, private trusts, bequests, etc.).
  • Independent appraisal, i.e., ensuring that all information about school performance including about how a school adds real value to student achievement is validated by independent and frequent school reviews.

Conclusion

In seeking to respond to the challenges of improving educational performance and reducing the achievement gap, there are two different approaches to school funding:

  1. A pragmatic approach, which may tinker at the edges rather than developing anything really new that could significantly improve learning outcomes for all students and reduce the extreme variation in student achievement.
  2. A more strategic approach, i.e., the view that challenges such as tackling the achievement gap and equipping all students with the knowledge and an array of skills for lifelong learning require a more ambitious approach.

In light of the need to further build high-quality, high-equity public education systems and schools, and educational challenges such as providing increased personalisation of learning for all students, a more strategic approach is needed. This approach would ask: what kind of funding arrangement and formula would serve to equitably support all schools and prepare all students for a future of profound change and lifelong learning?

Further reading