How quickly the time can pass. We have periodically dropped in to touch base with the Principal of Uralla Central School, Michael Rathborne, since his arrival in 2014 and do so again to get an update on where Uralla Central School is at with some of it its more dynamic innovations.
Previously we’ve discussed some of the innovations at Uralla Central School, but up front can we ask why – why change?
It’s a really pertinent question. I often say to parents and staff that the “problem” with schools is everybody has been to one, and in that sense everybody believes that they know how a school runs, or at least how they think it should run.
The problem with this is that everybody’s notion of school is a snapshot of the next to last moment that they were at school – a frozen moment. Schools, like society, are inherently fluid and dynamic, admittedly some more so than others, sometimes they are reactive to changes in policy and theory about education, and sometimes they lead that change.
The bottom line is that schools are preparing students for the future, not the past or even now. We welcomed our 2019 Kindergarten class recently as the graduating class of 2031; presupposing that the retirement age is 70, this group of young people will be retiring around 2083.
So how is Uralla Central School responding to that challenge?
Sometimes it feels like juggling a lot of balls in the air, but in reality we set up new structures almost from the first moment that I arrived at the school. In late 2014 we aligned bell times across the whole school and introduced our Academy model in Years 11 and 12.
The latter means that we no longer wind down to Christmas in Term 4, because all students are promoted to the next academic year in Week 6, Term 4 and begin their new learning with new timetables and teachers. In 2015 we researched and then implemented our Middle School model to address transition issues faced by many primary aged students.
In doing so, we to some extent inadvertently created other structures; our Junior and Senior Schools. So now we have a Junior School (K-4), Middle School (5-8) and Senior School (9-Academy II); to facilitate this we abolished all of the previous management structures e.g. secondary faculties, moved all of our teachers into one staffroom, created Head of School roles, a Head of Organisation, a Head of Student Wellbeing, and we are about to create a Head of Curriculum Design and Innovation role.
That seems like a lot of change?
Well, I hate to say it, “but wait, there’s more”. We have introduced elective subjects down to Year 5, we are well down the path of creating student interest electives from Year 5-10. By way of example, in 2018 we had a “Survival Skills” elective that involved cooking, orienteering, bushcraft, flint-knapping and so on.
A good part of the Middle School model involves the concept of integrated learning, which fosters the development of the acknowledged twenty-first century soft skills and encourages students to see the connections between learning areas.
To hark back to something I said earlier about what we might believe school is about, the structures that we all learned under are only a bit over one hundred years old – that is chronological based learning and progression. Just for fun, we introduced a new whole school uniform at the end of 2018 as well. Seriously though, it wasn’t for fun, but it has had an immediate impact ,with well over 90% take up rate in a little over a term of a three year transition phase.
What sort of impact is all of this having on learning?
Well, for starters we have seen an increase in enrolments, which gives us greater economies of scale. In our Junior School we are in our fourth year of straight age classes (no composites), we are experiencing strong growth trends against state measures in Literacy and Numeracy, in some areas being above state averages.
We have expanded subject offerings across the board and have a dedicated program of improving the facilities and resources of the school to ensure that students in Uralla and the surrounding area have every chance of gaining as well-rounded an education as the next student.
The Department of Education has a mantra that every student should be “known, valued and cared for”, and we would like to believe that we are working very hard to ensure that vision.
Our student leaders develop an over-arching theme for every year; in 2019 we will all “ASPIRE” to be the best we can be – to Stand tall and Walk proud!
Wow, thanks again for speaking with us Michael.