New option for special needs students

Friends forever … St Gabriel’s expansion into secondary schooling will allow students to complete their education together in one place.

There’s a new high school for children with special needs in Sydney’s north-west.

From January 2019, St Gabriel’s School, a Catholic primary special education school in Castle Hill, will expand to offer places in Year 7.

A progressive roll-out of the following year levels will see the school offer full K-12 classes by 2023.

St Gabriel’s secondary school will continue the work of the primary school, providing education to students with diagnosed conditions including autism, mild to moderate intellectual disabilities and sensory impairments.

Principal Jon Franzin says St Gabriel’s expansion is driven by the needs of the school community.

“The transition point between primary and secondary is particularly challenging for parents. Being able to offer a continuum of services in K-12 is something that the parent community has been longing for their children.”

Gospel values … St Gabriel’s principal Jon Franzin believes every student has the right to a quality, hope-filled education.

Previously, about half of St Gabriel’s students graduated to its sister high school, St Edmund’s College in Wahroonga on Sydney’s upper north shore, with the remainder finding places in other independent schools or the public system.

Rapid population growth in Sydney’s west though has strengthened the demand for a local special needs high school, particularly for parents seeking a Catholic education for their children, Mr Franzin says.

“Travel time to St Edmund’s is significant, especially for families who live west of St Gabriel’s and finding a place in the Catholic setting can be challenging,” he says.

St Gabriel’s and St Edmund’s are co-ed schools in the Edmund Rice tradition. They place a strong emphasis on Catholic traditions of love, justice, freedom and inclusion to promote acceptance and develop positive self-esteem in students.

These schools offer “holistic education for the child, not just about curriculum; it’s about Christian values that we espouse and live out,” he says.

Holistic education … St Gabriel’s emphasises Catholic traditions to promote acceptance and the development of self-esteem in students.

As principal of both schools, Mr Franzin says the development of life skills is at the heart of their mission to equip students with the ability to participate meaningfully in the wider community as adults.

“All students will undertake our Pathways to Work program; part of that is one day a week work experience in the community,” he says, with the aim of placing students in some kind of work role when they finish school. “Depending on needs, some will get supported employment or volunteer work. Where students have the capacity, we’re aiming to get them into regularised employment.”

St Edmund’s College has had great success with its hospitality industry training program and St Gabriel’s will also focus on food and beverage service with a view to incorporating agricultural studies in the future.

Students have the opportunity to complete the National Education Standards Authority (NESA) Life Skills course and to complete a partial or full Vocational and Educational Training certificate.

While supported learning for special needs students is offered in the public system, Mr Franzin says his schools offer considerable benefits for these children in terms of experience, expertise and Gospel values.

“We are inspired by the very strong belief that the young people we serve have a fundamental right to a quality education that is meaningful, purposeful and hope filled,” he says.

Individualised learning … Technology helps students to learn at their own level to reach their potential.

At St Gabriel’s, highly-qualified teachers and learning support officers are supplemented by developmental experts to ensure the best outcome for students, he says.

“We have a whole-school model for occupational therapy and speech pathology, working one-on-one with teachers to support students and develop the capacity of the teacher.”

Small classes of 10 or fewer students allow teachers to produce individualised learning plans to meet a range of abilities and the schools’ embrace of technology-enabled Blended Learning methods extends students to maximise their potential, Mr Franzin says.

“Our staff are very skilled at differentiating the curriculum. We’ll be using an educational platform to help students learn as independently as possible so students can work through at their own level and develop their skills. Students will be able to engage at a range of multiple points to meet their needs.

“For 96 years we’ve been at the forefront of special education, initially for the hearing impaired. We can tailor the curriculum to students’ needs, support parents in that community, and our students form genuine friendships that are established, profound and lifelong,” he says.

Co-ed Or Single Sex: What Will Work Best For Your Child?

Australia has perhaps the widest range of schooling options in the English-speaking world, including a comparatively high proportion of single-sex schools in both the public and non-government sectors.

While co-education is the predominant mode of schooling in the US and Canada, and is rapidly becoming so in the UK as well, gender-specific education remains a popular choice for Australian families.

Greater than the sum of its parts … consider all the elements to find the right school for your child.

This is especially true in NSW, where there are more than 130 single-sex schools throughout the independent, public and Catholic school systems.

Sydney-based parents have many excellent schools of either type to choose from and deciding between the two can present a real dilemma for many.

With a wealth of research on the topic available, there is a strong case to be made for the merits of each. Excellent academic results can be seen in both types of schools and there are no distinct drawbacks to either schooling style.

However, they do differ in terms of environment and social factors.

Research shows that girls are more likely to excel in music, maths, and science subjects when they attend single-sex schools. It is presupposed that the absence of boys may help girls to develop greater self-confidence in their abilities as well as making them more willing to speak out and perform for an audience.

Meanwhile, boys are said to benefit from male-centric teaching methods, which are more readily delivered in boys-only schools.

Dr Tim Hawkes, former headmaster of The King’s School in Parramatta, is a vocal advocate of gender-specific teaching methods.

“We must allow boys to be boys, we must allow them run in the playground and learn according to their learning style and not try to force them to adopt learning behaviours that are antithetical to the way they discover and learn new information,” he says.

On the co-ed side of the ledger, Barker College head Phillip Heath makes the point that the contemporary workplace is a mixed-gender environment and that schools need to prepare students for adult reality. Last year he announced that Barker College would be transitioning to a fully co-ed school by 2022 because “life is co-ed.”

“Barker College aims to prepare young people for much more than an ATAR or even for life at university. The real purpose of a school is to support students to reach their full potential in the workplace and in their communities, and in building strong relationships and families,” Mr Heath told the Hornsby Advocate.

Proponents of single-sex schooling counter this view with the argument that schools aren’t employment training centres but are instead, as MamaMia contributor Zoe Rochford wrote in defence of girls’ schools, “a safe place where developing brains can learn about things, both conceptually and practically, from a distance. They’re a recognition that our adolescents aren’t ready for the “real world” yet – that they still have learning and growing to do… If that means that single-sex education suits some brains better, the way it did mine, then so be it.”

That said, international research demonstrates that teacher quality is the most decisive factor in academic outcomes. Breaking down the various influences on education attainment including individual capability, family background, teachers, principal, peers and school, the data shows that 50 per cent of achievement can be attributed to a student’s academic potential and 30 per cent to teacher ability, with the other elements making up the balance.

It’s probably fair to say that a school is greater than the sum of its parts. No single institutional component will make or break a student’s education but the overall mix will have a huge impact.

In a column for the Manly Daily, Greg Whitby, executive director of schools for the Parramatta Catholic diocese, counsels parents against focussing solely on the single sex vs co-ed issue, advising them to look at the bigger picture.

“To put it simply, there are good single-sex schools but also some pretty poor ones. The same applies to co-educational schools.

“The best learning environments for young people are the ones that respond to their social, emotional and learning needs, that allow for diverse opinions, encourage healthy and positive relationships­ and ultimately reflect the diversity of the communities in which they live,” he writes.

When it comes to deciding between a single sex or coed school, there is no clear winner. Like many complex questions, the honest answer is: it depends. There are distinct advantages to each type of school but, ultimately, the best option is the one that suits your child the best.

References:

Research versus the media: Mixed or single-gender settings? — Helen J Forgasz, Gilah C Leder and Calvin Taylor, Monash University, 2007
http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/2007/for07148.pdf

Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence? — John Hattie, University of Auckland, Australian Council for Educational Research, October 2003
https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/proflearn/docs/pdf/qt_hattie.pdf

Barker College becomes Sydney’s first private boys’ school to welcome girls across all grades — Jake McCallum, Hornsby Advocate, November 4, 2016
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/hornsby-advocate/barker-college-in-hornsby-will-introduce-female-students-to-junior-year-groups-in-new-coeducational-scheme/news-story/32934b26dbcbd698426a48e89d884b40?nk=71c909cf3ea5cdff59e0c34f1859f415-1493967386

A prestigious school goes co-ed and suddenly everyone’s saying how evil single sex schools are. Rubbish. — Zoe Rochford, MamaMia, November 8, 2016
http://www.mamamia.com.au/benefits-of-single-sex-schools/

Dividing line not key to success – Greg Whitby, Manly Daily, February 18, 2017
http://www.pressreader.com/australia/manly-daily/20170218/283167198322183

Research: Private schooling adds 12 per cent to lifetime earnings

Australian-first research commissioned by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research shows that graduates of non-government schools earn an average of 12 per cent more over their course of their careers than do their public school peers.

The income differential is attributed to the non-academic “soft” skills that private school students acquire making them good candidates for highly-paid upper managerial positions. “These findings suggest that private schooling may be important in not only fostering higher academic achievement, but also in better preparing students for a working life,” the paper says.

While the report focuses on the Catholic system, these results would also hold for graduates of independent private schools say study authors Nikhil Jha and Cain Polidano because of the sector’s “greater emphasis on the development of non-cognitive or soft skills that are important in explaining labour market outcomes.”

Read more

Long-run Effects of Catholic Schooling on Wages: Nikhil Jha and Cain Polidano for the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research
https://www.melbourneinstitute.com/downloads/working_paper_series/wp2013n39.pdf

Coverage of the report in the Australian Financial Review
http://www.afr.com/news/policy/education/private-schooling-boosts-future-earnings-20140105-iybxe