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education in australia

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Choosing where to send your child to school is a big decision – so how do you make the right choice for your family? Claire Armstrong investigates the educational options.

School days make up an enormous part of a child’s life, so you want to set them on the right path with a productive and supportive learning environment.

There are many wonderful schools which can make things confusing for parents, so finding the right school for your family involves research and careful consideration.

Offspring takes a look at the schooling options to help make your planning a little easier.

Government/Public

The local primary school is the natural choice for many parents, with some choosing their residence with a school’s proximity in mind.

A school close to home can have the key advantage of having friends in the neighborhood, a guaranteed enrollment acceptance and the ability to walk or ride.

“In 2018 at a primary school level, 70 per cent of all Australian students attend government schools,” Australian Bureau of Statistics Director Michelle Ducat says.

If you wish to put your child’s name down at a government school outside of your local catchment area (for example one close to your workplace), a place is not guaranteed.

You must also consider enrolling subsequent children and hoping for a place, as well as shuttling children to and from school.

Most government schools have minimal fees, while encouraged, these are usually voluntary ranging from $50-$300.

For Amanda Taylor the decision to send her children, Chase (11), Kobe (8) and Emerson (5) to the local public school was an easy one because they live in a great school district.

“Before we went to the school, parent feedback helped us know that the school community was positive and want the kids to strive to do their best in all areas.”

“I think knowing that their academic and sporting needs are being met is important and I have confidence in the teacher’s ability to extend the kids if needed.”

“We plan to send the kids onto the local high school, which is a great school with lots of quality programs and also the same school I attended.”

Independent/Private

If you’re interested in independent or private education, which covers a range of religious and community schools including Steiner and Montessori, it is vital to start looking early as there are often waiting lists and fees to consider.

For parents, the wide range of independent schools means they have more say on the type of education they want for their child.

The Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA) currently has 1,123 member schools in Australia (as per 2018 ABS data). The median price of an Australian independent school per student is $5,330 per year.

ISCA Executive Director Barry Wallett says independent schools represent 14.7 per cent of all Australian school enrollments and is continuing to grow.

”Independent schools have been Australia’s fastest growing school sector over the last decade,” he says.

“In 2018 there was a net increase of independent student numbers by over 12,000. These numbers show that parents have strong confidence in independent schools.”

For information on independent schools, visit the Independent Schools Council of Australia website, www.isca.edu.au

Montessori

Montessori education is growing steadily in Australia.

Its philosophy, based around Dr Maria Montessori’s approach, emphasises independence by providing an environment for children to learn at their own pace.

Children are free to choose activities within a prepared environment.

This allows children think for themselves and help them to develop confidence, concentration, creativity and inner discipline. Classes are grouped in a three year age range.

For more information visit www.montessori.org.au

Steiner

Steiner or Waldorf education is based on the methods of Rudolf Steiner aiming to educate artistically and holistically.

A unique feature of Steiner education is the same teacher stays with the class throughout their primary years aimed at creating strong relationships between teacher, student and the student’s family.

The use of electronic media is strongly discouraged and all toys are made from natural materials.

While there are fewer Steiner schools than Montessori, they are gaining popularity.

For information on Steiner schools visit www.steinereducation.edu.au

Religious

The majority of religious schools in Australia are Catholic, with the latest ABS data showing one in five Australian students are educated in Catholic schools.

However, there are a number of other major religions represented including Anglican, Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Islamic, Jewish, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, Uniting Church and Presbyterian.

If you want to enroll in a religious school, you must contact the individual school to put in an application and usually pay a small fee.

Some schools do not require you to be of the faith to attend.

However, you will be asked to attend an interview and then a preference scheme is in place with first round offers given to students of the religion within the parish.

Libby Oteri chose a two stream Catholic co-educational school to send Frank (8) and Sofia (7).

“We wanted a school that offered pastoral care and a strong sense of community. We also wanted the choice to select the school that felt right for our family.”

“After meeting with the principal we knew the school was the right ‘fit’ for us.”

“We will also make the decision for secondary school on what feels right for Frank and Sofia individually.”

Community/Alternative/Open Learning

Another option is community schools, sometimes called alternative or open learning education.

The schools act independently and form their own curriculum and ethos and are often small, co-educational, multi-cultural and non-denominational.

Home-School

Home based education is another alternative option and not just for people in remote locations.

Other factors such as disability, behavioral issues, gifted children, bullying, cultural or religious beliefs, or lack of confidence in mainstream schooling system can lead families to opt for home schooling.

Home schooling is a growing community in Australia with lots of support available for parents wanting to take the plunge.

Each state and territory in Australia has its own set of legal requirements for registering to home school, some stricter than others.

Some parents choose not to register, however this can impact government payments and benefits.

Things to think about when doing your research

Visit the school and meet the staff. If you can, speak with parents already attending the school.

Check out the special programs such as music or STEM and find out the school policies on homework, religious practices and bullying.

Think about travel and the facilities for before and after school care if required, and look at the overall costs including fees, uniform, stationary and camps and know your budget.

 

Visit the MySchool website, www.myschool.edu.au to get a profiles of schools, as well as performance indicators.

Minister Birmingham released a report today recommending that all Year 1 students in Australia complete a phonics test. The panel responsible for the report has recommended that Australia adopt the Year 1 phonics screening check that has been used in England since 2011.

What is phonics?

Phonics is the process of matching sounds to letters. It is an important skill when learning to read and write in English. There are two main approaches to teaching children phonics – synthetic phonics and analytic phonics.

Analytic phonics starts with taking a word that children know the meaning of, and then analysing it to see how the sounds in the word match the letters we see within the word. So five-year-old Emma will learn that her name starts with the sound “e” which is represented by the capital letter E, followed by the sound “m” which is represented by the two letters “mm”, and ends with the sound “u”, which is represented by the letter a.

Synthetic phonics starts with letters which the children learn to match with sounds. The meaning of the words are irrelevant, and indeed, inconsequential. The theory is that the children should master letter/sound matches first before trying to attend to meaning.

“Minister Birmingham is concerned about the numbers of students in Australia who are struggling with literacy. The decline in literacy standards of Year 9 students is very concerning…”

Which phonics method is better?

There is no evidence that one phonics approach is better than the other. In England, the US and Australia, there have been major inquiries into reading and all have concluded that systematic and explicit phonics teaching is a crucial part of effective reading instruction. But none have found any evidence that synthetic phonics approaches are better than analytic phonics approaches, or vice versa.

All inquiries have concluded that whatever phonic instruction method is chosen, it should be one part of a suite of skills children should have when learning to read.

What is the phonics test?

The phonics test is based on synthetic phonics. The children are given 40 words on a computer screen, with no context. The words are not put in a sentence, or given any meaning. This is deliberate, and an important feature of a synthetic phonics approach, as the children must show they are not relying on meaning or prior experience with the word in order to successfully decode it.

To this end, 20 of the words the children are given are nonsense words, like “thrand”, “poth” and “froom”, to ensure they are not using meaning to decode the words.

“Research in England has found that the test was no more accurate than the teacher’s judgement in identifying children with reading difficulties.”

Why are we introducing it?

Minister Birmingham is concerned about the numbers of students in Australia who are struggling with literacy. The decline in literacy standards of Year 9 students is very concerning, and he is right to be looking for solutions. But the solution will not be found in this phonics test for six-year-olds.

As the test has been has already been in use for six years in England we are fortunate to be able to learn from their experience. A major evaluation of the test conducted by the Department for Education in England found that the test is not delivering improvements in literacy capabilities, and in fact, is delivering some unwanted side effects, like class time being spent learning to read nonsense words rather than real words.

Numerous other recent studies of the implementation of the phonics test in England provide valuable information that allow us to test the claims for the test against research evidence.

What does the research say?

Claim: The phonics test has improved reading results in England since its introduction.

Evidence: Year 1 children in England are certainly getting better at passing the phonics test. Over the past six years, pass rates have increased by 23%. This means around 90% of Year 1 children in England can now successfully read nonsense words like “yune” and “thrand”.

However research has found that the ability to read nonsense words is an unreliable predictor of later reading success.

And so far, the phonics test in England has not improved reading comprehension scores.

As the test only tests single syllable words with regular phonic patterns, it is not possible to know how many English children can read words like “one”, “was”, “two”, “love”, “what”, “who”, or “because”, as such words are not included in the test. This is unfortunate because these are amongst the 100 most common words in the English language, which in turn make up 50% of the words we read everyday – whether in a novel, a newspaper article or a government form.

“Yune”, “thrand” and “poth”, on the other hand, make 0% of the words we read.

Claim: The phonics test will pick up children who are having reading difficulties. Birmingham has stated “the idea behind these checks is to ensure students don’t slip through the cracks”.

Evidence: Research in England has found that the test was no more accurate than the teacher’s judgement in identifying children with reading difficulties. Teachers already know which children struggle. As researchers, teachers and principals have all said – teachers need more support in knowing how to support those struggling children.

Claim: The phonics test will provide detailed diagnostics to support teachers to make effective interventions. The chair of the panel recommending the test says that the phonics test will drill into the detail of phonics to establish what children know.

Evidence: A thorough analysis of the test’s components found it fails to test some of the most common sound/letter matches in English, and indeed screens for a very limited number of the hundreds of sound/letter matches in English. They found that children can achieve the pass grade of 32 from 40 with only limited phonic knowledge.

Other research found the test fails to give any information about what the specific phonic struggles of a child might be , or whether the struggles are indeed with phonics.

These limitations mean the check has negligible diagnostic or instructional use for classroom teachers.

Learning lessons

Australia is in the fortunate position of being able to learn from the research that has been conducted since the implementation of the phonics test and mandatory synthetic phonics teaching in England. The lesson is clear. The test is unable to deliver what was hoped. Australia should look elsewhere for answers to its literacy challenges.

Already state Education Ministers have begun to let Birmingham know that they will not be taking up the offer of the national phonics test.

The ConversationThis may be an issue where Australia is able to overcome its intellectual cringe, and act on the research evidence rather than old colonial ties.

Misty Adoniou, Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.