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Welcome to the AACS October Newsletter

The political scene has been active with the big news this month with the appointing of a new Education Minister. This newsletter provides some reflections on what’s been and what we’re hoping for. Check out the Pyne Report Card – what sort of rating would you give? If there was one ‘must read’ article, I’d suggest it’s ‘Does religion have a place in the public square?’ The ‘Anti-Discrimination update’ is also interesting. The Ministerial Council has attempted to conclude the Australian Curriculum Review – what does that mean for Christian Schools? And the shared CS funding paper introduction – it’ll give you a snapshot of what we’re saying regarding the longer term funding situation. Hope you enjoy this month’s update. Regards, Martin

Christian Teachers’ Journal – You Might be Interested

The AACS National Office has recently sent out a few copies of the journal – Christian Teachers’ Journal (CTJ) to all non-CEN AACS members. CEN members already receive it as it comes out of their stable of publications. I have requested this in case you might be interested in subscribing – whether as a few leaders at your school or, as many schools do, one for each teacher. The package includes the relevant order form if you’re interested. I’d heartily recommend it as an excellent form of input, stimulus, and professional reading.

A New Education Minister

The 20 September reshuffle has seen Christopher Pyne move to Innovation and the SA Senator Simon Birmingham move into the education portfolio. We’ve written to the new education minister to congratulate him on his new role and to seek an introductory meeting.

Simon Birmingham was Christopher Pyne’s assistant minister and has pledged to “build broad support for policy reforms and a continuing commitment to reform of vocational training”. He’s also expressed that there’s a need for a fresh plan for education in Australian schools and universities.

Many will remember that the new minister stood in for Minister Pyne at this year’s National Policy Forum. Simon Birmingham backed Malcolm Turnbull in the Liberal leadership coup, was rewarded with the education ministry, and is seen as a Liberal progressive.

Changes on the Other Side

Meanwhile the shadow frontbench sees very little change, though high-profile NSW senator Sam Dastyari becomes the shadow parliamentary secretary for school education and youth. Bill Shorten said that Dastyari’s promotion was a reflection of the significance of education to the ALP.

The Greens have also reshuffled with newly appointed Senator, Tasmanian Nick McKim being the new Greens spokesperson for schools, taking over from SA Senator Penny Wright who has retired due to illness in her family. AACS has written to Senator Wright expressing thanks for her work and also to Senator McKim to say ‘welcome’.

It’s Another Shift for Child Care

It’s really difficult to ‘silo’ child care into one portfolio. child care policy is related to welfare, education, employment and health. The latest change has seen it shift from social services back to education, with Simon Birmingham assuming ministerial responsibility.

The cross-portfolio nature of child care policy and the changing priorities of government reflect the confused and confusing attitude the community and government has towards this age group. Child care is many things: a public service; support to families and the labour market; and an educational endeavour. Depending on where your emphasis lies will determine the orientation of policy and resources. The focus has been on welfare (assisting mothers back into work); health (with its focus on hygiene, safety and regularity of routines such as sleeping, eating and toileting) and more recently on education (begin ‘real’ learning as soon as possible). The shift back to education reflects the present government’s priority.

Reflections on the Challenges Faced by the New Education Minister

In a helpful piece in the Conversation (Sept 20th) Dean Ashenden from the University of Melbourne reflects on the challenges that will face Simon Birmingham. His article is printed here in full.

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A Pyne Report Card – How Did the Minister Go?

Christopher Pyne had charge of the Education portfolio in government and in opposition for quite some time. After his two years as the government minister, what sort of report card would we give him? How did he go?

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Will the ‘Closing Down’ of Victorian SRI Impact Christian Schools?

In the Sept newsletter I reported on the effective ‘closing down’ of Special Religious Instruction in Victoria by the moving of SRI out of normal class time and into the ‘after-hours’ bracket. In the longer run it will be interesting to see whether parents, who want their children to receive some form of religious instruction, vote with their feet on this issue.

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Should Prayer Groups in Schools be Allowed?

Last month we reported on the auditing of prayer groups in NSW. In the escalating row over religious radicalisation and claims that some Islamic prayer groups are fostering radicalisation, some voices have called for the banning of all prayer groups in schools citing the need for separation of church and state and the upholding of the secular character of state schools.

Such views reflect how crazy some of this debate has become. Even voluntary religious gatherings are now being queried. The article that follows seeks to understand how this debate has become derailed.

Good on Christopher Pyne for succinctly championing what we’d say were ‘home truths’. The Australian (Oct 10-11) reports on Christopher Pyne saying, “Prayer was a good thing’’ in schools. He went onto say, there was “clearly a problem’’ with radicalisation in schools, but he insisted prayer groups were “not a problem… Prayer is a good thing, it’s vio lence that is a bad thing… I’ve got no problem with prayer in government schools.”

Click here for full article.

Does Religion Have a Place in the Public Square?

In response to an Age editorial that was celebrating the State Government’s decision to stop “using school hours funded by the taxpayer … for indoctrination” (see Sept Newsletter), Michael Bird wrote an opinion piece on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics blog (23 Sep 2015) under the title ‘Whose Religion? Which Secularism? Australia Has a Serious Religious Literacy Problem’. It’s an excellent article…

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What are the Religious Instruction Guidelines for Different States?

NSW – The NSW Education Department doesn’t require teachers to supervise what is taught in religious education sessions delivered by volunteers. VIC – Victoria will abolish religious instruction during class time next year, replacing it with lessons on healthy relationships…

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Ministerial Council Agreements

Education Ministers from all jurisdictions held their third meeting for 2015 to discuss matters which included: the Australian Curriculum (see below), Initial Teacher Education (ITE), online assessment and more.

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Christian Schools and the Australian Curriculum

For over two decades we have been moving towards a national approach to schooling, including a national curriculum. For Christian schools, particularly those that seek to do a lot of their own curriculum development work, the Australian Curriculum (AC) might appear to be a secular imposition.

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What are the Changes to the Australian Curriculum?

Just before the change of Prime Minister and Education Minister, the previous Education Minister Christopher Pyne managed to get a number of changes to the AC (as a result of the Donnelly and Wiltshire Review) ratified by the Education Ministers. Pyne had said he would tackle overcrowding…

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What About Changes at the State Level?

Most issues around the Australian Curriculum appear to be settled. There is little debate anymore about we should have one. Folks seem to have accepted most of the arguments for a single curriculum – students who move across borders…

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Leave the Australian Curriculum Alone for a While

In a fine article in The Conversation (Sept 23) University of WA academic Bill Louden applauds the fact that the national “curriculum matter has been settled”. It’s a helpful summary.

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Phonics, Faith and Coding for Primary School Kids

In a broad ranging article in The Australian (Sept 19), on the changes to the AC titled ‘Phonics, faith and co ding for primary school kids’ Education Correspondent Natasha Bita went for a controversial opener to colour her piece. The opening paragraph said, “Australia’s ‘Christian heritage’ will be taught in schools in a slimmed-down national curriculum that focuses on phonics to improve children’s reading.”

Perhaps that’s over-stating the emphasis as the ‘Christian heritage’ component is a very small part of the secondary history curriculum that includes some lessons on “how Australia is a secular nation and a multi-faith so ciety” and how the Christian church has been an part of the development of Western civilisation. Obviously we are pleased that the blatant removal of any positive reference to the contribution of the Church or the Christian worldview has had some redress.

Click here for the full article.

An Overview of the Christian Schools’ Funding Paper

The shared Christian Schools’ Funding Paper has been distributed to the major political parties for consideration. It’s available on the relevant organisations websites and the AACS introduction to the paper goes as follows…

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Senate Inquiry into Students with Disability (SWD)

Last month we reported on the joint Christian schools submission to this Senate Inquiry. The high priority for this needy area was picked up in the media recently where it was reported that multiple submissions had expressed that inadequate funding/ resourcing made it difficult for schools to cope. The Senate inquiry heard that teachers cannot be expected to properly cater for children with disabilities given the “significant increase” in the number of special needs students. The Inquiry will hand down its report in December.

Click here for The Guardian article (Sept 14).

Anti–Discrimination Laws

School Governance (Sept 17th, 2015) reports on the present Anti-discrimination situation. Here’s a few key paragraphs…

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Complaint Against Catholic Archbishop Represents Rising Intolerance Against Christianity

The following article comes from the National Alliance of Christian Leaders (Oct 14) Newsletter. More than 10,000 Tasmanian families recently received a 10-page pastoral letter Don’t Mess With Marriage. The booklet, published by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, provided a thorough explanation for the church’s opposition to marriage equality…

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Attention Business Managers – Australian Government Recurrent Funding

Business Managers are probably aware that the provision of federal gov’t recurrent funding each year is for that purpose only – recurrent costs and should not be used for capital items. Most schools could account for that by attributing parent fee income to capital costs within their budgets.

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National Children’s Week: Oct 24 – Nov 1

Children’s Week is an annual event celebrated in Australia during the fourth week in October that celebrates the right of children to enjoy childhood. It is a possible newsletter editorial issue. Back in 1954 the UN proclaimed Universal Children’s Day – which was a call to society to provide a greater response to the plight of many millions of children around the world who are denied the basic necessities of a happy …

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The following articles might be of interest to you.

Reading Teaching in Schools Can Inhibit a Love for Books

Reading instruction in the classroom is a key concern for all teachers but some of the approaches may reduce reading enjoyment. Ryan Spencer writing in Essential Kids (Sept 14, 2015) asks, “Is our determination to achieve excellence in reading skills in our children kill ing their love and enjoyment of a good book? As children progress through their schooling life, there are many other instances of learning reading skills that don’t help to celebrate or foster reading development.”

Click here for the full article.

Are iPads in Schools a Waste of Money? OECD Report Says Yes

The OECD has published a report on the impact of ICT on student outcomes. Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection finds that though moderate use of computers in the classroom leads to ‘somewhat better outcomes’, students who use computers frequently at schools ‘do a lot worse in most learning outcomes’.

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21st Century Assessment

In an interesting article titled, ‘What is truly modern in education?’ Jane Hunter (The Conversation, Sept 24) argues for a new approach to assessment. She says…“Consulting with the sector on policy will support the stated “21st -century approach” becoming a reality.

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Should Children Help in Cleaning Up?

In the August AACS newsletter I ran a story from John Marsden’s Candlebark School in Victoria where students are required to help in school cleaning because that’s a simple part of normal life. I was impressed. The following story from the NT News (Oct 12) reflects one mum’s expectations for paying fees, claiming its ‘child labour’.

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Children Learn From Stress and Failure: All the More Feason You Shouldn’t Do Their Homework

In an article in The Conversation (October 6, 2015) the interesting topic of parents undertaking their child’s homework is dissected. As we seek to partner with parents and assist them in growing a stronger relationship with what the school does, this is an interesting issue to pick up in school newsletter. This material is a great stimulus for such an article.

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Parental Aspirations Drive Children’s Academic Success

Here is an interesting recent Monash University Report on the importance that parents play. “The aspirations Australian parents have for their own children’s education is the strongest driver in their academic success, and 94 per cent agree higher education is important for their child, reveals a new study from ASG and Monash University… [T]he strongest educational resource available to Australian children is support; from home, school and the community. “Parents hold incredibly important, often intangible resources in contributing to their child’s educational success. The ASG Parents Report Card has found that parental aspirations for their children’s education is the glue that holds everything together–-aspirations optimise and underpin all other resources and influences that support their children’s educational needs,” says John Velegrinis, CEO of ASG.” Click here for the full article

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How Does the Home Environment Influence Children’s Learning?

The following article from the Australian Institute of Family Studies (23 September 2015) affirms the importance of the home learning environment. The opening paragraphs …

“This article describes findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children on how the home environment influences children’s learning. The latest findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian children (LSAC) sheds light on a range of factors in a child’s home environment that affect both reading ability and numeracy levels as measured in Grade 3.

“The study identified four broad dimensions of children’s home learning environments:

  • home activities, including teaching the child a song, playing games, and doing arts and crafts activities;
  • number of days per week the primary carer or an grown-up in the family read to the child;
    number of children’s books in the child’s home; and
  • out-of-home activities, including visiting a library or zoo, going on picnics, and attending sporting events.”

Click here for the full article.

Private School Repays School Fees Following Sexual Abuse

The following article from School Governance (Oct 8, 2015) is an interesting look at an alternative pathway to seeking redress from those involved or responsible for ab use suffered whilst at school. Some will note also that the Royal Commission has just released its report on redress and civil litigation.

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