Independent schools down under

Queensland – choosing freedom.

By David Robertson

Independent schools in Queensland are as diverse as the state they represent, and over the past 150 years they have established themselves as both a unique and important part of Australia’s education landscape.

In this area, the sector is represented by 185 schools – ranging from those affiliated with Christian denominations, Islamic or Jewish faiths to schools that promote a philosophy of education, such as Steiner or Montessori, or serve particular community groups, such as indigenous schools or schools for children with learning difficulties.

A common set of characteristics

While each independent school may look and feel different, they all share a common set of characteristics and are strongly committed to providing a well-grounded general education; fostering students’ moral and spiritual development; providing students with pastoral care; promoting discipline; catering to the needs, aptitudes and interests of individual students; developing strong home–school partnerships; and achieving the best possible outcomes for all.

Independent schools educate nearly 15% of all school-aged children in Queensland, including close to 20% of secondary students. They are focused on addressing students’ individual needs and helping them to achieve high academic results. Much of their success is due to the good discipline schools seek to enforce and the teachers they employ, who have a passion for actively encouraging students to learn.

A large percentage of students graduating from Queensland’s independent schools go on to study at university or other tertiary education institutions, and the sector is extremely proud of its students’ results in both the annual National Assessment Programme – Literacy and Numeracy (Naplan) tests and the end of secondary school assessments.

Strengthening teacher quality, promoting extracurriculars

A new multimillion dollar training academy recently established by the Association of Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) will help to cement the sector’s strong academic record further. The AUS$2.7 million Literacy and Numeracy Coaching Academy is a training and mentoring initiative established with support from the federal government’s Smarter Schools National Partnership Programme. The academy officially opened its doors in February this year to 60 teachers from 60 different independent schools.

Research has shown that teacher quality can impact significantly on student achievement, and the academy will provide teachers with a unique opportunity to learn from experts, review their own day-to-day classroom activities and ensure their classroom strategies benefit all students. Independent schools recognise the importance of continuous improvement, and this new form of professional development is sure to produce some exciting results.

Promoting a variety of extracurricular activities is also a strength of the independent sector in Queensland, and many schools pride themselves on offering a well-rounded approach to education. Not only do they work hard encouraging students to achieve good marks, they actively encourage participation in activities away from textbooks, such as sports. It’s generally understood that involvement in extracurricular activities not only provides a well-rounded education but can also increase a child’s enjoyment of school. If a student is enjoying school, they’re more likely to perform well.

What parents want A major survey conducted by ISQ of more than 2 000 Queensland parents last year provided some insight into why mums and dads choose to send their child to an independent school. The What Parents Want survey found the most frequently cited reason for moving students into the independent sector was the perception that “a better level of education was available” (33.1%). In addition, nearly a quarter of all parents surveyed (24.9%) cited “sufficient attention not Independent Education • Winter 12 19 being given to their child’s individual needs” as the reason for changing to an independent school. It’s interesting to note that two-thirds (66.4%) of parents responding to the survey did not attend an independent school themselves, yet decided to send their children to one. For the majority of responding parents (55.8%), the independent sector was the only education sector they had considered.

Enrolments reflect values

The independent sector is continuing to grow at a steady pace. This year’s enrolment figures for independent schools across Queensland have been estimated at more than 112 000 students, which represents a significant increase on last year. In addition, three new independent schools opened their doors in January and several others expanded to include new year levels. This continued growth is a reflection of parents’ ongoing confidence in independent schools. It’s a credit to the sector and an indication of the value it brings to many Queensland families that enrolments have continued to grow, despite the financial hardships experienced by many Australians in recent times.

In choosing independent schools, families are able to exercise three basic freedoms of Australian life – freedom of choice, freedom of assembly and freedom of worship. They are able to choose schools that articulate the values they believe are important for their children’s healthy educational development.

In promoting these values, independent schools recognise that a quality education is built on a strong home–school partnership. Thus, independent schools generally support, and are supported by, strong parent and community networks that give direction and purpose to their pastoral roles.

A process of enormous change

Education in Queensland is currently undergoing a process of enormous change. Preparations are underway to shift Year Seven students from primary to secondary school in 2015, a new national curriculum is in the process of being rolled out and the Australian government’s recent Federal Review of Funding for Schools has the potential to alter the way taxpayer dollars are provided to the independent sector in the future. As a result, the role of ISQ in promoting the opinions of its member schools and ensuring their views are represented at both state and federal level has become increasingly important.

Without independent schools, governments in Australia would struggle to cover the cost of providing every child with a quality education. It’s therefore important the sector receives the support it requires to continue thriving into the future. Parents must continue to be provided with educational choice and quality schooling opportunities that give all students the chance to reach their full potential.

Category: Featured Articles, Winter 2012

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