Indigenous Education Strategy Newsletter - Issue 3

Welcome to the third issue of the newsletter.

We endeavour to provide regular updates on the Indigenous Education Review Implementation initiatives and I would like to thank Project Managers across the department for their contributions to this newsletter.

On Monday 21 September 2015, the Hon. Peter Chandler, Minister for Education and Ken Davies, Chief Executive, Department of Education visited Borroloola School to observe, first hand, the implementation of the Direct Instruction program. The visit included journalists who were able to see the effect of the initiative in improving student outcomes and enabled this information to be accessible to the broader community.

We are finalising the recruitment of positions in the Transition Support Unit (TSU). We anticipate that members of the TSU will start visiting remote and very remote communities as from Term 4, 2015. 

The tender for the construction phase of the Nhulunbuy residential facility will be advertised on 30 September 2015 and marks a significant milestone for all those involved in the design and consultations since the inception of this project.

The new facility will provide an additional choice for secondary schooling for students living in remote and very remote regions. We look forward to continuing to work with the Nhulunbuy community to build a fantastic facility.

We will continue to carefully monitor project implementation to ensure the outcomes for students are beneficial through the benchmark testing being put in place and I will provide further information in future editions of this newsletter.

Tony Considine
General Manager

Borroloola School welcomes Minister

Borroloola School, located in a very remote part of the Barkly region on the McArthur River, between the Barkly Tablelands and the Gulf of Carpentaria, received a visit from the Minister for Education the Hon Peter Chandler MLA, Chief Executive Ken Davies, senior department executives and local journalists this week. 

The visit was to observe students participating in the Flexible Literacy for Remote Primary School Program and to talk directly to the principal and teachers who are implementing the program.

The Australian Government’s program, with support from Good to Great Schools Australia, has been running in 15 remote government Territory schools since start of the 2015 school year.
The program uses Direct Instruction focusing on literacy. Direct Instruction is a mandated program with carefully planned lessons designed around small learning increments and clearly defined and prescribed teaching tasks.

It is designed to fast track students’ literacy learning. It is based on the theory that clear instruction and eliminating misinterpretations, can greatly improve and accelerate learning.

It also offers curriculum continuity and stability in remote schools where it is acknowledged that there is a significant impact on engagement and achievement because of staff turnover, student mobility and attendance.  If staff change or students are absent for a period, the structures of the program enables continuity.

At the start of the year, all Year 1 to 10 students across the Territory had Progressive Achievement Testing in Reading Comprehension and Maths (PATR & PATM) baseline testing. This gives a baseline from which the impact of programs, such as the Flexible Literacy for Remote Schools Program, can be measured. The second round of testing will occur in October 2015. Although it will be some time before the results from the formal testing will be available, feedback from the principals and teachers in the fifteen schools running the program indicate consistent, positive improvements in student learning.  

They have observed:

  • students using English more frequently when speaking
  • students conversing to one another in English and in full sentences; in some schools this was not evident prior to the introduction of Direct Instruction
  • increased attention span of students
  • increased ability of students to stay on task in the classroom
  • students returned from the 4 week holiday period and resumed lessons with no or very little loss of learning and continued with their lessons immediately
  • in some schools every single child is able to sound out unknown words
  • students know the instruction methodology and now prompt new or relief staff to support them with their delivery

Max Agnew, Principal of Boroloola school commented, “Visiting classrooms is truly an uplifting experience as I observe teachers, tutors and students fully engaged in quality learning that results in students being able to decode text and understand its meaning."
Max continued, “I am encouraged that the students at Borroloola are participating in a structured programme that will enable them to achieve levels of literacy that will open the door to their future learning."

Transition Support Unit – Who’s Who

Recruitment for positions in the Transition Support Unit will be finalised in the coming weeks with all positions operational by 5th October, 2015.

Over coming weeks we will feature the positions in the unit, the roles they play and how they will work with schools and other business units, starting with Student and Family Support Officers.

Student and Family Support Officers

Ten Student and Family Support Officers will be located across the Territory.  Five based in the Top End, two in Alice Springs and one each in Nhulunbuy, Katherine and Tennant Creek.

Bruce Wilson’s review indicated the need to establish strong transition arrangements to support students residential facilities, and to maintain close links with families.

Each Student and Family Support Officer will also provide high level support and case management to students in remote communities who want to, or who already have transitioned to a boarding school either in the Territory or interstate.

The Student and Family Support Officers will provide ongoing support and advocacy to the students and families whist the students are away from home learning.  They will be a case manager for students who are at boarding schools; ensuring regular engagement with the families of students and act as the ‘go to’ person for boarding staff, agencies and services.

Most importantly they will work with students and families to help maintain a student’s connection with kin and country.

The Director of the Transition Support Unit, Rob Picton said “Student and Family Support Officers provide the all-important link between families and where students are living and attending school.

This is vital to ensure students transitioning to residential facilities are successful and that they and their families are supported whilst at the residential facility.”

Families as First Teachers Expansion

It is clear from research that preschool programs in disadvantaged populations are associated with better cognitive development, language preparation and improved school readiness. One of the key criteria to the success of these programs is parental engagement.

The Families as First Teachers (FaFT) program was launched in 2009; it provides early learning and family support to remote Indigenous families with young children from birth to 3 years.

The Department of Education currently operates 21 FaFT programs  in remote communities across the Territory.

One of the key early childhood projects under the A Share in the Future strategy is the expansion of the FaFT program to 32 sites across the Territory by the end of 2017.

By the end of 2015, it is expected that Ski Beach (Gunyangara) in the Arnhem Region and Tennant Creek in the Barkly region will have a FaFT program and the locations for the new sites in 2016 are currently being finalised.

The introduction of the program at Ski Beach and Tennant Creek presents an exciting time for those communities and provides a wonderful opportunity for young Indigenous children, parents and families to engage in the learning and education journey.

Evaluating A Share in the Future

Planning for the evaluation of the strategy has commenced. Consultants from Allen Consulting and Batchelor Institute held a number of meetings with the department last week to inform development of their evaluation plan and framework.

Regular updates will be provided on the progress of the evaluation and the timing of data collection activities. If you would like further information regarding the evaluation, please contact Strategic Services on 08 8999 5793.

PAT Testing – An explanation

In Term 4 of this year, students in Year 1 to 10 are participating in the second round of Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) Progressive Achievement Tests (PAT). The tests are designed to provide information to teachers about their students’ skills and understandings in reading and mathematics.
Schools will continue to conduct PAT Maths Plus and PAT Reading Comprehension tests with their students twice a year.
To add to the information collected from PAT, four schools  have been involved this term in a pre-trial of the Foundations for Early Literacy Assessment (FELA). This test helps teachers to assess children’s ability to identify the sounds in words and to relate these sounds to letters.
In Term 4, 2015 the FELA trial will be expanded to include approximately 380 students from Transition to Year 3, ensuring that the FELA is appropriate and useful in the Northern Territory context. Approximately nine schools  will be participating in this expanded trial.
The results from both forms of assessment will help teachers and schools understand students’ current strengths and weaknesses, and will inform teaching and learning.
System wide collection of this data will mean it is possible to measure student growth in reading and mathematics at a system, school, class and student level. This information can be used to establish appropriate and relevant learning benchmarks.
Regional engagement is imperative in supporting this work, and much work has been done to collaborate with participating schools.
A recruitment process is underway to provide staff to support this project.

Last updated: 22 January 2016

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