From the Principal

After School: Are our students prepared or lost?

At SCAS we will transform the lives of our students by offering the educational opportunities that will allow them to have lives of purpose, service and engagement.

As a very successful school, we are rightly proud of the fact that our students are able to successfully access university places, other post-school training and employment. The fact is that each year many of our students are accepted into high demand courses in universities and colleges across the country, and even internationally. Our students really punch above their weight!

That is the good news.

The less flattering news for schools such as ours relates to the number of students coming from independent schools who achieve places but do not graduate from university.

Australian private secondary school students are more likely to continue on to university, compared to their peers in Catholic and government schools, according to a new report on New South Wales students’ post-graduation plans. Researchers at the Australian National University found private secondary school graduates are 24 percent more likely to head to university in 2016 than those in government schools. They are also 15 percent more likely to continue to university than Catholic school students, according to the study reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. These students do not appear to do as well at university because they have to work more independently.

State school graduates do better at university than private school graduates with the same end-of-school tertiary entrance score. That’s the clear finding in a number of Australian studies since the 1980s.

The general thrust of these reports is that students at independent schools are too dependent on their teachers to meet all their educational needs and too dependent on their parents to advocate for them if they need help.  So they often “drop out”.

So, the question we face is:

Is our independent system of education successful at helping our students gain access to university, but not as successful at preparing students for the life that comes after they have put away their school uniform for the last time?

And can we do both? Assist our students in gaining access to university or employment, and providing them with the skills and attitudes to enhance further success?

We believe we can.

While some schools believe that their responsibility to their graduates ceases when students leave for the last time or from the arrival of the HSC/ATAR results, we believe we have a greater responsibility – to set our students up for future success by not only providing them with the opportunities that lead to acceptance into their chosen courses, but prepare them for further success.

As a result, St Columba will be working to ensure that we properly prepare our students for life and success after school. We will do this by:

  • Acknowledging that Secondary School and university are “different beasts” and what works in Year 12 may not work in first year university.

Although some students breeze straight through it, the transition from school to tertiary study isn’t always easy. It may be that the work is harder or that subjects are unfamiliar, or perhaps the stress of a new environment or new commitments proves a little more difficult than expected. Sudden independence can also seem like a difficult adjustment and may require some getting used to. Some students embrace the sense of freedom that comes with finishing school, but it’s not uncommon to struggle when faced with becoming self-reliant. Living away from home for the first time or living on a student income can also cause some stress. The Good Universities Guide.

  • Supporting the growth of an appropriate  level of self-discipline in our students, and ensuring that they are able to take greater personal responsibility for their learning.

One of the key differences between high school and university is that attending university is not compulsory, meaning you are enrolled to study at your own volition. In the past, your parents may have had to drag you out of bed, drive you to school and wait outside the gates to ensure you made it to class on time, but this is not part of the university protocol. While some university subjects do have minimum attendance requirements for tutorials, you’re not going to get detention if you just don’t show up – it’s up to you to be responsible for your own actions. Deakin University.

  • Supporting the growth of appropriate responsibility and independence in both learning and behaviour befitting young adults and post Secondary students.

It’s important to understand that due to Australian privacy laws, we are unable to discuss any student information with a parent or any other third party. This means that parents can’t make enquiries to the university on their teen’s behalf, phone lecturers to get their teen’s marks, request information about fees, and so on. University of Queensland.

The future of education for our students is most likely to involve:

  • The student as the essential driver of their education and workplace success
  • Less face to face lectures and more independent study and group work
  • A very strong university and workplace emphasis on the skills of teamwork and project based learning
  • Fewer support structures and greater self discipline than they had at school

We know that the following are the essential elements of an effective 21st century Secondary education that we need to emphasise in our teaching and learning structure at St Columba:

  • Ensuring the way we teach and support learning is relevant to the aspirations and opportunities of current and future graduates: Report after report have shown that, in the context of our evolving economy, Australian education has become too focused on traditional knowledge. In addition to the three Rs – writing, reading and arithmetic – there should be an emphasis on four Cs – creativity, critical thinking, curiosity and communication skills.

“Young people need to bring more than knowledge to the modern workforce. If you struggle to solve problems, collaborate or come up with new ideas, you won’t fare well in today’s or tomorrow’s job markets. Schools could play a leading role in developing capabilities in students that will help them thrive as adults. It is time to accept that what students have learned for decades is no longer enough – it is time to change.” Professor Bill Lucas.

  • Strengthening Executive Function Skills: Executive functions are the skills that allow us to complete tasks by making decisions and problem solving.In school, teachers provide scaffolding for students. Teachers organise projects for students, create intermediate deadlines for planning and set aside time in class for students to work on the project itself. As a result, students don’t develop the executive functioning skills they need to be successful at university. They then struggle to finish their degrees.

“Instead of planning for students, teachers need to teach students how to plan out larger projects for themselves. Students need opportunities to practice self-talk or to work through difficult situations and the decision-making process. Even requiring students to participate in an extra-curricular activity, the arts, or sports can help build those executive functioning skills.”

  • Preparing young people for the future of work: There is particular concern that schools are not giving students the skills they need to thrive as adults.

“Australia’s education system is stuck in the past and needs major reform if it is to better prepare students for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Our education system was formed in the manufacturing era, it was not designed to teach students how to navigate complex environments and multiple careers. Young people need different skill sets to what is taught in the traditional curriculum if they are to thrive in high-tech, global, competitive job markets. Mitchell Institute Report.

Bachelor Degree Completion Rates Australian Universities

Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School
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