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Optimism and apprehension for the new school term

Michelle Green /
12 July 2021

3 min read

The start of a new school term can evoke conflicting emotions, of optimism and apprehension. The optimism comes from a new beginning and the prospect of progress. The flip side, the apprehension, comes from uncertainty, a feeling that’s heightened amid a pandemic.

In Victoria, Term 3 begins with a mood of guarded confidence after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, even if this is tempered by our recent experience of massive disruption to school operations. We know that this virus ebbs and flows, surging with sudden outbreaks.

Even so, I’ve taken heart from recent positive reports, not only of how Victorian Independent schools have coped with the pandemic, but of how Independent school parent communities judge the work of their schools more broadly.

Research shows high level of satisfaction

Last month ISV published research on how Member School communities judged the way their school had adjusted to the disruption of last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns and the imposition of remote learning.

The encouraging news is that the research shows high levels of satisfaction, particularly among school staff and parents.

The research – based on the responses of almost 23,000 school staff, students and parents to the LEAD School Effectiveness Surveys undertaken by ISV – shows staff and parents believe schools generally fared well in adapting to the online delivery of education during lockdowns.

Overall, there was a high level of satisfaction with the resources and support provided by schools to support remote learning. Responses varied, of course, reflecting the diversity of Independent schools, the communities they serve and their widely different levels of resources.

Schools that had technology and flexible systems in place before the pandemic naturally fared better. But some schools serving lower socio-economic communities struggled during remote operations, with a negative impact on student learning.

The research contains encouraging news about the ability of autonomous Independent schools to adapt to sudden shocks.

Among other things, survey responses confirm the fundamental role of school leaders in the crisis – an issue that’s the subject of further detailed research that ISV will publish in coming weeks.

While the research is positive, the findings confirm that many students found remote learning challenging. Year 12 students in particular experienced a reduced sense of belonging, connectedness and wellbeing, and were the least satisfied of all of those surveyed.

I know that all schools are continuing to pay close attention to the issue of student wellbeing. It’s also something ISV is looking at addressing in our engagement with governments and education authorities.

“Parents at Independent schools had the highest rate of satisfaction with the education their child is receiving – 92 per cent, a figure well ahead of that reported for other school sectors.”

Australia Talks National Survey

The other encouraging news for Independent schools came from the results of the Australia Talks National Survey 2021, published by the ABC.

It found parents at Independent schools had the highest rate of satisfaction with the education their child is receiving – 92 per cent, a figure well ahead of that reported for other school sectors.

Similarly, Independent school parents reported the highest level of satisfaction with their child’s teachers, at 94 per cent.

In reporting the survey, the ABC used as a case study a low-to-moderate-fee Independent school on the outskirts of Sydney, quoting parents who made financial sacrifices to choose the school because it reflected their values and was the ’right school’ for their children.

While the findings might confirm what those of us involved in Independent education already know, we should be encouraged by this external endorsement that goes some way to dispel stereotypes.

I hope the findings of both of these surveys help tip the balance in favour of optimism while we juggle mixed emotions as we enter the second half of the year.

Michelle Green was Chief Executive of Independent Schools Victoria from 2002–2023.

Image courtesy of Aitken College.

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