There is clearly an increasing emphasis on community engagement in NSW public schools. In December 2008, State, Territory and Commonwealth Ministers of Education signed the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. In the Declaration they recognised that:
Parents, carers and families are the first and most important influence in a child’s life, instilling the attitudes and values that will support young people to participate in schooling and contribute to broader local and global communities (p.10).
They also made the following commitment to action.
Australian governments commit to working with all school sectors to ensure that schools engage young Australians, parents, carers, families, other education and training providers, business and the broader community to support students’ progress through schooling, and to provide them with rich learning, personal development and citizenship opportunities (p. 10).
The 2009 four year plan that was developed to support the declaration included supporting partnerships that:
Utilise parental and student engagement strategies, in line with the national Family-School Partnerships Framework, to help school communities build effective partnerships with families to support student learning, resilience and wellbeing including prior to children starting school.
Foster greater engagement of students, parents, carers and families in the school-based decision-making process, where appropriate (p. 5).
The impact of these statements can be seen in the Australian National Professional Standards for Teachers (endorsed by the NSW Minister for Education in 2012) and Local Schools Local Decision.
The Australian National Professional Standards for Teachers
The National Standards states:
Teachers value opportunities to engage with their school communities within and beyond the classroom to enrich the educational context for students. They understand the links between school, home and community in the social and intellectual development of their students (p. 5).
The Standards identify four career stages: Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead. At the graduate stage teachers:
Understand the importance of working ethically, collaborating with colleagues, external professional and community representatives, and contributing to the life of the school. Teachers understand strategies for working effectively, sensitively and confidentially with parents/ carers and recognise their role in their children’s education (p. 6).
At the Proficient stage teachers:
Communicate effectively with their students, colleagues, parents/ carers and community members. They behave professionally and ethically in all forums (p. 7).
At the Highly Accomplished stage:
[Teachers] interpersonal and presentation skills are highly developed. They communicate effectively and respectfully with students, colleagues, parents/carers and community members (p. 7).
At the Lead stage teachers:
Represent the school and the teaching profession in the community. They are professional, ethical and respected individuals inside and outside the school (p. 7).
Standard 7, “Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community” (p. 19), expands on what this means for teachers. The last two of the focus areas of the standard are particularly relevant to community engagement and school and community partnerships:
- Engage with the parents/ carers – A graduate teacher should be able to “understand strategies for working effectively, sensitively and confidentially with parents/carers” while a lead teacher should be able to “identify, initiate and build on opportunities that engage parents/carers in both the progress of their children’s learning and in the educational priorities of the school” (p. 19).
- Engage with professional teaching networks and broader communities – A graduate teacher should be able to “understand the role of external professionals and community representatives in broadening teachers’ professional knowledge and practice” while a lead teacher should be able to “take a leadership role in professional and community networks and support the involvement of colleagues in external learning opportunities” (p. 19).
Two other standards include a focus on parents:
- Standard 3 (Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning) includes “Engage parents/ carers in the educative process” – A graduate teacher should be able to “describe a broad range of strategies for involving parents/ carers in the educative process” while a lead teacher should be able to “initiate contextually relevant processes to establish programs that involve parents/carers in the education of their children and broader school priorities and activities” (p. 13).
- Standard 5 (Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning) includes “Report on student achievement” – A graduate teacher should be able to “demonstrate understanding of a range of strategies for reporting to students and parents/carers and the purpose of keeping accurate and reliable records of student achievement” while a lead teacher should be able to “evaluate and revise reporting and accountability mechanisms in the school to meet the needs of students, parents/carers and colleagues” (p. 16).
Lead teachers are also expected to engage parents and the community more in a number of other areas:
- When working with students with diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds they should be able to “evaluate and revise school learning and teaching programs, using expert and community knowledge and experience” (p. 8).
- When developing strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students they should be able to “develop teaching programs that support equitable and ongoing participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by engaging in collaborative relationships with community” (p. 9).
- In evaluating and improving teaching programs they should use “multiple sources of evidence including feedback from parents/ carers, students and colleagues” (p. 13).
Interestingly the definition of collaboration – “working with one or more colleagues to achieve a common goal” – does not include parents; colleagues is defined as “other professionals and paraprofessionals (inside and outside the school) including but not limited to, teachers, principals, specialist teachers, pre-service teachers, industry partners, education assistants, teachers’ aides” (p. 20).
Local Schools Local Decisions
Local Schools Local Decisions, a NSW education reform, gives NSW public schools more authority to make local decisions about how best to meet the needs of their students also emphasises the importance of community engagement. The expectation is that “the school, its teachers and the local community will work in partnership to make a positive contribution to student learning” and that “the parent community will have opportunities to actively contribute to the development of a school’s strategic direction and priorities in the way that makes the most sense for them” (from Working Locally, Local Schools Local Decisions).
While final decisions are made by the Principal, the expectation is that there will be “consultative decision making” where families and communities will have “multiple ways to contribute to whole school processes and that all contributions are valued” (Consultative decision making in schools, Local Schools, Local Decisions). A number of examples are given for how consultation might be undertaken including:
- P&C meetings
- Community meetings
- Local Aboriginal Educational Consultative Group (AECG) meetings
- Advisory/Consultative groups
- School Council meetings
- Focus groups
- Discussion groups
- Working parties
- School committees (e.g. finance, school plan, curriculum)
- Discussion papers
- Written submissions
The Department of Education and Training did not include engagement in its 2010 organisational chart, but in the 2013 organisational chart (for what is now called the Department of Education and Communities) there are now four directors with engagement in their titles:
- Executive Director, Learning & Engagement
- Director, Aboriginal Education & Community Engagement
- Director, Student Engagement & Interagency Partnerships
- Director, Communication and Engagement.
It will be interesting to see how this commitment to engagement will be seen in practice at local schools. Hopefully there will be a greater commitment to working in partnership with families.
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