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  What Works - The Work Program

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Bonnyrigg High School, New South Wales

It's all about gaps and opportunities

The context | Establishing structures | Developing a spidergram | Focusing on individuals

The context

Bonnyrigg High School is located north of Liverpool in the western suburbs of Sydney. It has about 800 students and 86% are from non-English speaking backgrounds. A broad range of cultures is represented in the school and, although 'South-East Asian' is the largest group, there are, of course, several cultures within that generalisation. The school staff is a mixture of those with many years of experience (some of whom have been at Bonnyrigg for extensive periods) and inexperienced teachers, some of whom grew up in the area.


Dearhn Thomas

In recent memory, students were bussed in from adjacent farming areas but those days are gone and the school now sits solidly in a suburban area, home to many people of low socioeconomic background. A Housing Commission estate is at the back of the school. At the same time, the area includes small pockets of more affluent people.

The school has 21 students who identify as Aboriginal. Dearhn Thomas is an Aboriginal Education Worker (AEW) at Bonnyrigg and her work focuses principally on attendance and retention.

Establishing structures

In April 2003, a professional development day was held for staff at Bonnyrigg High School. The day was organised by school personnel and Jo-Anne Fahey, Consultant Aboriginal Education based at Liverpool but covering the four districts of Campbelltown, Fairfield, Liverpool and Bankstown.


Consultant, Jo-Anne Fahey

The agenda included:

  • an introduction to What Works. The Work Program;
  • the role of the district office;
  • what the data tell us about educational outcomes for Indigenous students;
  • the local community: history, organisations and services, protocols;
  • developing strategies, goals and targets for Bonnyrigg HS; and
  • developing strategies in faculty groups.

Subsequently, an Indigenous Education Focus Team was set up, with representation including executive staff, classroom teachers and Dearhn Thomas. Previously, the school had had a coordinator of Aboriginal Education.

Jo-Anne had this to say about What Works. The Work Program.

When I first looked at What Works at a consultants' meeting in Sydney, I was really excited because it gave me tools that I could use to revisit the Aboriginal Education Policy. It's a good policy but What Works can help schools implement it because it's practical and helpful without spoon-feeding.

When the Indigenous Education Focus Team met, it decided on the following areas for action.

  • Building awareness
  • Strategies to be developed using What Works
  • Targets
  • Focus agenda
  • Resources and funds available
  • Group goals
  • Indigenous Focus Team outcomes

Developing a spidergram

Following the first meeting of the Indigenous Focus Team, it became clear that a stocktake of existing initiatives in Indigenous education was necessary. There are several ways this could be done, but the school had already looked at the idea of a 'spidergram' on the professional development day and it seemed a suitable tool. A spidergram for a particular Tasmanian school can be found in The Workbook.

The Team worked with Jo-Anne Fahey, using the spidergram to map out the things that were happening in Indigenous education in the school, and to identify any gaps. Jo-Anne takes up the story.

We started with the basics, just scribbling down anything we could think of, and then gradually we developed the spidergram. When we sat down and talked to some other teachers we added more things. And then we spoke to a few ASSPA parents and they were keen to add a few more things, especially about resources in the Aboriginal community. Every time we look at it, we find new things to add.

There was more on the spidergram in the end than we might have expected and some of the parents were really blown away by how many things were on the page. And as a spinoff, that led to some of the parents themselves being added as resource people. Some of them have so much to offer but teachers don't know about it. That's why, when you get it down on paper and share it around, everyone can see it and take notice.

What needs to happen is that everyone in the school hears about the good things that are going on and starts to share in it. When people are sharing in the good things they'll want to come on board as well.

Towards the end of 2003, the Team thought of developing a spidergram for each Key Learning Area (KLA). This work is still in progress and may continue into 2004. Jo-Anne again:

We knew that some Key Learning Areas would find it easier than others and that some would have more to put on their spidergram than others.

So we thought we should look at the 'Stages' and identify things that relate directly to Aboriginal Australia, to Aboriginal studies and perspectives and to the needs of the school's Aboriginal students at each level. [For those outside NSW, Stage 4 can be thought of as Years 7-8, Stage 5 as Years 9-10 and Stage 6 as Years 11-12.]

We also thought of a box for 'Teaching Support'. What sort of support was available for teachers in the preparation of those Stage things? And we came up with things like What Works, the District Office, Land Councils and things like that. Once you've got those contacts established and on paper, teachers have it there in front of them. There's a box for existing 'Teaching Resources' as well.

Finally, we wanted a box for 'Celebrations'. We noted down the celebrations that we have in the school and tried to identify the national ones as well. But then, how are we, as a faculty group, addressing those celebrations? And we'll also be able to look at how that fitted in with the curriculum work as well. That's all about planning.

Focusing on individuals

A crucial step, however, has been to turn around the spidergram process, and focus on individual Aboriginal students in the school. It is one thing to identify programs being offered, but it is quite another to identify the students being touched by those programs (and the students not being touched). In a school such as Bonnyrigg, with a relatively small number of Indigenous students, it is quite feasible to match individuals with programs, as Jo-Anne explains.

When you start with the spidergram you can see what the whole school is doing, and when you go to the faculty level you can identify how the faculty is doing.

But what about the kids? So, we went back to the whole school spidergram and we tried to write down which kids are doing what under each part of the spidergram. And the interesting thing we've started to see is that there are two or three kids who seem to be in everything. They're doing stalls at Carnivale, they're in the dance at Carnivale and they're in PALS [Promoting Aboriginal Leadership in Schools].


And then there are other kids who aren't accessing anything like as much. So we can start to look at gaps and opportunities, and we can start to work out which programs particular kids can be encouraged to get involved in. By the end of the year, we want to have all this worked out. It's all about gaps and opportunities.

Next year, we want to run some community forums for the parents as well and we want to be able to do some What Works with them, and get them working on spidergrams telling us what they want their kids to be involved in. ASSPA parents have already shown an interest.


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