Wondering about NSW Curriculum Reform

Yesterday, in response to the NSW Curriculum Review final reportNurturing Wonder and Igniting Passion – chaired by Independent Review Lead, Professor Geoff Masters AO, the NSW government issued a press release (15/1/21). In part, it was communicated that the NSW Curriculum Reform is powering on with the first stage of decluttering that will see a reduction of more than 80 courses developed by schools classified as unnecessary. It went on to say this first step will soon be followed by the roll out of the new, streamlined K-2 English and Maths syllabuses in March this year. This will be welcomed by the teachers who oversee very crowded Maths and English courses for 5-8 year old children.

But, I am still wondering about the first step…

Free Vector Image

According to our Premier Galdys Berejiklian and Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell, the action of “removing unnecessary courses” developed by high schools is “decluttering the curriculum”. Dare I say it, it is also removing choice from students and voice from schools! However, whilst this action reduces the number of courses, it does not address the crowded nature of the curriculum, most notably the amount of content knowledge and skills that some syllabuses expect teachers to cover and students to learn.

By 2022 all Year 9 and 10 elective courses developed by schools will be phased out with “Year 9 and 10 students able to select elective subjects that will be developed by the NSW Education Standards Authority and will be available state-wide.” Again, I wonder…

The reason I wonder is because electives are no longer mandated by the NSW government. 10 years ago, the (old) School Certificate ceased. In its place came a more fluid and flexible accreditation known as the Record of School Achievement (ROSA). With this, mandated requirements changed. Consequently, the requirement for students to complete electives ended. This has been the case for 10 years!

Essentially, once schools cover mandated requirements in core areas by timetabling minimum indicative hours for each course (subject), there is no need to offer any electives. So, I am wondering, why has the government started its release of curriculum reform with this focus?

A number of recommendations came from the NSW Curriculum Review final report. Most notably, one of Professor Masters’ key recommendations was to consider moving away from the time anchored nature of the current curriculum and strive for so-called untimed learning. This might mean students could move through content at their own pace, moving away from a time anchored, age related curriculum. Another key recommendation was for teaching and learning in the senior secondary school to be less focussed on examination preparation, ATAR rankings and university entrance, and more focussed on equipping every student with the knowledge, skills and attributes they will require for further learning, life and work. I look forward to these ‘bigger ticket items’ becoming a reality sooner rather than later, starting with the new, streamlined K-2 English and Maths syllabuses in March this year.

Whatever the detail, the vast majority of educators responsible for teaching and learning in the thousands of classrooms around New South wales, yearn for curriculum reform which ensures each student is Nurturing Wonder and Igniting Passion.

Greg

The HSC – what it is and what it needs to be.

On December 18, 2020 there was an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, written by former chairman of the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA), Tom Alegounarias. His piece, HSC is a glittering asset and we must protect it articulated the merits of the HSC and mounted a defence against a rising number of its critics. Later that afternoon, there was another opinion piece, HSC a brutal and irrelevant way to define ‘intelligence’ in a world opening its eyes to other values penned by journalist, author and columnist for SMH, Malcolm Knox. Both articles prompted tweets from the Executive Director of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP), Mr Greg Whitby.

So where are we with all of the robust conversation around the New South Wales HSC?

For what it is worth, I agree with Mr Alegounarias when he writes, “The HSC is a rich and varied curriculum developed carefully and conscientiously by teachers and subject experts” and has “high expectations and common rules for everyone“. Also, I agree, in part with Mr Knox who sees the HSC “as a rite of passage and an educational journey, has a lot going for it“. However, what the HSC is and what it needs to be in the future are two different things.

Mr Alegounarias points out that the HSC has “over 4000 paths”. Looking to the future I would suggest those paths need to better align with, as Knox writes, “a world that is finding many different things to value: emotional intelligence, kindness, empathy, understanding, intuition, commonsense, initiative.” There is now a need for skills, capabilities and dispositions to be assessed, along with knowledge and understanding, Using both formative and summative feedback, over time teacher feedback would highlight a student’s strengths and areas they can further develop. This approach is not mutually exclusive to the current curriculum – it can be aligned and connected – and there are many local and global school examples of where this is currently being done.

The HSC (and learning prior to Year 12) needs to assist students to better understand, for example, their ability to ‘witness’, ‘manage’, ‘relate’, ‘inquire’, ‘think’ and ‘create’. Such capabilities could be reflected in a ‘Learner Profile’ and complemented by a student’s online folio of evidence which showcases the very best of ‘who I am’, ‘what I can do’ and ‘what problems I can solve’. The profile and folio would add to the “power and prestige” of the HSC, speak to future employers and offer more insights than the ATAR or a ‘Band’.

This push for a Learner Profile is not a poor response to an “antipathy to systemised assessments”, nor is it a motivated by “impersonal exams”. Learner Profiles and online folios of evidence are not just the suggestions of education lightweights. Thought leaders such as Jan Owen and Peter Hutton as well as world renowned academics including Yong Zhao and Bill Lucas have been arguing for quite some time that education needs to move away from its exam centric ways.

Locally, there are those who inspire in this space. Liverpool Boys High School has developed learning approaches to measure, assess and report on the general capabilities. Rooty Hill High School is renowned for supporting students to develop, practise and refine capabilities across all learning areas as showcased through #MyLearningHub. From 2021, Kurri Kurri High School will introduce a graduation portfolio for Year 12 students who wish to continue with post-school study. At its core is a portfolio of work accompanied by a presentation.

Next year, the University of Melbourne commences a collaborative research venture with selected forward-thinking schools “to lead us away from the ‘grammar of schooling’ that continues to lock our schools into many of the distinctive features of the 20th Century version of education.” Known as the New Metrics Project, university academics will partner with innovative schools to develop new metrics and methods to assess, credential and measure student and school success. Why? Because, “young people must now be educated and assessed in new ways so they are prepared for a very different future.”

Whilst the HSC has been in continuous review for decades it now needs refurbishment. In doing so, we need to keep the best of what it offers and replace what needs to go with new metrics which offer a far more complete picture of each young adult’s knowledge, understanding, skills, capabilities and dispositions, and how they are applied.

As I have said, what the HSC is and what it needs to be are two very different things.

Comments, reflections and questions are welcome.

Greg.

Coaching to enhance learning

The work at St Luke’s prioritises student faith formation, wellbeing, general capabilities, literacy, numeracy, Key Learning Areas (KLAs) and an understanding how technology can accelerate and amplify such priorities. These priorities are reflected in our Professional Learning Meetings (PLMs) once a week, professional development offered by Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP), other external professional development providers, self directed learning, reflecting on data, and action research opportunities with local universities.

That being said, in 2021, there is a need to bring a more cohesive approach to our work with greater precision and alignment of the work of coaches. In fact, the priorities of the work become the priority of coaching so as to develop the capacity and capabilities of teachers to positively impact student learning. It looks like this…

Image developed by St Luke’s staff and produced by Elisa Pettenon

Our theory of action is that coaches lead learning to enable and enhance collective teacher efficacy so that students learn, grow and develop.

Professional Learning and Coaching

At St Luke’s, time is dedicated to professional learning meetings (PLMs) each Wednesday. This comprises a mix of Community PLMs (K-10), approximately 3 times per term, and School-based PLMs (K-4) and (5-10), approximately 6 times per term. In addition to this, various leaders have an allocation of ‘coaching time’, a time where they work with teachers individually, and in teams to co-plan, co-teach and co-evaluate learning in a priority area outline above. In 2021, there will be two key actions which further embed these priorities; they are, Learning Walks and Coaching Walks.

  • Learning Walks will be led by the relevant coach in the presence of the assistant principal. and are one way of monitoring the effectiveness of a school-wide learning priorities. As such, Learning Walks are as much about the work the school has been doing as they are about the work of the teacher. The learning walk fosters a conversation about learning and provides feedback about teaching that impacts on student learning and aligns with a shared vision. Participants which include senior leaders and peer coaches who provide feedback to teachers about their practice.
  • Coaching Walks and Conversations will be hosted by the principal, occur once a year, and act as ‘a check in’ with a coach in the context of their work with a teacher whom they are coaching. The Coaching Walk fosters an opportunity for the principal to hear from coaches about how they have applied the practice of coaching when working with teachers to enhance their practice and impact on student learning. Coaches will have the opportunity to articulate the clear alignment between student need, teacher need and school priorities. Coaching walks and conversations provide an opportunity to share the granular work of coaches to highlight the impact of student data as aligned with our whole school priorities.

Along with Learning Walks and Coaching Walks and Conversations, there will be other opportunities for teachers to develop their craft. They include:

  • Planned release time for Inquiry Leaders of Religious Education to assist teachers to develop their knowledge of the new RE curriculum.
  • Planned release time for the Diversity Leader and members of the Diversity Team to enhance each teacher’s ability to plan for learning adjustments, enhancing differentiation.
  • Planned release time for the General Capabilities Coordinator to enhance each teacher’s knowledge of how to plan for the teaching, assessment and tracking of the General Capabilities as expressed through our 6 Pillars of Learning.
  • The offer once a year for teachers to engage in a Peer Observation and view a colleague in another learning space/stage or school. Release will be provided when the purpose of a peer observation is validated by Coach and Assistant Principal and then supported by the Principal. For example, it might make sense for K-2/4 teachers to see a Reading Recovery or EMU session. It might be useful for a Stage 4 teacher to view the delivery of a high yield literacy strategy as delivered in Stage 3.

Conclusion

Overall, a far more planned and precise approach to professional learning and coaching will enable a closer alignment of work between teacher, coach/leader and principal to positively impact student learning. There will be many benefits including:

Overall, a far more planned and precise approach to professional learning and coaching support will enable a closer alignment of work between teacher, coach, leader and principal to positively impact student learning with many benefits including:

  • fair and equitable opportunities for teachers to access coaching support and professional development opportunities.
  • opportunities for teachers to reflect and self assess by learning the work as they do the work.
  • each teacher knowing their strengths and ‘next steps’ for further development.
  • triangulating the work of teacher, coach and senior leader and the impact on student learning.
  • an increased shared understanding of the work.
  • greater knowledge and evidence of the impact of coaching.
  • even greater relational trust between teacher, coach, senior leader and principal.

We, at St Luke’s have a plan for coaching to enhance learning, both for teacher learning and student learning. Now, we just have to refine it and then implement it!

As always, comments are welcome.

Greg.

A Wellbeing Ecosystem – the elevator pitch!

A whole school approach to wellbeing encompasses elements of promotion, prevention and early intervention. As the enrolment at St Luke’s Catholic College continues to grow towards 2000 students, so too will the complexity of student wellbeing.

With a clear understanding that St Luke’s is designing and establishing a new normal for preschool to post school learning, there is a need for a new ‘Wellbeing Ecosystem’ with roles which enable contemporary wellbeing approaches within a preschool to post school setting.

The evolving wellbeing ecosystem at St Luke’s will be developed so that it is built around a clear knowing and valuing of individual students, located within the diverse and thriving St Luke’s learning community. The aspiration is that a sense of belonging and connection is fostered with every member of the ecosystem – students, staff and families – ensuring exceptional care for each student. The wellbeing ecosystem is coherent yet evolving, and the ecosystem supports a range of daily and weekly routines, embedded ways of learning and working, and universal initiatives to meet the needs of all students at every age. This whole school approach is enhanced by specific interventions to meet the needs of selected groups of students, and one on one support where required from school staff including teachers, coaches, counsellors and allied health professionals. It looks like this…

Image by Elisa Pettenon

A cohesive, preventative and responsive wellbeing ecosystem, one which has clearly defined roles within the College learning community, some of which closely connect to allied health support, will

  • empower students to feel connected to the St Luke’s learning community as they develop the skills to be increasingly independent, empathetic and resilient.
  • adopt wellbeing approaches and initiatives which support the College’s vision to nurture faith filled curious children to become creative contributors and innovative problem solvers for a changing world. 
  • ensure relevance and rigour across the delivery of contemporary wellbeing initiatives through the analysis of data to support evidence-based practice.
  • honour the CEDP Positive Behaviour Support for Learning (PBS4L) approach to wellbeing, especially in the early years.
  • embed positive psychology approaches across K-12 including the provision of relevant and real world wellbeing content and initiatives as part of the mandated curriculum and Life Design in Years 7-12.

Such developments and increasing focus on wellbeing has me daring to articulate the following elevator pitch.

Image by Kelly Bauer

May the elevator pitch one day become a reality!

Regards

Greg

Feedback on the Capabilities for a Changing World.

Since St Luke’s commenced on 2017, we have relentlessly pursued the teaching, assessment and tracking of the capabilities required for a changing world.

The St Luke’s 6 Pillars of Learning align closely with the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities. These capabilities serve as a guide for equipping young Australians to live and work in a changing world. As such, the St Luke’s 6 Pillars reference the skills, behaviours, capabilities and dispositions required for curious children to become creative contributors and innovative problem solvers for a changing world. Learners actively participate in a changing world when they:

  • WITNESS by living the Good News as revealed through the Gospel of St Luke
  • MANAGE self
  • RELATE with others
  • INQUIRE and pose questions
  • THINK critically
  • CREATE solutions to real world problems.

In the table below, you will see “6 Pillars” of Learning and their 20 sub-elements.

Image 20-8-20 at 8.55 pmThe sub-elements are also seen as aspirational “I can” statements for students. These sub-elements are complemented by descriptive behaviours which together form a series of progressions which reflect growth over time. The pillars, sub-elements and descriptive behaviours serve as a guide for teachers to assess a student’s capabilities. They also serve as a reference point for a child’s ‘next steps’ in developing the capabilities required for a changing world.

The College recently took the opportunity to more formally provide feedback to parents about their child’s progress regarding their social skill and enterprise skill development required for a changing world. We did so by providing a graphic as sampled below for a Stage 4 (Year 7) student.

Image 20-8-20 at 9.25 pmFor the above table, please note:

  • Each letter followed by a number represents one of the 20 sub elements.
  • Not all sub-elements are assessed within a semester.
  • A number within a box represents the amount assessments. If there is no number then there was no assessment for that sub-element.
  • The  progression shaded yellow indicates the appropriate level for your child’s age and stage of learning, growth and development. Please click here to view the “Pillar Progressions”.

The College also took the opportunity to provide insights into the relationship between the St Luke’s 6 Pillars of Learning (capabilities required for a changing world) and the Key Learning Areas (subjects) for each student. Each of the 6 pillars is cross referenced against each of the subjects.

Image 20-8-20 at 9.18 pmWhen looking at the above table, the student is working extensively (well) by regularly exhibiting the actions and behaviours of the sub-elements across a number of subjects.

In conclusion, St Luke’s is only at the beginning of this ‘new normal’ and ‘emergent mainstream’ sharing and communicating of capabilities feedback for each student. At this stage, the sharing of information about each student’s capabilities has been limited to one specific time, even then, is communicated through a static PDF.

Our next challenge is to turn an improving ‘back end’ tracking tool into a more interactive and intuitive online experience for students and parents which engages them more than twice a year.

Onwards and Upwards!

Greg

Lifelong Learning = 60 Year Curriculum

Continually, we hear that as we move from an industrial world to a networked and connected world, the world of work and life will look very different for the students for whom we currently teach. So what does this world look like? Well, there is the theory that when a five year old starts school, it may just be the start of a 60 year curriculum. It means:

  • “Teenagers need to prepare for a future of multiple careers spanning six decades, plus retirement…our children and students face a future of multiple careers, not just evolving jobs.”
  • “Educators are faced with the challenge of preparing young people for unceasing reinvention to take on many roles in the workplace, as well as for careers that do not yet exist.”
  • A 2017 report commissioned by Pearson and conducted by the UK-based innovation foundation Nesta, “describes a future—a little more than a decade away—that is quite different from the present: a workplace strongly shaped by globalization, data-intensive decision making, advances in digital tools and media, and artificial intelligence.”
  • … “education’s role must be long-term capacity building—enhancing students’ interpersonal and intrapersonal skills for a lifetime of flexible adaptation and creative innovation.” The St Luke’s 6 Pillars of Learning are a starting point.
  • Education must also advance beyond preparation for work. Education must “prepare students to think deeply in an informed way, and to prepare them to be thoughtful citizens and decent human beings” Harvard Educational Review.

 

A question, “What are the organizational and societal mechanisms by which people can reskill later in their lives, when they do not have the time or resources for a full-time academic experience that results in a degree or certificate?”

a 60 year curriculum might look like... “providing a lifelong commitment to alumni that includes periodic opportunities to reskill through services offered by the institution; microcredentials, minimester classes, and credit for accomplishments in life; personalized advising and coaching as new challenges and opportunities emerge; and blended learning experiences with distributed worldwide availability.”

Our biggest challenge? “… the institutional emphasis in these models shifts to skill and competency acquisition rather than disciplinary topics and knowledge communication—the student’s goal is to develop a suite of skills and strategic attitudes to make a difference in the world, rather than just attain formal academic certifications to meet the immediate requirements of a particular occupational role.” So why just the HSC? Why just an ATAR? Why not do away with both?

The biggest barrier we face “is unlearning. We have to let go of deeply held, emotionally valued identities in service of transformational change to a different, more effective set of behaviors”… “transforming from degrees certified by seat time and standardized tests to credentials certified by proficiency on competency-based measures).”

The 60 year curriculum clearly points out that current schooling and tertiary education models are not serving future societal needs for all to be lifelong learners. This aligns with thinking provided to St Luke’s Catholic College when visiting Stephen Harris, Learlife Barcelona in January of 2020.

Image 14-6-20 at 5.10 pm (1)
Source: Stephen Harris, Learnlife.

 

Image 14-6-20 at 5.10 pm
Source: Stephen Harris, Learnlife.

Most notably, the change is clearly visualised for all to see. The shift will be from the three notable learning transitions of primary, secondary and tertiary learning (in pink), to an elevated and consistent level of learning over a 60-70-80 life span which, quite rightly, acknowledges early learning. Bravo!

Greg Miller – 14 June, 2020.

Parents support quest for ‘new normal’ learning.

Last week, I was speaking to a 13 year old student of St Luke’s Catholic College who expressed their desire for teachers to continue using Canvas (our Learning Management System for Years 5-9) for their learning. Another student quipped, “Yeah, and you don’t have to come to school to use Canvas.” Such a comment is reflective of the enlightened understanding of how learning can work differently, and possibly better, in a hyper-connected world.

Over the last few weeks, we have surveyed staff, students and parents about their recent experiences of home learning and ‘Connected Learning’. There is much we have learnt and there is much to discern. For me a few standout reflections are:

  • K-4 parents who have hugely increased their connection with their child’s learning.
  • K-4 students articulating their thinking and uploading that to Seesaw.
  • Classroom introverts who ask far more questions in an online environment.
  • Older students enjoying the trust shown in them to self pace some of their work.

Whilst the above comments do not apply to everyone, we also need to remind ourselves that schooling as we currently know it does not suit everyone. The model of schooling  still reflects an industrial model designed more than a century ago!

Over the last 3 weeks at St Luke’s Catholic College, we have conducted many and varied feedback processes with all stakeholders, students, staff and parents. A most recent survey with parents registered 436 completed responses – our largest ever response rate! From that survey:

Parents acknowledged that education needs to better adapt to a rapidly changing world.

Image 31-5-20 at 10.50 am

 

Parents clearly expressed they believe students should learn to relate with one another, inquire and pose questions, think critically and create solutions to real world problems.

Parents strongly supported the College’s commitment of facilitating multiple qualifications and not just the one qualification of the HSC. 

Image 31-5-20 at 10.49 am

Parents overwhelmingly stated they would like their children to have a deep understanding of their strengths as reflected in a learner profile with has an online folio of evidence showcasing those strengths.

Image 31-5-20 at 10.50 am

Very obviously, the above applies in an environment where the rigorous of literacy and numeracy from an early age are considered vital foundations and non-negotiable.

Most pleasing was parents confirming they will trust the College to provide learning opportunities which will prepare their children for this rapidly changing world. They, the parents, also registered their great support for the next steps of learning innovation at St Luke’s.

I am extremely appreciative that parents took the time to provide their feedback. Along with student and staff feedback, it will be a central part of decision making as we continue to design and establish the next iteration of a new normal learning.

Greg Miller

 

From School Learning to Home Learning to Connected Learning.

The current coronavirus pandemic has impacted the world like no other event for the last 75 years. It has changed the way we communicate, socialise, live, work and play, and in the case of St Luke’s, how we learn. Our immediate teaching response was to tinker with ‘School Learning’ – relocate our current timetable and reproduce it in a refined and amended way for an online environment at home.

This will not be good enough into the near future.

Why? Within a few weeks we have learnt that online learning is relentlessly intense with much time dedicated towards managing a directive curriculum. Also, in many cases, parents have had to quickly adapt their homes and routines, which are not well resourced for traditional learning, in and among their own work from home. Families have felt that added pressure, staff have experienced more challenges than ever before, and many students are feeling a little lost, confused and even disconnected through social isolation.

In the last week of term, all staff have come together to review the situation. Our first step was to connect with families of 128 students (out of 945) who had not connected with either Seesaw or Canvas, our learning management platforms. I’m proud to say through the concerted efforts of office staff, teacher assistants and our IT team, there are now 28 families who are yet to establish connection to online learning for their children. Our goal is to have 100% of our families connected by the beginning of Term 2. It’s a lofty goal, but a goal worth pursuing in the interest of equity for all.

So, what next? What happens when all students, or at least the vast majority are connected for online learning? Well, we know learning has to change. From the beginning of next term, we will make the next step to move away from our recent and necessary immediate response to develop ‘Home Learning’ to a more ‘Connected Learning’ environment. Connected Learning is underpinned by a set of principles and enabled by a weekly routine for K-4 and a weekly routine for 5-9 with permission given to the household to amend and flex the routine based on local circumstance.

Connected Learning is a result of what we recently learnt and what we need to unlearn. Connected Learning is a blend of teacher-led, parent supported and self-directed learning which wraps around the wellbeing of each student. Connected Learning reimagines elements of the traditional where we have had to gorgo the order and certainty which we’ve been so used to for so long in schools. Most notably Connected Learning:

  • Maintains routine but reduces learning time. Online work is tiring, for everyone. 300 minutes per day in front of a screen is not sustainable. We cannot simply transfer the flow of our current timetable which adheres to NESA indicative hours and system directives. It will not work. Those days are not these days.
  • Focuses on wellbeing! During this time of isolation, each person needs to give attention to themselves. All students, families, and staff are encouraged to practice wellness, self-management and adopt an optimistic sense of perseverance. 
  • Uses synchronous approaches so students can communicate what they can and can’t do.
  • Maximises the potential of Learning Management Systems and Learning Platforms to structure effective asynchronous learning for students to pace and direct their own learning.

At the moment we are seeking feedback from students (5-9) and parents. Their input will further refine ‘Connected Learning’ so that we commence Term 2 with a considered understanding of learning in this new world.

Comments and feedback are welcome,

Greg.

 

Coronavirus and the VUCA world

Never have I better understood the term ‘VUCA’ than this past week. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity were at levels I have not experienced before in my place of work. 

Throughout last week, teachers and support staff at St Luke’s Marsden Park just like every other school community, were unquestionably committed to ‘toe the party line’ and keep schools open as the daily volatility in response to the world wide coronarius pandemic unfolded. Staff constantly reminded students to wash their hands, cough into their elbow, maintain the hands off rule etc. etc. As a school we increased the scope of work for our cleaners, maintained a healthy provision of soap in student toilets and ensured our maintenance person cleaned each door handle every morning before the start of the school day. In contradiction, and for fear of self-shaming, we significantly reduced the amount of social media content because most photos showed students in breach of the 1.5 metre and 4 square metre guidelines.

In a world where coronavirus represents a worldwide health pandemic, the focus of state and federal leaders throughout last week was primarily economic. We heard most about the need to support business and provide economic stimulus to keep the country going. I support this approach because I understand that the prosperity of our country and its citizens depends on sound planning for the next 6-12 months. In the midst of all that proactive planning and implementation of an economic stimulus package, and amidst all the worldwide uncertainty, the message to schools and staff was to ‘soldier on and be stoic’. 

By the end of the week, the war cabinet approach did not sit well with a growing number of teachers and support staff. At the beginning of the week, many were concerned. By the end of the week many were worried, even anxious, yet our students and parents would never have known. As an example, we have five members of staff confronted with the heart wrenching decision to postpone their weddings. Another of our staff has a fiance who works interstate wondering about the impact of state and territory border shut downs. There are the staff who live with parents or in laws who are aged 70+, the same people who are increasingly being encouraged to self isolate, and we have other staff who have serious health issues to manage. They have great motivation to avoid contracting coronavirus. Staff in all schools have their own personal circumstances to manage whilst putting on a brave face for the students and parents of their communities.

Our parents quite rightly questioned the contradictions and ambiguity of public messaging and the reality of school settings. Some took matters into their own hands by choosing voluntary self isolation for themselves and their children. Our absentee rate went from a long term average of 5.8% to 14.9% this past week. For those schools who use Compass to track attendance, the School Absence Averages can be seen below.

 

Image 22-3-20 at 7.30 am
Source: John de la Motte – Group Chief Executive, Compass Group.

Our own Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) senior educational leaders were very strong in their messaging early last week, encouraging the government to take strong and decisive action. At one stage I was of the belief that our school community would be shut down by the end of the week. However, on Wednesday we read about the  ‘Government urging Catholic schools to remain open amid fears about coronavirus’; hence, a change in rhetoric by mid week.

What a week it was! Or, as one colleague shared,

Image 22-3-20 at 7.36 amNo doubt, there will be many more ‘weekyears’ like it in the months to come!

Over this weekend, mixed messaging continued. Bondi, in fact, all Eastern Suburbs beaches were closed, yet we are back to school on Monday. As one tweeter wrote,

“Children don’t spread the disease at school but if at home ‘roaming the streets’ they are spreading the disease. ????”

Also, Bishop Vincent Long provided the following advice, “Catholics from the Diocese of Parramatta are from 20 March 2020 dispensed from their Sunday Mass obligation until further notice (Canon 1248 §2 and Catechism 2181.)” Something I have never been told in my life as a Catholic. Not long after, Sunday Masses across Sydney were basically shut down. 

Throughout this weekend there has been constant messaging about the ‘4 square metre rule’. “Restaurants, bars, pubs and other venues are now being forced to comply with an indoor limit of one person for every four square metres.”  Our Prime Minister went on to say, “In addition to that, you should continue to practise wherever possible the 1 metre or 1.5 metre of healthy distance between each of us.” Whilst the government has excluded pharmacies, grocery stores, schools, public transport and workplaces from the current occupancy rules, the reality is that schools have parents, teachers and children who can transmit the virus just as easily as patrons can in pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants. 

As an aside, I was intrigued to hear about a school who recently enjoyed a victory in an inter school event. They decided to move their celebration event, known as a rally, from an inside venue to an outdoor venue. They implemented some but not all social distancing protocols and were therefore fined $20 000 for the experience. I have not heard news that the school shut down. As such, I am assuming they continued on with classes, which again, I assume were held in spaces that could uphold social distancing protocols.

I know the government leaders are in the unenviable position of trying to please all people all of the time. It is simply not possible for them to do so. They are in a tough place. On world comparisons, our state and federal governments compare well to most nations in the measures that they have taken and the speed of implementation. I applaud them for that. They know better than all of us, that we face a complex problem of the greatest magnitude and I suspect they know that future actions will need to be taken more swiftly to avoid the of depth, width and length of the pandemic and its impact.

With that in mind, and on behalf of the community of St Luke’s Marsden Park, possibly all school communities of all sectors, I look towards our leaders for clarity at a time when we in schools cannot implement the required health protocols and social distancing guidelines asked of the wider community. 

Knowing that school communities are part of and not separate from the wider community, I trust that the interests of staff, students and parents are a strong consideration when making decisions in the best interests of all.

Greg.

Masters of a new curriculum.

On Thursday 20 February, 2020 I participated as a panelist and attendee at the 2nd Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) schools summit. I tweeted at the end of the day…

Image 24-2-20 at 6.04 pm

There was intriguing commentary about the future of education, not the least being the presentation from Professor Geoff Masters who is overseeing the NSW Curriculum review. An interim report was shared in October 2019 with the general conclusion being that there is need for major reform.

As part of the review, Professors Masters said it was obvious “too many students are disengaged from learning” and, “performance across many forums and tests have been in decline for quite some time with one example below.”

Image 24-2-20 at 6.15 pm
Provided by Professor Geoff Masters AO at SMH Summit 20 February, 2020.

Professor Masters reflected, ”the decline in absolute terms in key indicators is almost unmatched in comparison to the rest of the world and the reform of the curriculum has the potential to arrest this decline. He also stated, “Decline in performance and increasing engagement are definitely related.”

Whilst there was reference to the usual standardised data sets, it was pleasing to hear the human side of the review. Professor Masters noted that the biggest bugbear of teachers was an overcrowded curriculum with little flexibility. He agreed by offering, 

Current syllabuses are too crowded with procedural content, ‘skating across the surface’ limiting the ability to cover more important ideas in more depth.

Professor Masters then hinted of what is to come. He started, “there is a need to get rid of the peripheral content” and, “if we design syllabuses for year levels we are going to get it wrong.” He even mentioned there might be a 30% reduction on current content.

So, what can we expect? Well, we may see the ‘time anchored’ approach to year level learning give way to a sequence of learning levels, “untied from time”, with students progressing to the next ‘level’ when they are ready.

Image 24-2-20 at 6.52 pm
Provided by Professor Geoff Masters AO at SMH Summit 20 February, 2020.

The proposed curriculum prioritises students’ understandings of core concepts and principles and their practical application with the goal for every student to learn with understanding. The existing curriculum is not designed to ensure every student is appropriately challenged in their learning. The proposed new curriculum is structured as a sequence of learning units through which every student progresses. 

Upon reflection, if there is a reduction in content allowing students to appreciate the meaning and practical relevance of what they are learning through their interests and passions, may we soon all become masters of a new curriculum.

Yours in contemporary learning,

Greg.

P.S. As you know, comments, questions and wonderings are always welcome.