If 2021 has shown anything about Australia’s education system it is its ability to adapt, and thrive, amid enormous disruptions to teaching and learning.
A number of reports conducted throughout the year showed that while young people were heavily impacted through the pandemic, the tireless work of Australia’s teachers and leaders ensured that students’ academic outcomes didn’t slip – and this was true both in 2020 and in 2021.
Mission Australia’s latest Youth Survey Report 2021, conducted between April and August this year, found that for the first time, COVID-19 was most important national issue according to young people, rising from second place in 2020 (38.8%) to the top spot in 2021 (45.7%).
Survey responses revealed the pandemic and associated public health responses had a negative effect on young people’s health, wellbeing and education in 2021. However, this didn’t seem to have much of a bearing on the academic outcomes of young people.
The NAPLAN 2021 National Report, released on Wednesday, found no drop in student performance in reading, writing and numeracy between 2019 and 2021 at a national and state/territory level despite the massive disruptions caused by the pandemic.
ACARA CEO, David de Carvalho, said the relative parity of NAPLAN results at the national and jurisdictional levels of aggregation, was unexpected given the disruption schools experienced.
“Many people have found this surprising, given the impact COVID had on so many aspects of schooling and social life in 2020 around the country,” de Carvalho told The Educator.
“We are doing further work to see if those high-level results mask any changes between different demographic groups, in particular students from socio-educationally disadvantaged groups.”
What is known, however, is that principals and teachers demonstrated remarkable resilience, innovation and excellence throughout the year.
This was recently recognised at the Australian Education Awards 2021, when hundreds of principals, deputies, teachers, department heads and support staff gathered virtually to see the profession recognised across 28 categories.
Supporting this important event were Tes, Box of Books, Education Perfect, PeopleBench, Teachers Mutual Bank and anzuk Education, all of which have been helping to drive the magnificent work that schools across Australia have been doing.
Albert Park College was named the Tes Australian School of the Year, while Rochedale State School head, Dr Keith Graham, took out the anzuk Education Australian School Principal of the Year Award, adding to the school’s three other trophies collected on the night.
Excellence in regional education was also highlighted when James Fallon High in Albury NSW was named Australia's Regional School of the Year.
“In the body of knowledge on rural education in Australia, I have discovered a strong theme – those new ways of thinking about rural education that are strengths based, away from urban metrics, contextual and innovative – might be a way forward for the Regional Education Commissioner,” principal Jenny Parrett told The Educator.
“It certainly is terrific to see attention brought to rural Australia, and if the work is undertaken with respect to rural Australia being different rather than deficit, that would be wonderful.”
Young changemakers were also recognised on the national stage. Holly Millican, a Mathematics teacher at South Grafton High School, took out the Rising Star of the Year Award for her tireless work helping at-risk students reengage with their learning.
“My goal is to subtly change the way we are teaching Mathematics, moving away from the ‘chalk and talk’ teaching method,” Millican told The Educator.
“We have to move towards creating a collaborative, engaging and exciting learning experience for our students which develops students’ growth mindsets, reduces the anxiety surrounding Mathematics and highlights the beauty of Mathematics in our everyday lives.”
Brisbane’s Ormiston College perhaps had the biggest celebration of the night, taking home a whopping eight awards, including Secondary School of the Year (Non-Government), Teachers Mutual Bank Primary School Teacher of the Year (Non-Government) and the Box of Books Best Use of Technology Awards.
Ormiston’s Excellence Awards included Innovation in Learning Environment Design, Primary School of the Year (Non-Government), School Principal of the Year (Non-Government), Secondary School Teacher of the Year (Non-Government) and Best Co-Curricular Program.
College principal, Brett Webster, said a big priority in 2022 should be for teachers and leaders to direct time and resourcing to ensure that strong foundations in student literacy and numeracy are maintained.
“Literacy and numeracy are the keys to success in so many other areas. Hence, Schools may need to double-down on their efforts next year to arrest any concerns,” Webster told The Educator.
“I also hope that 2022 will provide schools with some great opportunities to reengage their people in face-to-face settings, to build upon their social capital, collaborate more off-line, reignite their community’s shared sense of purpose, have some fun and celebrate the meaning and the positive difference they bring to the lives of so many students, parents and staff.”