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Quality schools need community support

21 November 2013

Quality schools need community support - Mrs Annie Fogarty

Providing all children with a quality eduction that will take them into the 21st century is a community-wide responsibility, says Annie Fogarty.

Education for everyone 

Mrs Fogarty, the executive chairperson of the Fogarty Foundation that is dedicated to supporting education and fostering leadership, says a big future challenge is to ensure all children have access to the support and resources they need to achieve their best at school and beyond.

Another big challenge is to help schools keep pace with technology and adapt their teaching methods to provide students with the new skills required. The ability to critically assess the quality of information and to learn through inquiry and by undertaking projects, together with strong presentation skills, will be essential, she says. 

“How children use their knowledge in our rapidly changing world is becoming increasingly important.”

She says it is vital there is a community-wide commitment to supporting schools, teachers and parents as the way education is delivered undergoes such major change. 

“Now is a good time to look at the education system to see what can be done, not just to help improve it but to transform it,” she says. 

But for many students, Mrs Fogarty says concerning inequities at a basic level still exist, with a significant number of children — particularly from lower socio-economic backgrounds — failing to make minimal educational achievements.

"This is where the broader community could help add quality to educational experiences and build strong, supportive school communities. It is not just up to government education departments and schools to do this."

“Western Australia is a wealthy state and often we don’t realise the amount of disadvantage and dysfunction in some communities,” Mrs Fogarty says.

“People are shocked to learn but do not realise the range of ways they can get involved as a business or as an individual volunteer, or on the school board, to assist.

“For example, if students want to build a school vegetable garden – can the local hardware store help by providing the equipment they need and helping them construct it?

“Usually, given the opportunity, businesses and people get a lot out of it.”

Mrs Fogarty says support from business, not-for-profit agencies and the community was important for schools that were contributing to the management of other social challenges, alongside their teaching responsibilities. 

“Schools, particularly those in areas of socio-economic need, can be overwhelmed by their many other challenges — the more we can do to help our schools to provide these other support services, the better they can work.”

For example, recognising community needs that affect the capacity of children to learn, many schools have taken on the role as a trusted, centralised base for parenting and family support services and programs, she says.

“Good parental support is vital to a child’s education so if we can help build the capacity of parents to help their children then it will be a big plus,” she says.

“The schools that are doing this well engage with parents and bring them into the school, provide them with some skills such as parenting advice, health and lifestyle and, sometimes, financial management advice.

“It is about parents feeling positive and confident to get involved with the school and their child’s education, rather than feeling it is not their role and not getting engaged.”

Sometimes, these extra challenges could stretch the capacity of school principals and teaching staff whose primary responsibility was education.

Recognising this, the Fogarty Foundation sponsors programs to help school leadership teams develop good management skills and to establish effective school boards that utilised local talents.

Sharing services from external agencies with a group of other schools in the area can help to develop a thorough and consistent approach to issues such as school behaviour and bullying and services that are needed in the school community, Mrs Fogarty says.