School advocacy and support for learning are essential elements for producing happy and successful students, and when paired with robust support from home, students can attain the highest levels of educational achievement in curriculum outcomes and have the best opportunity to develop beyond their schooling. Despite this, new research published by the NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) suggests that students overall feel that support from their parents and teachers progressively declines for the majority of their schooling.
The Survey Results
As part of the 2016 ‘Tell Them From Me’ school surveys, CESE surveyed primary and secondary students, teachers and parents/carers from over 1000 government schools about how much academic and pastoral support they believe they receive and provide. Within the survey instrument, these support-related measures are referred to as “Advocacy at school” (support students receive from teachers/staff who consistently provide encouragement and can be turned to for advice) and “Advocacy outside of school” (learning support students receive from parents and other family members).
By combining these three perspectives, CESE considered the extent and efficacy of advocacy and support, and how this varies for students of different groups and stages of schooling. The key findings from the research were:
- teachers and parents/carers are key sources of support for learning, and that greater levels of support are linked to improved student academic and wellbeing outcomes
- students’ perceptions of support from teachers start to decline in the final years of primary school, with another dip in support being perceived in the middle years of school (Years 7-9) before starting to improve from Year 10
- students’ perceptions of parental support progressively decrease over secondary school, a decline observed across both sexes and all socioeconomic groups
- teachers have reported that they increase the amount of classroom support provided to students in their key schooling years, i.e. Years 5-6 and 10-12, with the lowest support being provided through Years 7-10
- parents have reported a continual decline, starting in early primary school, in the frequency of their interactions based around supporting their child’s schooling, and
- students of low socioeconomic status (SES) perceive significantly less support from both parents and teachers compared to students of high SES, with the gap between high/low SES remaining consistent throughout schooling.
According to CESE, research also demonstrates that while teacher support is central to influencing positive school outcomes for students (such as school satisfaction and academic self-confidence) the greatest impact on school outcomes will result when teacher support works in tandem with parent support, with students demonstrating the best learning outcomes when both home and school environments form complementary and supportive roles for learning.
CESE concluded that advocacy and support for learning at school could be strengthened during the early and middle years of secondary school in order to improve collective student learning outcomes. CESE also suggested that student disengagement could be countered by encouraging teachers to promote more supportive teacher-student relationships in the transition period between primary and secondary school. Schools could also play a role in raising parental confidence and understanding of their child’s schooling, for instance, by providing resources to provide information about the curriculum and school activities.
Student Engagement in NSW and Other Jurisdictions
The NSW Department of Education Strategic Plan 2018-2022 includes the commitment to ensure that every student is known, valued and cared for in schools. NSW has various initiatives in place to improve student learning and support, including the:
- NSW Wellbeing Framework for Schools, which requires all public schools to have a planned approach to wellbeing that incorporates the elements of the Wellbeing Framework
- Support Students, Successful Students initiative, which provides schools with enhanced resources to support the relevant needs of all students, and
- NSW Anti-bullying Strategy, which collates evidence-based resources and information to support schools, parents/carers and students to prevent and respond to bullying.
The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) requires registered schools to provide a safe and supportive environment which provides for student welfare. For example, under the NSW Registration Manuals, schools are required to have in place and implement policies and procedures in relation to pastoral care, with specific reference to identification, and provision, of support for students with special needs.
Recently NESA has targeted student engagement as a key compliance indicator for school registration in NSW. In updates to the NSW Registration Manuals in July 2017, the requirement to provide additional evidence of compliance in terms of the quality of student learning and student engagement was added. Schools must maintain records of students’ learning progress over time and teaching strategies and programs designed to meet specific learning needs. They must also have policies and procedures for assessing their physical learning environment in relation to student learning needs.
Other Australian jurisdictions all deal with student engagement and academic/pastoral support in some capacity. For example, Victorian schools are required to have a student engagement policy in place that articulates the expectations/aspirations of the school community in relation to student engagement, with specific reference to strategies for bullying, attendance and behaviour. In Western Australia, it is a requirement of registration for non-government schools to have a policy for the review of student learning which describes the ongoing process and procedures for the review of student achievement, progress and engagement.
The Role for Schools in Promoting Student Engagement
While CESE’s surveys only involved government schools, the overall findings on how student engagement can shift due to reductions in parent and teacher support are also relevant to non-government schools and the manner in which they improve student outcomes.
As part of compliance with their registration requirements, schools should ensure they have various policies, procedures and processes in place which promote student engagement in learning. This should include regular measuring of student performance and welfare indicators, in order to continuously improve their academic and pastoral support services.
While there is a clear responsibility on parents/carers to monitor and improve the support they provide to their children in terms of their schooling, Jenny Donovan, executive director of CESE, has requested schools to make sure parents/carers understand that they feel welcome at their child’s school in order to promote the parents’/carers’ ability to provide home support.
Registration requirements in most jurisdictions also require schools to have processes in place to communicate with parents/carers about issues concerning the welfare and performance of students, indicating that schools must encourage family and community involvement in order to remain compliant.
Initiatives to bolster the ability of parents/carers to provide academic and pastoral support to their children could include:
- having various communication strategies in place which promote parent engagement, such as through regular school newsletters on academic progress and activities, and having open classrooms at certain times
- developing individual learning plans for students which are tailored to their specific academic and pastoral needs, and
- encouraging teachers to be accessible to parents, such as by rostering them onto supervision at the school gate in the afternoon.