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  What Works - The Work Program

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South Sydney High School

Personalised Learning Plans for all students Years 7-12

Context | Background | PLPs | Working with parents
 

Context

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South Sydney High School is situated in Maroubra, in the inner southern suburbs of Sydney. In a school population of over 700 students, the school has about 30 who identify as Indigenous. While many of their families are not originally from the local area, they have been settled locally for several generations. One of the 2011 School Captains is an Aboriginal student.

In 2010, South Sydney worked extensively with What Works facilitator Ray Bale on a range of plans to improve outcomes for the school’s Indigenous students. One important initiative was the implementation of Personalised Learning Plans (PLPs) for all Aboriginal students in Years 7-12.


Background

Sharon Hardy is head teacher of Creative and Performing Arts, and relieving Deputy Principal at South Sydney. She discusses the process:


In the past we didn’t have a lot of contact with the Aboriginal parents, and sometimes the contact we did have was only for negative reasons, like suspensions or other discipline matters. We knew we needed to change that. Then we went to an in-service and heard about What Works. It seemed a good fit for us because we thought that a facilitator could help guide us through getting in touch with the parents and community in a positive way. I think we were actually quite fearful that we would say or do the wrong thing or that we’d contact the wrong people in the community.
 

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Sharon Hardy

The first thing was to set up an Aboriginal Education Committee, with a membership of about six or seven people, but open to anyone to come along. And we worked with Ray on quite a few plans, but firstly we tried to make the parents comfortable about coming to the school for informal meetings rather than big events. So we organised some barbecues for teachers and parents. The local Aboriginal Education Consultant [Jane Stanley] came, and so did Auntie Fay Carroll the Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer. It was important that these events were informal, ‘get to know you’ sessions rather than only working sessions and they were the start of establishing good relationships between teachers and parents. Leonie Stevens is our Aboriginal Support Worker and she was crucial in contacting people and making those links.

What we really wanted to know was what the parents wanted for their kids. We found out, of course, that they wanted their kids to do well at school. Then we wanted to show them how they could support what was happening at school. So this all fed into developing Personalised Learning Programs for all our Aboriginal students.


Personalised Learning Plans

We were concerned initially about how to manage the process, but I contacted Auntie Fay Carroll and Jane Stanley and they passed on some information about what other schools were doing and offered to help us. Then Leonie helped set up individual meeting times with parents. The format we’re using is not completely original but draws on the information we were given.

At first some of the parents were concerned about why we wanted to put together a student profile and get information from them. They wanted to know who was going to see the information and what was going to be done with it. And we didn’t want to step on peoples’ toes either. But when parents saw that it was all about helping the students the atmosphere was very positive. It helped a lot that we had already met a lot of the parents informally and that Auntie Faye and Leonie were there to help.

After that I went to all sessions with parents and Leonie, but now we’re getting Year Advisors involved at that stage instead of me. When we’re looking at particular subject areas, though, we involve the appropriate teachers as well. We do ask for written contributions from teachers.


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This way, we actually find out a lot more about the students and their interests and to start with, we usually set small, achievable goals in their actual Personalised Learning Plans. Sometimes they are about attendance, and sometimes they are about specific improvements in particular subjects. For those who have recently finished NAPLAN tests in Years 7 and 9 we’re able to look closely at those results and target specific areas.

We’ve been able to help students understand clearly where there are gaps in their learning, and what they need to do to improve. But we’ve also been able to identify students’ strengths, and help them use those strengths as much as possible.


Working with parents

Through the PLP process I’ve learned quite a bit about working with Aboriginal parents, and what it takes to get the relationship right. First of all you have to be persistent and realise that many parents have complicated lives and it’s difficult for them to make commitments in advance. But that doesn’t mean they don’t care about their kids. For some parents, it takes time for them to feel comfortable coming up to the school, and it’s good to have Aboriginal leaders involved to encourage them.

You also need to use as many forms of communication as you have available, but many parents like to have a trusted point of contact at the school. It may not always be the student’s Year Level Advisor and it might not be the front office. It’s usually OK then for that trusted person to introduce the parent to other staff members.

I’ve found that trying to talk ‘person to person’ rather than ‘teacher to parent’ is best. Relaxed conversations are always good and all parents appreciate being contacted with positive news about their children rather than only hearing from the school when something has gone wrong.

We’re now finding that Aboriginal parents are much more prepared to come to NAIDOC Week events or other school functions.

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