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Schools and their views of student disadvantage: Exploratory studies in six non-state schools

Judith Hewton


A SUMMARY PAPER

As part of the developmental research into student educational needs being conducted under the auspices of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Non-State Schooling (MACNSS), exploratory school studies were conducted in several non-state schools. As the initial field activities of the research, these studies aimed to: Along with the outcomes of deliberations within other forums, these studies will contribute useful information to the trial phase of the new approach to funding of non-state schools proposed by the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Non-State Schooling at the request of the Minister for Education.

This summary draws out the main issues arising from the studies and delineates student needs as identified by participating schools. For the detailed account of each school's student needs, see the individual profiles of Schools A to F which follow this summary.

The Research Process

The method used for this phase of the research was an abbreviated form of case study. Because the studies were conceived as exploratory studies within a very limited time frame, only one visit to each school was scheduled so that a quick sketch could be drawn of apparent student needs. Vignettes have been produced that provide a "snapshot" of those sections of each school's population considered to have special needs.

A case study approach was used in an attempt to bring the impact of the particular to bear on general policy decisions to be made about needs-based funding to non-state schools. Data were collected from observations and interviews in all schools, using pro formae designed around questions about student needs. Two researchers were used as a check on the accuracy of the impressions gained from the school visits. One researcher was common to all visits to ensure a degree of consistency in the data collection across schools. Because of the brevity of the interactions within each school, however, the reader must view the findings with a degree of caution.

Six schools were selected to fit certain key criteria developed in the Office of Non-State Schooling. The first requirements were that schools represent a mix of Catholic and Independent schools, as well as primary and secondary schools. In addition, the following needs criteria were identified by MACNSS as significant:

As illustrated in the table below, each school satisfied several of the selection criteria.

Table 1: Breakdown of selected schools according to key criteria

Table 1

With the permission of the relevant authorities, mutually convenient times for school visits were arranged by telephone and confirmed in writing. The school's chief administrator selected interviewees on the basis of their likelihood to be able to provide insightful information on student needs. The number of people interviewed in each school varied from two to six, with an average of four interviews per school. Interviewees included teachers, administrators, parents and ancillary staff.

The data collected were analysed by the researcher common to all visits and synthesised into six narratives of the schools' perceptions of student needs. Perceptions were checked with the second researcher and with the schools concerned in all cases, and comments from a limited number of other interested parties were sought and assimilated into the final drafts. The six studies were subjected to a similar process to extract the findings contained in this summary paper.

Findings from the School Studies

Schools exist because education generally is seen as a priority need for all children. When schools enrol students, they receive certain information from parents which, when combined with other emerging data over time, provides a picture of each student's educational needs.

All students have needs. When certain discernible student characteristics affect learning capacity, schools examine their curriculum to see whether modification or expansion is required to improve their capacity to serve student needs.

Those interviewed regard the needs delineated in this paper as sources of significant educational disadvantage to their students.

While the subject of this study is 'student needs', it is not possible to examine these out of context (the school, the district, the home) or in isolation from their care givers (the staff of schools, significant others). Therefore, three sets of factors that determine student needs have been identified:

  1. Student characteristics
  2. School characteristics
  3. Teacher characteristics
Within each set, it is acknowledged that there are positive aspects that advantage students educationally as well as the negative aspects presented here, which can be considered to disadvantage students considerably in their search for fulfilment in their school lives. For ease of discussion the three sets of factors will be dealt with separately, although their interrelatedness is acknowledged.

1. Student characteristics

Students bring to school with them their own individual sets of personal characteristics made up of physical, emotional, intellectual and social/cultural attributes. For some students one or more of their personal characteristics may be present in a form or to an extreme degree that constitutes educational disadvantage.

The following were identified in the school studies as the student characteristics likely to affect educational needs:

Attribute domain Characteristics Physical disabilities of varying degrees resulting from impairment. Emotional adjustment difficulties; unstable backgrounds. Intellectual learning difficulties. Social/cultural non-English speaking background/English as the second language; refugees; Aboriginality; low socio-economic backgrounds.

The characteristics listed above were sometimes interrelated. In those students where several negative characteristics are evident, their educational needs are magnified accordingly. The severity of the characteristic also determines the extent of the need.

Two characteristics that were notably absent from the concerns of most teachers were the special needs of gifted students, and those of females.

2. School characteristics

School factors identified in the studies as affecting student needs were: Factor Characteristics Curriculum special programs development; subject ran ge extension; teacher-release time for in-service; resource materials; provision-specific facilities. Facilities condition of buildings, grounds, equipment; maintenance, replacement, upgrading costs. Location distance from coast, capital, major centre; transport, postage, living, in-service costs/ availability; socio-economic status of district; fundraising potential; access to enriching activities; staff incentives to serve in diverse areas. Size number of students spread over number of Year levels; fees income.

3. Teacher characteristics

Because of intensive contacts with students, the welfare of teachers has a direct effect on student well-being. Teachers needs reflect perceived student needs because most teachers' efforts within schools are entirely directed towards improving students' educational experiences. Any factor that produces negative effects on teachers will have poor consequences for students.

Teacher characteristics considered to affect student needs were:

Factor Characteristics Support personnel availability of experienced colleagues; specialist staff; teacher aides; home-school liaison personnel; consultants; weekend staff for boarders; extent of regional support structures. Material resources quality and quantity of facilities; equipment; print materials; capacity of school and community to meet costs. Knowledge base access to, and availability of worthwhile information - in-service; conferences; membership of network or cluster or education authority committees. Working conditions availability of support staff for special needs groups; class size; salaries; school location; teaching load; extra-curricular duties.

It could be argued that teachers are overly preoccupied with the needs of a few students and have no wider view of education. Their focus on the individual can obstruct their broader vision of the issues but it can be surmised, however, that their stress levels reflect those of students. Consider the following 'worst scenario' as an example of how sets of characteristics can compound needs and can fully occupy teachers' consciousness:

From home, a student could bring to school a set of cultural and social characteristics at variance with the values of the school, such as:

There may be some degree of learning difficulty; and some physical or intellectual disability. Adjustment to school life may be additionally hampered by language difficulties, low self- esteem, and, in the case of boarders, by problems associated with separation from family. At school, the student may exhibit behaviours such as: If there is never any money available at home for extra enriching activities, the needy student's predicament is intensified.

Consider then, the plight of the school in an economically depressed area where the community cannot contribute fully by paying all of the fees owed, or by supporting fundraising. Cuts in funding from government or school authorities mean that staffing, facilities and materials are at a minimum.

Differential student needs, in what ever numbers, exert huge pressures on curriculum. Teachers who accept low salaries, rely on voluntary help, pay for what they consider essential themselves, and continually have to 'make do', can experience high stress levels. In small schools there is pressure to maintain a viable range of subjects to attract students. Heavy teaching loads and generally poor working conditions may lead to decreased effectiveness through illness or resignation. Teachers who cannot hope for development and expansion may lower their expectations of students. The interrelated and compounding needs components explain the condition of teachers beset with students' problems.

That many teachers observed to be operating in adverse conditions seem to retain some sense of educational vision and continue to have positive effects on students is admirable. If they continue to operate under negative circumstances without adequate funding, however, it is likely that their flagging spirits will be reflected in their diminished ability to provide what they so obviously are committed to: the best possible service to suit all of the different student needs that they encounter.

Conclusion

The research summarised above indicates that the information provided by selected school personnel demonstrates general agreement with the indicators of student needs identified in the MACNSS report to the Minister for Education in March, 1991: There was one exception, however. Only when prompted did staff consider the needs of gifted students, or their possible disadvantages. Most then stated that giftedness was not an issue in their schools.

In most schools involved in the study, student needs emerged in multi-dimensional, complex patterns which this summary has attempted to illustrate. There is a synergistic effect operating in schools with compounding needs. It can be seen even where there is relatively small incidence of the problems occurring, and it results from schools' intense focus on students.

This research has also begun to enumerate the kinds of resources that schools believe they need to properly meet their student needs. It also indicates that there is possibly a need for further investigations to be conducted into resource needs in a wider variety of schools in the future.

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PROFILES OF SCHOOLS A TO F

A STUDY OF SCHOOL A (May, 1991)

The subject of this vignette is "student disadvantage". It is the first of a series of studies in non-state schools which summarise the data collected from observation and interview in the space of a single visit to each school. Six schools were selected for this phase of the research because they were generally believed to have some easily identifiable student needs.

Along with the outcomes of deliberations within other forums, these studies will inform the trial phase of the new approach to funding of non-state schools proposed by the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Non-State Schooling at the request of the Minister for Education.

The information contained in this brief story of one non-state school's disadvantaged students is designed to bring the impact of the particular to bear on general policy decisions to be made about needs-based funding to non-state schools. Because of the brevity of the interactions with school personnel, the following account is to be read as informed opinion only.

The impressions recorded here are based on interviews with the Principal and two teachers who have been on staff for some years. The impressions gained were supported by observations made through a tour of the school during the school day, and by the use of two researchers to cross check the accuracy of the data.

The School Context

The school is a parish school located in a low socio-economic area of the state capital city. Housing commission homes present a less than affluent outlook for the school, although the large area of bushland behind the school provides a peaceful, rural setting for a city school. Together with two other similar schools, this school forms a resource-sharing cluster which operates for the educational benefit of all three Catholic schools.

Commonwealth special funding has been directed to salaries for staff in the areas of ESL (English as a Second Language) and remedial resource teaching. Disadvantaged Schools Program (DSP) funding has supported music teaching and PE outdoor education programs. The Principal considers that these funds are imperative to the school's viability.

Approximately half of the pupils pay their school fees. All pay so me amount as a result of negotiations with the Principal. Only a few families attempt to take advantage of the remission system and avoid payment. In this locale, the parish is not in a position to support the school financially to any degree.

Computerisation of the school's files has facilitated operations, but has been accomplished without expert assistance.

Description of the School Population

There are 360 pupils in this primary school of whom approximately 50 per cent are migrants. Their origins are mainly in Vietnam (two-thirds) and in South American nations such as El Salvador, where many experienced severe deprivation resulting in major emotional disturbances which the children bring to school. Others are Tongan, Filipino and Aboriginal and most have non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB). For the Aboriginal pupils, English is the first language but most need language development services.

Pupil stress resulting from unstable backgrounds is manifested as lack of enthusiasm (in older pupils) and poor concentration in the classroom. The major preoccupation for staff has changed in recent years from behaviour (now under control) to English language development. Without this, pupils cannot attempt written work, nor tackle problem-solving activities which require mastery of the language of instruction.

Many migrant families are considered by staff to exhibit low self-esteem. Although there is improvement in the self-esteem of pupils observed over time at the school, families tend to continue to present fearful and threatened behaviours. Many turn to the school for support in the management of their everyday lives, although they tend to 'opt out' of schooling issues and expect the school to be the sole providers. For many pupils there are no aspirations from home to support high achievement at school. Some parents, on the other hand, have unrealistically high expectations for their children, which the school can scarcely hope to meet, given the language needs of the youngsters. Only a small proportion of the pupils have two Australian parents.

Poverty is a characteristic of both migrant and non-migrant families in the district. Twenty-six per cent of families are single parent, mainly women receiving government benefits. Family breakdowns mean that teachers must be alert to safety and custody issues, such as watching who collects the child after school. Many parents are unemployed.

Enrolment data help to identify those initial disadvantages that are likely to be translated into educational need in the classroom.

The School

If the appearance of the school (apart from lack of any indication of the location of the administration block) can be taken as any indicator of achievement, there must be a success story to be told about this school. Landscaping is recent and attractive. The administration block is a well designed and thoughtfully utilised addition. The teachers interviewed attributed the rising fortunes of the school in recent years to the leadership of a Principal who knows how to get things done and who anticipates problems and acts to solve them. In this school, staff need to be aware that there is energy to be directed towards: In addition, the 15 hectares of bushland belonging to the school, which appears to be a valuable asset, has some drawbacks as follows: There are multiple pressures on the services provided by the school in the form of pupil use of the school as educational resource; and parent use of the school as community resource.

Curriculum

Classes in this school can have several distinct groups requiring differential curriculum usually along language and learning lines. As an example, one class in 1990 was described as consisting of four distinct groups: Autistic; ESL severe; ESL moderate; and regular. Each had special requirements and needed separate provisions most of the time.

Behavioural disturbances sometimes add to the diversity of needs within the classroom. Staff have worked to minimise behavioural problems and now find that language is their chief preoccupation.

Support is available from Catholic Education Office in the form of a consultancy service in the behavioural area (from the Education Support Team). Individuals of high credibility within the local community groups are paid to act part-time as liaison officers to strengthen community links, and the state system is used by the school to facilitate the progress of the athletically talented pupils.

Migrants and other pupils have both language and learning problems. Reading is deficient because of poor English language usage in the home, and the school is trying to compensate for home deficits in English, such as reading materials and opportunities for conversation. Creative teachers improvise to provide programs tailored to the idiosyncratic needs of their pupils. At times bilingual programs have operated in classrooms. Peer tutoring has been used with some success.

The school has full-time ESL support operating within a school policy of in-class provision. Pupils move through five phases which classify the individual according to the level of support needed. Mindful of the potentially powerful role of the parents in the educative process, staff send newsletters home in one of three languages. Exactness of meanings being conveyed in the other languages is something of a problem, however.

DSP funding enables social and cultural programs that are essential for a school with this population. Two days a week of music have a stabilising, soothing effect on pupils.

Because the energies of staff are directed towards the problems arising from the NESB pupils, teachers cannot begin to consider whether they have any gifted children in their care who need extension or enrichment.

The Staff

High demands on teachers as a result of pupil needs are seen as leading to excessive levels of stress. Teachers care for their pupils to the extent that they provide food if necessary. One teacher believes that when teachers have no time to themselves, they develop a stress indicator such as a physical weakness that is difficult to overcome. This could take the form of recurrent influenza or a chronic voice problem. Teacher absenteeism can then affect the school as a whole.

Staff have become skilled in anticipating problems and taking action before small difficulties become major crises. There have been opportunities in the past for in-service for teachers, although the School Community Initiative Program (SCIP) funding has been cut and less in-service is now available because of the cost of replacement staff. One teacher pointed out, however, that there was some recognition of the fact that teachers generally have an obligation to develop themselves professionally in their own time, to some extent.

Generally the staff at this school are considered to be very helpful to each other, and to cooperate to provide the best possible programs for their pupils. It appears likely, however, that teachers need a change from this environment after a few years, but it was pointed out that no other teachers want to take on the problems here, and staff therefore are not able to obtain transfers out of the school.

Needs

Staff members identified the following as their human resource needs for the pupils in their care: Additional human resources would enable the school to accomplish a degree of expansion in many areas by: Funding is also required for:

Comment

This school finds it difficult to meet its financial obligations to its employing authority. Resources are stretched to their limits and, although there are small amounts of money available for minor projects or purchases, there is no possibility of considering expansion in any of the substantial areas indicated above. Money has been borrowed for some recent upgrading of facilities, but none can be directed at any of the substantial projects that school personnel would like to put in place to improve the educational provisions for the children in their care.

A STUDY OF SCHOOL B (May, 1991)

This is the second of the series of six studies in non-state schools which summarise the data collected from observation and interview in the space of a single visit to each school.

The impressions recorded below are based on interviews with the Principal, Deputy Principal, three teachers, and the school secretary who manages the finances of the school and has lived in the town all her life. Time lived here by the other interviewees ranges from 18 months to 22 years, two having taught in Catholic schools in this town for at least several years. In addition, the impressions gained were supported by observations made through a tour of the school during the school day, and by the use of two researchers to cross check the accuracy of the data.

The School Context

The school is a parish secondary school located in a north-western city with a population of over 23,000. The school's income is derived from fees, state grants and various federally funded programs. As a Category 10 school under Commonwealth funding arrangements, the school received $3,000 per capita for operations. Commonwealth data collection in August is believed to disadvantage this school because of the number of students who actually leave before then, having been provided for during approximately half of the year.

The school applied for assistance under the Disadvantaged Schools Program but failed to gain any funding from that source. The Principal feels the absence of those funds with a keen sense of loss.

The area is dominated physically and economically by huge mining enterprises, with some signs of recession now in evidence for example, one thousand jobs will disappear from the mines this year. Its tone is rugged and masculine. Although there are still high salaries and wages in the mining industry, this town can no longer offer the job security that inhabitants enjoyed in previous times. People move on in search of economic sustenance and transfers in and out of the city account for additional population movement. Only some of the parents of students attending the school are believed to be really interested in the school and its operations.

Sport is well catered for in the town, although the area could be described as culturally deprived in many ways. Distance from the coast and from the capital city of the state make performances and workshops in the arts all too rare.

One interviewee described the town as friendly but violent. On the other hand, another said it was a town where people came initially for a short time and ended staying 20 years.

Description of the School Population

There are 135 students (from 120 families) in Years 8 to 10 in the school, with a population declining from over 300 some years ago. The school is in its sixth year as a coeducational institution.

Sixteen Aboriginal students at the school constitute less than 12% of the student population but provide the focus of much of the attention, and probably the energy, of school staff. Their effect on the school is disproportionate to their numbers, but there are no support teachers for counselling or remedial work, and the need is perceived as great. In addition, there are a small number of students who need ESL support. Boys are considered by some teachers to dominate the culture of the school. One staff member believes that there are low expectations of students here because many are not capable of participating successfully in a standard type of curriculum.

The teachers interviewed noted both low and high achievers among their charges who could be considered disadvantaged to a marked degree. Generally the low achievers were Aborigines with lower family incomes. A few students have English as their second language, although the Aboriginal students do not belong to this group. Aboriginal English is generally considered to be deficient, however, and they are usually considered to have learning difficulties that require special attention, ideally in small classes. They suffer some deprivation if living in the city hostels away from their families in more remote settlements.

Before the recent rise in black activism (reportedly fuelled by visits from black southerners), the white community considered that the Aborigines were well integrated and less disruptive than at present. It is not considered safe to walk the streets alone at night here. Minor signs of racial prejudice, such as name calling, are thought to be increasing.

In addition, the Aborigines display strong tribal affiliations which lead to conflicts that appear to leave adults openly hostile. There is a belief among staff that Aboriginal students bring their hurt and anger from the community into the classroom. They react badly to aggressive discipline, as one teacher noted, responding much more positively to gentle persuasion and friendship. Violence may be directed (after school hours) towards the property of any teacher who adopts a confrontationist attitude towards Aboriginal students.

The Aboriginal students are socially accepted within the school generally, although discipline is still considered a problem, particularly as the adolescent male Aborigines have a definitely domineering attitude towards females.

Gifted students were mentioned as operating at a disadvantage in this school because teachers were preoccupied with the more vocal, disruptive elements. One interviewee stated that gifted students could not be challenged here because of the lack of suitable resources. On the other hand, the Year 11 teachers at the state high schools are said to be pleased to receive students from this school because of their sound performance. Another interviewee believed that there was no disadvantage accruing to the very bright students here. This conflict in opinions could be explained in part by differing personal definitions of what is meant by 'gifted'.

While there are some students living in poverty, there are some with high family incomes from the mining industry. Some student negativity towards school results from the attitude that jobs will be waiting in the mines, so why bother with school work? The fortunes of the people vary with the level of prosperity of the mines, however. Problems associated with the local industries include the potentially destabilising effects of having both parents working, particularly on shift work. Petty theft is a fairly common occurrence within the school.

Apart from the high cost of living, alcohol is seen as a focus for considerable income disposal by a significant proportion of the population. The students here are consi dered by one staff member to be comparatively 'rough' and in constant need of close supervision. He believed them to be lazy and unwilling to stand up and be counted. Another teacher, however, stated that all students wanted to learn something, and that the teachers' role was to consciously raise self-esteem through trust so that learning can follow.

When economic pressures lead to family breakdowns, the resulting emotional problems are brought to the school by troubled students. Not many students are motivated by religious belief to attend this school. While one staff member stated that there is no interest in religion, however, another was very positive about student reaction to his method of teaching about religion in the school.

Few students repeat years and most go on to Year 11 in the local state high schools.

The School

The story of the school itself is one of "at first glance, the school appears to be operating in reasonable circumstances". Although from the street (and in the reception area) the school appears less than affluent, there are many rooms, some in scant use, and computers, typewriters and sewing machines abound. Staff say that the school is well-resourced in terms of materials and equipment (an outcome of the amalgamation of two schools to become one, six years ago). Subject offerings are as varied as possible and extra-curricular activities are available to students.

Small enrolment numbers, however, mean that staff are stretched to meet demands for subjects, and that school income from fees is inadequate. Fifteen per cent of fees remain unpaid, with the prospect of this predicament worsening as the current recession begins to affect more people more acutely. (Aboriginal families generally do not pay their fees.) State and federal government grants are invaluable sources of income, although the school is operating on a deficit - this year without a budget ?? (the school is not permitted to operate on an overdraft). Parents and Friends Association funds have been accumulated in anticipation of the financial crises ahead.

Assistance in the form of some paid teacher-aide time and consultancy support is available to the school from Catholic Education Office in Townsville. Such support is mainly in the area of Aboriginal education.

It appears unacceptable to the staff that the school should face closure if not financially viable. Their commitment does not allow them to consider this eventuality. They are hopeful that the parish or Catholic Education Office would come to their aid rather than let the school 'go under'.

Curriculum

Staff members recognise the importance of maintaining a range of options to meet the demands of students and parents. Both Principal and Deputy Principal have teaching loads, and all other teachers have the minimum of spare periods possible. Decreasing student numbers mitigate against the viability of continued broad curriculum offerings in this school.

In attempting to meet the needs of their particular student population, teachers try to maintain very positive attitudes to students, providing a high level of personal attention and care to each individual. Although there is no money for expansion, there already exists provision for lunch-time and interschool sport, twilight retreats and evening masses, work experience and pastoral care groups. Special support is offered where possible to students with needs that cannot be met in the classroom, although these provisions are not considered adequate. Bright students are assisted to enter Australia-wide competitions in mathematics and science.

Low achievers need very concrete activities, especially in computing where immediate results are considered vital to maintaining interest levels. Few families have computers at home and the low financial status of the school means that, despite an increasing need, there is no prospect of upgrading or replacing the existing stock in the foreseeable future. Science is also conducted as a very practical subject.

As examples of other curriculum content, golf is offered as an elective, reflecting the importance of sport to the community. (The school had to purchase the golf clubs.) Japanese is another elective seen as a curriculum priority in today's world.

In all curriculum areas, staff work consciously to promote dignity and self-respect, and to enhance student's self concept so that learning can take place. There is considerable emphasis on art, woodwork and metalwork which are seen as practical subjects of relevance and interest to many students. The art work, in particular, is regarded as a way to "touch the Aboriginal culture" in a small way.

The Staff

Teaching in this school is all-consuming. To provide all that the students in their care deserve, staff at this school carry heavy teaching loads. They believe that a reasonably varied curriculum must be sustained so that the school can continue to attract clients. As a result, many take classes in subject areas for which they feel poorly prepared. Some staff stated that there are teachers near to collapse from overwork. Most also have considerable school commitments to meet after school hours.

The preoccupation of staff with the needs of the Aboriginal students is another factor contributing to teacher stress.

Staff use their own funds and their own time to update their skills for the benefit of their students, or to pay office staff who work longer hours than available payments allow. Few have extra reserves of energy to devote to considering possible extensions of existing curricular provisions. What was a stable staffing situation two year's ago is now characterised by increasing staff turnover.

What can happen among staff in adverse conditions is in evidence here. The school staff is a cohesive, mutually supportive unit. Members rally together to sustain the school's operations. Staff morale is higher than it was a few years ago. This could be an indication of effective leadership and quality staff.

To meet the needs of students, teachers require professional development to upgrade their skills and knowledge base. There is no money for in-service. Travel time and costs must be added to teacher-release costs for in-service away from town. The state system welcomes participation by non-state teachers in in-service activities, but teachers realise that they have no say in the content. They see that their counterparts in the state system are better resourced in many ways, such as professional development and access to specialist support staff. Staff have some help from the state district support centre for advice on ESL programs.

Needs

Staff members identified the following as their human resource needs for the students in their care: (It is acknowledged within the school that the above would be part-time staff or shared with other schools.)

Additional human resources would enable the school to accomplish a degree of expansion in many areas by:

Funding is also required for: There is a perceived need in this city for a school along the lines of the school run by the Christian Brothers at the Kingston Education Centre near Brisbane for those who don't want to be in an ordinary school and who need a qualitatively different educational program based on a low student-teacher ratio. This is the vision of one member of the school staff here.

Comment

The numbers of students identified as 'in need' according to existing categories such as Aboriginality, English as a Second Language, Disabilities and Learning Difficulties are relatively small compared to the numbers to be found in a large school. This fact raises another issue. The existence of a need, regardless of whether three or thirty students are directly involved, demands special provisions of some type. If the need exists, the resources needed to set up special provisions are required and are not directly proportional to increasing numbers. Rather the base cost of implementation is much the same for program establishment, with an additional allocation needed as numbers increase.

If isolation is considered an important disabling factor educationally, however, the entire population of the school is affected, including the staff whose welfare directly affects students.

In isolated areas, teachers rarely apply to come to the schools. Those who do come generally fall into one of the following categories:

Teachers tend to want to move on after a year or two. Living is more expensive in the north west. Housing is scarce and overpriced. Isolation from the original individual support system of family and friends is a factor affecting teacher attitude to remote jobs, as well as cultural deprivation (an issue for some). Distance to the coast or to the capital for respite and recreation makes travel costs prohibitive as these are borne entirely by the teacher.

In this school, lack of funds will increasingly affect its ability to continue to serve the needs of its student population. The problem is so severe that, although a few hundred dollars can still be found for minor projects, there is no prospect that an adequate program of upgrading or extension of existing facilities can be sustained. Although there is evidence of particular care taken with equipment in this school, it is highly unlikely that the school could even afford to maintain the condition of present equipment at the current level for very long, due to usual levels of wear and tear.

The school could not exist without the services of three senior staff members from Religious Orders. They are very experienced teachers who supply invaluable expertise to the operation of this school. Their salaries are low.

Summary

Factors that exacerbate the disadvantages experienced by these students are: Staff believe in their school and its place as a caring educational provider which meets an identifiable need in this location. Faced with worsening economic conditions and no immediate prospects of alleviating their financial dilemmas, they operate under a shadow of uncertainty about their future as teachers in a viable secondary school. The students here deserve better than to have their teachers' vitality drained by apprehension when their energy is needed for serving the needs of the students in their charge.

A STUDY OF SCHOOL C (May, 1991)

This is the third of the series of six studies in non-state schools which summarise the data collected from observation and interview in the space of a single visit to each school.

The impressions recorded here are based on interviews with the Principal, two teachers and a parish worker who was a teacher and now works within the community. The last mentioned (together with the Principal and one of the teachers) is a Religious. She visits homes at the school's request and offers "St Vincent de Paul" assistance where needed.

The impressions gained were supported by observations made through a tour of the school during the school day, and by the use of two researchers to cross check the accuracy of the data.

The School Context

The school is a parish primary school located in a small town with a population of around 3000. The town is 1700 kilometres north west of the state capital, and over 100 kilometres from the nearest large regional centre. The east coast of Queensland is approximately 700 kilometres distant.

Housing is scarce and overpriced considering the location. During 1990, teachers on transfer to the town had to move house five times. To attract experienced teachers, the diocese would have to accept teacher housing as a priority and agree to purchase homes in the town. Apart from the Religious, teachers are assigned to the school by Catholic Education Office direction. All are young and bring both vitality and inexperience to the school.

The main economic activity of the town centres on government services such as railways, police and education. (There is a state school nearby catering for Years 1 to 12.) Although these inhabitants are itinerant, they tend to bring higher achieving children into the school, raising the calibre of the pupil population. About a third of the pupils belong to such families. Role models for children are limited, especially for females because of the very restricted range of occupations available.

One interviewee who knows the area well said that the town is male dominated, with four hotels that are well patronised. While alcohol is recognised as a major problem resulting in domestic violence and family breakdowns, there is no support for Alcoholics Anonymous, or Al-Anon here. The town is considered too small to permit the degree of anonymity that spouses would need to attend such meetings.

Isolation often means deprivation. There is no entertainment and little to occupy children out of school hours, although a pony club operates and sports such as football receive community support.

Until recently, youngsters roamed the streets at night and "break and enter" occurrences were frequent. There is now a curfew imposed on children by a town committee, but its success depends upon one man (the school's Aboriginal groundsman at the time of this study) and his helper who police the curfew in their own time. They have the support of the community, but the parish worker believes that it is too great a burden to be carried by one person for very long.

Geographic and cultural isolation, along with lack of extended family support, are contributing factors to the instability of family life. Single parent families are common, although they do not always mean problems for the school. Isolation severely limits access to counselling or psychiatric services.

Incomes are low, and getting lower, with business in the town affected by the general economic downturn. While there are not sufficient reading materials in the homes, all have television and some children show signs of late bedtimes when they arrive at school.

Although Aborigines are integrated into the community, many are unemployed and most have lost their culture. In adopting "white" values, they no longer speak their mother tongue and there are few signs of tribal affiliations that staff are aware of. Those who are known to have contact with Aboriginal communities in Dajarra and Doomadgee, and who occasionally go there for hunting or fishing, do not encourage enquiries or visits, probably because of alcohol and violence in those areas.

The parish wor ker has observed little change in the population of the town over the past five years, although there is an increasing number of "wanderers" - people passing through in search of better economic circumstances. These people often seek aid from St Vincent de Paul before moving on.

Of the 60 families represented by the school population, 54 per cent pay their full school fees. The Principal encourages part payment where this is possible. Seventeen per cent are exempt because of extreme financial difficulty. While some parents are supportive of the school in principle, a minority help substantially in the day-to-day operations. There is probably a degree of incongruence between home and school values.

In this locale, the parish is supported financially by the school to a degree.

Description of the School Population

There are 97 pupils in this primary school of whom approximately 50 per cent are Aborigines. A third of the Aborigines are considered learning disabled. For the Aboriginal pupils, English is the first language but many need language development services.

Several pupils have speech problems, two are physically handicapped and some exhibit emotional disturbances - one severe. One teacher said that she can gauge what happened at home during the night by the way some pupils appear and how they behave the next morning.

While there are pupils with positive attitudes to schooling who hold reasonable aspirations for themselves, teachers are disturbed by the number who are negative and exhibit low levels of concentration. The most prominent learning difficulty exists in the literacy area, where low levels of self-esteem have been observed. The Principal estimated that many of the children were functioning at a level one or two years below their city counterparts.

The pupils here are interested in art, sport, comics and music. They are generally regular school attenders. When there is concern about the absence of a child, the home-school liaison person, school principal or a teacher visits the family to discuss the matter.

Nearly one third of the children are considered higher achievers who are the offspring of itinerant workers. Because teachers' efforts are consumed by the needs of the more demanding groups, there is no time left for the gifted pupils who are therefore disadvantaged in this school.

All pupils are town dwellers. Upon their enrolment, the school is given some indication of prospective pupil disadvantage through the kinds of information provided by parents.

The School

Apart from the need for painting, the school has a reasonably pleasant exterior. Inside the quadrangle, huge noisy air conditioners dominate the school buildings and in 46 degree summer temperatures some must be turned off before teachers can be heard in their classrooms. Five large classrooms accommodate Year levels from 1 to 7. Years 4 and 5 work as a composite class, as do Years 6 and 7.

The Principal believes that families come to the school because of the small numbers, for the caring reputation of the school and out of their personal faith. Staff members believe that the school now has a good reputation and the atmosphere is generally positive and optimistic. The school provides reading materials and food assistance to some families as considered necessary.

The school has definite policy in the areas of:

Enrolment figures are stable and one half of the local preschool numbers are expected to enrol here in 1992. The school is classified as a Category 11 school under Commonwealth funding arrangements.

Curriculum

Funding from the Commonwealth Disadvantaged Schools Program (DSP) provides the school with much needed money for music teaching (four hours per week), an Aboriginal teacher aide, and curriculum materials. The Principal is adamant that the school could not survive without this funding. The Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness Program (ASSPA) is used to provide milk to supplement dietary needs, as well as for curriculum resources, assistance with uniforms, excursions and parent programs. The school curriculum incorporates activities based on the Aboriginal culture.

Classes in this school can have distinct groups requiring differential curriculum. Individual needs vary greatly within the one classroom making catering more difficult. Behavioural disturbances sometimes add to the diversity of needs within the classroom, and occupy teacher time disproportionately because of their potential disruptiveness. Teachers here are always aware of potential behaviour problems and try to anticipate and defuse trouble.

The Principal is the Support Teacher for 15 hours each week as well as overseeing a pastoral care program. In addition to the school policy of approaching general curriculum very positively with pupils, religious education is seen as an adjunct to the fostering of positive attitudes. Preoccupation with disadvantaged pupils is considered, however, to lower expectations of pupils generally.

Priority Country Area Program (PCAP) funding has recently been approved for establishment and maintenance of the electronic mail service, KEYLINK. PCAP also lends guitars for musical activities. The importance of performance opportunities is recognised by the school's participation in concerts and in eisteddfods in Mount Isa. PCAP has also paid for Years 6 and 7 pupils to spend time in Brisbane. Computer literacy and keyboard skills are being introduced, although there are only three computers in the school.

Support is available from Catholic Education Office in the form of trained teachers who stay usually for a two year period. The issue of how to attract and keep experienced teachers has not yet been addressed by the system. With the declining numbers of Religious staff, attention to this issue is becoming an imperative.

The school combines with the state system for in-service where possible and five pupils are assisted through the state Isolated Children's Special Education Unit (ICSEU). Fundraising is a major supplementary activity because of its success in helping to support the school and the parish.

Needs

Staff members identified the following as their human resource needs for the pupils in their care: Additional human resources would enable the school to accomplish a degree of expansion in many areas by: Funding is also required for:

Comment

This school has small amounts of money available for minor projects or purchases, but there is no possibility of considering any major areas of expansion owing to unavailability of specialist staff. Because of the "tyranny of distance", no substantial projects that school personnel might envisage could be put in place to improve the educational provisions for the children in their care. No incentive schemes exist to attract support staff to such locations for any period of time.

A STUDY OF SCHOOL D (June, 1991)

This is the fourth of the series of six studies in non-state schools which summarise the data collected from observation and interview in the space of a si ngle visit to each school.

The impressions recorded below are based on interviews with the Principal, a class teacher who also acts as the remedial teacher, and two school secretaries who manage the finances of the school and have lived in the town for a considerable time. They both have children enrolled here and so provide a parent's view of the school. The Principal is in his third year at the school. His wife also communicated her opinions to the researchers. She is now on the staff full-time, having worked in the school throughout 1990 without pay.

The impressions gained were supported by observations made through a tour of the school during the school day, and by the use of two researchers to cross check the accuracy of the data.

The school context

The school is a Christian school located in a south-east Queensland town with a population of about 11 000 (including the surrounding district). It is managed by the local Gospel Chapel Property Trust, and Board members represent the Brethren, Baptist and Presbyterian faiths.

The area was once a successful farming district before the current economic recession affected the rural industries. Even farmers, who used to have money to spend, no longer appear affluent. Only cotton growing was mentioned as presently viable. While there are still some wealthy people in the district, they are older and becoming few.

There are other signs of deepening recession in evidence. Some of the people who came to the town to escape the expense of city living can no longer afford to live here and have moved further out. Rents have increased and cannot be paid. The town cannot offer the economic security that inhabitants enjoyed in previous times. Fund raising is increasingly difficult because people can no longer afford to spend much money. Parents have noticed, however, that small activities such as cake stalls can operate successfully. It appears that people can find a dollar or two for a food item, but items such as a $30.00 hand-made pullover on a stall will not attract a buyer.

The parents of students attending the school are generally believed to be interested in the school and its operations. They help with acquisition of second-hand furniture as well as providing their labour for some of the day-to-day school operations.

While there are single parent families in the school, they do not necessarily have a negative effect on the school. Single mothers are considered to work hard for their offsprings' benefit. There are some Aboriginal families in the area and a few of the children attend the school.

Description of the School Population

There are 206 students in this school from Kindergarten and Preschool to Year 12. The population has increased steadily from only 29 pupils when the school opened in 1981 with one primary and one secondary teacher. Classes are coeducational. Numbers are distributed over the school as follows: Sixteen primary pupils receive remedial help. Their basic need is in the literacy area, although there are also numeracy difficulties. More remedial student needs are known to exist in the secondary area but have not yet been systematically addressed. A few pupils at the school are regarded as behavioural problems. There are no full-time support teachers for counselling or remedial work, and the need is perceived as considerable.

One staff member believes that students here lack for nothing because of the care given, the sacrifices made by staff and the small class sizes which would not be tolerated by the state system. Another believes that the school offers more support to children than they would receive in the state system. Yet another attributed the school's success to the tireless efforts of the current Principal.

When prompted, a teacher said that there probably were gifted students at the school. Considering that these students were mentioned as an afterthought, it is reasonable to assume that they could be considered disadvantaged because if they are unidentified, they probably do not receive enrichment or extension. It is apparent from observing the school that gifted students could hardly be challenged here because of the scarcity of resources.

Not all students are motivated by religious belief to attend this school. Some come with the expectation that the school will solve their problems by directing greater attention to the individual's needs.

The school

At first glance, the school looks to be operating in reasonable circumstances. Upon entry, the school is presentable and welcoming. The grounds are cared for and some attractive landscaping is visible.

The homes around the school are mostly housing commission, but appear to be reasonably well maintained. According to staff, what was once a middle class area is now much poorer. The school draws its students increasingly from these homes. The boarding house on the grounds is home to approximately ten boarders from widespread origins, and the Preschool and Kindergarten are located nearby.

The school commenced operations in an old hall which is now the Preschool. Old buildings from a former hospital complex have been recycled to serve as classrooms and residences for boarders. One sits unused waiting for funds to give it a purpose.

Because the grounds are large, there is discussion from time to time about increasing their utility. Sporting fields cannot be developed because of the costs involved. Wheat was grown successfully in the school in former years, but this is no longer a profitable activity.

In the administration area, the decor is less than affluent. The furniture is a mixture of unmatched items, and the Principal's office is inadequate - for example, he has no shelving and materials are stacked around the walls.

Throughout the school, carpeting is worn and ill-fitting. The staffroom has odd uncomfortable chairs, two non-matching carpet remnants and no tables. The Year 1 classroom visited had very few visible resources - only a handful of books were on the shelves. The walls were very thin and all proximate sounds penetrated into the classroom.

Other classrooms in the school appeared adequate and most students were comfortable, although it was pointed out that there was a struggle each year to match students with adequately sized furniture. This was only accomplished through a process of improvising, 'making-do' and obtaining second hand furniture from charitable organisations.

Staff say that the school still enjoys the use of resources purchased some years ago when there was money around. Subject offerings are varied and extra-curricular activities are available to students. Students travel away for some activities such as sports.

The school's income is derived from fees, fund raising, state grants and the Commonwealth Disadvantaged Schools Program (DSP). As a Category 4 school under Commonwealth funding arrangements, the school receives what staff consider to be inadequate funding for operations. It is inconceivable to the visitor that the school was ever assessed as Category 4. Schools in this category are usually well-established and have substantial incomes from fees. Most DSP schools are in Categories 10 to 12. The $8000.00 received from the Disadvantaged Schools Program paid for some teacher-aide time and some curriculum materials.

When the school opened in 1981 there was a high level of contributed services provided by the community to enable the school to operate. As a result of steadily deteriorating financial prospects since then, the school applied to the Commonwealth for revision to a more realistic category - Category 10. The Principal has included in this appeal evidence of major changes in the school's economic profile. As examples, the following statements of changes in the parent population have been drawn from his data:

Sixteen families live on social security benefits. Overall, the previously well-off are now poorer, and the poor are becoming even poorer. Some parents who have paid their fees in previous years are now unable to pay. Of a total of 206 students, 113 pay full fees and 93 receive concessions. Staff have noticed that parents are taking longer to pay than last year, and anticipate a worsening of this trend, and of the tendency for payments to fall behind as the year progresses. Parents wait for second-hand uniforms to become available because they cannot afford to purchase the material held by the school for making new uniforms.

The Principal feels the absence of adequate funds with a keen sense of loss. He is anxiously awaiting a reply from the Commonwealth government.

State and federal government grants are invaluable sources of income, although the school is operating on a overdraft, and had to take out a loan to maintain its viability. Parents and Friends Association funds last year amounted to $6000.00 - permitting small projects to be undertaken but nothing of great consequence.

The school enjoys limited sponsorship from the local Christian community.

Curriculum

An Accelerated Christian Education program that operated when the school opened was discontinued in 1983 as inadequate for the needs of the students. The school now follows the mainstream curriculum - that is, Department of Education and Board of Senior Secondary School Studies. There is an amazingly wide curriculum in the secondary area, thanks to creative timetabling and versatile, hardworking staff. It is feasible to argue that the timetable may work at perhaps some cost to teacher well-being in the long run in terms of teacher stress.

Staff members recognise the importance of maintaining a range of options to meet the demands of students and parents. The Principal has a full teaching load, as do all other teachers. Staff generally consider that the Principal is overloaded with work.

Computers are in place from a time when money was more plentiful. Computer-assisted drafting is also available. Mothers assist teachers by hearing reading, and an instrumental music program operates in the school, organised by a teacher (in her own time). The Year 1 teacher is also writing music curriculum for the school in the hope that more music will be introduced into the classroom.

Because of scarce facilities, home economics classes are taken in the nearby boarding house where kitchen facilities are located. Small class sizes throughout most of the school mean that students receive lots of attention. Small numbers of both students and teachers, however, spread over all Year levels, mean that staff are stretched to meet demands for subjects.

To compensate for their lack of resources, teachers borrow extensively from the town library, education centres and the state high school whenever possible. With the prospect of their financial predicament worsening as the current recession begins to affect more people more acutely, school personnel are working with unresolved stresses. There is little prospect of upgrading or replacing existing equipment in the foreseeable future.

In all curriculum areas, staff work consciously to promote dignity and self-respect through Christian values, so that the desired learning can take place. There is considerable emphasis on standards, discipline and the Bible.

The Staff

The school has a full-time staff of 11 (Principal, plus six teachers in the P-7 area and three in secondary). There are also three part time teachers at the secondary level, as well as one full- and one part-time teacher aides. Two secretaries administer the office and a groundsman cares for the external areas.

The Principal has a full teaching load and completes his administrative role late at night. Any spare time he may have during the day is usually occupied by the many parents who use him as a counsellor. Scrutiny of his clever timetabling that enables a variety of subjects to operate within the high school revealed a creative mind at work. He did, however, have what could be interpreted as physical signs of stress.

Teachers in this school are considered to be committed and versatile. To provide all that the students in their care deserve, staff at this school carry heavy teaching loads. Subsequently, they probably have more preparation and correction to perform out of school hours. They believe that a varied curriculum must be sustained so that the school can continue to offer an appropriate curriculum. As a result, many individual teachers take classes in a wide range of subject areas. They also tutor students after school hours.

The Year 1 teacher has support from a teacher aide and from parents so that she can attend to the remedial requirements of the primary school. She sees 16 pupils regularly. They work in the old carrels used for the Accelerated Christian Education program that operated when the school opened. Time does not permit her to see the secondary students, although she is aware of about twenty students who need help there. This is a source of frustration for staff dedicated to student needs.

So that the school can continue to operate, all staff accept lower than award salaries. The Principal believes that his teachers are devalued and underrated by having to work for lower salaries. Some are severely disadvantaged in their personal lives by their inadequate incomes. One of his ambitions is to improve the financial conditions of his staff although at present he has little prospect of enacting this desire.

To meet the needs of students, teachers require professional development to upgrade their skills and knowledge base. There is no money for in-service. Travel time and costs must be added to teacher-release costs for in-service away from town. What there is, is accomplished out-of-school hours at minimum cost.

Staff morale appears reasonably high although there is always the pressure of knowing that they have to operate on a shoestring. Their contentment could be due in part to the confidence generated by effective leadership and the school's growing reputation as a good provider.

Needs

Staff members identified the following as their human resource needs for the students in their care: Additional human resources would enable the school to accomplish a degree of expansion in many areas by: Funding is also required for: Capital works in the form of covered play areas, science laboratory and library facilities are on the 'required' list. There is also need for more office space, and for Home Economics and Shop B facilities. A special support centre is envisaged with withdrawal capacity for behaviourally disturbed children, as well as serving children with special abilities and disabilities. Boarding facilities could bear extending, and an assembly hall is an urgent need. There is no covered area in the school where all of the students can gather together. Desks, tables and chairs are inadequate by the standards of most Queensland schools.

Comment

Given the working conditions in this school, the Principal's first priority is to alleviate the present situati on for his staff. His concern for them may contribute to high stress levels that put him at risk if the present adverse conditions continue for any length of time.

The school could not exist without the services of staff members teaching for below-award wages. Many are experienced teachers who supply invaluable expertise to the operation of this school.

Although the equipment in this school is well cared for, it is highly unlikely that the school could even afford to maintain the condition of present equipment at the current level for very long.

In this school, lack of funds could increasingly affect its ability to continue to serve the needs of its student population. The problem is so severe that, although a few hundred dollars can still be found for minor projects, there is no prospect that an adequate program of upgrading or extension of existing facilities can be sustained. There is no money to use as a basis for applications for capital grants.

The school considers that it is doing well educationally, considering that it is operating 'in the red'. High stress levels among some members of staff could result in illnesses, however, that will detract from operational effectiveness.

Summary

There was a hint of desperation at times in some of the faces of staff at this school during the interviews conducted. They may have their faith to sustain them, but it is conceivable that they will need more earthly support to continue to provide educational services to so many children, and it is a reasoned judgment that their efforts are deserving of an injection of funds in the near future.

A STUDY OF SCHOOL E (June, 1991)

This is the fifth of the series of six studies in non-state schools which summarise the data collected from observation and interview in the space of a single visit to each school.

The impressions recorded below are based on interviews with the Principal and the Deputy Principal who has taught at this school for 18 years. The Principal is in his seventh year at the school. Impressions gained were supported by observations made through a tour of the school during the school day, and by the use of two researchers to cross check the accuracy of the data.

The School Context

The school is an independent school located in a south-east Queensland town with a population of over 9000. It is 160 kilometres south-west of the state capital and over 80 kilometres from the nearest large regional centre. The area experiences some very cold weather during the winter months.

It would appear that the recession has not yet hit this area. Very few shop premises are vacant and some new businesses have been successfully established in the town. Retired people with assured incomes make up a substantial proportion of the inhabitants.

The area is considered a successful farming district. Its success may be attributed in part to diversity. Dairying and cereal crops are reasonably prosperous. Cotton growing is currently flourishing, the wool is stabilising and at least grain can't get any worse so some improvement may be anticipated. On the other hand, persistent drought conditions look like taking their toll as incomes are reduced and stock require additional feed.

Most of the families of students at this school are not resident in the town. They are as far removed as Hong Kong and Papua Nuigini. In addition, all states of Australia except South Australia are represented in the student population.

While a few parents are believed to be wealthy, it would appear from growing enrolment numbers in Year 11 that parents are delaying their year of enrolment owing to economic considerations. This also happens at Year 9 because parents have chosen to keep their offspring in the state system for Year 8 to save money. For many parents, the erosion of the value of the Isolated Students Allowance against school fees is a very real problem.

While parents are within their rights to elect to spread fee payments over the year (item deferments), the Principal noted that, in Term 4, 1990, it was necessary to remind some parents of their obligation to pay. This was taken as an indicator of economic hardship. He does not, however, anticipate a recurrence of that predicament in 1991.

Description of the School Population

There are 385 students in Years 6 to 12 in the school, of whom 95 are day students. The 80 per cent who are boarders bring diversity of cultural backgrounds and a range of academic abilities to the school. In some cases they bring emotional problems resulting from isolation from family, broken homes and trouble with the law. A few have been recognised as molested children.

The Deputy Principal believes that, apart from children who have been referred to this school for particular help, the incidence of these extreme cases is no higher than in any typical population. Boarders do, however, require special care and counselling. They need 'parent' figures and pastoral care programs to supervise their out-of-school lives. The students from isolated living conditions have come from correspondence education and have to learn to adjust to school life. They suffer a degree of deprivation if living in a strange locale away from family and friends. Eighteen Aboriginal students at the school have come from as far away as the Northern Territory and the Torres Strait Islands.

Overseas students are selected using the results of testing by the Freeman Overseas Testing Agent, as well as the report card of the previous school. All overseas students need to have a good command of English because the school does not have ESL teaching. No such testing is required of Aboriginal students who are taken as they come until the quota imposed by the school is full.

Fifty-five percent of the students are male and 45 percent are female. The school is a coeducational organisation and the secondary girls are bussed to the main campus each day from the former girls' college where they still reside. As a result, girls do not have the same access to school resources at night as that enjoyed by the boys. The Year 6 and 7 classes operate daily on the other campus.

The school population declined to 170 over ten years ago, at a time when many private schools, particularly boarding schools, experienced a general slump. Amalgamation of the two single sex schools took place in 1970. Since then enrolments have grown and the school remains a viable educational organisation to this day.

A total of 75 per cent of students aspire to tertiary education and approximately two-thirds realise their ambition. The school works to maintain a respectable academic record to ensure its ongoing reputation as a worthwhile educational provider.

Learning difficulties in the literacy area are attended by a part time specialist teacher (two-thirds time) who works with students both in class and by withdrawal, the former option being considered preferable by the administration. By way of example, eight to ten of the Year 8 cohort receive remedial help. When the other Year 8 students are working on a second language, those with learning difficulties are withdrawn for special attention. They are not required to study another language.

Gifted children were not considered disadvantaged to any degree. There is a science club, and such students are encouraged to enter science and mathematics competitions. Although there are no special programs for high achievers, there is project work to extend them. A staff member who is studying in the area may become the motivator for increased activity in the area of gifted education next year.

The diverse nature of the student body generally means that children from other races are accepted as part of the regular student body. No racial problems are thought to exist although there is a limit of 18 placed on Aboriginal numbers. This figure is sufficiently high to accommodate almost all of those students who apply for entry. Abstudy does not cover all of the school fees for those students.

Although the Principal has a small discretionary fund at his disposal, there is a lim it to assistance provided to students. A seven per cent fee remission is available to the less affluent. This amount is equal to seven per cent of total fee income which is allocated for fee remissions of all kinds. Some students from Papua Nuigini have scholarships from the Australian International Development Bureau.

Speaking globally, the school has very few serious problems with its student population although a rare break-in occurred recently in the school library.

The School

The school is a small, comprehensive day and boarding school with students from Year 6 to Year 12. It serves a widespread catchment of both rural and urban areas and is classified as a Category 9 school under Commonwealth funding arrangements.

The school presents itself as one operating in reasonably fortunate circumstances. From the street it appears somewhat affluent, with substantial brick buildings housing many of the classrooms. There are new administration, staff and office accommodations, and construction is continuing. There are plans to extend the assembly hall which can no longer accommodate the school's requirements.

There are also older buildings, some of which have been relocated to new land purchases across the road. Classroom facilities are good although the music block (an old colonial house moved to the site) does not work well because of some unusual structural arrangements. There was surprisingly little easy access to useable spaces considering the size of the building. As a result the music teacher cannot use the most obviously proximate room for a permanent keyboard setup. In her main room, however, she has substantial equipment, materials, carpeting and heaters. The remoteness of the old building from the rest of the school assures her of a quiet environment for concentration and performance.

The main campus contains the Principal's residence and four townhouses for housemasters. In addition, the school owns three houses across the road which are each occupied by one staff family. Several boarding houses on both campuses serve the accommodation needs of boarders. Because of the relatively large number of boarders, the school faces high capital costs to provide such facilities, both in upkeep and replacement of accommodations. Over three hectares of land purchased to bring the 150 girls onto the main campus will require $3-4,000,000 for development.

The school has one and a half computer centres as well as various 'stand alones' scattered around the school. Overall, the school appears to be well-resourced in terms of capital works; plant and equipment; and resources - both curriculum materials and staffing levels.

Curriculum

Class arrangements change according to the characteristics of the student body and school priorities. In 1990 there were three streamed Year 8 classes. This year, a different cohort means that two groups of approximately 25 students each operate as unstreamed Year 8 classes. Other year levels are arranged as follows: Staff members recognise the importance of offering a range of options to meet the demands of students and parents. Maintaining and increasing enrolment numbers is therefore a priority to ensure an adequate range of subjects.

Subject offerings are as varied as possible considering the size of the school, and extra-curricular activities are available to students. Weekend activities are of vital importance to boarders and are undertaken by staff in their own time. Sporting and other trips to Brisbane are frequent occurrences. Transport costs for students, including daily bussing between campuses, amount to $60-70,000 each year.

Schools like this are considered by their staff to be disadvantaged in their subject offerings because of their size. The range of options that they can offer is necessarily restricted by student numbers. The Deputy Principal has a teaching load, and all other teachers have a maximum of two subjects to teach. Curriculum problems are exacerbated by the 'inverted pyramid' shape of the school population. There is no large junior cohort supporting the senior school because of the greater number of new students in Year 11. (Thirty per cent of Year 11 students are newcomers to the school.)

The Year 11 curriculum has had to be 'softened' because of the effect of students who arrive from the 'high top' schools of the state system. Assessment is lessened in Year 11 while students adjust to greater demands, with the result that the Year 12 assessment load is substantial.

There are times when small class sizes mean that subjects have to be abandoned. Low numbers are tolerated, however, at times according to school priorities. French and music are two examples. Because the school has decided that they are important, these subjects receive special consideration so that numbers can be given a chance to increase.

Students are tested upon entry to the school. Assistance in the form of access to the state support system is available to the school. Agencies such as guidance and special education, as well as the library resources in central office have proved useful for testing students and locating materials.

The Principal believes that the school's particular curricular strengths lie in the areas of mathematics, science and art. He is concerned, however, that schools are being increasingly polarised into P-10 curriculum on the one hand, and tertiary preparation on the other. The gap between Year 10 and Year 11 seems to be widening. He has also noted a lack of comparability across schools at the Junior Certificate level and would like to see the role of the Board of Senior Secondary School Studies strengthened and extended through the conferring of greater autonomy and power.

The Staff

Staff appear to carry acceptable teaching loads (they teach 24 periods per week) but have considerable school commitments to meet after school hours and on weekends. Although all teachers are involved in extracurricular activities, these are not considered to place undue stress on staff.

The four house masters have seven fewer periods to compensate in part for the extra care that they devote to boarders. In addition to a full-time teaching chaplain on the main campus, the administrator of girls' boarding counsels her charges as necessary.

The remedial teacher works with more boys than girls, and her work is concentrated in Years 8 and 9 although her compass extends from year 6 to Year 10. In addition there is an Aboriginal teacher aide who provides support to Aboriginal students.

A full-time music teacher has also been appointed although 1.8 teachers were cut this year. There was an increase of .6 of a staff member in the boarding area as an acknowledgment of the special needs of boarders.

A full-time travel officer is employed by the school. He drives the bus and completes extensive travel arrangements for students, which are complex and time-consuming. As well as huge travel costs, the school has the added cost of keeping in touch with parents who live in other states and overseas.

Needs

School administrators identified the following as their human resource needs for the students in their care: Additional human resources would enable the school to accomplish a degree of expansion in many areas by: Funding is also required for:

Summary

The numbers of students identified as 'in need' in this school are relatively small compared to the numbers to be found in other types of schools or in larger schools.

With over 300 boarders on two separate campuses, administrators are preoccupied with the needs of those students, both physical and emotional. The adult/child ratio of 1: 25 does not in any way approximate that of parent/child. This is a major concern of staff anxious to provide the kinds of care that parents can give to their children.

As indicated by the lists of needs above, essentials for this school are calculated on a different scale of reckoning from that used in some of the poorer schools to gauge requirements. Staff have higher expectations and can envisage major projects although not many can be realised in the near future. The Principal considers that the school is 'holding its own' as a viable educational institution, but efforts to improve and expand its educational offerings are proving difficult.

A STUDY OF SCHOOL F (June, 1991)

This is the sixth of the series of six studies in non-state schools which summarise the data collected from observation and interview in the space of a single visit to each school.

The impressions recorded below are based on interviews with the acting Principal, the acting Deputy Principal, the coordinators of Years 10, 12 and science, and an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. Acting positions have been necessary because of the Principal's recent ill health. The staff members interviewed were all experienced educators who had worked in the school for periods of from three to 10 years.

The impressions gained were supported by observations made through a tour of the school during the school day, and by the use of two researchers to cross check the accuracy of the data.

The School Context

The school is a Catholic systemic school located in south-east Queensland near the state capital. Although close to the highway, it is not easy to access for the first time visitor even by motor vehicle. For students, access is also a problem. Most travel by train and the closest railway station is not considered safe to use because of local hooligans and the dangers of crossing six lanes of highway. The 'safe' station is some distance away. To enable students to reach the station unmolested, a walkway with a high netted fence has been constructed. Needless to say, the school considers the immediate area to be somewhat 'rough'.

Travel time and transportation are big issues here. Many students must catch a bus from home to station each day at a cost of $17.90 each week. This is a disadvantage to the poorer students, especially as some also travel for an hour on the train from suburbs such as Wacol and Inala.

The area is generally low socio-economic with a substantial population base consisting of poorer people escaping the more expensive living of the capital city, together with recently arrived migrants who have completed their initial English courses. While there are some middle class people in the district, most are working class or unemployed. The area could be considered extensively disadvantaged.

Staff reported that over 30 per cent of the student population come from single parent families. For some this means instability as changing adult roles and behaviours at home can result in disturbed functioning at school.

Some of the 25 per cent of families reportedly existing on social security benefits are second generation recipients. For their offspring, low self confidence and lack of self-esteem can affect academic achievement. Some teachers believe that many students at the school lack initiative because of low self-esteem.

On the other hand, parents of recently arrived Vietnamese students have high expectations of their children. They want them to gain high TE scores to ensure access to financially rewarding professions. Considering that there are language difficulties, their expectations may be unrealistically high. Pressure on their children to achieve may be substantial.

Vietnamese families tend to be migrant rather than refugee nowadays. As a result there are fewer traumatised children in this group. This condition is now more often seen in the students who are refugees from El Salvador and Chile.

Migrant parents who are not confident may require help from the school to function in their adopted society. Some items in newsletters, for example, are made available in three languages English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Resources do not permit all school materials to be translated into three languages.

About 10 per cent of parents appear to the staff to be middle class, or reasonably prosperous. The majority are of working class origins.

The parents of students attending the school are not generally involved in the school and its operations. The success of the Parents and Friends Association fund raising is due to the efforts of a few parents only. Distance of many family homes from the school could be a mitigating factor that reduces opportunities to participate.

Description of the school population

There are 540 students in Years 8 to 12 in the school as follows: While acknowledging that they have many problems in this school, staff members indicated that they are fond of the students generally, and consider them to be fine young people.

Of the student population, 167 have non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB). Thirty per cent do not speak English at home. The two ESL teachers have enough time in the school day to work with 90 of these students in the various programs devised to meet their needs. The school has the following nationalities among the NESB students:

Vietnamese students are appraised as highly able but 'passive' learners. They are mainly interested in academic achievement and most resent having to participate in diverse activities such as sport. This year, however, has seen an improvement in the attitude of Vietnamese boys in Years 8 to 10 who are becoming very active in sport and athletics. Some of the Vietnamese students are up to 22 years of age. Ability notwithstanding, all migrants struggle with the demands of learning English. They can be withdrawn and slow to trust outsiders, which makes teaching more difficult. The poor English of the migrants is their greatest disadvantage in schools where English is the language of instruction.

Migrants also struggle with many aspects of Australian culture such as the image of women as equal to men and the freedom accorded the adolescent in this society. What they see at school brings them into conflict with the values of the home country, which may be heavily emphasised at home, and presents them with dilemmas and additional challenges.

In 1990 there were 67 students working for a TE Score, of whom three gained 990. In 1991, 90 of 109 Year 12 students are aiming for tertiary entrance. Students are encouraged to strive for such achievements.

Gifted students are not considered disadvantaged in any way. Teachers regard them as well catered for. Because of the nature of the dominant student groups within the school, it is doubtful that teachers have had the time or opportunity to explore fully the characteristics and needs of gifted children. Their concern is for the disabled and the poor.

Some of the Vietnamese students live in a home run by the Sisters of Mercy for children with no families in Australia. Some disturbed children have to take medication to enable them to function at school. Monitoring the administration of such drugs is another task that school personnel have to manage. A few of the student population are transients and another small group a re physically disabled. Four students are Aboriginal. Absenteeism among students is discouraged and recurrent offenders are investigated.

As one teacher said, the disabled are a great asset to the socialisation processes of the school, although they do place great pressure on resources. Acceptance of disability and racial differences is part of the ethos of this school.

About 10 per cent of students have learning difficulties. Another 15 students form the hearing impaired unit and bring with them their particular set of problems. They receive help from four full time specialist teachers and one full-time teacher aide.

While acknowledging that the students with learning difficulties require special attention, ideally in smaller groups or with an additional adult assigned to help, the teachers do not consider themselves overloaded with low achievers. What they do see is a variety of diverse needs that require special attention. For the intellectually handicapped (from special primary schools), one teacher feels that staff are frustrated by what they feel is their limited ability to help these children.

Fifty per cent of Year 12 students receive Austudy allowances because of low family incomes. Their poverty is translated into educational disadvantage if there is little money available to spend on enrichment for students (such as books, computers, travel opportunities) at home. Also, when economic pressures lead to family breakdowns, the resulting emotional problems are brought to the school by troubled students.

Breaking and entering, together with robbery, is a fairly common occurrence within the school. The school's isolation and bushland setting could contribute to this problem, along with the socio-economic profile of the locale.

The School

The school is a coeducational day school serving a widespread catchment of both semi-rural and urban areas. It is classified as a Category 10 school under Commonwealth funding arrangements. According to staff, it has a reputation for caring, with the result that there is a 'more than usual' share of disadvantaged students enrolled here.

First impressions are of a school appearing to operate in reasonable circumstances in a quiet rural setting. From the street, buildings present the solid reassurance of brick. A substantial building program reinforces the impression of well being. Upon entry, however, the school appears less than affluent. The old reception areas, administrators' offices and staff common room were poorly constructed and laid out. Most spaces in this building were inadequate and cramped.

Buildings originally were not well constructed and the new erections are for replacement purposes, not expansion. The land upon which the school was built is of sufficient clay content to ensure that movement underneath buildings makes the site unstable. The foundations of the new structures are designed to accommodate such movement, but the present buildings all have visible signs of defect such as obvious cracks in walls and ceilings, and noticeable deviations from 90 degrees in the angles between floors and walls.

Although staff have learned to live with unsound buildings, it is possible that these conditions do little to alleviate their stress levels. The Stage 1 constructions under way include new office and staff accommodations and should lift spirits generally in the school. Stage 2 will see the replacement of inadequate typing and drama areas in the near future. Catholic Education Office, together with government grants, will pay the costs of the replacement buildings under construction.

Staff say that the school is not well-researched in terms of materials and equipment. According to one teacher, the school is under funded, understaffed and under-researched.

One quarter of all students are paying concessional fees negotiated with the Principal upon enrolment. Some pay nothing. It is thought that a few families attempt to pay less because they see others of similar ethnic origins doing so. All fees collected by the school are sent to Catholic Education Office, and, in return, the school is allocated a budget.

A small, effective Parents and Friends Association has purchased resources to the value of $25 000 in 1991. The school tuckshop is an invaluable source of substantial revenue (there are no adjacent shops) and the school also retains levies from students for its own use.

Assistance in the form of counsellors and specialist teacher support is available to the school from Catholic Education Office. Such support reflects Commonwealth funding levels and cuts have reduced the resources of the school - for example, in the ESL area. ESL programs are coordinated from Catholic Education Office and some in-service is available. One of the ESL teachers will, however, have to attend an upcoming conference in her own time, and at her own expense. Funding for such activities is scarce.

The School Community Initiative Program (SCIP) pays for some in-service and teacher-release time, and the Board of Senior Secondary School Studies provides in-service in Year 11 and 12 subject areas. Teachers have reasonable access to courses but are reluctant to leave their classes for long because of the special needs of their students and the scarcity of funds to pay for suitable relief staff.

Teachers in this school have contacts, or have themselves taught, in state schools. They believe that, in comparison with staff in government schools, they have less access to, and information about, recent educational initiatives and programs for schools that their counterparts in the state system.

Curriculum

Subject offerings are as varied as possible and extra-curricular activities are available to students. Increasing retention rates after the compulsory years of schooling have meant that the school has to cater for more students who aren't aiming for tertiary entrance. To meet the demands for some broadening of the curriculum in the senior school, different subjects are being introduced. Pressure on school subjects is increasing. A "non-ASAT" course operates as Course 2 in Years 11 and 12. Its successful completion is rewarded with a certificate. The Board registered school subject, Catering and Hospitality, is popular, as is the Board subject, Speech and Drama. The school fosters performance skills and regularly presents concerts and other shows to the public.

In the senior school, teacher/student ratios are considered appropriate, although the range of subjects is not broad enough. Twenty-four subjects are offered but none are languages other than English. Teacher/student ratios are not satisfactory in the lower school, which is considered to have more special needs. In some classes, several students need 1:1 attention to function satisfactorily - for example, in the Year 10 science class, there are five students who cannot manage the work unaided because of disability or learning difficulties. Science and computing are judged to be functioning below the desired levels for a school of this size. Music is available to Year 10 only.

Testing to identify learning difficulties is carried out by the remedial teacher with assistance from guidance officers. For one period each week, these students are withdrawn to work with parent tutors on the Learning Assistance Program (LAP). Staff opinions on its success vary, depending on whether they believe that withdrawal is a viable alternative to class work, or that voluntary help is very reliable.

Integration of students into classroom activities is considered by some teachers to be the preferred option. This is accomplished for the hearing impaired through the six adults allocated to their education.

Provision for ESL students is accomplished through:

One of the ESL teachers commented that the last option would be her top priority if more time were available. It is not feasible to extend this provision at present because there is only one other ESL teacher. She commented that progress in English is usually slow. The 1989-90 recent arrivals are not ready to be mainstreamed and even students who apparently have some mastery of English, that is, they speak well, often have huge writing problems because written expression is so complex.

The school is generally supportive of the ESL program but the area is understaffed. This is particularly noticeable in comparison to staffing levels in the hearing impaired unit, and there is no budget for any necessary ESL expenditures. Other staff also supported the proposition that the ESL area needs its own budget for purchasing materials.

To meet the needs of students, teachers welcome opportunities to get to know them better. School camps operate at a loss, but as a priority, because of their importance for friendship forming and team building. Coordinators have comprehensive knowledge of all students within their domain. Because they value each individual highly, they express frustration at not being able to do more, particularly for the handicapped. Teachers' work is assisted by catalysts such as:

It is school policy to counter racism and all forms of discrimination within the school. An atmosphere of tolerance and racial harmony is the result of these endeavours.

An important issue raised by one of the coordinators was that of curriculum development. He deplored the trend towards school based curriculum development because he believes that teachers are fully occupied with the needs of the students in their care. He would prefer that curricula be developed centrally, on the understanding that teachers could then choose their courses to suit their student population. He believes that teachers' attention is best directed to their students and he would resist any demands that depleted their energies. He is in a position to observe high levels of stress among staff and would like to do more to protect them where possible.

The Staff

There are 40 teachers on the staff of the school. Teachers have 24 out of 30 periods each week for teaching, whereas coordinators have 20 periods of class contact so that they can perform coordination duties for either a curriculum area or a particular student cohort. The school's executive team consists of the Principal, Deputy Principal, Assistant Principal (Religious Education) and Assistant Principal (Administration).

Teachers in this school are considered by their colleagues to be particularly supportive and caring. Although five of the top teachers have recently moved from the school on promotion, there are many able, experienced teachers on this staff. One quarter of the teachers serve on subject panels for the Board of Senior Secondary School Studies. This is an indication of their expertise, but creates more pressure on the remaining staff when teachers are away at meetings.

The preoccupation of staff with the needs of the students is a factor contributing to teacher stress. The problems that students bring to school make demands on teachers' energy and time. Their commitment to students means that frustrations build when they perceive needs that they despair of serving adequately.

What can happen among staff in adverse conditions is in evidence here. The school staff is a cohesive, mutually supportive unit. Members rally together to sustain the school's operations. Staff morale is high considering the difficulties under which they work. This could be an indication of effective leadership and quality staff.

To meet the needs of students, teachers require professional development to upgrade their skills and knowledge base. However, there is reluctance on the part of teachers to leave their students for professional development unless they know that suitable relief teachers are available. This is not easy to achieve. Thus the recognised gap between the need and the limits on opportunities for its fulfilment is another source of stress for teachers.

They also see that their counterparts in the state system are better resourced in many ways, such as professional development and access to specialist support staff.

Funding appears easier to access in the state system - for example, for programs such as the Learning Technology initiative which provided state high schools with computers and office equipment. One coordinator likens the school to "Noah's Ark" when compared to the "twentieth century" equipment that he has seen in the nearby state high school. He has admired the Manual Arts equipment in state high schools and laments his inability to obtain funding for business centres in the school. He has the distinct impression that Catholic schools are falling further behind in comparison to state schools.

There is considerable frustration experienced by teachers who observe their counterparts in state schools to be developing new programs, making progress and moving on, when they are at a stand still because of lack of funds. Teachers here feel in their hearts that they would like to be able to offer something similar but cannot hope to under present financial constraints. What they aspire to is some kind of equity with the state sector - that is, equal access to funding and resources.

Teachers tend to stay in the school for some years. They expressed great affection for, and commitment to, the school and its occupants. They also expressed a need for more training to help them cope with the effects of poverty on the school's operations. Social issues that affect their students occupy many of their discussions. Their frustrations are seen as "emotional ups and downs" by one concerned staff member.

Needs

School staff identified the following as their human resource needs for the students in their care: Additional human resources would enable the school to accomplish a degree of expansion in many areas by: Funding is also required for:

Comment

The numbers of students identified as 'in need' according to the categories of English as a Second Language and Hearing Disability are relatively large in this school because of its location and the relevant support units that have been established to serve these needs. Concern for the individual leads staff to believe that they are not doing enough for students with special needs. They frequently offered details of individual students for .whom they wanted to do more.

Teachers' statements also indicated concern for issues of teache r empowerment. The process of empowering teachers and schools demands that teachers have up-to-date knowledge in order to function efficiently and confidently. They are aware of inequities that, in comparison with the state system, impoverish them professionally, limiting their access to resources and inhibiting their 'right to know' about educational activities.

In this school, lack of funds will increasingly affect its ability to continue to serve the needs of its student population to the satisfaction of the staff. The problem is considered by them to be severe, as budget cuts are now being experienced. There is no prospect that an adequate program of extension of existing facilities and courses can be contemplated without additional funding.

Summary

Staff believe in their school and its place as a caring educational provider which strives to meet the diverse needs of its student population. Faced with the knowledge that there is no money for development or extension, they continue to operate under a shadow exacerbated by the perceived lack of parity with the State sector in respect to accessing information, support services and resources. Their dependency on voluntary services is a source of frustration for some and they despair that they might never be able to claim a degree of equity with the state system in providing for the needs of their students.

Please cite as: Hewton, J. (1991). Schools and their views of student disadvantage: Exploratory studies in six non-state schools. Queensland Researcher, 7(3), 2-58. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr7/hewton.html


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