Public education – a case for all of us to work together

Jan 25, 2024
Rear view of schoolgirl and her classmates learning in the classroom.

I write in relation to the article published in Pearls and Irritations on 23 January 2024, authored by John Frew. The writer appears to be questioning who should be working with children experiencing educational disadvantage, get funding to do it, and be responsible for their outcomes. He raises the example of The Smith Family, as a charity, and our involvement in education, and makes several assertions about our work supporting the education of children experiencing poverty.

Students supported through our education support programs face complex and compounding challenges. For example, all live in low-income families, a third of students and their carers have a health or disability issue, more than half live in a single parent family and one in seven families don’t have access to a home computer with an internet connection.

The Smith Family partners with around 800 schools across Australia. Staff in these schools refer families to us who they believe need our support. We partner with these families around a shared goal of supporting their child to achieve educationally. We provide extra supports for their child’s education, which complements what is happening inside schools. This includes financial help for education essentials and practical supports such as extra reading and numeracy help.

For each child on our program, we match a team member to work closely with them and their family. Our long-standing and trusted relationships with families provide our partner schools with much needed additional support.

The members of our Principals Advisory Group, who are leading disadvantaged schools across Australia, confirm this is the case. They tell us how schools with high concentrations of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are severely challenged to meet their students’ needs.

Our relationships with families means we can address – outside of school – the myriad needs challenging parents and impacting children’s educational outcomes, so that these are mitigated for when children are inside the school gate. Schools tell us time and time again, that what we do, with and for them, is essential.

Using data, both to provide targeted and timely support to students and families and assess the effectiveness of our work, is central to our approach. An example of this is how we have worked with the South Australian Department for Education to access real-time educational data of students who are on Smith Family educational programs. This is done under law consistent with the provisions of the SA Data Sharing Act 2016. Of course, we have also done this in a safe and secure environment, with the explicit knowledge and consent of the parents involved. Parents have welcomed this approach, knowing we’re using this data to strengthen the support we offer their child.

As the long-established ecological model of child development confirms, there are multiple influences on the development of children and young people – family, peers, educational institutions, where a young person lives and systems, policies and programs. We strongly believe that supporting children and young people to achieve their full potential is a shared responsibility across sectors and the various key actors in a young person’s life. That shared responsibility is particularly important for young people experiencing disadvantage and given the rapid social, economic, environmental and cultural changes facing Australia

Schools of course play a key role, but this must be complemented by partnerships across governments, for example with health and community services, with non-government organisations, and particularly in the area of careers support and post-school pathways, with business, industry, philanthropy and the wider community.

The Smith Family exists to ensure that all children, no matter their circumstances, can fully participate in their education. We acknowledge and thank all the families we’ve partnered with, including those who back in the 1980s urged us to help their children get an education to stop intergenerational disadvantage and who were the impetus for our shift to becoming a children’s education charity. We are grateful to the schools, governments, our corporates, sponsors, donors and volunteers for enabling our work over recent decades.

Only when we work together will every child reach their potential and Australia as a whole benefit. Charities have a vital role to play, and at The Smith Family, our intention is to make a lifelong difference to those we help.

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