Monday, 26 July 2021

Interpreting Student reports - Principals' responsibility

 As a school Principal I would strive to ensure that it was easy for parents to understand the periodic student progress reports that they receive.

In recently viewing one of my grandchildren's semester primary (elementary) school reports I found no explanatory preamble to assist me interpreting the detail of the report.  I decided to write what I considered would be helpful in the preamble as follows: (The school name is fictional, but appropriate in recognising the forward thinking of the great 18th century Genevan {Swiss} philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau and his timeless educational treatise "Emile".)

Advice to parents/guardians to assist their interpretation of their child’s school Report 



In order to better interpret your child’s Report we encourage parents/guardians to read the following.


Rousseau Primary School Learning Program is based on the WA version of the Australian National Curriculum. If you wish to view the detail use the URL .  This should reveal the relationship between the headings on the report form and the prescribed curriculum subjects for your child’s age/grade. In mathematics we have adopted the “Oxford Mathematics for Australian Schools” program and have familiarised parents with this. It is aligned with the WA Mathematics syllabus.


When your child enters the school gates each day we ensure that they feel safe, secure and respected for who they are.


As a key general principle the Rousseau Primary School community believes that each student is performing at a level commensurate with all the factors affecting their lives day by day. These factors are part of the in-school and out-of-school environments in which each child lives. If a child is not enthusiastically applying themselves to the learning experiences offered, we do not think of unhelpful negative labels like ‘lazy’; ‘disruptive’ or ‘not working to potential’. Rather we make it an urgent priority to constructively ascertain why and rectify the situation in conjunction with parents/guardians.  At the first signs of a serious lapse in learning attainment across the curriculum subjects we will contact parents/guardians immediately.  We do not believe in worrying surprises after the horse has bolted.


With regard to a crucial in-school factor, be assured that our teachers are true professionals, who along with mentoring by the Principal, and participation in in-service opportunities, ensure that their performance is of the highest standard.


We have a school policy that in the syllabus areas of English (literacy), mathematics (numeracy), Science and Digital Technology we do not move students to new learning unless they have mastered the pre-requisites for that new learning. To not adhere to such a policy means that learning gaps occur and become cumulative over the school journey. We apply this policy based on detailed data records of each child’s attainment. This could mean for example that a year 4 student who did not fully master the year 4 syllabus Fractions section will need as a year 5 to be working on that year 4 Fractions section to a mastery level when fractions are due to be studied in year 5. We will discuss this with parents as deemed necessary as we don’t want you to feel that your child is ‘behind’. We urge you to view their learning in the context of the general principle described above. To allow gaps to accumulate in learning areas like mathematics is to see year 10 students with severe numeracy incompetency as has been identified for some secondary school students in WA. The same can be said for literacy (Google OLNA testing WA).



In all other learning areas (subjects) we rigorously ensure that students cover every aspect of the prescribed syllabus with all members of class moving through at the same pace. We do not apply the mastery principle in these learning areas.


The learning in English and mathematics is resulting in the development of functional literacy and numeracy.  You will be reassured to know that attention is paid to functional literacy and numeracy across all subjects in the curriculum.


The school has an eye on jobs that are likely to emerge in the future. Key vocational areas are in IT; scientific and medical research and applications; environmental sustainability, food production and the caring services.  Accordingly, we have a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) emphasis in student projects that straddle these learning areas. We also emphasise through our studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences the importance of the caring vocations. We are open to integrated learning whereby the Humanities and the Arts may also contribute to STEM projects. It is our responsibility even at primary school level to contribute to students being prepared for a future that is difficult to predict.


In each learning area (subject) the student is assessed about their knowledge (facts); understanding (concepts) and skills (processes like calculating); and a set of generic learning skills like researching, analysing, questioning, evaluating, communicating and creative and critical thinking.  In researching the WA Curriculum you will see various of these skills outlined. The ABCDE ratings in your child’s report are based on performance across the areas described in this paragraph.


More specifically the ABCDE ratings can be described as follows:


‘A’ represents a level of learning well beyond the expectations for a student at the particular year level.

‘B’ represents a very high level of learning for a student at the particular year level.

‘C’ represents a steady, satisfactory level of learning for a student at the particular year level.

‘D’ represents a level of learning that is slightly worrying and likely to trigger contact with parents/guardians.

‘E’ represents a level of learning that will trigger contact with parents/guardians.


We do not become bogged down by the concepts of ‘fail’ and ‘pass’ as we are more concerned with what each child knows and can do and regularly congratulating them on their success. A constructive approach to assessment is the principle on which we operate. Across the compulsory school years your child will gradually come to terms with ‘fail’ and ‘pass’.  ‘Fail’ is a concept that is for those more mature than primary school students.


We trust that the above explanation will aid you in interpreting your child’s Report. Please contact us if you have queries.



May the Force be with you!  Keep safe in these Covid times.


Sunday, 25 July 2021

Curriculum relevance

 In case some readers are unaware January 26, 1788 is a very significant date in Australian history. On this date 11 ships from England carrying convicts transported to the colonies for crimes committed came ashore in what is now Port Jackson, Sydney Australia.  They formed a colony known as NSW.

January 26th, now celebrated as Australia Day, is perceived by the indigenous peoples of Australia as 'invasion day',  marking the beginning of the systematic destruction of their cultures that had existed on the land for more than 60,000 years.

Current Australian school curricula have only relatively recently acknowledged the history of the Aboriginal peoples, including the pervasive and often brutal removal of indigenous persons from their tribal lands. I have been able to work with this more contemporary view of the history of Australia in tutoring one of my grandchildren during online schooling as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. It was so uplifting.

As a school Principal I would welcome this long awaited adjustment to the history that Australian students now learn. When I was actively a Principal in the late 1970s racial intolerance was alive in the community and decisions my wife and I made to help indigenous children were often regarded with suspicion in the community at large.  We were not saints, but educators making decisions that educators have to make. On reflection our efforts were not as well-grounded in a true understanding of what it meant to be an indigenous person in that hostile environment.

Racial prejudice in contemporary Australia is nowhere near the levels I describe above, with indigenous Australians in the process of seeking recognition in the constitution of Australia. It is exciting and school Principals need to be on top of the significance of this happening and ensure that is objectively portrayed in the appropriate school syllabuses.

In a wider context of a multi-cultural Australia Principals need to be sensitive to the many cultures that now make up Australian society. I have every confidence that contemporary school Principals are doing a great job in this respect. Their work in inspiring their school communities daily helps to build a much admired and resilient Australia. There is still much to be done as Australia still has to face up to becoming a republic and once and for all cut the ties with its inglorious colonial past.

Sorry folks all this is a bit of a hobby horse of mine so please be understanding of this more subjective post.

Keep safe in these covid times.

Must away and play some guitar to keep my poor old brain active and to bring myself some peace and joy.

May the Force be with you.


Thursday, 24 June 2021

Gaps in learning continuity

 I hold to my view that the prime work for the school Principal is to be the leader in  learning for their school community.

Let us ponder a year 4 student leaning about fractions. It is not an easy concept to grasp in a comprehensive fashion, especially when one encounters what I call the naughty fractions, that is, improper fractions. It is relatively easy for students to understand the concept of proper fractions using examples from everyday life, but not so easy to do this for improper fractions. Everyday applications of the latter are there and need to be used to help students understand this more difficult fraction concept.

Having worked the class through fractions at year 4 level the teacher decides to move on to the next topic. Some students will have grasped the concept of fractions fully, some will have a reasonable grasp and some will still be floundering. The major decision confronting the teacher is whether to develop some special individualised focus to bring the strugglers up to speed before they move to the next topic or to leave the gaps in place and hope that maturity in say year 5 will allow better understanding when fractions are encountered in year 5. If the decision is to move all students to the next topic the risk is run that the strugglers may carry this fraction knowledge and understanding deficit throughout their school lives.

In practical terms it is difficult to individualise learning in core areas like mathematics as a student progresses through the school years. If a teacher can do this well and good. In these contemporary times there are many online programs that the struggling student could use. Within a class of say 25 the teacher may individualise to the extent that three groups emerge, with a group that grasps concepts at first try, a group that grasps concepts to an acceptable level often called average, and a group that struggles with almost every new concept. This is very simplistic but teaching to groups as described is bread and butter for junior primary class teachers and could be extended into the higher grades.

To let a student develop gaps such that a cumulative deficit builds up is unacceptable and Principals need to work with their teachers to find ways to minimise this happening. Such an accumulation of gaps is regularly observed in literacy and numeracy learning with say year 10 students who still struggle.

Principals the challenge is there daily. My suggestion at least at primary (elementary) school level is to focus the gap minimisation on the numeracy and literacy areas of learning, maybe including digital literacy, and in all other learning areas ensure comprehensive coverage of syllabus requirements readying the students for the specialisation focus that comes in the secondary (high) school years. The secondary schools receiving students from several primary schools need detailed records of what each student has mastered in the literacy and numeracy areas along with an assurance that all other syllabus areas have received comprehensive coverage. There does not need to be the detailed handover of mastery information in these other syllabus areas.

Once again I am probably preaching a heresy, but my experience with in-servicing primary level teachers suggests they warm to this more practical approach to the demands of individualising learning.

May the Force be with You!


Monday, 12 April 2021

Women in democracies

 It's a while since I posted, but with all the focus and concern in our Australian media about:

1.  The role of women and the glass ceiling, and

2. The abuse of women and girls

.....I imagine myself back in my role as a school Principal pondering on how I would manage this as part of the staff and student wellbeing programs in my school community.

Horror of horrors most of the mail on these topics has emerged because of poor practices in respect of women in of all places our federal parliament and some state parliaments.

The big word that is emerging is "respect".  This is not new in the minds of thinking women and men.

The second word that is emerging loud and clear in respect of the close relationships between adults is "consent".  Again this is not new in the minds of thinking women and men.

On point 1 above it remains clear that the current conservative federal government has a serious skewing of more men than women as Members of Parliament and now this government is talking quotas to right the imbalance.  The main opposition Labor Party has largely been down that road and created a balance of men and women. Many boardrooms in the commercial world have imbalances skewing towards more men board members, but it is fair to say that the world of commerce is far ahead of what has recently emerged in our parliamentary system. Also their are many female CEOs of large companies in Australia.

For a school Principal the only pathway is to make sure that it is part of the culture of their school that men and women are to be treated equally in providing opportunities for learning and after formal learning in the workplace. We are long past the days of restricting women to having the opportunity for a comprehensive education and the results of year 12 school graduates show that girls are right up there with their male counterparts. Girls opt for the tough STEM courses and do well. Part of this school culture is that male students may need a lot of guidance to see girls as equals in the learning space.

Point 2 above is very complex because it cuts to the heart of how men relate to women. The latest conversations in Australia report a poor attitude in some workplaces of men towards women. A lot of bullying occurs along with sexual advances exploited to various degrees from unwanted flirtation to rape. So many women have come out and declared such experiences in the commercial workplace and lately in the halls of federal parliament.  Fortunately rape is not of a high frequency but one rape is one too many. Female staffers, who work for Members of Parliament (MP), report bullying and unwanted flirtations as common in the culture of federal parliamentary administration. Rape is alleged to have occurred relatively recently in the office of a Minister in the government cabinet. "Consent" and "respect' of men for women seems to have gone out the window in the halls of our government. One should hasten to add that there are many upright male MPs to whom such accusations do not apply.  The Prime Minister is having to manage all this flak and is trying to take positive action to change the culture.  A major and very difficult task.

Also across Australia are the alarming statistics of domestic violence perpetrated almost solely by men on women.  Women die on a regular basis having been killed usually by a partner.

For the school Principal the wellbeing programs have to teach "respect" as the basis for humane relationships between and among students as they mature and as "consenting" adults of the future. The programs about sexual relationships may need strengthening to confront and remove the probabilities of men and women growing up without the "respect" that should be part of the way they live. If the schools can achieve this then the workplaces can carry on from there and observe "respect". I add here that men and women is a narrow definition of the human condition as the school needs to take into account the  LGBTQ communities. This is a difficult area for the learning program and careful communication is needed to have parents onside. Further it is clear that some men feel downgraded by the conversations that are presently occurring and the school program needs to work hard to build a culture of equality in a context that the differences between men, women and LGBTQ individuals are a strength of the democratic existence of humans in their various communities.

Within the school environment teenage and young adult students need a robust sex education program as their hormones kick in.  There has been a lot come out about senior school girls experiencing unwanted sexual advances from their male peers in the social interactions that are part of the extra-curricular and/or hidden school curriculum. Part of the robust program is to have discussion about the influence of social media and readily available pornography. What are the warning signs that various sexual behaviours are taboo in a context of "respect" and "consent"? Also peer pressure needs discussion to enable these young persons to have the strength and insight to know when resisting peer pressure is acceptable or more realistically, essential.  Again in a context of "respect" and "consent".

Oh dear I just hope that I have done this difficult topic justice being a very senior person who has been part of a gradual change from a time when a woman's place was in the kitchen to the way we are in 2021.

I thank my Mother who with little formal education gave me in my early years the view of the rightful place of women in our society.

"Life wasn't meant to be easy" is applicable to the imperatives for a school Principal in the areas of human behaviour discussed above.

May the Force be with you.



Monday, 1 February 2021

Student well being programs vital in Covid times

 With Covid still raging around our communities across the world, Principals would do well to ensure that their staff and student well being programs are in order and up and running.

In this context I share with my reader(s) a wonderful statement by an Aboriginal woman who is Senior Australian of the year 2021:

She said: "You can't just be floating around in this world not knowing where you belong."

Wish I'd said it! Inspiring hey!

May the Force be with you!


Covid upsets WA's record

 After 10 months in Western Australia (WA) with no community distribution of the virus lo and behold yesterday a case of the UK strain escaped from the quarantine regime.  Immediately the Premier locked us all down for 5 days while the authorities got straight to grips with this new threat.

Children were scheduled to return to school today, but the schools will not open for the next 5 days. A longer holiday for the students, more agony for the parents depending on how you look at it and Principals having to think about reactivating online learning plans just in case the lockdown has to continue.

Who would be a Principal in these tricky and uncertain times? I wouldn't mind being back in harness, but have to admit I would be on a steep learning curve. Hope my Principal colleagues have renewed their energies over the long summer break so that they can cope with the uncertainty that 2021 is likely to bring.

May the Force be with you!


Thursday, 10 December 2020


I have just attended my grand daughter's end of year concert. It was most enjoyable and cleverly built around the theme of the Covid pandemic.

I am pleased to say the the standard of singing had vastly improved on the previous year's effort.  Shouting is not singing.

As one who places a lot of credence in the value of the Performing Arts to help build self esteem I am always keen to promote excellence in whatever performance medium is used.  It takes a lot of work to teach a child to sing with sweetness and clarity.  The school choir at the recent concert was getting there but more training is needed.  Being  a co-ed primary (elementary) school I was disappointed at the few boys in the choir.  There is nothing like a well trained boy soprano voice. I listened also for the descant applied during the performance, but sadly this was not forthcoming this year.

The school band was in tune and did a good job.  I was pleased that a solo guitar was utilised to back one song with the young teenage guitarist executing brilliantly on his electric guitar.

Overall I worry that the modern pop/rock dominance in our society too strongly influences what schools do in the Performing Arts areas of song and dance. The more classical singing and dancing might be being pushed into the background. There needs to be a balance between the classic and the contemporary.

All hail the value of the Performing Arts in the development of the whole student.

May the Force be with us!