Wanniassa to use extra public school funding for student reading program

Shane Gorman

Teacher coaching, a reading recovery program and a personalised online maths program are just some of the initiatives Wanniassa School Principal Shane Gorman would look at implementing if a Shorten Labor government wins power at the next federal election.

Wanniassa School, located in Canberra’s southern suburbs, stands to receive an additional $250,000 in funding as its share of Labor’s election commitment to invest an additional $3.3 billion into public schools in its first three years of government.

Mr Gorman said that Labor’s additional funding would make an immediate impact on his students by helping his staff to customise each child’s learning experience.

“The additional funding would help us to ensure that we really personalise everybody’s learning needs so that every student is getting exactly what they need, rather than having to fit them into a standard class,” Mr Gorman said.

Wanniassa has about 500 students ranging from preschool to year 10. Classes are organised into five flexible learning spaces which enable whole class, small group and individual learning. Specialist staff in literacy, numeracy and EALD support students both within the mainstream setting and in small groups. 

Mr Gorman said that one priority area for Labor’s additional public school funding would be to provide more assistance for reading for students who need it.

“One of the first things we would do with the funding would be to put a reading recovery program in,” Mr Gorman said. “This would be to support struggling young readers so they don’t grow up continuing to struggle to read, to help them catch them up.

Wanniassa School’s vision is ‘to ensure that all young people develop the skills for making sense of the world and their place in it.’ Mr Gorman said that a big part of this is developing each student’s sense of self-worth, and that additional public school funding would create more opportunities for students to grow at their own pace.

“Self-esteem is a big word, but self-esteem as a learner, knowing that you can learn, knowing that you are learning, is empowering. We lose that stigma attached to comparing one student to another because it is actually about ‘comparing where I am at’ and ‘where is my next step’,” Mr Gorman said.

“The problem is when students aren’t continually learning and being advanced and feeling productive as learners. They lose interest, whether they are the brightest kids, whether they are the ones in the middle who aren’t getting it at that moment, it hasn’t yet clicked for them, or whether they are struggling with the learning and need the steps broken down for them.”

Mr Gorman said another priority for additional public school funding from a Shorten Labor government would be to engage more with ‘flipped’ teaching. Flipped teaching is where lesson instruction is moved from face-to-face class time to outside of class by assigning it as homework. This allows for students to engage in more interactive forms of learning during class.

“The kids love it when they go through these programs. It is really exciting as they all see themselves as learners,” Mr Gorman said. “Parents are really excited because they often don’t know how to support their child in the learning of literacy and numeracy so when we can do it that way we can give every child a specific strategy, rather than say to all kids in kindergarten ‘you are learning to count one to ten’,”.

Mr Gorman said that the other priority for extra school funding from a Labor federal government would be into teacher development. He said that he would put more resources into the school’s teacher coaching program and create more release time from face-to-face teaching, with the expectation that teachers maintained ongoing records of students, particularly with literacy and numeracy. Mr Gorman said this approach was much more responsive to student needs, and helped to head off potential behaviour issues.

“Teacher coaching would make a huge difference because over time it would mean that there would be less learning difficulties for older students - we would have conquered that early on,” Mr Gorman said. “It absolutely means less behaviour problems because all the students actually see themselves as a learner, they know that they are learning and that they are capable of learning, and they are not frustrated or avoiding things.”

Mr Gorman said teachers at Wanniassa did a fantastic job with their students, but said they felt frustrated when they didn’t have sufficient time or resources for their classes. He said that feedback from his staff had been that Wanniassa’s existing teacher coaching program had been a powerful tool to boost teacher expertise and capability. He said that investing extra funding into this program would pay huge dividends in terms of student development.

“One teacher told me that she had just learned so much in one year of coaching, of observing others, of having others come in and observe her and give her feedback, and suggesting strategies. Having the additional funding to send teachers into other schools to share practice, and having a look at student growth, and trying to come up with other strategies to improve the growth of every individual student would be invaluable.”