Tuesday 2nd of June 2020

Community Schools


An article in the SMH caught my eye.

"Public schools with lots of Aboriginal students should be run like private schools, with parents selecting principals and being involved in decision-making, the federal Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson, has said.

A "hybrid public/private model" would give Aborigines more control over public schools in the same way that health funding was devolved to some indigenous communities.

"I don't mean people paying school fees; I mean public investment, but not centralised decision-making," he told an Aboriginal representatives meeting in Cobar.

"You need to have the power to recruit your own principals. I think the future for public education has increasingly got to be about giving parents and the school itself the power to control their own destiny."

I'm all for the community being involved in their local schools but unfortunately I'm also very suspicious of the motives of the current government in their rush for everything American flavoured. I wondered whether this is merely a back door method of bringing in US style school boards where the rabid religious right can start bringing in their weird ideas of creationism being equal or superior to evolution and refuse any school principal his job if he doesn't subscribe to the six days and a nap theory. I hope I'm just a paranoid cynic because any move to make people aware of the day to day problems of our schools would be welcome.

Parental involvement

I totally agree with Graeme’s concerns of a US style school board system, and I personally think that another level of bureaucracy like that is the last thing the school system needs. It is hard enough to have a decent curriculum taught in school with the current system, let alone giving decision making power over to an overly politicised body which probably doesn’t have the level of expertise required to make such decisions.

However I also believe that parents should play a far greater role in their children’s education. Especially if the federal government wants to get single parents back to work when their youngest goes to school, how about making 10 hours a week volunteer work as a tutor in their child’s class count. An hour at the start, and at the end of each day to just listen to the children read, and count and to do arithmetic.

I’m not going to claim this exact plan is going to practical for anyone in particular, but with the falling literacy rates and the indicators that parental involvement with their children can help all parties I think it is worth a go.

Does anyone know of any specific studies into this kind of program here or elsewhere? I know that there was peer tutoring programs in place in my primary school 10 years ago.


Nigel, I would like to ask what experience you have in order to say that it is difficult to have a decent curriculum in schools. Are you teacher? I notice you are from QLD as well. If you are a teacher you would realise that QLD curriculum has come along in leaps and bounds over the last five years and I think it is a little unfair to always assume that curriculum is in the dark ages.

For example, the new Senior English Syllabus in QLD has a strong emphasis on critical reading; ie looking for gaps and silences, positioning the reader etc. The new P-10 Junior Syllabus also has this emphasis. Additionally, the Senior Social Science subjects (Ancient and Modern History, Geography, Economics etc) have had an emphasis on critical source analysis for at least the last ten years. The latest Modern History Syllabus (which I teach) has an even greater emphasis on this skill. The great thing about the new Modern History Syllabus also has a great emphasis on contemporary events; that is it looks at today and explains how we got here. It has become highly relevant. The new Studies of Society and Environment Syllabus has a massive emphasis on moral questioning and source analysis as well. Body Image is something which has been questioned for years in all subjects. I think you would be surprised at the questions school students today are asking and the opinions they are expressing. I am unfamiliar with the curriculum from other states but I can assure you that if QLD is changing then the other states are probably doing the same.

If this is what schools are teaching, surely and steadily things should begin to change. Fingers crossed.

However, I do agree that the Federal government having greater control over state education programs is very dangerous. The issue of Federal funding and flag poles is a type of jingoistic control already patriotic schools can do without. I don't know of one school, and I've worked at many, that do not fly at least the Australian flag every day. Some schools I have been to have also flown Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags.

I however, do not see the problem with a national exam as long as the students stress load is taken into consideration. QLD has for the last ten years only done an aptitude test. QLD believes that the HSC is too restrictive on subject matter. In QLD teachers can take very different approaches to teach the same material and this has led to heightened enthusiasm among teachers; something that is very useful. If there was to be a national exam then maybe the HSC should be dropped for a more general test like the QCS and moderate the material through state-wide curriculum panels. Students can't be expected to do two tests, their stress levels are already heightened in such a life-changing year. The QCS is also less American.

The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.Robert M. Hutchins


Naomi, why are you so hard on the boy? We are all students and learning is lifelong.

School is just the start. To know if we are like Americans or not we must first know what Americans are. There was a time when Americans and their culture were alien to Australia. Now we are more like them than ever before. We even talk to them.


Len and Nigel, I'm sorry if I appeared harsh. That was not my intention though I do think we need to start giving teachers some credit. Teachers are not all like what I even remember them to be like and the majority are really working hard to help the students out. Provide them with a better future.

My apologies. I suppose I'm just defensive as I get this sort of thing constantly.

The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment. Robert M. Hutchins

Aussies are not the same as our US cousins

Len, I used to think we were very similar to Americans, two peoples only separated by a big ocean. However, since 9/11, George W Bush's presidency and interaction with Americans on the Internet, I think we are actually very different. I believe that the cause of this difference is the underlying puritanical streak that many Americans have. This appears to becoming more accentuated as the religious right gains more power in the US.

Interestingly, I find Canadians the most similar people to Aussies.

Our US Cousins

Hi Katoomba, I don't know that there is such a huge difference between Americans and Australians. Both countries are governed by right-wing political parties and the decisions of both governments are influenced by the Christian-right.

The influence in Australia of religious groups such as Family First shouldn't be underestimated and if Tony Abbott ascends to the throne instead of Costello we will have a leader who, like George W Bush, believes he is "god's warrior".

Another parellel between Australia and the US is the cynical use by both governments of the mainstream media as the propaganda arm of government. It is also true of the media of both nations that they have embraced that role enthusiastically.

No problems

No offence taken, I hate to think that I took any credit away from teachers. Just to quickly outline my position in all of this, I am a part time computer technician at several high schools and primary schools. As well I am a post-grad student at university, and I see a lot of first year students who enter mathematically oriented courses, and struggle at the basics. So certainly I certainly don't have your first hand knowledge, but I hope I'm slightly more clued in than said religious lobby groups. :)

However, my main point, which was "is it a good idea to get parents into the classroom" seems to have fallen by the wayside. I would be keen to know how to increase community interaction in schools, and still allow the teachers to be in charge of teaching.

(I hope I haven't said anything silly this time)


RE: Curriculum

I believe that the problem with these issues is that whenever you critisise the Education System teachers get defensive as teachers feel hurt by the comments etc, and that defensiveness is stopping change.

Everybody knows that there are some great teachers and their are some terrible ones, just like there are some great students and some terrible ones, just like there are some great parents and some terrible ones.

I have children in the public and high school system and they are constantly complaining about the way the curriculum is presented. It drains them. It is boring and totally inappropriate for their ability, needs, interest and personality and they say that they are not alone. They dont want to go to school, it creates nightmares for my husband and I as parents having to push them everyday. It's especially hard when their complaints are valid. My children feel that school is like being in prison and that they are doing time, they are wishing their childhood to pass quickly so that they can finish and get out. It shouldn't be like this. Schools should be making our children happy as children learn best when they are happy.

My children are tired of memorising information which they feel has no purpose. They want to learn not memorise. They are tired of reading text books, they want hands on stuff. They want to feel their way. They want to become engrossed in what they are doing and they want their to be a reason and basis for what they learn and they want it to be beneficial to them as when they are engaged and engrossed time just flies and they feel satisfied and good.

At the moment the 6 hours that they spend at school feels like a sentence. They tell me that the system isn't presented in a way for them to find interest or understand the information and apply it to things so its hard to remember all that information after the test - especially if its a subject that you find basic and irrelevant. The students that do well in the tests are the ones that are good at memorising and/or are trained to memorise information and that have been taught strategies to deal with certain questions. However, children dont go to school just to memorise and get high marks, my kids get high marks but they are still unhappy and depressed with their education.

Children are sponges, they want and need to understand and learn, they need to have a focus that engages them, interests them and that helps them broaden their exposure and knowledge base. Otherwise it's a long day and they lose interest, motivation and they get depressed. This memorising answers for tests is not fulfilling our childrens' need to learn and it is causing many of our youth to feel worthless and as though they are not valued as individuals as nobody cares what they think, how they feel or what they need.

The good teachers are suffering from the same problem as the students as they too are "required" to present the currculum and acheive outcomes that are often not outcomes that can be achiveved with 30 something kids in the class all at different levels and with different issues. Teachers, like students, need more support as teachers also get depressed and the conditions are terrible, the facilities are very poor. We need to stop pointing the finger and going on the defensive and make the changes that are necessary.

A really good start would be to ask the children what they need, what they want and how they want it. Our children are not included in their education - it is seperate from them. We need to make their education refer to them - Students should decide what level they feel would benefit them and make the choices in relation to their education.

We need to stop trying to make the child fit the school and design the school to fit the students and their needs.

making the system fit the students

Good point Jolanda. The system isn't diverse enough to suit the students but there are changes on the way.

First, the middle phase of learning (grade 6-9) emphasises multiple intelligences and student directed learning. It is based in integration of curriculum (eg. English and SOSE) and the teacher chooses any topic they like (that fits the outcomes) and can input some passion, then see where it takes them. Teachers stick with what the kids like and gloss over or skip the other bits. The aim, though, is to teach skills, not content. For example, my Grade 8 class and I are working on an excellent unit on pirates. The students are motivated and creative. Intially I though that the topic is too 'primary school' but the depth we have achieved in certain areas rivals Year 11 and 12. Next semester my clss will be working towards writing a musical/comic book/story about global warming. I'm excited and that rubs off on the kids.

The middle phase of learning is a directive from the QLD Department of Eduacation and soon all high schools in QLD will be required to have a middle schooling program.

My point is that as you say, there are great teachers and programs out there. I am sorry that your kids are finding school so drab. If it is such a concern is doing some research and changing schools an option?

And yes... there are too many students in the classrooms and therefore unable to have one-on-one interaction with teachers. This is a problem but at a State funding level. The danger is that the Federal Govt funding also comes with some scary strings attached. Now having a flag pole isn't bad at all but schools are concerned that if they give into this demand that what demand will be next..prayer in schools?

I think that teachers get defensive because they are a profession that constantly gets attacked by people who don't understand what it's like to be a teacher. Currently, there is a pay cut on the negotiation table in Canberra. And teachers need pay rises. Taking standard of living into account teachers are currently being paid around 25 percent less that they were in the 1970s. This definitely depresses teachers, not just lack of stimulation in the curriculum (which by the way is a individual teacher's choice as it is possible to find interesting ways to teach the most boring things; attitude is also a big factor).

I don't think Canberra or the State Govts know what its like to be a teacher and this is reflected in their policies. For example, they sit in their air-conditioned offices in the CBD and deny funding Brisbane to schools for air-conditioning -- a pill difficult to swallow considering the mid to high 30s in February. Their reasoning is that Brisbane is not far enough north or west (have they even stepped outside? Brisbane actually gets hotter than Townsville and Cairns during summer). This depresses students and teachers.

If we are going to stop pointing the finger and make the changes necessary maybe we need to direct our local politicians to the Dome and request they vote for education reform (and not just Higher Education).

The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment. Robert M. Hutchins