Sharing good practice: Gonski and school partnerships
The Gonski report Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools proposes a ‘set of impactful and practical reforms that build on existing improvement efforts’. It notes that many school leaders and educators are already focusing on these areas and using evidence-informed strategies. In this fortnightly series, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the Gonski recommendations and highlighting existing work happening in Australian schools illustrating what they might look like in practice.
Establishing strategic and sustainable school-community partnerships targeting identified needs can enhance student learning and wellbeing.
As the Gonski review panel comments: ‘Effective school-community engagement unlocks a world of applied learning and development opportunities for students.’
Recommendation 8: Strengthen school-community engagement to enrich student learning through the establishment of mechanisms to facilitate quality partnerships, including engagement in mentoring, volunteering and extra-curricular activities, between schools, employers, members of the community, community organisations and tertiary institutions.
What are the benefits?
The report says schools can improve student outcomes and meet individual learning needs by making use of rich learning and personal development opportunities that exist within the community. School-community partnerships can have a positive impact in other areas, such as student attendance and future participation in employment and training. They’re also a great way to introduce additional positive role models and create strong links with members of the wider school community by inviting them to share their knowledge and experience.
‘[School-community engagement] supports an adaptive education model by enabling students to learn what is happening outside the school gates; to apply the knowledge and skills acquired at school in a range of contexts outside the classroom; and to prepare students for the needs of a rapidly changing workforce by exposing them to work-related knowledge and skills that the curriculum does not cover.’
When talking about effective school-community partnerships, the Gonski review panel says this could mean: school-industry collaborations; youth mentoring programs; volunteer opportunities (for students to contribute to the community and members of the community to contribute to the work of schools); and provision of extra-curricular activities.
The report highlights research from Australia and overseas showing the benefits of school-community partnerships. In particular, students from disadvantaged backgrounds gain from such engagement programs and activities.
Feedback to the review panel on this topic from school leaders, teachers and other stakeholders was that there are several challenges in developing quality programs to meet student needs, including how to build networks and identify a suitable partner, a lack of resources, and how to make partnerships sustainable.
School-community partnerships in practice
So, what might these partnerships look like in practice?
In 2015, Teacher found out how a mentoring program involving local businesses and community organisations working with several schools in rural Victoria is benefitting ‘at risk’ students. The Standing Tall in Hamilton intervention program is based on research showing a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult can help keep students engaged in school. The program trains mentors from the local community and matches them with local students. We reported how a program evaluation showed benefits included improved student behaviour and increased engagement in the classroom. ‘ … changes happened in as little as six months, with the most positive outcomes coming after 10 months.’
Just last year, a group of students from Sydney Grammar School made national and international headlines by taking real-world learning to another level, replicating the active ingredient in price-hike drug Daraprim for a fraction of the cost. Science teacher Dr Malcolm Binns told us the extra-curricular project with University of Sydney researchers as part of the Open Source Malaria Schools and Undergraduate Program was a great way to introduce students to new skills, equipment and processes.
Over the last four years, Teacher has featured lots of stories about partnerships in education, including a successful approach developed by Rooty Hill High School, a Queensland University of Technology program supporting low SES schools, and a citizen scientist project delivering authentic learning outcomes for students at Macleod College.
The Gonski review panel’s findings and recommendations on school-community partnerships, and references to supporting research, can be found in Chapter Two (2.7 and 2.8) of the report. A copy of the full report is available to download by clicking on the link.
Australian Government Department of Education and Training (2018). Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools. Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra.