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Reflections on five years of Schools Plus

3 December 2019

12 of the 16 NT Learning Commission schools with the Minister for Education and their Chief Executive at Parliament House

12 of the 16 NT Learning Commission schools with the Minister for Education & their Chief Executive at Parliament House

Visiting the schools we support is simply magical. The work we witnessed the NT Learning Commission doing earlier this year was no exception. Student voice is at the heart of this initiative – ensuring these young leaders are partners in their learning. Together with principals, teachers and education partners, student commissioners workshop ways school can be better. They also design, co-create and test these ideas, and measure the impact of their work on student learning.

Seeing all these students come together to make their voices and opinions heard gave us more hope for the future. The Commission has grown from five schools in the Katherine region to 16 schools and over 250 student commissioners across NT and Victoria in under four years.

This is just one of the many remarkable and humbling stories Schools Plus has been privileged to be part of since we began operations five years ago.

When we look back at other key moments, the launch of our Pioneers in Philanthropy was a special highlight in the early years. The fact that we had been able to bring together this group of supporters and launch the initiative in a room of over 100 people who believed in our vision was overwhelming. It was delightful to see the Pioneers interact with students from schools we have supported.

Witnessing the life-changing transformations that schools have driven as a result of funding from our donors has been inspiring. For instance, when Salesforce first asked us to match it with schools wanting to introduce coding and robotic programs to build students’ digital skills, we started off with two schools in Sydney and Melbourne. This partnership has grown to more than 40 schools across the country, enabling schools to provide professional development for teachers in STEM learning, purchase technology to embed STEM in the classroom and benefit over 12,000 students. The initial schools have become ‘lighthouse’ schools for others also working in the STEM space.

This growth has translated across all our initiatives, most recently within the Fair Education program. Our first cohort of NSW schools has been with us for three years, and we have seen a real cultural shift in how they engage with families and community. Due to success in NSW, we have now launched the program in Queensland and a trial in Victoria.

It has been wonderful to watch the first Queensland cohort blossom. Through the involvement of Education Queensland, we have been able to reach into some rural and remote communities that don’t always have access to this type of support.

As we look to the future, we continue to ask ourselves how we can have a greater impact and raise awareness about the work we are doing. How do we reach more schools and see greater student outcomes? How do we grow our impact and make sure our learnings reach the schools that are not already connected with us?

This has allowed us to shift our thinking from not just creating transformational change at a school level, but to also being a catalyst for change at a more systemic level – truly maximising the impact of every dollar donated. We have already begun to see instances where government has built on the work we are doing.

Following the success of The Rivers Secondary College New Choices centre – a reimagination of the conventional long-term suspension centre into a place of inspiration and opportunity – the NSW Department of Education put in additional funding to keep it going. The work they are doing with the most disengaged students and families to provide them with individualised opportunities and help them overcome their learning barriers is fantastic. As a result, suspensions have reduced, attendance has increased and all students who have completed the program are either employed, in training or pursuing further study.

This year, we not only selected 12 new Teaching Fellows, but also hosted, together with Commonwealth Bank, our inaugural Teaching Fellows Forum – an event that brought all three cohorts together to discuss the best ways to make our students and schools future-ready. During the two days, the Fellows were challenged to look deeper and leverage their collective voice to contribute to education reforms at state and national levels.

To our incredible donors, partners and supporters, thank you for believing in our vision and joining us on this path to education equity. Because of you, we have added more than $15.5 million into Australia’s school system, supporting over 620 projects and benefiting 183,000 students – a major achievement in such a short space of time.

To our Board, staff and volunteers, thank you for your tireless work ethic in helping us reach this point. It continues to amaze us that we have gone from one person to 20 staff members, plus 25 coaches, and that we now have a presence in four states and one territory. Our ability to reach more schools in need has gone far beyond our expectations.

To the principals, teachers, families and communities, thank you for your constant passion and drive to highlight and push boundaries and brighten the future of your students. From day one, we believed it was important for our work to be led by the schools we supported and continue to work under the principle that you understand your own context better than anyone.

While our success to date has reset the bar on what growth is possible for organisations in our sector, we have only just scratched the surface of the 4,600 disadvantaged schools in Australia. To date, we have received 1,015 funding requests and counting, totalling over $47 million – a clear indication there is still a need for philanthropy in education.

 

Angus James and Rosemary Conn

Chairman and CEO, Australian Schools Plus

 

You can read the full 2019 Annual Review here

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