Innovation at the expense of the basics? No way.

Posted on September 7, 2017

As you are likely aware, St Paul’s is a School where innovation happens.  We take very seriously our responsibility to parents and students that we must help prepare them for a future where the only certainty is change.

In fact, just this past week, St Paul’s was ranked as one of Australia’s top 40 most innovative schools.

However, every now and again I have a conversation where someone expresses their concern that we are over-prioritising innovation at the expense of the so-called “basics”.

As one person said to me: “What’s the use of being innovative if you cannot read or write?”

To be honest?  I completely agree.  As I have said many times: Every child needs to be able to read, write and add up. It is a given.

Which brings me to the recently released NAPLAN. Parents have received their children’s report and we have received our data.

Firstly: a caveat. I believe the comparing of schools on the MySchool website is a destructive practice. It does nothing to improve learning; instead, it leads to poor practice and a narrow focus of what an education worth having should be.

This being said, the data NAPLAN yields for parents, schools and teachers is excellent. Each year we can analyse our programs and see how we can improve what is happening in the classroom.

I am immensely proud to say that our NAPLAN results are consistently strong. There is a considerable gap between our students and the State and National average. This year, in most areas, the students at St Paul’s School are significantly above the average.

Last year the data showed that we needed to do a little more work in writing and, specifically, paragraphing. The data this year shows that this area has improved.

However, the most exciting thing about this data is that it justifies our strategy; and that strategy is not to teach to the test.

It also is not standard practice at St Paul’s to ask students not to sit the test because they might adversely affect the School’s results. There are myriad stories I have heard of this taking place both at State and Independent schools.

This is wrong.  Every student, no matter their ability, matters to us.

At St Paul’s, our strategy is to support every teacher to continually grow as professionals, followed by a focus not on standardisation, but on thinking. We are renowned for these strategies, as the innovation award I referred to earlier proves.

St Paul’s School has five learning Realms. These Realms embed thinking into the curriculum: creativity, innovation, entrepreneurialism, global sustainability and inquiry. These are key skills and mindsets that your children will need moving into the future.

We have thrown out textbooks (where applicable), encouraged teachers to let go of control and empowered students in the learning process. We have focused on early intervention, supporting students who need additional and targeted help.

The data shows that these efforts are paying dividends. Our students are given the best possible start with the basic skills, not because we focus solely on preparing them for a test, but because we focus on what really matters. For us, it is a matter of morality and ethics. We value every child no matter their ability and we are focused on preparing them for an uncertain future.

Innovation or the basics?  It’s not a valid question, because an education worth having isn’t a question of literacy and numeracy or creativity and innovation, it is both and then some.

Congratulations to all the students and thank you to our teachers.

Dr Paul Browning

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