A secondary school that fosters Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose in Brisbane???

Are you interested in a progressive secondary education option for Brisbane’s Western Suburbs?

Are you disillusioned by the top-down, content delivery and data collection focus of Education, at the expense of the well-being of children and authentic learning?

Do you believe that quality Education fosters Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose (Pink, 2009)?

* Integrated, Inquiry and Project-based
* Positive learning dispositions and 21st Century skill sets fostered
* Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical thinking (the 4C’s) valued over rote memorisation
* Teachers as facilitators and mentors, rather than as content deliverers and data collectors
* Socio-emotional learning prioritised
* Partnerships with community, industry, business, TAFE and University
* Interests and passions authentically linked to the Australian Curriculum outcomes

Register your interest here


It’s not just us

We always intended to send our kids to state (public) school.

However, from when our eldest reached year two (2012), we knew something was not quite right. The Teachers all suddenly seemed stressed and overwhelmed. The curriculum content had taken a big concept leap. The Australian Curriculum and Curriculum to Classroom (C2C) were being rolled out in Queensland schools. Prior to now, Year 2’s used to learn number concepts to 100 and this year the expectation had shifted to number concepts to 1000… and every subject area had similar changes and shifts in the expectations of children.

In year three, our son started coming home anxious and angry. We considered that perhaps his new baby brother was having an impact on him and we tried to connect with his Teacher, asking how he was going (emotionally). We were seeking information and hopefully support for his social and emotional well-being at school, but instead we received grade book information. She tried to reassure us that his academic work was “fine” and he is quiet and no trouble in class. Over time it was revealed that our son’s class of seven and eight year olds, were being told what they needed to ‘do’ to achieve an A, as opposed to a C (pretty abstract concepts for this age group) and they were participating in practice for each of the four NAPLAN tests every week. He was becoming increasingly anxious and angry about school.

I searched for other reasons: we saw a Dietician and did the FAILSAFE elimination diet, we attended a Triple P Parenting program at the University of Queensland, we took him to a child Psychologist and researched and did workshops on Respectful Parenting/Parenting by Connection. I read and researched and read some more.

He began Year 5 with an amazing male Teacher who we hoped he would connect with, after a series of Teacher changes in year 4….then the NAPLAN practice started again and the tummy pains, tears begging to stay home several days a week, talking about wanting to ‘fight’ kids at school who annoyed him at lunch time and the angry after school decompression meltdowns, became a near daily occurrence. All of these symptoms, disappeared during the school holidays.

We were repeatedly told that he is “fine” because he is well-behaved at school and that it is “normal” for 10 year old boys to “hate” school, behave angrily and aggressively after school and that we need to be tougher on him and he needs to learn to “suck it up”.

This perspective did not sit well with me. Why do we accept this as “normal” and turn it into a problem with the child, instead of a problem with the environment (and the system)? Our family life was becoming increasingly stressful and negative.

After much research and soul searching, we finally decided to home school. This ended up being the best decision we could have made at the time and within weeks, the playful, happy boy that we knew was in there, was back.

We also withdrew our six year old school. After experiencing a play-based Prep with our eldest in 2010 and contrasted that with the formal Prep our middle child experienced only four years later, it was heartbreaking to witness. We were deeply saddened by the push down of the formal curriculum and the lack of creativity and play in the transition year. I guess we were lucky that our middle child “coped” academically and socially, but is “coping” good enough?

Kids shouldn’t need to survive their education, they need to be thriving.

Even, our resilient, outgoing middle child was beginning to disengage by Term 4 of Prep. By Year 1, he began to question: “When will we get to do science experiments and learn about volcanoes?” Sadly, only 30 minutes a week was allocated to science and the Year 1 content was designated to “habitats”. “Why can’t I do art that is MY art”(instead of the cookie cutter replicas required for grading and accountability). It broke my heart. The most important things about education for me as a parent, is that my kids enjoy learning, collaborating, communicating ideas, have the freedom to discover and express who they are creatively and to critically question and stand up for what is right, over what is easy. The Melbourne Declaration says that these skills and positive learning dispositions are what children need to develop to thrive in the future, yet *most schools in the system are only focused on quantifiable test scores, ignoring the fact that education is a perpetual continuum, it is not linear and most importantly, is about the holistic growth and development of human beings!

All our children’s Teachers were wonderful, committed and caring people. We don’t feel this was a problem with Teachers. We know they are stuck in a system that demands bench-marking, comparison and competition… but is that what is best for developing thriving human children and life-long learners? Absolutely not.

We adored our home schooling community, the fear of “lack of socialisation” is a huge myth. We reconnected as a family, we learned through our interests and we all made lasting friendships. It was a truly irreplaceable time in our lives for growing as individuals and as a family.

Then we stumbled across a small community school that embodies nearly everything I was trying to offer my children. The school centres their pedagogy and decision making processes on developmental readiness and how decisions benefit to the child. Children have a voice, they can climb the big tree and shoes are optional. Learning is active, multi-age, individualised and integrated (yet still aligned with the Australian Curriculum). They prioritise social and emotional learning, the arts and self-directed projects.

He got to learn about Italy and Mt Vesuvius (volcanoes!) and build his own for his project.

Our then 6 year old was immediately at home. Our eldest took a few weeks to trust that school could be an emotionally safe and fun place. I sat down in our second term with his teacher and it was the first time I had had a conversation with a Teacher who had truly SEEN him for who he really is, instead of who he let’s people see – the obedient, quiet, do as you are told, do the bare minimum just so I can get by, child. He was compliant so his previous Teachers thought he was doing fine, but he HATED school. At his new school, his confidence soared. He was able to “be” himself. He became the leader he never believed he could be. He started teaching the younger kids soccer at lunch time (and 2 years after he graduated primary school they still play).

We found an amazing school that fits us perfectly. We recognise how privileged and lucky we are to have this choice. So Kathy Margolis’ post went viral in February, 2016, it wasn’t enough that OUR kids are ok. I turned to Chris and I said:

“It’s not just us, Teachers see it too. All kids should have a school like this. I have to do something…”

and THAT was the inception of Protecting Childhood.

Open Letter to Candidates in the Qld State Election November 2017

This letter was emailed directly to a number of the candidates in all political parties, including Premier Annastacia Palasczczuk, Opposition leader Tim Nicholls, Education Minister Kate Jones and Shadow Education Minister, Tracy Davis, the Queensland Greens and One Nation, as well as the Queensland Teachers Union on the 7th November 2017.

Protecting Childhood is a grassroots alliance of teachers, parents and mental health professionals advocating for the well-being of Australian children. Our particular area of concern is the impact of the Australian school system on children through developmentally inappropriate academic standards and expectations, high stakes standardized testing including NAPLAN, and the diminishing elements of free play, exploratory learning and creativity in a heavily planned and content-heavy national curriculum.

What we are seeing in Australia is an incredible rise in childhood anxiety and depression, which is mirroring the experience in the United States and United Kingdom post 1950 where the depression rate in teenagers is 5 to 8 times higher than in 1955. Dr Gray has identified a strong correlation between the decline of play in childhood, including at school and this rise in mental illness.

“By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders,” Dr Gray writes.

Play is not in addition to or a distraction from learning, it is the critical key to it, particularly in those early years which set the tone for a lifelong learning journey.

“There is very clear evidence that children’s cognitive development and emotional well-being are related to the quality of their play, and a number of studies have shown that individuals who are not well developed in these areas are not playful.” (Whitebread, D. 2012).

The problem of Play Deficit Disorder is evidenced with the increasing pressure on children from the moment they enter a school classroom in Prep. There are assessments of their academic knowledge from the outset, and where children are less advanced than others there is pressure to push them to develop early literacy and numeracy skills at the expense of the free play that is so critical to their early learning.

This has been acknowledged by the current Queensland government with the Age Appropriate Pedagogies program in Queensland State Schools essentially designed to return play back to the prep and year 1 curriculum. However, we fear it’s only a bandaid solution and what is needed is a change of approach to school education from the outset, to reverse this push-down pressure and expectation that is doing serious long term harm to our children.

This approach is set to worsen with the proposed Federal Government Year 1 Phonics Check. While a phonics check can be a useful tool to identify early indications of dyslexia, the Federal mandate of this approach and inevitable reporting of this information on a national, state and probably school by-school level is only going to increase this risk of anxiety and depression even earlier in the school experience.

This Queensland State Election represents an opportunity for the next government to stand up for Queensland children, and in turn, stand up for the future of our state.

Protecting Childhood is therefore calling on all parties in the Queensland State Election 2017 to commit the following:

1. To reject the implementation of the Federal Government Year 1 Phonics Check.
2. To restructure the State curriculum program – Curriculum 2 Classroom – for Prep and Year 1 to ensure the expectations on the achievement spectrum are age and development appropriate.
3. To reject any suggestion to lower the school starting age.
4. To advocate to COAG Education Ministers Forum to end MySchool publication of NAPLAN results on a school-by-school basis
5. To reject robomarking and online performance of NAPLAN.
6. To ensure funding is available for registered kindergarten programs to enable children to have an additional year in kindergarten if their early childhood educators and parents believe they are not ready to start school.

We understand that the Federal Government has imposed itself significantly on the autonomy of State education departments since the Melbourne Declaration in 2008. However, we want the States to resist on behalf of the teachers, parents and, most importantly, children who are suffering in this regime.

We look forward to your considered response which will help our 10,000+ members make an informed decision on November 25.

Yours Sincerely,
Chris Cox on behalf of the Protecting Childhood Executive Team

Real teaching

Recently, a teaching friend of mine lamented the fact that she missed “real teaching” and it made me sad. I too, mourn the loss of “real teaching”. It’s the reason I left the classroom. So what do we mean by real teaching? Real teaching happens when teachers have creative and professional freedom to design a curriculum and lessons based around children’s interests and needs. Yet in today’s system, many teachers feel that they are nothing more than puppets or robots spitting out prescriptive lessons in a standardised curriculum. I’ve had young teachers tell me that they wouldn’t know what to teach without this curriculum. Teaching is an art form not a science and I fear we are losing that art form.
Let me tell you a real story to illustrate real teaching.
In the last 2 weeks of my teaching career I decided to give my students a real gift, some real teaching. I had finished teaching them the prescribed lessons and had finished administering the prescribed assessment. I had finished boring them with topics neither they nor I were interested in. I had finished trying to teach them age inappropriate concepts which made their eyes glaze over and made me feel guilty. I decided to go back to what I knew worked, real teaching.
Each morning we started with a 10 minute topic of the day. I chose topics that I was passionate about and invited them to throw topics into the ring as well. We discussed things like shark culling and shark nets (the boys loved that one), free range eggs and caged eggs, refugees. The 10 minutes sometimes went for much longer depending on the children’s interest. The children shared some very considered and thoughtful opinions and there was some lively debate. One parent reported that their dinner time conversations had become very informative.
One day I decided to talk about palm oil. Now anyone who knows me knows that I am very passionate about this topic. We talked about deforestation and the effects on the animals as well as the fact that trans fats are very bad for our health. I showed them the app that I had on my phone which scans labels and tells you whether the food item contains palm oil and whether it comes from a certified or non-certified source.
After morning tea the children were all lined up at the door waiting for me with lunch wrappers imploring me to scan them to see if what they had eaten contained palm oil and whether the source was ok. They sat patiently as I scanned them all and answered their questions. I knew I was onto something. Seems my passion had been contagious! So I jumped on their enthusiasm and we got out the laptops. My instructions were simple. Find 5 facts about palm oil that you could use to educate others about the topic. “Is it for assessment?” chirped one boy. “Do we have to write in sentences?” asked another. After letting them know that it wasn’t for assessment and I didn’t care how they recorded their notes off they went. My classroom became a hive of activity. Exclamations of horror could be heard as they read the information and were shocked by their findings.
Then the snowball began. “Can we make our 5 facts into a power point?” I think when I replied “Sure” that they were shocked because usually there was no time in the day to accommodate the requests of the children. Classrooms are always time poor these days. I was shocked at who had asked the question. It was a boy who was not very interested in anything other than soccer and for whom schoolwork seemed an arduous chore. And then others chimed in.
“Well it’s not much point doing that unless we show them to someone.”
“I know let’s ask if we can present them on assembly.”
“Let’s ask if we can present them to other classes.”
The ideas were flowing thick and fast and my heart was singing! The most poignant exclamation across the classroom was, “Do you realise that we are making work for ourselves and no one is complaining?!”
The power points were great but it didn’t end there. They decided to send emails to all the teachers inviting them to view the presentations but that still wasn’t the end. Some girls found it incredulous that Australian companies were using uncertified sources of palm oil in their products. They wanted to write to these companies and let them know that what they were doing was wrong (some great persuasive text happened in those letters). A child, who was very creative but not into writing, made a persuasive poster about palm oil.
Around the school the children’s classroom visits and talks were a resounding success.
In that one topic we had covered English, Geography, Science, Health and Maths. From real teaching comes real learning. These children took control of their own learning and ran with it. They owned it. And more to the point, they had fun doing it!
These last 2 weeks brought me such joy. I was so glad to have the opportunity to demonstrate that I knew how to be a good teacher, how to engage children and incite a love of learning. Those last 2 weeks also invoked in me such sorrow because I knew that if I could be trusted to teach like that then I wouldn’t be walking away from the profession that I once loved.

Kathy Margolis

Cold Distant Data: The Great Political Deception and Money Waster

Data collection in schools to fulfill national standardised testing requirements is a wrong education driver. The results provide cold, non relational information. It is the relationship between students, teachers and parents that requires the greatest focus and attention.

Collecting national data on children, like the Australian Early Development Census, NAPLAN etc will, I believe, turn out to be one of the great deceptions and money wasters of our times. An experienced educator who “reads the child” and gets to know them, will possess more valuable information about that child than can be gleaned from any data collected via standardised national testing. When we focus on the latter, which sucks energy from the human teacher/pupil/class engagement, we go down a dehumanising path of cold statistics.

The intention may be good, but in fact, it has become a costly exercise that doesn’t actually benefit the relationship between child, teacher and class which is the driver of learning. Our current political (forced?) obsession with standardised testing, with results being marked, collated and analysed in distant places, is a complete distraction from the main game. The main game – true human connection and relationship, where the DATA is right in front of the teacher – is being eroded, devalued, defocussed and dissolved by distant politically assigned DATA collecting educrats/testucrats.

Knowing children, their qualities and abilities and how to support their next stage of faculty development IS the real game – the true living interface where learning takes place.

All teachers will tell you they do not need third party data for assessment or planning. Somehow the hierarchy are managing to make them bend to their ill-conceived will. Children are the teachers’ information (DATA) with which they work. We need to empower teachers in their most important and challenging of human relations activities and stop them becoming agents for distant third party number crunchers.

Teaching is slowly becoming paralysed – “paralysis by analysis”, by an unnecessary and unwelcome third party. But yes there are three parties where the relationship ideally needs to be good; child, parents and teachers. Parents will always be the child’s first teacher. Conscious parenting and conscious teaching provide the true human space for learning to take place. Reading the child; understanding the child; knowing how to guide the child; serving the needs of the child’s growth and development – this is the main game of parents and teachers! The knowledge (data) lies in the understanding relationship between them. It always has and it always will. The more our focus goes on DATA collection for the (misguided) missionary zeal of politicians, educrats and testucrats, the more it detracts from the real game of teaching.

PLEASE, STOP THE PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS! It has not worked overseas in the counties we are choosing to follow – England and the US. The answer lies in supporting teachers and parents. We really need to support the human organic living needs of teachers. They need human resources and support to assist with the most human and challenging of vocations – teaching our children, where all the performance data they need is right in front of them. We need to listen to them, respect them and provide them with what they need. Ah yes, cold distant data, the great deception and money waster!

Jonathan Anstock

The Advocate for Childhood

Let’s discuss ‘that child’ found in many education and care settings. However, let’s not label him ‘that child’, and respectfully use his real name, Jacob. Jacob is spirited, energetic and a non-conformist. When all the obedient children are sitting on the carpet, Jacob is playing with dress ups and refusing his educator’s attempts to control him. When he and other children are happily playing outside then asked to come inside, the other children resign to compliance. Not Jacob. He refuses to abandon his outdoor play time, to come inside and hear a story he has heard a thousand times. He knows that he’ll just struggle to sit still anyway, so the story will be constantly interrupted with his educator’s attempts to behaviour ‘manage’ him into what is perceived by the adults in his room as ‘listening behaviour’. He would much prefer to keep moving, climbing, running and jumping in the outdoor space, as children of his age need to do. So he does…..

This post is written by Sandi Phoenix a core Protecting Childhood team member. You can read the rest here:  http://www.phoenix-support.com.au/blog/advocate-for-childhood/



Back to school

It’s Back to School for kids this week. Parents have been getting all the resources ready, new uniforms, books, laptops and other devices depending on the school requirements, and teachers have been hard at it planning for the year ahead.

But the homework doesn’t end for parents when we send our kids off to school for the first day. Here’s a few homework items we suggest!

Be mindful of your children’s emotions and tiredness

Whether they’re starting school for the first time, moving from primary to high school, or simply moving to a new class, it’s always a big transition. Kids have come off 6 weeks of family holidays, uninterrupted play and activities. Getting back into the grind can be a challenge.

Most schools and teachers realise this and they’ll ease kids into the routine, but others will start loading up on learning from the start. It’s up to us as parents to monitor how our kids are coping. Nobody knows them better than you.

They’re bound to be tired and maybe a bit irritable in the afternoons. Don’t be afraid to cut them some slack on homework. In fact, in primary school it might even be a colossal waste of time .

Let’s face it, our brains need time to recover after being engaged for significant time at work, our kids are no less in need of the opportunity to rest their weary heads.

Don’t surrender to the parental guilt of not pushing your kids hard on the homework thing. Even if they’re not keen to read their books, offer to read to them. It’s still valuable.

If you’re concerned with the amount of homework coming back, don’t be afraid to chat to your teacher to find out what their expectations really are. If you have any concerns, or feel your child’s sporting and musical classes that they might do after school are more valuable, don’t be afraid to make that point to the teacher. After all, it’s not all about the school and the teacher, learning is a team effort and you, your child and your teacher need to be on the same page.

Say no to NAPLAN

This might sound like controversial advice, but if your child is in year 3, 5, 7 or 9, don’t forget you have the right to withdraw your child from participating in NAPLAN. The high stakes nature, the media obsession, the tying of funding, and in some states even attempts to tie high school graduation to year 9 NAPLAN results – it all leads to stress and anxiety on kids, schools and teachers to make NAPLAN a focus.

There is no evidence that obsessing over NAPLAN is helping our academic results, and increasingly it seems that focusing on it, is actively reducing effective learning time, as more time is spent preparing.

More broadly, high stakes standardised testing has been shown to be ineffective and indeed leads to a misleading view of a child’s performance, let alone the school cohort.

But why withdraw? Quite simply because the higher the rates of withdrawal, the less meaningful the data is. The less meaningful the data is, the less the data appeals to media, politicians and bureaucrats who like to make a big deal about things.

In fact, maybe the NAPLAN story in 2017 will be about the levels of withdrawal? Now that’d be newsworthy!

So your tasks are:

  1. Ask your child if they WANT to do NAPLAN. Some kids really enjoy doing tests, and we would never suggest denying them the opportunity to do something they want to do – even if, in reality, it’s pointless.
  2. Write a letter to your teacher and principal, advising that your child will not be participating in NAPLAN testing or PREPARATION for NAPLAN testing.

It’s also a good idea to chat to your child’s teacher about what level of preparation they will be doing with the class. As your child won’t be participating, you want to be sure that their time will be usefully spent. Of course, that could just mean letting them go play, but as most schools have strict supervision guidelines, it’s probably worth suggesting reading, writing a story or drawing pictures.

There’s no doubt your child will achieve more than doing any NAPLAN practice testing anyway.

Make home fun

Above all, whether it’s the first week or the last week of term, home should be where your kids feel most comfortable. Let them play, let them have fun, and try not to be too demanding about schoolwork.

We hate taking our jobs home with us. So do our kids

Political disrespect for education professionals

Benjamin Franklin said “Nothing is certain in life, except death and taxes”. That must have been before politicians started weighing in on matters of education.

Because there’s nothing more certain these days than politicians sinking the boot into teachers, schools and apparently, early education centres.

At a time when media, the public and politicians of all persuasions are lamenting Australia’s apparently lacklustre performance by comparison to other OECD nations, we have this week seen Federal politicians come out swinging against the very people who have direct influence on changing that.

It started with Andrew Laming, Liberal MP for Bowman, with an unprovoked, snide Facebook post asking “Are teachers back at work this week, or are they “lesson planning” at home? Let me know exactly.”

Teachers most certainly did let him know.

The gold star for school education is Finland. We hear it constantly. Their success is in no small part due to the respect that teaching as a profession, and teachers as professionals are held. They are well paid, very well educated, and trusted with the important role of teaching our next generation.

Disrespect for our education professionals was further highlighted by Senator David Leyonhjelm who flippantly dismissed early education teachers as nose wipers and peacekeepers.

Senator Leyonhjelm’s concern is the $3 billion childcare reform package, based on the ever increasing costs of childcare, to which he puts the blame on “overqualified” staff and overzealous quality standards.

Shadow Early Childhood Minister Kate Ellis pointed out today that the research shows children who receive quality pre-school education do better when they transition to school itself. That has led to the quality framework the sector is working towards.

The reason fees are escalating is because families simply can’t survive on a single income, and so families are scrambling for childcare placements that are becoming rare as hens’ teeth. It’s basic supply and demand economics. Demand is high, supply is low, so fees go up.

Senator Leyonhjelm seems to think the solution is to let anybody run a centre, increasing supply and thus reduce costs. Who really cares about the quality of care? So long as their noses are wiped, what does it matter?

We should be concerned that wage growth is so slow that families have no choice but to put their children in childcare early and that to make that viable it needs to be cheaper. There seems to be a growing push, beyond the obsession with every Australian working, that every child should go to an early learning centre or be “left behind”.

What children at that stage need is physical, creative play and frequent, responsive oral communication with adults and other children, to build their vocabulary and their confidence in understanding and speaking language. This can be done at home, and traditionally was. But with the need to work, the capacity of many families to do so is reduced.

The goal should be to enable more families to have flexibility to have one or both parents spending time at home fulfilling this vital developmental work.

Then of course there’s the private, for-profit mega chains that dominate the sector. That’s much harder to solve.

Both the early childhood and school education sectors depend on the diligence, professionalism and passion of the educators within. Without those teachers, no amount of funding or public policy will address it.

Until our parliamentarians cease with this disrespect for the people primarily responsible for educating our next generation, there seems little hope of progress.

“Data is the wrong driver”

On Tuesday, 18th October 2016, the Protecting Childhood (PC) team had a meeting with the Deputy Director General of Education Queensland (EQ), Leanne Nixon and the Executive Manager of Curriculum Development, Robyn Rosengrave. Representing Protecting Childhood were founders: Amy and Chris Cox; Kathy Margolis and PC Ambassadors: Associate Professor Michael Nagel, child development expert from the University of the Sunshine Coast; and Tom Hardy, retired Principal with his 40 year medal from EQ, prior consultant at Cambridge University and past President of the Australian and Queensland Primary Principals’ Associations.

Our meeting began with Tom articulating our proposed agenda, highlighting the fact that none of us have vested interests in the Education System, other than our genuine commitment and concern for children and the future of teaching. Our agenda items included:

EQ’s response to our Queensland petition,

  • the transition year (prep in Queensland),
  • teacher choice in pedagogy,
  • the curriculum review,
  • the importance of play
  • the growing incidence of anxiety and suspensions in young children

Chris expressed our concern about EQ’s response to our Queensland petition, stating that it is contradictory to what we are hearing on a regular basis from teachers and parents. The EQ response implies that schools and teachers have the flexibility to implement the curriculum how they like. The crux of the matter is that the assessment is the assessment and it is mandatory to do the assessment. We stressed that many teachers DO NOT feel they have autonomy or respect for their experience as educators.  Qld Education Minister, MP Kate Jones seems to have a good understanding of the over-crowding of the curriculum and genuine desire to help and teachers are very grateful for this. The review of the curriculum, however, does not address the developmentally inappropriate “benchmarks or standards” at all grade levels. These “expectations” place undue stress on children and teachers, to achieve a 1-2 year leap in expectations since as recently as 5 years ago.

“Children have not changed, only the demands placed on them. We are rushing children through harder and faster.”

Our understanding is that the amount of autonomy is often dependent on the leadership of the school and that some proactive principals do say “we’re throwing away the C2C” (Queensland’s prescriptive curriculum), though others insist on following the C2C meticulously. Kathy told of how she retired early, not because she doesn’t love teaching, but because what she had been required to do, did not sit well with her personal philosophy of education.

“We have hundreds of parents and teachers contacting us, that’s why I’ve continued. Many teachers have reached out saying ‘please don’t stop talking’ and parents are telling us their heartbreaking stories. In Prep in term 4, I’ve been told that in geography, 5 year-olds have to compare and contrast two holiday destinations and write four lines of rhyming prose. That’s unrealistic.”

Children of that age are deeply in the concrete stage of development. That means they are not yet ready to think abstractly. Children that age should not be expected to compare and contrast two places they have not experienced directly. Devastatingly, the play-based curriculum that previous Premier, Anna Bligh promised, is mostly gone.

Leanne Nixon responded to clarify that “schools make decisions about implementation and there is nothing in our policies stating that teachers are not to use play-based pedagogies, so the perceptions you have been hearing around implementation – that’s something we need to take on board”.

Leanne shared her background including working in schools for 30 years with a recent move to central office. Ensuring that we do the right thing for every child is her primary work. She acknowledged that developmentally, children are all on a continuum and that HOW the curriculum is implemented IS the work of central office and she, too, is challenged by some implementation choices.

Amy highlighted a document an EQ teacher received though professional development course. This document,the P-10 Literacy Continuum, was also displayed on the walls around the office we were in. The document spans tasks or outcomes from Prep to Year 10, with many items in the Prep  columns with the letters “OE” or “EP” next to them. The legend defines these as “On Entry” or “End of Prep”. An example “On Entry” expectation is “child writes a sentence with spaces between words.” Leanne insisted that the document does not say “SHOULD” and explained it is a demonstration of what SOME kids will bring to Prep. We would venture to say that there is very little room to interpret it as anything other than an “EXPECTATION”. Leanne reiterated that every child comes on a continuum and that central office provides a basic view to support teachers to implement in a way that considers the individual circumstances, children and their communities. The reality is we are hearing about Prep kids saying “I’m dumb” or “I hate school” or “If this is school, I don’t want to be alive anymore”. We are damaging these kids because we are pushing them so hard and so fast.

To comply with the current curriculum benchmarks, you cannot do justice to children or their learning. It is not practical to run a play-based curriculum AND meet the standards. If a child finds a caterpillar outside, it if far more engaging and meaningful to talk about butterflies and write and explore that, than to read a prescribed book and ask children about how a character can change or what we could do differently.

Tom Hardy enquired about what would happen to a Principal who encouraged Prep classrooms to “use pencils by choice?”  rather offering crayons and big implements for writing; play-based water play every day; modelling – “the way it WAS when we HAD a world class pre-school curriculum, just prior to the introduction of NAPLAN. Reading by choice as well”.

What if a principal insisted that the primary goal of Prep was to have children with good oral language skills and confidence? Would they be penalised for poor “data”?

Leanne maintained that it is about the individual needs of the child and that is the principal’s job. Tom pushed further that it is near impossible because of the push-down of the formal. Leanne asked “who is doing that to them? I’m fascinated, I’d like to know”. Tom suggested that it is systemic: the Directors who visit schools, putting pressure on performance. Leanne agreed that there is a problem with some principals’ understanding of the developmental needs of young children. Tom reflected back to a program he was involved in, back in 2001, because the kids coming into grade 1 (6 year-olds) were coming to school without the verbal skills to build literacy on – couldn’t speak properly, they didn’t know their nursery rhymes, they didn’t have that linguistic data pool to build on. It wasn’t part of the training of principals to understand early childhood development. WE STILL HAVE THIS PROBLEM. Leanne asked if we think that teachers are coming in with the capability around early childhood? Kathy suggested that older experienced Teachers do selectively make choices based on the needs of the children, but some newer teachers are too scared to not comply.

“Teachers are constantly asked to collect “data”, everything is about the data.”

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Kathy discussed how teachers are asked to collect copious amounts of data and then they have to have data conversations. She had followed the expectations of the C2C, she had constantly had to apologise to her kids (year 6), as she knew they weren’t getting it, she knows she is a good teacher, but she knew the concepts were too difficult for them. She walked into that data conversation and the mentor and the Deputy said to her “Can you think of a way you can improve these results?”  “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? My hands (in that school) were tied. Of course I knew how to improve their results! but if I’m asked to follow the C2C – I can’t do that.”

Robyn was squirming in her chair, because when you say “forced to” she knows there is nothing in policy saying you HAVE to implement any of that and Leanne reiterated that none of that is prescribed from the centre.

Michael, who works with pre-service teachers, has noticed an over emphasis on assessment, especially NAPLAN, through conversations with students returning from Professional Experience Placements. “I teach pre-service teachers in human development and learning and they go on prac and they come back saying ‘you know all those things that we talked about on early learning?  I did not see any of that, because we had to focus on assessment. We had to focus on moving kids from A to B, in this amount of time’ and that flies in the face of any measure of developmental psychology, any measure of child development. I feel that increasing, more and more, every semester. It may not be a product of the curriculum per se, but perhaps, maybe the way it is worded, along with the assessment parameters with NAPLAN…. I’m talking about how it is interpreted in the outside world and that in itself is one of the biggest problems.”Image result for courier mail NAPLAN results story

Leanne responded that she understands what has been driving the behaviour of schools and the unintended consequences of this state’s obsession, via The Courier Mail, with NAPLAN results. She stated that “we have deliberately, over the last 12 months, stepped away from that.”

Michael pointed out that we have schools ‘preparing’ kids for NAPLAN and Leanne acknowledged there is now an industry around NAPLAN.

Leanne has been travelling all around the state saying “DATA IS NOT THE RIGHT DRIVER IN SCHOOLS”

Leanne reflected that EQ has 80000 staff around the state and it will take time for the message to filter down, but tried to assure us that the conversation has started. Just like the C2C has always been “adapt or adopt” but some people still think they have to do the whole thing. EQ wants to move forward with teaching quality, knowing the learner and knowing what the next learning piece is, for every individual learner. Unfortunately, people are not going to be convinced overnight.

Kathy offered another “unintended consequence” of the C2C, describing how she was talking to two newish teachers about how amazing the 1980’s were and how creative we were and how much we achieved and they said “but without the C2C, we wouldn’t know how to teach!” and that’s tragic.

Tom raised that while some parents are starting to question, there are still many parents who support NAPLAN to the hilt because they’ve bought into the propaganda. Tom talked about an award winning author, who he taught in year 6. This writer’s own children don’t want to write and she blames the C2C for taking that joy away.

“There is no joy in explicitly structured writing that has no creativity or the freedom of continuous writing.”

Leanne agreed and while not blaming the C2C, said that they were engaging in studies to look at the need for extended writing for children in schools without the restrictions.

Amy and Chris told their story. We always intended to send our kids to state schools. However, in the lead up to NAPLAN in year 3, our eldest son began having angry, emotional meltdowns regularly after school. Over the next two years, he became more and more anxious and stressed to the point we dreaded picking him up in the afternoon. Amy spent 15 months researching: looking at diet, parenting strategies and sought the help of a child psychologist. The tummy pains would begin the night before, the tears, the begging to stay home, the declarations of “hating school”, the talking about wanting to fight kids that annoyed him at lunch time, the angry explosions had become a daily occurrence. We received dismissive comments about after school tantrums and “hating school” as being “normal” for a ten year old boy, especially as he was quiet and obedient in the classroom. Amy would not accept that these attitudes and relentless resulting behaviours were “normal”. This is not normal, this was a chronically stressed young boy, crying out for help. Our family life was becoming increasingly stressful and negative. After much research and soul searching, we finally made an informed decision to home educate. This was the best decision we could have made. Within weeks, the playful, happy boy that we remembered, was back.

After experiencing a play-based Prep with our eldest in 2010, we felt the stark contrast with the ‘formal’ Prep our middle child experienced only four years later. We were deeply saddened by the push down of the formal and the lack of creativity and play in the transition year. I guess we were lucky that our middle child is very social and coped quite well academically, but he was burning out by term 4. In grade one he would question why there wasn’t time for hands-on science experiments and “why can’t I do art that is MY art”, instead of the cookie-cutter art, almost identical for each child, needed for assessment? It broke our hearts. We had good relationships with their teachers. We could see how stressed they were too. When the most important thing to us as parents, was for our children to enjoy learning for learning’s sake and the increasing lack of opportunities for creativity, we started to feel a huge clash of values.

“All their teachers were wonderful, committed and caring people. We don’t feel this was a problem with teachers. We know they are stuck with systemic demands for performance outcomes. Our school followed the C2C closely.”

We adored our home schooling community and social activities were abundant. When we stumbled across a small community school that approaches everything in their pedagogy based on integral developmental and readiness, we knew we had found the right place for our family. Every decision is evaluated based on how it the benefits the child. Relationships and emotional development come first. Each term they spend a whole week on self-directed projects and all the other learning areas are individualised and integrated. Our kids are thriving. I honestly cannot imagine what we would be dealing with if we had left him in the state system for another year and a half. They were both well behaved and compliant at their previous school, but they put on a mask to cope and HATED going to school. They now  have the confidence and emotional skill sets to truly know and be themselves. Then in February, when Kathy’s post went viral, Amy turned to Chris and said:

“It’s not just us, teachers see it too”.

Kathy explained that she never meant for her post to go viral. When friends asked to share it, they had to explain how to make it public so that they could. It was shared 40000 times. “That was just MY TRUTH of how I felt. I was just crying out saying, I can’t do this. I still get really emotional – because I was a really good teacher. but I realised it wasn’t just my truth.”

Related imageWe are constantly hearing stories from parents and teachers of the plight of childhood. This is not just Queensland. Michael added “It should be very alarming that we are hearing of children with severe anxiety and stress disorders and increasingly so, the younger they get. It should be very alarming to see kids in prep being expelled. What is it that’s driving that? We are all on the same page. We want the best outcomes for kids, but to-date it just seems like it is getting worse before it is getting better. While most of our evidence is anecdotal, I could go back to my emails and present story after story – from parents who say – my kids are not doing well and we don’t know why. And the worst thing is that “they don’t like school” at 4 or 5! Why are Prep classrooms set up like pseudo year 1 or 2 classrooms? Why are kids being asked to sit and be quiet for extended periods of time?”

Leanne asked “What is the one thing you would change?” Amy’s response was having a one-size-fits-all “standardised curriculum”. Leanne responded with “well that’s what this is”.  We contended that you cannot set benchmarks for all children in a grade level. There is such a broad spectrum of readiness that ranges years. A child who isn’t reading in Prep is not “behind”. A child in year 4 who isn’t grasping abstract concepts, is not behind. They are just not ready! Readiness cannot be forced because a bureaucrat in an ivory tower says so. Leanne agreed with us that all children are on a developmental continuum. There is no one standard that all children will be able to reach at the same time or age. Kathy added an example of an 11 year old whose self-esteem she built up and differentiated for, only to be told he had to do the standardised assessment, which he was not ready to do and watch him say “no I can’t do it, I really am stupid”. This is made worse by the C2C. When you stand in front of a class and try to teach and engage them and you watch their eyes glaze over. They’re bored. I’m bored – because I hate this topic too. I felt like I had very little autonomy to meet the needs of the children in my class. Leanne maintained that teachers are allowed to implement using their professional knowledge and judgment. It is concerning that teachers don’t feel that they are allowed.

Michael asked why Ed Qld can’t use the media to promote that “NAPLAN is not the be all and end all”. Leanne said she did say these things to the media this year, but the media did not use those things, because it wasn’t the story they wanted to tell. We asked why we need NAPLAN at all? It’s all about Federal funding, otherwise it is of no value.

Tom Hardy contributed that we need to do something about excessive amounts of assessment. Year 2/3 children have upwards of 25 assessments a month. Children constantly say – is this for assessment? Children shouldn’t even know they are being assessed. We’ve lost all those other kinds of assessment that we used to have, checklists, observations, projects, having the child involved in assessment development. Leanne agreed with us that the C2C has been interpreted as a dictate, rather than a resource and they would support resources around alternative styles of assessment. She seemed genuinely concerned at this far-reaching misinterpretation. Tom Hardy asked who in the Education Department communicates with regions and principals? Who is ensuring principals’ understanding that dispositions for learning are developed by age 8, because currently we are actively destroying those dispositions. We seem to have lost some of that understanding of what good teaching and learning is. As mothers of boys, Kathy and Amy expressed that they know that boys around age 4 and 5 are develop in a different sequence and rate than girls, but when the expectation is that all children at this age have to learn sight words and will be reading and writing at a set standard by the middle of Prep – it’s heartbreaking. There are tutors specialising in Preps! We hear parents saying that their child won’t need to repeat Prep, because these September holidays we are going to get in the Speech Pathologist and a tutor. This child is a baby. He doesn’t need this! He just isn’t ready. Sure a teacher can run a play-based program, but if a child isn’t reaching the achievement benchmarks, it won’t be because of the teacher, it will be because of readiness. I wish that principals were allowed to say to parents “your child does not have to do standardised tests”. A lot of parents are unaware that it is their choice, not the school’s choice. All Tom Hardy’s grandchildren think that NAPLAN is a joke that contributes nothing to their learning.

Chris summarised that there are bad practices happening and Leanne interjected that she would say these “bad practices” exist across the country, not just Queensland. We unanimously agreed. These bad practices are a global issue. Leanne shared that they look at school opinion survey data and overwhelmingly parents like their schools. We don’t disagree, but we wonder who actually gets to do these opinion surveys and it seems they are only from year 5 – none in the early years. A selection of parents (apparently random) and every child in years 5, 7, 9 and 11 do it and every staff member. Kathy made the point that more anonymous teacher feedback is needed. Teachers are really scared. I didn’t want to speak up. I’ve witnessed first-hand, experienced teachers are being told, “this is the way it is in 2016, if you don’t like it, there’s the door”. It’s not that we are bucking against change, for goodness sake, the number of changes I’ve seen in the last 30 years!!! Change in rolls, we are constantly reinventing, but to not be able to question the philosophy behind what’s going on and have transfer papers put on teachers’ desks. Teachers are too scared to speak out. I tried to speak up but nobody listened or was interested in what I had to say. I know some of the answers, and other teachers do too, but they are just really scared. They are on contracts with families to support, they are jumping through hoops, they are kept so snowed under, it’s piled up on teachers and nothing is taken away, they are so tired and ground down, they just don’t have any fight left in them.

Tom Hardy raised Lucy Clark’s book, Beautiful Failures. It speaks for teachers, parents, children and principals. He had it with him at a doctor’s visit, and the doctor asked about it, and stated that they see children and teens like the book depicts all the time, anxiety, depression, suicidal. Leanne agreed that schools contribute to that, it’s a growing issue, but she also worries about our society in general. She brought up the Griffith age-appropriate pedagogies study, articulating that she has a problem with the term “age appropriate pedagogies” because EVERY age group has an appropriate pedagogy and people presume it is about the Prep-3 space. We are doing work, trying to understand why the play-based approach pedagogy has been lost for many teachers. There are now coaches in every Queensland region to support teachers. Some of our principals have lost sight of their role as leaders around curriculum and teaching and learning. Some of our teachers have lost sight because of the new curriculum. All those things you know about quality pedagogy haven’t changed that, but that is what is believed. We need to swing the pendulum back.

“Data is the wrong driver”.

We’ve been invited back in February or March next year.