I am pleased to present this report on the activities and achievements of the ACT Education Directorate for the financial year 2016-17. This report highlights achievements relevant to our key strategies and how we continue to meet the learning needs of Canberra’s children and young people.
The 2016 school year got off to a tremendous start with the opening of Charles Weston School in the Molonglo Valley, meeting the needs of a continuing growth in our student population. The February 2017 census indicated an increase of 1,897 students since February 2016 and we welcomed 270 new teachers and staff in 2017. Providing quality learning environments is a feature during this reporting period with a strong program of refurbishments of existing facilities, expansion of existing schools and the development of new schools to meet the needs of our community. We have embraced the opportunities of new technologies and new approaches to the design of learning environments.
Students and their learning are at the heart of every decision we make in education in ACT public schools. Having students at the centre in all that we do is our core commitment. During the course of this reporting period, there was a clear shift towards this commitment. Revising our Education Support Office organisation structure in early 2017 provided confidence that we have refocused our efforts to support schools, school leaders, teachers, staff and students.
We provide the foundations for students to thrive in a rapidly changing world. Education and learning is central to how all students make their way through a more complex world and enable them to thrive.
Our early childhood sector has the highest participation rates in the country. It continues to improve within the National Quality Framework. Almost 96 percent of four year olds in the ACT were part of a preschool program and the National Partnership for Universal Access to Early Childhood Education supports children with 600 hours of free public preschool education in the year before they start formal schooling. The Directorate’s Children’s Education and Care Assurance, the ACT Regulator, provides regular opportunities for professional development and networking for the sector’s workforce. Assessments during the year show that most early childhood education and care services are improving in quality.
I am inspired and impressed by the children and young people I meet in our schools. Students repeatedly tell me how they love learning new things, gaining greater insights and developing new skills. We cannot underestimate how important it is that these students are engaged in this way.
We want every child’s individual potential to be identified and developed by quality teaching in a supportive and safe learning environment. When students speak about their love of learning then we know they have a good relationship with their teachers. Quality teaching remains the single greatest positive influence on children’s learning and this year I have met many dedicated teachers, leaders and school staff who demonstrate this commitment.
There are a number of challenges for education systems across Australia and the ACT is not immune to these challenges. In particular, in the previous report we identified a plateauing of student performance in literacy and numeracy and the need to lift performance in the future. While ACT school students maintain their overall high performance compared to previous years, we continue to focus on further progress ensuring that every child and young person, regardless of their background or circumstances, has access to the best possible education. This report provides information on a range of programs and activities currently being undertaken in this regard including the reformed school review process aligned to the National School Improvement Tool linked to the use of explicit improvement plans. Quality literacy and numeracy programs for education leaders have been designed and delivered to enhance the skills and capability of our teaching staff, providing targeted support to every student. For example, the Principals as Numeracy Leaders program, a research-based instructional leadership initiative, coupled with Count Me in Too and Middle Years Mental Computation teacher professional learning, supports effective leadership and teaching in numeracy.
Equity and inclusion continues to be a priority for the ACT Government. We acknowledge and strive to meet the challenges associated with overcoming disadvantage and inequity to ensure our children and young people are equipped for a lifetime of learning, build connections with one another, and demonstrate the ability to understand and work with people from diverse backgrounds. One aspect of this in 2016-17 has been integrating speech pathology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and allied health services into the Directorate to provide the health expertise required to support children with special needs. The continued development and implementation of the Student Resource Allocation program highlights our commitment to equitably allocate funding and resources across ACT public schools on a needs basis. This includes resources that provide schools with extra support for students with disability, who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, who speak English as an Additional Language or Dialect, or who come from a low socio-economic status background.
A strong focus in 2016-17 was workplace safety which included the development, in partnership with the Australian Education Union, of a range of activities and initiatives to ensure schools are safe learning environments for both students and staff. This is vitally important work and builds on our commitment to ensuring schools are safe and inclusive of all children including those with complex needs.
ACT public schools have a proud history of self reflection and examination in monitoring our progress and evaluating our achievements. As part of this work, over time we have adapted our approaches, developed new methods and innovative solutions. The ACT Government is keen to maintain this momentum with the Future of Education community conversation.
While there may be some uncertainties about the world our children will be entering when they leave school, what we do know is this: we need to ensure we provide the learning opportunities every child requires to meet these challenges. This community conversation aims to ensure as many voices as possible contribute to the future planning of ACT public schools. We have undertaken a range of activities and opportunities for parents, students, teachers, school leaders and community members to contribute to this conversation and I encourage all Canberrans to provide their ideas, feedback and suggestions.
I would like to thank and acknowledge all of the teachers, school leaders, principals, school administrative support staff and Education Support Office staff who ensure ACT schools meet the needs of all students and I am looking forward to us collaboratively building on the progress made during this reporting period.