rural and remote education

These two teachers left tenured uni jobs to return to the classroom. You’ll never believe what happened next.

Kimberley and Ange shared their back-to-school story in January this year. So, what’s it been like?  How is it working out for them?

An introduction from Ange

As Term 1 ended, a student soiled his pants in my office. When the end of Term 2 rolled around, I was laughing with colleagues about my (in)appropriate response to being told, ‘That wasn’t a fart, Miss’.

How did I respond? “Oh s**t.”

This wasn’t exactly how I had envisaged my re-entry to secondary school! However, before the school year had started, I found myself acting as Assistant Principal (AP) rather than being classroom-based as originally planned and detailed in our original AARE blog post. As someone pointed out early on in my new gig, they hoped I realised that being an AP was all about the three Ds – dickheads, dunnies and disasters. At that point, I thought they’d missed the elusive 4th D: dogs. I had spent significant time in my first few weeks coaxing two wayward dogs (whom I came to know by name) off-site. Humour aside, I hadn’t previously thought much about the AP position in a secondary school. I have been struck by the humility that being the ‘wing-woman’ has brought me, alongside a much-needed reality check of what life in my community can be like for students and their families. It is with a new-found respect that I work to pave the way for more productive learning experiences and improved school engagement for students and teachers alike. Despite this unplanned re-routing of my return-to-school journey, I am grateful for this twist in the road and all that it is teaching me. Kimberley’s return to the classroom has also revealed some unforeseen surprises, one of these being that she now wears a red whistle on her lanyard in addition to her staff ID card and knows the right ‘pattern’ to whistle to signal the end of playtime when she does her weekly Kindergarten lunch duty!

In this second blog post, we reconsider and expand upon four tensions in our return to schools, after resigning our tenured positions in teacher education.

Tension 1: Positioning ourselves as ‘Pracademics’

Ahead of the school year starting, Kimberley received a phone call from one of her new colleagues, just confirming what she’d like the students to call her. It made Kimberley pause. Was the question in relation to whether she intended to use both of her surnames – admittedly, long – or her title as ‘Dr’? Other staff in the school holding doctorates, including the previous principal, used the title ‘Dr’ so as a primary classroom teacher who had earned the qualification, she reflected … why shouldn’t she? In seeking to occupy a ‘pracademic’ role, perhaps using the title would also signal her intention to ‘operate as a bridge betwixt and between research and practice’ (Netolicky, 2020, https://theeduflaneuse.com/2020/01/09/in-education-to-whom-should-we-listen/ ) to her new colleagues and others in the wider school community. Certainly, using the title ‘Dr’ has led to many curious questions from students as well as opening up a range of conversations with colleagues and parents, including those with or undertaking doctorates themselves. But perhaps in other schools, this could have created a barrier rather than a bridge?

Tension 2: The challenge of maintaining currency in teacher education 

In the first few weeks, it was hard for Ange to not run her learning through the lens of ‘What does this mean for initial teacher education?’ She had sharp pangs of guilt upon realising that she had not been preparing her pre-service teachers for the reality of the contemporary classroom. While Ange had maintained strong partnerships with schools, her dawning realisation has been that this is not enough and not the same as being embedded in a school context. Even then, the pace of change is fast. Within this six-month period, for example, a greater awareness of consent education has emerged as an area for teacher expertise. As required through the national accreditation process (see: Program Standard 5.5 – hyperlink – https://www.aitsl.edu.au/deliver-ite-programs/standards-and-procedures), currency in schools is critical. Our experience raises questions, however, about what actually constitutes ‘currency’ and how this might be practicably achieved. 

Tension 3: Recalibrating our professional identities 

Returning to a classroom position for Kimberley has brought the anticipated joys of getting to know and connecting with the 10, 11 and 12 year old boys in her Year 6 class, to be able to create possibilities for engaging learning. But recognising opportunities to make teaching engaging and satisfying for herself as well has been vital in this process, and she’s been fortunate to be working alongside a supportive team of colleagues. How we’ve grown to see ourselves as educators over these first 6 months back in schools has been shaped not only by our own images or expressions of ourselves as teachers, but how others – our new and former colleagues, students and parents – have perceived and constructed us. As we’ve made sense of and enacted our new roles, Beijaard and Meijer’s (2017, p. 177), the notion of teacher identity as ‘a complex configuration of personal and professional factors that more or less influence each other’ has been reinforced for each of us. Kimberley’s decision to move into a generalist primary teaching role was deliberate; she wanted to again experience the daily realities of being a teacher. But her own personal and professional growth has also been fostered by opportunities to coach and mentor colleagues and lead professional learning initiatives within her school, contributing to maintaining her identity as a teacher educator.

Tension 4: Walking the ‘knowledgeable rookie’ tightrope

In the lead up to starting, Ange lost some sleep about her distinct lack of knowledge about process and procedure in schools. While she was intimately familiar with HR requirements in higher education, she had no idea about this new context. What about if she ‘broke a rule’? In working with students and their families, the stakes seemed somewhat higher. While this concern quickly paled into insignificance – it turns out process is process in most situations – there was still a sense from others that with our academic backgrounds, we would have all the answers. This was evident when a term in, Ange’s principal quizzed her on which pedagogical model she subscribed to and she froze. She doesn’t believe in one specific pedagogical model. Ange felt revealed as a fraud! It was a pivotal probing question, which caused her to consider her authentic voice and find strength in being vulnerable. 

A conclusion from Kimberley

At the start of Term 1, in conversation with my principal, he commented that I’d successfully jumped off the academic cliff, and I replied that I believed that my parachute had opened! So what are we each anticipating next? Ange and I can see many possibilities for our own continued growth as educators in our respective schools. Perhaps most importantly, we believe that we can meaningfully contribute both personally and professionally in our school communities. But the realities of being a teacher in 2021, with constant and seemingly growing pedagogical as well as administrative and compliance pressures, have made me question these relentless demands on teachers. Time is a precious commodity in schools, as researchers have highlighted. I now am experiencing first hand the extended time beyond the regular working day that is necessary for me to fulfil my role. As ‘pracademics’, a future challenge for us appears to be to continue to contribute our expertise, and conduct collaborative research from within schools to support sustainable models for change.

Dr. Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn (University of Technology Sydney and Newington College) started her career as a primary teacher, and after time working as a casual academic and research assistant, took up a tenured academic position at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in 2004. She completed her PhD in 2010. Highlights in Kimberley’s time at UTS have included opportunities to collaborate in leading externally funded research evaluations of science education initiatives, as well as accompanying preservice teachers on international professional experiences to Samoa and Bhutan. This year, she joined the staff at Wyvern House, Newington College as a Year 6 classroom teacher. Kimberley wears glasses in the photo.

Dr Ange Fitzgerald (University of Southern Queensland and Mirboo North Secondary College) is recognised for her experience and expertise in science education, particularly through her explorations of quality learning and teaching practices in primary science education from a number of angles. While she entered higher education as a teacher educator and PhD student in 2007, she has previously spent time away from higher education as an Australian Government-sponsored volunteer in the Middle East. In 2021, Ange was meant to return to the classroom as a mathematics and digital technologies teacher but that’s not quite how it worked out. Ange is not wearing glasses in the photo.

Giving up tenure: “I won’t pretend that I’m not a bit scared about this decision.”

By Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn and Ange Fitzgerald

An introduction from Kimberley

It is widely acknowledged that these are turbulent times in the Australian tertiary sector. Many universities are facing significant budget deficits in 2020 and into the near future largely as a result of international students being unable to return during the COVID-19 pandemic. For academics, there is considerable uncertainty as degrees are put on ‘pause’ or discontinued, as workload models are reviewed, as programs are restructured and staff consider a future in a much leaner working environment. In late November, I found myself discussing my own decision to apply for one of the voluntary redundancies that my university was offering as a few colleagues met for drinks after work. As we talked, one of them turned to me as an aside and asked, ‘So, for you, was it the push or the pull?’ 

For some time, as a teacher educator, I’d personally been feeling the pull of returning to a primary school teaching role. I was feeling increasingly distant from the professional everyday realities of my graduating students. An extended time of working from home during 2020 had really brought into focus how the energy of being physically in the same room as my students was vital to my own sense of satisfaction in my teaching. With my youngest child finishing primary school, my connection to K-6 education as a parent also was ending. I’d sat at the Year 6 parent information session at the start of 2020 feeling somewhat envious of his teachers, imagining the many creative possibilities, challenges and opportunities for collaboration. I was envisaging myself with my own class. The pull of primary classroom teaching again was really strong for me, and after 20 years of working in a university, the time seemed ripe – it was now or never. 

It turned out that I was not alone in feeling the pull. My colleague, Associate Professor Angela Fitzgerald, had reached a similar conclusion. For her, a changing context signalled an opportunity to step away from an academic leadership role in the tertiary sector to return to a rural secondary school as a lead teacher. In this blog post, we share four tensions that we are experiencing as we ready ourselves to return to classroom as teachers, not for a semester’s sabbatical but as a result of resigning from tenured positions.

Tension 1: The departure card test

What do you write as your ‘usual occupation’ on your departure card when you are leaving Australia for international travel? We can conclude from a quick straw poll that many Education academics write ‘teacher’. As teacher educators, we continue to see ourselves primarily as teachers, even when others may not position us as such. A strong identity as a teacher is maintained despite the many other aspects of academic work, including research, service and leadership. As we (re)engage in school-based teaching roles, a tension exists in how we may enact the model of a ‘pracademic’ as we straddle the spaces occupied by schools and universities. As such, we see ourselves occupying hybrid spaces. We both will hold honorary positions in our current universities to enable ongoing affiliation, collaborative research and publications. It remains unknown how this will position us or how others will see us as we attempt to bridge or dwell in the boundaries.

Tension 2: The challenge of maintaining currency in teacher education 

As identified in the 2014 TEMAG issues paper, many teacher educators have spent extended periods of time in the university sector which presents a challenge to maintaining professional currency. One science teacher education colleague’s approach has been to teach science once a week in a kindergarten classroom, over many years. We are aware of a number of teacher education academics who have dipped in and out of classroom teaching roles for semester- or year-long sabbaticals, such as Tom Russell, Jeff Northfield, Dick Gunstone  and Jason Ritter. A point of difference here is that we have both taken up ongoing positions in schools requiring us to resign tenured positions, which is a move that makes our situations somewhat more permanent and undefined.

Tension 3: Are you crazy to give up tenure?! 

The tension for us here lies in what others expect as the ‘next steps’ in our academic careers and speaks to what we consider as a decision of the heart. Our respective decisions to leave continuing academic positions usually have been met with positive and polite reactions, which often include sentiments such as ‘brave’, ‘courageous’,  and ‘How lucky is the school?’ At the same time, there has also been a sense of suspicion from others, either implicit – ‘Why are you doing this?’ – or more explicit – ‘I’m sure you’ll be back after a few years.’ In some cases, sharing our decision has opened up conversations with teacher education colleagues who are likewise deliberating on a return to school-based roles or different educational opportunities that speak to their own decisions of the heart. We also have been anticipating possible reactions from our new teaching colleagues when we arrive at our schools. 

Tension 4: Being a ‘knowledgeable rookie’ 

After extended time and varied experiences in teacher education, we feel as though there’s so much we know, but then there’s so much we don’t know. With significant changes in school education since we last held class teaching positions, in many ways we will encounter similar issues to novice teachers; the very novice teachers whom we’ve been preparing for the classroom! So while we do know what to expect, how it will play out for each of us is not yet known.

A conclusion from Ange 

I won’t pretend that I’m not a bit scared about this decision. I am. I have no idea what this experience has in store for me, but that is part of the ‘pull’ in making this call and embarking on a new educational journey. If something scares me, then I have to do it! The ‘push’, for me, would be realising that I am no longer being equipped with the skills and knowledge to deal with the realities of the classroom. But what sort of teacher educator would that make me if that were the case? 

I was sharing with Joseph, my husband, the fear I was experiencing around this push and pull. He looked at me quizzically and reminded me of where I was 12 months earlier. I was delivering a closing keynote address to 3000 teachers outside of Mexico City in a huge convention centre with a front row of dignatires and high-profiled education bureaucratics. He reminded me that many people would be scared of that scenario when I only felt that initial kick of few butterflies. He reassured that I’d probably be ok with a room full of 15-year-olds! 

While it might all be relative, we both have a lot to give our respective schools, but we also have a lot to learn. The relationship is mutual and reciprocal. We look forward to leaning into these four tensions and teasing them out as we engage whole-heartedly in our lived experiences as classroom teachers. While we will be in the moment and tackling all that classroom life throws our way, we plan to capture our learnings, reflect on them collaboratively and share them with you. This is our way of making sense of our reality in transitioning from tenured teacher educator to ongoing teacher, a little explored area in the research body of knowledge.

Dr. Kimberley Pressick-Kilborn (University of Technology Sydney and Newington College) started her career as a primary teacher, and after time working as a casual academic and research assistant, took up a tenured academic position at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in 2004. Kimberley’s PhD was awarded in 2010, engaging her in a case study of how a Year 5 class and teacher negotiated and co-created opportunities for students’ interest in science to develop. Highlights in Kimberley’s time at UTS have included opportunities to collaborate in leading externally funded research evaluations of science education initiatives, as well as accompanying preservice teachers on international professional experiences to Samoa and Bhutan. In 2021, she will be joining the staff at Wyvern House, Newington College as a Year 6 classroom teacher.

Dr Ange Fitzgerald (University of Southern Queensland and Mirboo North Secondary College) is recognised for her experience and expertise in science education, particularly through her explorations of quality learning and teaching practices in primary science education from a number of angles. While she entered higher education as a teacher educator and PhD student in 2007, she has previously spent time away from higher education as an Australian Government-sponsored volunteer in the Middle East. In 2021, Ange will reacquaint herself with the classroom as a mathematics and digital technologies teacher. She will also be responsible for a whole-school approach to the development and implementation of programs informing staff professional learning and student transitions.

New evidence: Stark inequity of online access for rural and remote students

It’s long been known that those in regional and remote areas of Australia do not have access to the same quality of internet as their metropolitan counterparts. Now we have more evidence about how regional and remote students are disadvantaged by this low-quality access. We should mention here that Australia’s average internet download speed is 43.4 mbps, ranking Australia 62nd in the world for connectivity. So generally, Australia lags way behind in internet download speeds compared to other parts of the world.

During the COVID-19 lockdown we asked university students in eight regional NSW towns – Cooma, Goulburn, Broken Hill, Narrabri, Moree, Grafton, Griffith and Leeton – to run an internet speed test and share the results with us. The regional internet speeds reported by our students were a long way behind the rest of the the country.

The students in our study were all registered with a Country Universities Centre within the eight towns. These centres are part of the network of Regional University Centres. The students were mostly enrolled in a fully online, distance mode within a range of universities, while some  had recently returned from on-campus study to their home towns, to study remotely during the COVID-19 restrictions. Due to these same restrictions, none had been able to physically visit one of these centres during the COVID-19 lockdowns for some weeks prior to our survey. We asked them what their home internet download speeds were, whether this was sufficient for them to do their university work and how it was affecting their study.

A total of 55 students responded over one week. Almost two-thirds disagreed or strongly disagreed that their internet was sufficient for their studies. Among those who strongly disagreed, the median download speed was 4.5 mbps, with some experiencing speeds of less than 1 mbps. Multiple problems were reported in accessing or downloading materials, including being unable to watch lectures and having assessment tasks interrupted. Understandably, many expressed anger, stress and frustration, with some being unable to access the internet from home at all.

 “It takes an eternity to download lectures and streaming them requires extensive buffering. Uploading any files for group work or assignments is extremely slow and frustrating when deadlines are looming. The fluctuating connection which completely drops at times makes live tutorials or meetings pointless.” (Internet download speed: 6.4 mbps Broken Hill)

 “I am currently unable to properly access my zoom calls and online lectures because of how unreliable my internet service is. It often cuts out or is incredibly delayed. (Internet download speed: 1.6 mbps Goulburn)

The median download speed test was slightly higher amongst those who disagreed (rather than ‘strongly disagreed’) that their internet was sufficient, at 10.6 mbps, although many experienced lower speeds than this. These students talked about interruptions, disrupted focus, reduced productivity, and being unable to study at certain times.

 “It’s challenging and frustrating to be productive when everything takes so much more time.” (Internet download speed: 5.2 mbps Broken Hill)

“If it is really slow you easily lose focus and you get easily frustrated. This can turn you right off studying in these conditions.” (Internet download speed 9.5 mbps Goulburn)

Only those with a download speed above 16 mbps agreed that their internet was sufficient. Even among this cohort, difficulty with video calls and slow internet at certain times of the day or evening were reported. Across the whole cohort, cost of internet was a recurring theme.

I also do not have access to NBN or broadband where I reside and having to complete my whole degree at home has become quite costly with all the excess data charges (for incredibly bad service)”

Students studying online are two and half times more likely than those on-campus to withdraw from university without a qualification.  Certainly, this survey revealed that internet problems can make it nearly impossible for a student to continue with their online course, much less perform at their best.

Access to reliable internet has been identified as a key equity issue for education in Australia, with previous research identifying that poor local residential internet connectivity is a significant barrier to regional university study.

The sudden and exponential increase in online delivery during COVID-19 restrictions has led to a heightened focus on the quality of online deliveryTechnology advances coupled with universities aiming to deliver a more engaging online experience means that online course content increasingly contains interactive and engaging content, such as video, live streaming,  collaborative tools and other interactive multimedia.  However, students with poor internet speeds will struggle with accessing, let alone participating in this more engaging and interactive remote learning environment.   Unless home internet connectivity is adequate and affordable, those in regional/remote areas and/or from low SES backgrounds are likely to be excluded from these technological and pedagogical advances in online learning.

The lifeline of Regional University Centres

Prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, many students in regional/remote areas were relying on Regional University Centres which offer high-speed internet connection (100 mbps up/down) to any student studying at any Australian University. These centres have been a lifeline for many online students in country areas, with some students willing to travel up to 150km to access a centre.

Country University Centre Clarence Valley
(Image by Monica Davis)

Offered free to students, the centres are supported financially by Commonwealth, State and local Governments, as well as community and university partners, and provide face-to-face support for regional online students, not only with fast internet but also with academic and social support.  Most of these centres have now reopened or are planning to reopen under socially distancing guidelines, however some students may face other COVID-19 related reasons they cannot attend their centres.

The COVID-19 restrictions have further exposed the inequitable access to adequate internet across Australian society, affecting those who are already among the most educationally disadvantaged. This is a problem that urgently needs attention if the past and current lower participation rates in higher education across regional and remote Australia are to be seriously addressed.

Cathy Stone, DSW (Research), is a Conjoint Associate Professor in Social Work at the University of Newcastle. Cathy  is an Adjunct Fellow with the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, where she undertook research into improving outcomes in online learning as an inaugural 2016 Equity Fellow. Cathy is currently an Independent Consultant and Researcher on the support, engagement and success of diverse student cohorts in higher education. She can be contacted for any questions or further discussion at cathy.stone@newcastle.edu.au Cathy is on Twitter @copacathy

Monica Davis is the Director of Educational Delivery for the County Universities Centre. In this role she focuses on student support and collaborations with Australian universities to make higher education more accessible to regional, rural and remote students. Monica completed her Bachelor of Science with Hons I from the University of Newcastle, and a Masters in Geostatistics from the University of Adelaide. Monica believes that the future of an aspiring student should not be predetermined by where he or she lives. She can be contacted for any questions or further discussion at monica.davis@cuc.edu.au The Country Universities Centre is on Twitter @countryuc

Evidence on what doesn’t work for very remote schools (attendance strategies) and what does

The Australian school information website My School was launched in January 2010. In the initial press release of the website, the Chair of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, which runs the site, stated

We expect the data will benefit parents, schools, governments and the wider community to better understand school performance.

Now, with more than 10 years of data what can we say about school performance? In this blog post I want to share some of the understandings that emerge from my analysis of My School data about remote First Nations education. These understandings would have been very difficult to make without the information provided on the site.

The value of My School to researchers like me

My School has been criticised for its inability to improve performance, its inability to show the quality of teaching, and the use of NAPLAN scores as a vehicle for comparing schools. These are all valid criticisms, but as a researcher I look at My School differently. My School provides detailed information about almost every school in Australia. There is data on enrolments, teachers and school staff, school finances, attendance, NAPLAN performance, socio-educational advantage, school type, remoteness, year ranges, First Nations enrolments, gender, year 12 completion, and students speaking languages other than English.

Early on in the life of My School my colleagues and I, working in the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation’s Remote Education Systems project, developed a simple database for capturing information about the approximately 290 very remote Australian schools. Every year I have added the latest data about very remote schools. I now have 11 years of data. The analysis of this data has yielded some astonishing findings, some of which I will briefly outline.

Here are five of my findings that may be of interest to you.

1. Disadvantage does not affect attendance rates for First Nations students

Using ICSEA data we have been able to show that within the group of very remote schools, the level of socio educational advantage makes almost no difference to attendance. Figure 1 maps school attendance rates against ICSEA scores for very remote schools with greater than 80 per cent First Nations students for the period 2008 to 2018. The R2 value of 0.0196 indicates an insignificant association between the two variables. The commonly held views about disadvantage is that as disadvantage increases, attendance rates should go down. But in this analysis this assumption does not hold true.

Figure 1. ICSEA score vs school attendance rate for Very Remote schools with >80% First Nations students (2008-2018)

ICSEA score vs school attendance rate for Very Remote schools

2. Attendance makes very little difference to NAPLAN outcomes

As with disadvantage, the commonly held assumption is that low attendance causes ‘poor’ outcomes. Figure 2, based on My School data, shows that this logic is questionable. The R2 value of .1083 suggests that attendance explains about 10 per cent of the difference in NAPLAN scores (in this case Year 3 Numeracy).

Figure 2. NAPLAN score (Year 3 Numeracy) vs school attendance rate for Very Remote schools with >80% First Nations students (2008-2018)

NAPLAN score (Year 3 Numeracy) vs school attendance rate for Very Remote schools

3. Attendance strategies don’t work

Attendance strategies are intended to improve school attendance. Two federally funded programs, the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure (SEAM), and the Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS), have targeted schools with low attendance rates. SEAM, which begin in 2009, was abandoned at the end of 2017. Then Indigenous Affairs minister Scullion labelled it as a ‘badly designed and woefully implemented program’. According to the Minister, it was ‘ineffective in getting kids to school’.

My School data (Table 1, below) confirms this assessment, with attendance rates for SEAM schools down 9.2 per cent since the program began. My School shows us that the downward trend was evident by 2012. RSAS is also designed to improve attendance. However since it began in 2014, attendance rates in RSAS schools have dropped 6.0 per cent. Meanwhile schools without SEAM or RSAS have also reported a decline in attendance rates, down 3.7 per cent in the same period. RSAS continues to be funded, but like SEAM it appears to be ineffective.

It is worth asking why there is even a need for an attendance strategy when as we saw earlier, attendance makes so little difference to academic performance.

Table 1. Attendance rates for Very Remote schools with >80% First Nations students

4. Three things that DO make a positive difference

If attendance and disadvantage don’t make a difference what then does? My School gives us some important evidence. Figure 3 (below) summarises nine years of data, where school finances are reported. While we should be careful about not attributing causality, what we can say is that schools that have higher levels of funding per student, and schools with lower staff to student ratios, have higher attendance rates.

Interestingly, the biggest effect on attendance is not the teacher student ratio, but the non-teacher student ratio. In very remote schools with mostly First Nations students non-teaching staff are mostly local staff. They could be classroom assistants, administration workers, grounds staff or bus drivers—regardless, it seems they make a difference.

Figure 3. Relationship between attendance rate, student to staff ratios and recurrent income per student, Very Remote Schools with >80% First Nations students, 2009-2017

Relationship between attendance rate, student to staff ratios and recurrent income per student

5. The failure of programmatic solutions

The One criticism of using My School for research purposes is that it does not tell us about individual students. However, when programs like RSAS are designed to lift school attendance, then it is reasonable to use school level data. One program that was designed to improve literacy in remote schools was the Literacy for Remote Primary School Program (LFRPSP) which was introduced as a trial in 2014 employing Direct Instruction (DI) and Explicit Direct Instruction methods. The trial received $30 million of public funding including extensions in 2017 and 2018 following an evaluation.

Did it work? My School tells us that it did not, and that based on the findings to 2017, an extension of the trial was not warranted. NAPLAN scores in DI schools fell by an average of 23 points while non-intervention school scores increased by 4 points.

Figure 4. Year 3 reading scores for Very Remote Direct Instruction (LFRPSP) and non-intervention schools, pre-intervention compared with post-intervention period

Summing Up

Are we any the wiser from 10 years of My School? From a research perspective the answer is an emphatic yes.

In Very Remote schools with First Nations students, My School has given us evidence we need to show what does and doesn’t make a difference to issues considered important for policy makers and advisers. What My School has shown us is that a focus on attendance in remote schools is ineffectual. It also tells us that deficit discourses of disadvantage are fundamentally flawed and what we are currently measuring as ‘advantage’ fails to explain the dynamics of success and achievement in remote schools. It also allows us to draw our own evidence based conclusions on whether programs are working or not.

My School data tells us that financial investment in remote schools works, particularly where it is directed at teachers and local support staff, and apart from any other benefits, that investment is reflected in higher levels of engagement and better academic performance.

With all the evidence, is anyone taking any notice?

The answer to this question is a qualified yes. There is increasing recognition that the deficit discourses of remote education are inappropriate and don’t reflect the lived reality of those who live there. It is also clear that stakeholders in remote education use this data and analysis for their own purposes. From personal experience I know that policy advisors in government departments seek out our analysis and are very interested in what it says. But how that translates into policy is unclear.

Beyond the evidence, government policy and programs are inherently political. Nevertheless, the value of My School as a data source is that it allows researchers (and the general public) to test the claims of governments and schools using their own data.

Image is by John Guenther taken at Muludja Remote Community School

John Guenther is currently the Research Leader—Education and Training for Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, based in Darwin. His work focuses on learning contexts, theory and practice and policies as they connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Between 2011 and 2016 he led the Remote Education Systems project with the CRC for Remote Economic Participation. More detail about John’s work is available at remote education systems.

John will be presenting on 10 Years of My School. Are we any the wiser? Implications for remote First Nations education at the AARE 2019 Conference. #AARE2019

He will also be presenting on Supporting teachers with Professional Learning for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cross-curriculum priority: A case study of two schools at the AARE 2019 Conference. #AARE2019

And, with Andrew Lloyd, John will be presenting on Interschool Partnerships: A study into effective partnership practices between an interstate boarding school community and a very remote Aboriginal Community at the AARE 2019 Conference. #AARE2019

Hundreds of educational researchers are reporting on their latest educational research at the AARE 2019 Conference 2nd Dec to 5Th Dec. #AARE2019 Check out the full program here