A few reflections after 10 years of primary school

Alexa's first day of school

Alexa’s first day of school

Yesterday Alexa finished Year 6, marking the end of our 10 years at the primary school since Jasmine started in 2006. Both girls received a top class education, and have grown as individuals through their time at the school. We have met some wonderful kids, parents and staff, and are leaving with many great memories. While it is quite sad in some ways, I mainly feel a sense of excitement at the start of the next stage of family life.

As I reflect on our time at the school, I am glad we decided to attend our local primary school. We considered the option of another school which has more of an academic focus but decided to go with the school which seemed to have a more holistic approach and which seemed to be more inclusive. Even though the two schools are within 2 kms of each other there is a big difference in their demographics. The My School Website lists the distribution of students based on the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) The following table (using the 2014 figures, which are the latest available) shows what percentage of the students are in each quarter of the Index. The top quarter includes the most advantaged students and the bottom quarter includes the least advantaged. Our school is closely aligned with the national average suggesting the students come from quite a range of social backgrounds. The other school had many more students from the top two quarters.

Our school
Other school Australian average
25% 58% 25%
Middle quarters 25% 24% 25%
23% 12% 25%
Bottom quarter 27% 7% 25%

I think it is healthy to have a range of students and it is one reason I support public education.

The school has an active parent body and generally a strong sense of community. While I was P&C president, for the four years both girls were at the school, I tried to promote parental involvement in the school. The following is an extract from my President’s report in 2011

We know that students with involved parents are more likely to:

  • Do well at school
  • Attend school regularly
  • Have strong social skills
  • Adapt well to school
  • Complete high school and go on to post secondary education.

This is one of the reasons that I am passionate about building a strong school community. Although school staff need to take a lead in promoting partnerships with parents, the P&C [Parents and Citizen Association] can also play an important role. When we organise events like the mothers and fathers day breakfasts, working bees, BBQs, the markets and events like that, we are helping to promote parental involvement and helping to build a strong school community.

We can also play an important role in encouraging parents to help in the classroom, learn about the school and what our children are studying, and having a say in school decision-making. I am really pleased that we are looking at communication between the school and parents because, while I think we currently do pretty well, there is certainly room for improvement.

I believe that education involves a partnership between the school, parents and community and I hope the P&C can play an important role in promoting these partnerships.

Other activities associated with the P&C are also important in the school. In particular the canteen provides great food at reasonable prices, raises funds, helps parents feel part of the school, and allows parents to get to know other people. The Uniform shop doesn’t aim to raise funds, but plays an important role in providing low-cost uniforms.

Some parents (not only those on the P&C) put a lot of energy into the school and we need to think about how we support these parents and ensure processes are in place to allow new people to take over roles.

In a previous post I listed 12 things can help parents feel welcome in a school and I remain convinced that they can help make a big difference – particularly when a school is facing a range of challenges. I think it is so important that schools treat parents as a resource rather than a challenge.

A few years ago I attended a workshop on school communication and it was suggested that schools ring parents on a regular basis. They suggested that in primary schools, if teachers rang three parents each week, each family would receive a phone call from the classroom teacher once a term. They also suggested that the principal could ring parents they don’t see on a regular basis. If they rang five parents a week they could talk to 200 families a year. The purpose of the phone calls was not to raise problems but to encourage dialogue and to hear from the parents. I’ve since taught quite a few teachers in courses on school-community partnerships and community engagement, and have heard from teachers where they do something like this and find it quite valuable.

It must be frustrating for schools that they have to keep revisiting issues as new parents come into the school. I know at our school (or our old school!) there is an ongoing issue around composite classes that are cross-year or cross-stage and it has been raised at numerous P&C meetings. I think every time it has been discussed, parents have been able to see why limits on class sizes make them inevitable. While parents may not be thrilled by them, once they understand the necessity for them, they can accept them. This is not an issue that can ever be dealt with and laid to rest because each year new families start at the school and question why there are composite classes.

It’s easy to talk about partnerships between teachers and parents but in practice they can be quite challenging to do well. Schools have to go beyond inviting parents to assemblies or helping with reading in the classroom, and parents have to be willing to let things go and to think about the wellbeing of the school as a whole rather than just the interests of their own child.

We have been fortunate to attend a school with many great teachers – most of them I would happily recommend to other parents or schools. There have been some exceptional teachers who have helped instil in our girls a love of learning. I sometimes worry that there is a drift of good teachers to good schools with less problem students. We really need our best teachers in schools and communities that are struggling. (For an inspiring example have a look at the TEDx talk by Jihad Dib about the transformation of Punchbowl Boys High.)

As we leave primary school I am grateful for the education, love and support our daughters have received; I have enjoyed being part of the school community and believe the school has a strong foundation for overcoming future challenges; and I wish them all the best in their next 150 years of public education.

If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. Making parents feel welcome in schools
  2. Jihad Dib on school transformation (TEDx talk)
  3. 6 keys to community engagement in schools
  4. Community engagement in turning around schools
  5. A World Cafe in a school – a step-by-step description
  6. Family and community engagement by schools

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
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3 Responses to A few reflections after 10 years of primary school

  1. dave2718 says:

    Terrific post Graeme. For families with 2 or mor children the period of contact with a school can be extensive. With students themselves not infrequently being at a primary school for 6 or 7 years, they may also be there longer than some of the staff.
    Our oldest girl, Heather is one of a small cohort going into year 12 at the same school where they started prep! With playgroup, etc, this is entering the 14th year at the school in a life of just 18 years! The community building that you write about is essential to these instuitutions where kids spend so much time. D.

    Liked by 1 person

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