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The following article was written by Kylie Fennessy. a parent at Sandringham College and committee member of Community Action for Sandringham College. It was written after she attended the Education State in Schools Forum in early August 2018. The article represents Kylie's views, not necessarily those of Parents Victoria. 

Education State

The Education State is a suite of policies put in place by the Victorian State Government in order to provide excellence in education and reduce the impact of disadvantage. I know this, because I was asked to represent Parents Victoria in a recent forum which sought to investigate how the policies were tracking. Having only ever seen the Education State written on number plates, I googled it. I found that the list of policies were admirable aims; excellence in teaching and learning, increased student resilience, school pride and retention and equity of access. Still, I could not see how this was impacting my experience of the education system. I thought, perhaps being the parent of just one child, I don’t have the breadth of experience.

What do parents think?

I decided to ask some parents to volunteer their views. Using Facebook (because that’s how we roll these days) I reached out to the parents in my daughter’s year level. What is your experience of the Education State? I suggested personal message if there were sensitive topics. Crickets. I ask my extended group of friends (a number of whom are teachers). One joking distant cousin suggested “kids should learn to read good”. Thinking I needed to up the ante, I approached the 10,000 members of the Bayside Community Hub. I provided a short list of the policies, hoping that might prompt some ideas. The replies I received could be put into a few broad categories:

  • I hate the education system (I want Montessori/music/macramé)
  • Oh good, they are teaching resilience, I had no idea
  • Why don’t they teach manners?
  • My child has a disability and access is really hard to navigate
  • Can I come?

Essentially, none of it was a response to the Education State having achieved anything that anyone knew about, even though the policies were aimed at some desirable outcomes. And quite a few people wanted to participate.

Edu-speak

Armed with this information, I attended the conference on the 1st of August. I sat on the panel with other stakeholders including a student, a teacher, a principal and a social services representative. Questions were asked by the Secretary to each of the panel members who spoke glowingly of student voices being heard, teachers being able to introduce new methods of teaching that resonated with the students, retention rates being increased. There was a lot of jargon. Edu-speak about embedding practices, frameworks and plenty of words and phrases that had no meaning to me whatsoever (I have two Bachelors and an Honours degree, so I don’t often have this happen).

Big questions and shock answers

Then I was directly asked what parents wanted for their children, and how I had seen the Education State deliver this. I faltered. Can I actually answer this question honestly? I spoke about parents wanting their children to find their place in the world regardless of their abilities, disabilities, dreams. I spoke about our kids achieving, being the best they could, recognising that this does not always look like the same thing. Then I bit the bullet. I don’t know how the Education State is achieving this for my child. I don’t know how these policies are changing my child’s experience at school or mine. As a parent, we are lucky to find out anything that happens within the school grounds. With teenagers, it’s even harder. I am an engaged parent, and I have tried to work it out, but I do not know.

There was a wave of shock and horror across the room. The moderator seemed unimpressed. I had just rained on the parade. But there was more.

Minister for a day?

What would you do if you were Minister for the day? Most of the answers were around keeping doing this, do more of it and more embedding of practices. Me? I would fix the buildings that are falling down around our kids. Yes, we have a couple of new ones, but the rest are falling down. The Minister pointed out that there was a new school built down the road. How that helps me, I am not quite sure (especially as it only opened for year 7 and my child is in year 9). I also said I would get parents more involved. But I think they were too upset about me mentioning the state of the buildings to absorb that.

It was an interesting experience. A very few people came up to me later and said, “good on you for speaking your mind”. It was possible for me to do that; my job or professional standing wasn’t at stake, unlike that of many others in the room. I was not indoctrinated into the system. I was not invested in the same way, but on a more visceral level. I heard later that the comments I had made were discussed, often, as the day progressed. The continuation of these policies as they stand relies on the State Government being re-elected at the end of this year. Their realisation that one very large stake holder group was not engaged with the Education State must have been alarming.

We all want the same thing

I consider my child’s high school does a better job of engaging with parents than many others. However, many parents have given up the fight by secondary school, having been kept at arms-length, disregarded and disrespected through 7 years of primary school. Once the teen years hit and more independence is attained, the opportunities for parents to engage with schools become fewer. This leaves parents as the neglected piece of the education puzzle. We should be partners with teachers and schools because at the end of the day, we have more invested than them. We have insights that they do not have. We can be a school’s biggest advocates, if only they let us. We all want the same thing, the best for our kids.

I think the Education State policies have merit. The intentions are good and the aims, valuable. However, parents need to be made aware of the policies if the State Government seeks their support. If parents were treated as true partners by the school system, this awareness would already be in place.

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