(Jun. 16, 2021) — With just a few weeks before Victorian schools start their end of term holiday, or ‘vacation’, there’s a timely question we need to ask: Are schools providing maximum value?
by Cheryl Lacey, ©2021
More than 2,260 schools, some of them with state-of-the-art facilities and 21st century architecture, will be well and truly ‘vacated’, apart from those that offer out-of-school hours ‘care’. If we add other term breaks and weekends, schools are closed for ‘regular school business’, and essentially empty, for at least 165 days. This represents 45% of the calendar year. And this doesn’t include evening hours after any normal school day.
In November 2020, the Victorian Premier announced a $3 billion investment in schools. You have to wonder what the total spend on Victorian schools has been. You would have to ask, too, how much of that figure has represented worthy investment, and how much has been vote winning spending. More importantly, you need to ask what else we could be doing to make best use of these 2,260 facilities for almost half the calendar year.
Developing a broad vision for a school, including facilitating after-hours use of its facilities, is the responsibility of the school council. The council is also responsible for taking into account any views the school community might put forward. This is a totally valid opportunity to begin the process of getting more value out of the school’s facilities than is currently happening.
It isn’t only about facilities. What about staffing? Teachers are employed to instruct or teach the curriculum. They cannot be required to undertake duties in excess of 38 hours per week. Neither are they required to be on the school premises if students aren’t present.
Exclusive industry entitlements aside, teachers, like most full-time employees, are entitled to 4 weeks annual leave – and rightly so. How do we measure the value of the work being done when students are on a term break and teachers are not?
This question should first be directed to the principal, whose task it is to determine the duties staff must fulfil. Staff are expected to perform their duties in a reasonable time frame. Are teachers being given too many duties unrelated to instructional practice? Could they relinquish some duties, enabling them to spend more time on teaching?
Schools are nothing more than bricks and mortar. It’s what happens in them that matters most.
Surely, principals and school councils have the courage and capacity to fulfil their own duties. If they’re not up to the task, then perhaps they could do with a little nudge.
Here are some ideas to transform your local school into a genuine Community Education Hub:
· Start a conversation with parents, local businesses and community groups
· Collect ideas on how your local school facilities could be better utilised
· Gather feedback on how families feel about more flexible school hours across the calendar year and, more specifically, during term breaks
· Support your teachers by advocating a total curriculum review
· Write a letter to your school council president and principal and request a community forum.
Every school has its own leadership, comprising the school council and the principal, and is responsible for its own unique community. There’s no reason why every school should look and function in exactly the same way.
As Victorians prepare for school holidays starting in just a few weeks, ask yourself this question. Is your school providing maximum value? If not, here’s an opportunity to begin a movement for change.
Marching Schools Forward: Discussions on the Direction of Australian Education (now available at Connor Court Publishing)