Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reflections from Australia - Part 3 (QLD Schools)

This final entry deals with some highlights from schools in Queensland – to actually do a comparison of the assessment systems between NSW and QLD would require some pages. I can’t being to compare the highly prescribed ‘dot points’ and high stakes HSC external examinations of NSW with the flexible internally assessed system in QLD (but with the unique Core Skills Tests in Year 12 to moderate against). Both systems are so fundamentally different that creating a national qualification system (as is being talked about) would require the worlds greatest diplomats to manage and organise, good luck I say!

The schools I visited were largely in the Brisbane area. My first Queensland school was Cleveland District State High School, about 1 hour 15 minutes east of Brisbane by train. The reason for visiting the school was because my school has had music exchanges with Cleveland and they are similar schools in make-up. Cleveland is a co-educational state high school with a roll of about 1200 students. The day was structured with 8 periods, each of 35 minutes, though most ran as double periods. Of interest was the fact that seniors, Year 11 & 12, attended school on Tuesday – Friday for extended days (8.30 – 3.25) and did not attend school at all on a Monday. An interesting class I observed was the schools SRT class (Science Research & Technology). In these classes students were in a purpose built lab with 15 computers and desks for working in. Students were working on finding out about certain aspects of science – the first class using lego to find out about gears and the relationships between gears. The second class were doing extended projects – all self-generated and well resourced. These ranged from making different types of coloured fireworks, experimenting with mouse memory, exploring rocket trajectory, crystal formation, plane flight and so on.

John Paul College is a large co-educational private school about 20 minutes from the centre of Brisbane. It has a large campus which hosts three schools – primary (1000 students), middle school (800) and secondary (750). The growth in the school is occurring with an approach toward students being sent to private primary schools. All students are required to lease a laptop from Grade 4 (our Year 5). Students bring laptops to class and spend a large amount of time using them. The schools are also set up with permanently mounted data projectors and staff members each have their own laptop/tablet for use in class. All classes I observed involved students working independently on research or tasks using the internet and laptops in class. Courses were organised on-line on a ‘workspace’ where students and staff could access material from anywhere.

The senior school (Grades 10-12) had very modern and well maintained facilities and was undergoing a Consultation Process for the next 10 year upgrade. I also observed the school assembly in which an amazing array of top awards (state and national) were given out for academic, sporting and cultural achievements. The school had a relaxed but focussed feel – students were easy to engage with and very polite (behaviour management is not a term necessary at the college). It was a real insight to see inside a private school and to see what difference the privilege of money can buy (but see earlier blog post). Interestingly, State Academies are attracting top students away from private schools so the school has gone and introduced the International Baccalaureate to try and compete in this respect.

The final school I visited was Holland Park, a state high school of about 520 students. A particular highlight was the time I spent with the literacy co-ordinator of the school. The school has received numerous awards for the literacy programme they run. Students spend 35 minutes (1 period) out of each of the 3 core subjects (Science, Maths and English) at Year 8 and 9 to improve their literacy skills and work through a series of literacy booklets. The students are ability grouped to give them access to different materials. The literacy program had shown students reading ages increase 2-3 years each year for some of the lower groups and students all improving above their yearly increment by being involved in the programme. The program had 3 foci: Tools of the Trade (decoding and grammar), Reading for Meaning and Critical Understanding.

The Fellowship offered me opportunities to enjoy times in schools and it was a privilege to visit. It also offered me a fantastic opportunity to have time away with my family, which we all relished.

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