Over the last few weeks St Luke’s Marsden Park found itself in the news more than usual. That can be partly explained by our appearance on ABC’s 7:30, a television program with a national profile. Overall, the story portrayed St Luke’s in a positive light; however, the assertions by Jennifer Buckingham from the Centre of Independent Studies that, “the approach taken at St Luke’s really is an experiment” and, “there is a great risk that this experiment will fail”, could not be left unchallenged. It prompted the various responses including:
- a 4 minute video response,
- a two page written response, and,
- a comment from Mr Greg Whitby, Executive Director, Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) who responded with Experiential learning is not experiential learning.
Jenifer Buckingham offered her comments from afar, without visiting St Luke’s and without speaking with any teacher, student or parent. I am unsure of her expertise but she certainly presented herself as an expert. If Jenifer did visit St Luke’s maybe we could find the middle ground that seemed to surface with this Twitter exchange.
Many threads appeared long after the initial tweet. One such example being,
Of course, comment about St Luke’s has not been limited to ABC’s 7:30. Before and after there have been comments and responses far and wide and across many forums, many them without much evidence. Most educators know that data and evidence are tools of the trade which need to be applied to local context. So, I offer the following:
- Apparently, we are teaching our students to see testing as a waste. Well, we do not have exams at St Luke’s. We see little use in it for students until they reach Year 11. At times, teachers use pre and post testing as one strategy to assist students see learning growth from the beginning to the end of a unit of work. Furthermore, quizzes are occasionally uses as are lists which assist students to clarify what they already know and what they need to know. Students refining their lists of “need to knows” and “knows” offers a visible measure of how students deepen their understanding about a concept or content as they learn about it.
- Apparently, we have Failing Grades. Well, we adhere to NSW Curriculum requirements of reporting to a five point scale; however, we don’t use A to E. That’s because we map each child’s growth against progressions, so, I am unaware of failing grades. There have been comparisons between our NAPLAN data with other ‘similar schools’. As a new school, St Luke’s did NAPLAN for the first time in 2017 with just 19 students (across Year 3 and 5). Those NAPLAN results are a measure of an extremely small student sample and may not provide a meaningful insight. I wonder how many of those ‘similar schools’ have grown by over 300 students for two years in a row, and, as a part of that growth, have over 40% of their students not speak English at home? Lastly, NAPLAN stands for National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy. NAPLAN is not a test, it is an assessment, a diagnostic tool which, four months after the event, provides individualised information about achievement levels with reference to strands of literacy and numeracy. The reality is that politicians and media then manipulate the data to develop leagues style tables to suit their own agendas
- Occasionally there has been reference to families leaving our community. St Luke’s commenced in 2017 with 86 students across Kindergarten to Year 6. In 2019, we have over 670 students from K-8 with an over fifty nine 3-5 year olds attending our early learning centre each day. We currently provide 120 places for Kindergarten and have a waiting list this year. It is anticipated we will have a waiting list for Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2 in 2020. In the interests of transparency, we’ve had 7 dissatisfied families leave St Luke’s with only 3 of them citing a lack of testing and a lack of grades as the reason for leaving. Suffice to say, we assess student learning on a regular basis, with a strong emphasis on regular ongoing feedback. Research reminds us that if you provide feedback with grades, students ignore the feedback. We are confident that our teaching strategies and feedback processes assist student learning growth and we see evidence of this on a weekly basis.
- We have even been accused of having a sub-standard educational philosophy. This reflection is offered by people who have not even visited the College and is not even worth addressing.
Other than attending school themselves or sending their own children to school, I am unsure of the educational qualifications and experience of self proclaimed experts. Mine? At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I have a Diploma in Teaching, Bachelor of Education, Graduate Certificate in Boys’ Education and two Masters Degrees. This complements my 30 years in education and 10 years as principal across two school settings.
Over the last 5-10 years, I have noticed an increasing number of politicians, media and people from all walks of life, who think they are entitled to offer ill-informed comment without relevant qualifications, knowledge and experience. For those of us involved in the day to day challenge of educating students for a changing world, we know that literacy and numeracy are important, and they serves as the non-negotiable foundations for further learning. In this rapidly changing world, we also know that students will need to learn to:
- manage themselves in a world of short term contractual work, not a job for life.
- relate with others in a world that growing in population with easy access to people through an online world at anytime.
- inquire and pose questions, especially in a world where artificial intelligence will challenge us to respond to deep ethical questions.
- think critically and develop ethical reasoning skills in an age of rapid technological advancement.
- work collaboratively with others in creating solutions to real world challenges.
I trust we can all come together to acknowledge and address the need to provide learning pathways for students which develop the foundations of literacy and numeracy, as well as develop the capabilities required for a changing world. Anyone unqualified and without educational experience can only be considered as detractors from afar.