Getting the best out of your school

 

If you have an idea about how to improve things, a desire to take an active role in the school or just want to stay informed, here are some questions and ideas to get you started.

What should I be told about the performance of my child’s school?

Many schools produce material about themselves and are prepared to answer questions and receive visitors.

Government schools in Victoria fall within the government's accountability framework, which gives schools and communities greater autonomy and accountability for performance. The new School Performance Framework incorporates rigorous planning and self-evaluation by schools, engagement of the school community and peers in evaluating performance, school review against statewide performance indicators and a new annual performance report. Queensland’s School Planning, Reviewing and Reporting Framework works in much the same way, as does New South Wales’ Framework for School Development and Accountability.

A national performance reporting framework, the National Education Agreement, covers all schools in Australia. Under this agreement, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) collects reporting information from schools for the purpose of national comparison. Schools’ data is published on the My School website, allowing parents to access information about their school’s comparative results in the National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing, as well as information about school finances and communities (demographics and enrolment numbers, for instance). ACARA also publishes the National Report on Schooling in Australia and national reports on the results of NAPLAN testing, all of which are available on the ACARA website.

Can parents influence the way a school performs?

Yes they can, in two ways. First, by observing and supporting the relationship between their child and his or her teachers. Most teachers, like most students, appreciate the ongoing interest and constructive involvement of parents, rather than sporadic contact highlighting only the negatives. Second, parents can wield some influence through the school’s committees or by getting involved in its various activities.

Generally those who get involved in activities and committees are better placed to know what is going on and whether they can have an impact. Most schools have parent associations with regular meetings, although their impact on school policy is sometimes limited. If there is no such association, you could try to start one, but it is worth noting that all parents associations must now have a ministerially approved constitution. A better bet is the school council which, in government schools at least, includes parents, principals, staff and students.

Parents generally have less scope for involvement on the boards and councils of non-government schools, since the range of responsibilities invested in these bodies is considerably greater than in the government sector. Members of independent schools' councils have weighty legal responsibilities under corporate law.

How can I find out more about the school?

Group of kids in huddle

You can find out more about the school by asking the school for a prospectus and (for government schools) the annual report, visiting the school’s website, attending an open day or visiting a booth at a ‘school expo’. Increasing numbers of schools welcome parents and prospective parents at any time, offering guided tours that allow you to see the school in action. That in itself is an encouraging sign. It is a good idea to do some research before you go so that you can ask specific questions during your visit.

Another idea is to talk to present or past students of the school. Students can be very insightful and less guarded than parents or teachers. But remember, it is not a quick and simple task to gauge a school’s suitability for your particular child, whoever you speak to. Information and judgements have to be weighed up and always considered in terms of your child’s interests, abilities and personality.

What makes a student’s schooling ‘successful’?

The classroom experience is important, but co-curricular life and immersion in school activities also emerge as key components of a fulfilling school life, especially during the crucial teenage years. At secondary school, it is important to develop citizenship, responsibility, leadership and friendships. The signs that a school has these opportunities and an active campus life may be informal, but your own observations and ‘asking around’ will usually tell you what you want to know.


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