Country Queensland children face greater challenges receiving an education than their city counterparts. That’s why The John Villiers Trust (JVT) is supporting Schools Plus to work with schools to enable children to thrive through school and beyond despite geographic disadvantage.
At The John Villiers Trust (JVT) we are passionate about working with local organisations to help improve the learning outcomes of students in rural, regional and remote schools.
Disadvantage is the most significant factor affecting educational opportunity and achievement in Australia. At the age of 15, students at the lowest socio-economic schools are on average three years behind their peers at the most affluent schools¹.
That’s why JVT partnered with Australian Schools Plus in 2021 to support three projects designed to:
The three-year grant enabled much needed support to be provided to clusters of schools in regional Queensland in the communities of Chinchilla, Eidsvold and Normanton.
The initiative aligns well with the factors JVT believes amplify our impact. Schools Plus is:
JVT CEO, Lea-Anne Bradley, is pleased the grant is making a difference where it is needed.
“By working with Schools Plus, we were able to deliver funding and other support to public schools in rural, regional and remote Queensland,” Ms Bradley said.
“This is important to us, as we know that schools in country Queensland need additional support. They face the unique challenges of outback communities, where resourcing is difficult and teacher turnover is high. That’s why working in clusters is so beneficial – it creates a support network and natural sharing of resources like specialist teachers.
“Schools Plus are committed to making a difference for the staff and students in these areas. They are helping schools establish plans and coaching that builds resilience, confidence and capability in both children and staff”.
More than 1,400 students and 42 teachers across the three clusters have benefited from these Schools Plus initiatives so far.
Building greater connection to language and culture through language lessons has resulted in improved attendance, engagement and achievement, and higher levels of confidence among the students. These, along with cultural activities, have helped Indigenous children and young people develop a stronger sense of individual and cultural identity, and helped non-Indigenous students to have better cultural understanding.
Teachers have also developed their skills, understanding, and cultural awareness. Most importantly though, staff have received coaching, which helps schools deal with high turnover and ensure the sustainability of their work. And teachers within the clusters now have a support network to call on and learn from, to collaborate with and share scarce resources.
The Schools Plus experience highlights the unique issues faced by rural, regional and remote Queensland communities.
Decentralised populations, vast geographies, and high travel costs impact access to vital services. It means country Queenslanders are less likely to participate in higher education, have lower literacy levels, and be more likely to need to leave their communities in search of work.
For the Schools Plus project, some of the schools faced challenges finding and keeping registered teachers with the knowledge and skills to teach Indigenous language and culture, as well as frequent changes in school leadership.
For the Normanton cluster, long-term illness of the Kurtjar language teacher and the inability to recruit a permanent replacement meant that the project has come to an end one year early. There were still wins though, with lessons on local culture, a culturally relevant curriculum and excursions, and on-country visits building engagement.
The Eidsvold cluster’s success means that this program will be expanded to benefit more children and teachers at additional schools.
In the Chinchilla cluster, the focus is on parent information and engagement.
And although the Normanton cluster language program will not continue in 2023, they will still liaise with the local Indigenous advisory group and continue cultural activities with the goal of resuming the program in the future.
For JVT, supporting children and youth in rural, regional and remote Queensland is a way to achieve transformative impact for communities today and into the future.
“We’re delighted that Schools Plus has been able to support so many country Queensland schools to make a difference for their students and staff,” Ms Bradley said.
“Children and young people in these areas especially need our help. They are key to the future of vibrant, thriving rural, regional and remote Queensland communities, and of course they deserve the best start in life”.
¹ Stats from Educational Opportunity in Australia 2015 (Mitchell Institute, 2015) and PISA in Brief 2018 (Australian Council for Educational Research, 2019).