Multi-Million Dollar NFP Program Calls For Fair Education
28 November 2016 at 4:24 pm
A “revolutionary” multi-million dollar program has been launched by an education not-for-profit to encourage parents and local communities to get involved in a bid to improve the outcomes for disadvantaged students.
The Fair Education program, delivered by Schools Plus with $5 million in financial support from the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation (VFFF), will provide significant funding and other support for more than 100 schools in New South Wales over the next five years.
Schools Plus CEO Rosemary Conn told Pro Bono Australia News the program aimed to be a catalyst for significant change within the participating schools and in the NSW education system.
“We know that particularly engaging parents can really move the dial on how students develop within school,” Conn said.
“Research shows that parent engagement at school positively affects student achievement and reduces the impact of socio-economic disadvantage on educational outcomes.
“It’s directly linked to improvements in grades and ensuring that students don’t drop out of school, there’s better attendance and even students who have their parents more engaged in school tend to have developed better social skills as well. So it can really make a difference.”
Conn said involvement meant more than “parents just turning up to a sports carnival or an event”.
“We’re talking about parents actively engaging with their children to support what’s being taught in the schools,” she said.
“So supporting with homework and reading, and providing the stability and the support that children and young people need to be successful at school.
“I think there is definitely a case to be made for having stronger engagement with parents in the school really making a contribution to academic and the general wellbeing of the student and that’s why it is one of our biggest focuses.
“This groundbreaking program will support principals and teachers to develop their own strategies to boost parent and community involvement in their school.”
The program was developed by the VFFF board and staff, led by chairman Tim Fairfax AC and CEO Jenny Wheatley, following a year of research and consultation with education experts.
Wheatley said one of the foundation’s aims was to help young people reach their educational and social potential.
“Through this program, we hope to have a positive impact on more than 100 schools over the next five years, and potentially improve the future for thousands of students,” Wheatley said.
Conn said what made the program unique was the extent of engagement from VFFF.
“They went to great lengths to engage education experts over almost a year to determine where the need really was and that’s where we’ve ended up with a focus on both supporting the development of leadership in schools and also the development of engaging parents and the community better within schools,” Conn said.
“So the first thing that makes it pretty unique is the extent of the engagement of our partner, Vincent Fairfax in the whole process and secondly it is really the length and value of the partnerships.
“They are putting in over $5 million over five years into essentially the Fair Education program to support schools for the long term, which is great both for schools and for us because it means we can build that network of schools, we can ensure the programs that are being funded are embedded in the schools, and it gives the school some certainty and it means that really the kind of initiatives that we can support are ones that can be transformational within the school and that doesn’t happen overnight.
“So from our perspective it is a pretty unique partnership and very much one where I feel like we are sort of equal partners in this which is quite different to how other relationships can be structured between a grant maker and a grantee.”
The program was launched on Friday by NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli at Hilltop Road Public School in Sydney’s west.
Piccoli said he applauded the VFFF and Schools Plus for this “outstanding initiative” and their significant investment to support education in NSW.
“Their support will assist schools to build on the work they are already doing to provide better learning opportunities and continue to improve student outcomes,” Piccoli said.
A total of 29 schools across NSW are taking part in the program’s first year.
Conn said the schools had spent time with their education expert coach designing programs that specifically addressed the school’s needs.
“They can be anything from literacy to wellbeing, to creating the school as a community hub and offering a whole range of services to parents and families through the school,” she said.
“So the projects are so diverse but they have a lens of parents and community engagement over the top.
“It is very much school community led with our expert coach helping the school to think about how they actually execute that, so thinking about how they shift the culture of the school so the school is better and clearer at how they can engage parents and their communities.
“So it is a combination of really well-designed initiative and the leadership development support that we’re able to provide that I think is going to really, really make a difference.”
Conn said they would love to see the program rolled out nationally in the future.
“I think this kind of model of scaffolded philanthropy is something that we are seeing really start to work in our education and some of the other school initiatives that we support,” she said.
“So we are not just handing over a cheque to the school but we’re there with them, supporting them to design, deliver and then measure the success of their initiative.
“We would love to see the Fair Education model be replicated in other states and we are just starting to have those conversations now, particularly at the moment in Victoria and hopefully in Queensland.”
Conn said the reason Schools Plus exists in the first place was to ensure a fair education for all.
“Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are starting behind and they are essentially staying behind,” she said.
“By the time a student from a less advantaged background reaches secondary school and hits 15 there, they can be two-and-a-half years behind their peers from more advantaged schools and simply that education gap is just not fair.
“And really the reason that we exist is to help close that education gap and remove background as a factor of determining student success.”