By Sam Birrell
I believe that the new Greater Shepparton College can work well for the region, and, in the long run, can improve our young people’s education outcomes and career prospects.
There is a lot of noise around this issue at the moment. I have read some of the online comment, which ranges from legitimate concern about the merger plan to fear mongering and abuse of anyone who has, with the best of intentions, attempted to instigate change for the benefit of students.
The angst around the transition period is understandable. It won’t be ideal for all families, and everything possible should be done to make life as easy as possible – for example, free buses for all students. But the reality is that the new school can’t be built over a summer holiday period, so there was always going to be some disruption.
The Victorian Government needs to ensure funding arrangements to make sure the disruption is as brief as possible.
So why do we need change, and is this model the best way to achieve it?
Firstly, I don’t think anyone can deny that the current system was not working.
NAPLAN results (I know, not the be-all and end-all of a school’s performance) for the four state secondary schools showed trends significantly below the state average.
Facilities are not up to par and there is not a diverse range of subject choices. It is hard to attract and retain teachers. Bullying is problematic.
Society is delivering many of its problems on the doorstep of the schools (trauma, poor parenting, drug abuse), and individually the schools don’t have the resources to cope.
A concerning trend in the region is youth unemployment of about 16percent. This is despite the best efforts of the committed staff at these schools.
So, something needed to be done. Education experts tell me that the concentration of resources gives greater opportunity to look after each student’s needs.
There is concern about kids getting lost in a large school, but the design feature of houses is intended to enhance the care and attention. This makes sense to me. If a kid goes from Year 7 to Year 12 in a house of 300 students, with the learning mentors, wellbeing staff and careers advisers attuned to individual needs, a pathway to career and meaningful life is more assured.
If Year 7s and 8s see, in a smaller community, Year 11s and 12s considering further education and work opportunities, it creates aspiration from an early age.
I have a hope that each house has an advisory board consisting of business and community leaders, which would advise staff on real-life industry applications of academic theory and help to mentor students into job pathways.
The Committee for Greater Shepparton is keen to work with Greater Shepparton College during the transition phase, to engage the business community, especially with the Year 9 students at the Mooroopna campus.
Greater Shepparton Lighthouse has already had some great success with its Industry Links project. There is more that can be done in this space. Businesses will find it easier when there is one school and one system to work with.
Every parent wants their child to be safe at school. That will be an essential factor of the new school’s success.
Standards of behaviour need to be set and adhered to. At the same time, students who transgress and bully cannot be given up on, they need to be given all the support to learn the life skills and behaviours necessary to function in society.
My discussions with the Greater Shepparton College’s executive principal Genevieve Simpson in relation to this have given me encouragement. I think she has a clear vision and strong experience which will enable her to achieve the desired culture.
The model is not a guarantee of success, nor is it flawed from the start. It provides an opportunity. The new buildings and the revamped structure give a physical environment which our students deserve and have deserved for some time. But the people are what will create the culture of learning and innovation.
The culture will be created by a combination of staff, parents and community coming together with goal of improving education and wellbeing, which improves our region for decades to come.
Sam Birrell is the Committee for Greater Shepparton’s chief executive.