I’ve been considering recently, that our contemporary culture has listened to the siren song of big is beautiful when it comes to secondary education.
The economies of scale are tempting for increased finances and prestige. Economies of scale impress parents with a plethora of “options” which can easily be equated with opportunities.
Options however, are not opportunities.
When schools move to a ‘big school’ model, there are a number of factors that decrease a student’s opportunities. Imperceptibly, decisions start to be made to handle the numbers rather than the individuals.
If you have 180 or more students in each year group, how do you organise that?
I know! Test them and place them at levels you set based on your opinions of their capacity. Stream them: two advanced classes, three standard classes, and the inevitable general classes. Research has clearly shown that the effects of streaming on students are negative. Students do not get to see what others working at different levels looks like. Students who quickly understand a topic are denied the opportunity to reinforce their own learning (and their character) by helping others understand. Teachers make assumptions about who they’re teaching and at what level to pitch their lessons. There is little emotional energy for students to rise and replace students not performing in the advanced class (who wants to make the phone call “I’m sorry Mr and Mrs Parent, we’re moving your child down a level to make room for another student whose performance is stronger”).
When a student reaches Year 10, they are informed of cut off marks for particular courses. This helps to maintain good marks achieved by the school. In large groups, it is difficult to make exceptions for individual students below these cut off marks. Again, opportunity is denied because of perceived limits of capacity.
Although Mundaring Christian College is growing quickly, we have not embraced the ‘big school’ model. Our community will never grow too large to be able to respond to students’ individual needs.
These are the principles and values in education we embrace:
- All students have the right to access the same curriculum
- Testing will not be used to limit students’ opportunity, but as a basis from which they can improve
- Students' futures are open, we will equip and encourage them to have hope and confidence as learners, and embrace opportunities with a growth mindset
- While we will tailor the learning process for students to bring extension and support where and when needed, we will not stream students and limit their opportunity
- We believe that the basis for improving students’ outcomes doesn’t lie in limiting access to subjects, but supporting teachers to improve the quality of teaching and learning that all students experience.
This year, in the secondary school, it has been deeply gratifying to see amongst the students who have come to our college from large school experiences, a consistent and marked improvement as well as feelings of being ‘cared for’. If you ask them, they’ll happily tell you.
Mr Rod McNeill