2013 Academy Photography Fellowship

Awarded to Craig Petersen – Principal
Denison College of Secondary Education, Bathurst, NSW.

The Academy Photography Fellowship provides funding to the amount of $4000 annually to be used for the purpose of educational research.

Craig’s research is focussed on what works to improve student results in rural schools and how this will, in many cases, also apply to disadvantaged schools regardless of their setting.

He writes …

It is widely recognised that entrenched social and economic disadvantage can be major barriers to learning for children, but for the more than 1,300 schools with approximately 334,000 students in rural and regional areas there is the additional factor of geographic isolation. Students who are isolated must be included in the equitable provision of educational services. Another element in providing inclusive education is to consider Aboriginal students and the need for culturally appropriate teaching and resources.

The rural sector in NSW has been experiencing accelerated change because of trends in rural industries such as agriculture, mining and resource development affecting population and employment levels. This can cause some rural cities to grow while nearby small towns and isolated communities decline.

Many government and non-government reports over a number of years have identified issues for rural and remote schools around the poorer educational outcomes of students in rural and remote areas, (including lower levels of attendance, engagement, and transition to further study) and the difficulties involved in recruiting, developing and then retaining high-quality teachers and school leaders.

The Department of Education and Communities is currently developing the Rural and Remote Education Strategy which will make a number of recommendations for implementation across those schools that are classified as rural or remote under the ARIA (Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia).  It will address the challenges for delivering high quality education and training in rural and remote areas in the context of recent government reforms including Local Schools, Local Decisions, Great Teaching, Inspired Learning and the new model of support for schools as part of the Department’s realignment.

The strategy is informed by work completed by the Futures Alliance of the NSW Department of Education and Communities, the Primary Principals’ Association and the Secondary Principals’ Council in the development of the Rural Education Action Plan 2012 as well as the available research as summarised by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) in its Rural and Remote Education: Literature Review which identifies a range of factors impacting upon the achievements of young people in rural settings.

Students need to have access to a broad curriculum, including enrichment opportunities, through specific programs which utilise technology to compensate for geographic isolation. There also needs to be improved educational provision for students from pre-school to post-school destinations.

Schools need to be able to identify ways to attract and retain the best teachers and leaders in local schools. There needs to be specific programs, including professional exchanges, to ensure that aspiring leaders are fully prepared for leadership positions.

Principals need to be able to enter into effective partnerships with local communities and agencies to ensure that families have better access to support and intervention strategies. Schools will increasingly need to create flexible options to meet the needs of students and the local community and guarantee quality service.  There must also be a particular focus on incorporating and valuing Aboriginal perspectives, cultural identity and community connections.

School leaders may need to redefine the nature of schooling in some areas, with the specific opportunity to adopt new organisational models of schools to better meet student needs.

Most importantly, principals need to know what works and how to modify what works in one setting so that they can be confident that it will work in their school.

Feedback from a number of consultations has indicated that what works to improve student results in rural schools will, in many cases, also apply to disadvantaged schools regardless of their setting. Whilst this research will focus on rural schools, the findings should be transferable to a wide range of schools and have broad applicability.

The Scope of the Research
Despite a wealth of data available through the High Performance Unit and the literature review which was conducted by CESE, the research to date, both nationally and internationally, focuses on the identification of a problem rather than offering solutions about how best to improve the outcomes for students in these settings.

The purpose of this research proposal is to go beyond the identification of the problem and to clearly identify what strategies are able to be demonstrated to be effective and to then examine how best to transfer these strategies to other schools, including in areas of disadvantage in metropolitan settings.

Successful projects/initiatives from NSW and interstate will be identified and research conducted to determine:
1.    the level of success of the projects; and
2.    the conditions necessary to successfully transport the project to different settings.

Research Methodology
A mixed method approach will be most suitable to this study, with a quantitative analysis of external assessment data combined with qualitative case studies involving interviews with and surveys of staff, students and school community to validate results and identify key factors influencing the success of the projects.

Sampling, Data Collection and Analysis
Successful strategies will be drawn from a range of sources, including the Rural Outcomes of Schooling Research Projects Report, the recommendations arising from the Rural and Remote Education Strategy Consultation Forum 6-7 May 2013, identification of successful schools through the High Performance Unit, nomination from current Regional Directors and calls for self-nomination from principals or their colleagues.

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Education Partners