The Melbourne Declaration review should specify policy action for regional and remote students, says the nation’s peak body for private school leaders.
On 14 December 2018, Education Council Ministers agreed to undertake a review of the Melbourne Declaration and hold an initial Forum in February 2019 to consult and collaborate with key stakeholders and experts.
In a statement on Tuesday. The Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA) said the challenges of education provision in regional and remote areas should be specifically recognised in the Declaration’s areas of commitment to action.
“Since the Melbourne Declaration was published in 2008, research evidence has confirmed that geographic location is strongly linked to educational disadvantage in Australia,” AHISA’s CEO, Beth Blackwood, said.
Blackwood said that while federal and state and territory governments are already taking steps to address the challenges faced by rural and remote students, identifying these issues as a specific form of disadvantage in a revised Declaration will serve to recognise the work that is already underway.
“Importantly, it will also ensure that collaborative action to address these issues is a focus of the Education Council,” she added.
AHISA’s submission to the Review of the Melbourne Declaration also calls for explicit recognition of the importance of the professional expertise of educators in students’ development and academic achievement, and recommends the Declaration be used as a vehicle to proclaim a national vision for schools as well as for students.
“Schools are intentional communities as well as institutions of learning. They support students’ learning and wellbeing and that means reaching out to families and carers, too,” Blackwood said.
Blackwood said the success of schools as communities is a responsibility shared by students, families, teachers, school leaders, school owners and the broader community.
“A national vision for schools would be an important way to recognise and promote that,” she said.
‘Rethink needed on rural and remote education’
Associate Professor Jihyun Lee from the UNSW’s School of Education said while it is possible that boosting school attendance in remote communities has a role to play, education policies need to look beyond getting children into school buildings and consider the full range of community infrastructure that facilitates learning in the long-term.
“The government investment of $5m on projects that support and promote school attendance in remote and very remote areas has been re-emphasised in the wake of the 2018 NAPLAN national report,” Dr Lee said.
The Federal Government’s funding plan is tied to the Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS) that commenced in 2014, which has a particular focus on school attendance by Indigenous students.
Dr Lee said that while the aim of the plan is to improve school attendance through employment of local School Attendance Supervisors and School Attendance Officers to work in local communities, it may not be a sustainable solution in the long-term.
“The government strategy is focused on human resources while other countries appear to invest more in educational infrastructure for the future generations,” she said.