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  What Works - The Work Program

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Kempsey South Public School, New South Wales

Taking the school into the community

The context | Working on transition | Transition activities | Knowing the children | The Schools as Community Centre

The context

Kempsey South Public School was established in 1960. Today, it has an enrolment of about 200 students, of whom over half are Aboriginal and most of those are Dhangatti people. Some students come from rural areas, such as Dondingalong, but most live in the urban area.

Kempsey South is home to people of predominantly lower socioeconomic groups. There is a shortage of rental and public housing and some families are now living in caravan parks.

An Aboriginal Resource Room is separate from the main buildings of the school and is a relocated classroom from the now closed school at the former Burnt Bridge Mission. Many Aboriginal families have historical connections with Burnt Bridge and, as a result, with the Aboriginal Resource Room.

The school has a stable staff and an approximately 50–50 balance between men and women teachers. Conscious efforts have been made to increase the number of Aboriginal workers in the school and DEST funding has provided for an In-Class Tuition Program which employs eight Aboriginal tutors.

Working on transition


Hugh Rutherford

Principal, Hugh Rutherford, talks about transition to school.

In the old days, transition was basically just ‘you came or you didn’t’. But we realised that you had to do a lot better than that. So, gradually, we’ve developed a system which has a number of parts.

First, there are transition activities. They’re definitely not one-offs and they are spread over time.

And now we have lots of information about the children as well — their backgrounds, where they come from, what their needs might be — and we put that information together well before they start school.

Kindergarten teacher Lyn Knight was concerned that many children, and particularly Aboriginal children, didn’t seem to be ready when they started school. They didn't know how to behave in a class and didn't realise that there was a routine to be followed.

For some years there has been contact with the preschools through a reading program, in which the primary school students would go out as a group and read to the preschoolers. Sometimes preschools would go to the school for a concert as well.


Lyn Knight

But, clearly, more contact with preschools was necessary so that transition arrangements could be improved. Lyn talks about what happened.

A few years ago, I would open my roll for Kindergarten and it would just be A, A, A, A, A. Lots of absences, especially for our Aboriginal children. It wasn't good enough and something had to be done.

So, at the beginning of last year, we had a lot of meetings with the preschools, four or five of them, talking about how we could improve the transition to school. Not all children have been to preschool, though, and the previous year I had spent some time at a holiday program for them in January. I just spent an hour session with them doing the sorts of things that we do at school. We knew they needed help to make the transition to school.

But my major concern was that sometimes children would come here and it would take a long time to do an assessment of them. Sometimes, because of intermittent attendance, it could take up to two years. So that assessment had to be done right at the beginning.


Kim Daley

Then we were able to get funding for a transition program. It allows for more visits to the preschools, for home visits and for orientation activities at Kempsey South. And Kim became available to help.

Kim Daley is an Aboriginal Education Worker at the school. She talks about her role.

We went out and did home visits with the parents whose kids were coming to the South Kempsey School. We made sure that their hearing and screening tests were all done, and made sure their immunisations were up-to-date. If they weren’t, we pointed them in the right direction.

I get along pretty good with most of the parents. They know me. So when I approached them and told them what I was doing and what my job was, they were very cooperative.

Transition activities

The usual pattern is that there is a six week program, once a week from 9:00 am to 10:30 am, in which preschools work with the current Kindergarten class. Lyn, Kim and Community Liaison Officer Debbie Day all work with the groups and they run the sessions rather like the first week of school, with reading times, play times and so on. Preschool children are able to learn how to respond in the school situation.


Debbie Day

The school makes the following further points about these activities.

  • Parents are invited to attend the first two weeks and encouraged to leave the children for the last four.
  • All children attending are tracked and, if a child does not attend, a home visit is made.
  • Health files are kept on each child. A child with a health problem has a health alert card.
  • Transport is usually provided by parents and/or the preschools themselves, but assistance is provided to anyone having problems attending.
  • In the last week of the program, preschoolers are invited to stay for morning tea with the infants.
  • Information sheets are sent home.
  • A Kindergarten booklet is made, containing photos of Kindergarten children.
  • All children go home with their own ‘Sow the Seed to Read’ bags.

Another initiative is the buddy system. This involves taking Year 3 and 4 children to preschools, where they read to preschoolers who are likely to go to the school in future. That way, when the children eventually go to school, they already have a friend and a face they know. Where possible, connections are made within families, so that older brothers and sisters help younger ones.

It became a reward for the Year 3 and 4 children to be able to go to the preschool. And, at the same time, it improved teachers’ knowledge of the preschool environment.

Knowing the children

A number of strategies have been adopted to improve the school’s knowledge of the children and their needs.

Lyn Knight:

We try to make sure we identify children who will be starting school. So every year we go through the enrolment cards for all students. On the back, it has a place for them to list siblings and their ages, so we can use that to maintain a list of all the children who we anticipate will start school every year. Debbie and I look at the list and then we can look for particular children when we visit preschools. So they don’t get lost.

Networks are important, too. Kim knows so many families and we hear about children from older siblings, from community members, from Aboriginal workers in the school.

Another important worker in the school is Aboriginal Education Assistant, Colleen Campbell.


Colleen Campbell in the Aboriginal Resource Centre

I've basically worked with the Aboriginal community since 1989, when my child started in Kindergarten here.

Auntie Mary Button was my mentor. She was our Aboriginal Education Assistant and she’s since retired but she worked in the school for 25 years. I used to go out on a lot of home visits with her, so I learned a lot from her. First I worked as a parent volunteer and then I was School Community Officer and then AEA.

Here are some of the other ways in which the school collects information about its potential students.

  • Through the preschool reading program, in which teachers’ aides and AEAs visit preschools to sit in small groups with the children and learn about books.
  • Through home visits throughout the year.
  • Through the school newsletter, asking for early enrolments.
  • Through parent information sessions.
  • Through an information pack for parents, which contains enrolment forms, before-school screening materials, bus forms, pupil information sheets and school brochures.

In all of these ways, the school aims to use knowledge to ease transition and deal with every child as an individual.

There are various health issues in the community, including a high incidence of otitis media, and screening is vital, so the school liaises with the preschools to make sure that planning for children with special needs takes place ahead of their arrival at school.

The Schools as Community Centre

Karen Hall is Facilitator at the ‘Schools as Community Centre’ in Kempsey. Her work also contributes to transition arrangements. Here, she talks about some aspects.


Karen Hall

Last year, we set up the Foundations for Learning Conference for preschool staff and school staff. It was a swapping of information session, so that preschool staff knew about early stage 1 and the expected outcomes for literacy and numeracy. And school staff found out about what happens at preschool.

It's given Lyn an opportunity to go to the preschools and see the children in their own environment. They behave differently in the preschool situation. They’re allowed to move around a lot more than they would at school.

The year before children actually start school, I have a survey form which I send out to all the preschools asking parents basically just to tick the box and nominate which school the children will be attending.

I do that in all the pre schools around town and they give it to the parents or ask the parents to complete it when they come in. It’s something that the preschool staff have really taken on board and there’s over 75% response. The schools can start planning for the children they’re getting.

At about the beginning of Term 3, we have a transition meeting inviting preschool directors and school staff to come to a meeting and talk about the transition process.

Then there's the 'Starting School Expo'. It's held in a vacant shop in Kempsey in the mall on a Thursday because that’s pay day, so it's shopping day and a lot of people are in town. We’ve involved preschool staff and school staff and Aboriginal Education Assistants. So, if we saw a mum coming along the street, we had helium balloons and we had information to give out, and goodies about immunisation and before-school screenings. We had support from business houses and there was free yoghurt.

It's about knowing your community and that local knowledge is just so important. Because, if you see someone passing the door, and you know she’s got a child starting school next year then you can run out with a bag and the balloon and ask her to come in and have a chat.


© Commonwealth of Australia 2020