Nothing superficial about scientific-base to effective teaching

Jul 15, 2023
School teacher giving high-five to her student.

John Frew has some erroneous views about the students, teachers and principals in Catholic Education Canberra Goulburn that must be corrected.

Attracting and retaining teachers is a critical issue for every school system around Australia. With the on-going teacher shortage, the challenge for employers is to enhance the vocation of teaching with the best possible working conditions and strong career advancement.

I agree with Mr Frew that we cannot expect teachers with no robust training to be left to deal with extreme and problematic behaviour from the children they teach.

Mr Frew seems to imply that Catholic Education Canberra Goulburn has no students with significant behavioural challenges and that is the reason why our teaching based on the science of learning and the science of reading is delivering stronger literacy outcomes.

We have 56 systemic schools in the ACT and NSW with nearly 26,000 enrolments including our congregational schools. The characteristics of our diverse group of students is no different to other school systems. Our students are culturally and linguistically diverse, and we enrol children with a wide range of abilities including those with complex behavioural needs.

The number of students in our system with additional needs is identified through the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on Students with Disability (NCCD). The NCCD includes students impacted by trauma and high anxiety, which can require behavioural support within their school.

On average, the number of students in schools across Australia identified as having additional needs in 2022 was 22.4%. NCCD data showed our school system had a slightly higher rate of 23.4%.

In recent years, our NCCD data has shown more students who attend our schools need additional assistance. We support these students using cognitive science to set behavioural expectations, to create consistent routines, and maintain clear structures in the school community.

Each student with additional needs has a personalised plan to help them better engage in learning. These plans are implemented by the classroom teacher with assistance from Classroom Support Assistants, Classroom Support Teachers and Inclusive Education Coordinators. Every school leadership team is closely involved in supporting these students, especially those whose complex and challenging behaviours may impact on themselves and others.

Professional learning for our principals and teachers is critical in continuing to develop their effectiveness and support them to keep them teaching in our schools. We know there is growing interest in our system. This year we employed more first year teachers than ever before.

Our teacher attrition rate after three years is below the national average of teachers who leave the system nationally after three years.

The two main reasons why teachers leave our school system are to accept a promotional position elsewhere and to relocate for family reasons.

Again, these reasons are very similar as for teachers leaving other school systems. What makes us different, and which has attracted so much commentary, is that cognitive science is also the basis of our teaching and learning.

Our goal is for every child to become a competent reader. To achieve this, our schools have a practical and evidence-based approach to teaching and learning. This teaching approach, known as high impact teaching practice, guides the way in which every teacher across the Archdiocese plans, delivers and supports learning for every student. We designed this approach based on national and global research into how children learn, known as the science of learning. High impact teaching practice involves embedding evidence-based pedagogy in all classrooms, informed by Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, supported by high-quality curriculum resources.

There is nothing superficial about applying cognitive science in managing complex behaviours and using cognitive science as the basis of teaching and learning. Our teachers are highly-trained professionals who understand the science of how the human brain learns and how to translate that into teaching children in the most efficient way.

Our experience is that teaching and learning based on the science of learning and the science of reading enables better classroom management and stronger student engagement. I see students growing in confidence and teachers getting results they had never thought possible. Parents and carers tell me about positive changes in their child as a result of our teaching and learning. Their child is more engaged in the lessons. They have fewer distractions and therefore the teacher spends less time on behaviour management and more time on teaching.

The purpose of education in this Archdiocese is to provide the opportunity for acquiring knowledge and skills that will enable students to develop their God-given potential, and become successful members of society.

Our parents and carers expect excellent learning opportunities for their child and our teachers want to support that experience. We want to be an excellent school system, as good as any in Australia, if not the world. We believe our students in every school deserve no less. I’m proud to be part of a Catholic education system pursuing those expectations.

If Mr Frew visited our schools, I’m sure he would see the diversity of our schools, the depth of skills with our teachers, the leadership of our principals, and explicit instruction with high impact teaching in practice in action.

We have more than 1000 classrooms where we are changing lives for the better every day.

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