PODCAST: Education Vision 2020 – St Thomas More College, Sunnybank

Countless amounts of research have shown that the quality of education directly impacts on an individual’s health and opportunities, but also contributes to the prosperity of a country.

The St Thomas More College, Sunnybank leadership team sat down with Learn.JoinTheAdventure to talk about the future of education in Australia and Queensland.

The college Principal, Les Conroy talked about the transition Queensland education is currently undertaking.

“I think in Queensland, it’s in a very exciting place to be with the transition or disruption from OP (Overall Position) to ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank),” Principal Conroy said in the podcast above.

“I think the ATAR system is looking fantastic for Queensland.”

Further, Acting Deputy Principal, Scott Booth explained how a creative focus on reading and writing showed positive results in college data.

“It forms a bigger picture of excellent learning and teaching initiatives that the college has been working through in recent years, and I guess the ‘We Read More’ initiative that started in 2017, was really a bit of a symbolic figurehead that pushed us forward in this space where we saw our data, and we saw areas where we wanted to improve, and the program was really simple,” Mr Booth explained.

“We call it a revolution, but in some ways it wasn’t revolutionary.

“It was a way where students who have become disengaged with reading, a lot of adolescents, they’re really good readers up until they hit those adolescent years, where we made sure every day they’re reading, they’re reading for pleasure, and that reading becomes a normal thing the kids do in school.

“That’s how it started, and we saw bumps in our data from that, but also, it became a bit of a, as I said, a bit of symbolic program for us around a wider push for excellent learning and teaching, and then that led into ‘We Write More’,” the Acting Deputy Principal concluded.

This podcast is part of a series: Education Vision 2020.

Read the Education Vision 2020 – St Thomas More College, Sunnybank TRANSCRIPT

Andrew: Thank you for your company, and welcome to an episode of Education Vision 2020. This is a series where we talk with education experts, because the success of our edification will certainly impact our future as a country, society, and a community.

Countless amounts of research have shown that the quality of education directly impacts an individual’s health and opportunities but also prosperity of a country. Listen to this Education Vision 2020 series, and you’ll learn what is being done to cement a prosperous future in Australia.

Right now, we’re with the leadership team of St. Thomas More College, Sunnybank. We’ll meet everyone here at the leadership team. We’ll start with the principal Les Conroy. Les Conroy, introduce yourself.

Les Conroy: Good day, Andrew. My name’s Les Conroy, principal of St. Thomas More College. I’ve been leading this community now for three years, going into my fourth, and I lead it with a great group of people, which you’re all about to meet.

Andrew: Yes, Scott Booth, I’d say you’re one of those great people that Les has referred to. Introduce yourself.

Scott Booth: Absolutely. Spot on. Hi, Andrew. I’m Scott Booth. My real job here is Assistant Principal, Administration nd Systems. I look after the information services, IT, the student data management, timetabling at the college. I’ve been here a while now, since about 2011, and I’ve done a range of jobs in academic leadership and pastoral leadership over that time.

Andrew: Yeah. Nathan Camilleri.

Nathan Camilleri: Hello, Andrew. How are you? I’m the Assistant Principal for Senior Years, so my role is across the students of year ten through twelve. Primarily, in two areas of pastoral and the curriculum side of the school for the senior students. Work pretty closely with Stacey with a lot of those things. Our curriculum, vision, I guess, as we’re moving forward. And also, looking at the pastoral side and working with a really great group of pastoral leaders in there, as well.

Andrew: Stacey, you got a mention?

Stacey Readman: Yes, I’m Nathan’s partner in crime. I’m the Assistant Principal for the middle school, the 7’s, 8’s, and 9’s, and I also am heavily involved in improving excellent learning and teaching here at the college with our teachers.

Andrew: Yeah, and Geoff?

Geoff Skippington: G’day, Andrew. Thanks for having us. I’m sort of Acting Assistant Principal of Administration And Systems at present, but I’ve been at the college for five years. Of that time, up until recently, I’ve been a pastoral leader here at the college.

Andrew: Yeah. John Thomas?

John Thomas: Andrew, I’m the Assistant Principal of Religious Education. It’s my second job here, really, because my first eight years I was the curriculum deputy, which was an oddity, really, cause I think I was the only one in existence at that stage cause deputies were really doing other things. But now, for the last while, I’ve been Assistant Principal of Religious Education, so I’ve been responsible for religion curriculum, at the moment in the senior years. But also, I guess most of my responsibility is about the religious life at the school, and the spirituality that flows from that.

Andrew: Yeah. Les Conroy, let’s get a look at education, the landscape of it. Now, it’s in a period of transition. We’re talking about things like ATAR and changes in approaches to learning. But where is it right now?

Les Conroy: It’s a pretty exciting time. I think you’ve been very kind saying transition. It’s probably disruption is a better term. I think in Queensland, it’s in a very exciting place to be with the transition or disruption from OP to ATAR. I think the ATAR system is looking fantastic for Queensland. Very level. For us, puts us on an even playing field with other states, brings us in to alignment with other states, and I think it will also help students ultimately move across borders a lot more easily.

Andrew: So when we look at the world stage and education, in your view, knowing, and you’re very data-driven, where do you see Australia and in Queensland and then the local community of St. Thomas More College sitting?

Les Conroy: I think, particularly, if you want to take that NAPLAN as a benchmark, and I know a lot of people talk about it being a high stakes sort of standardised testing, for us, we take NAPLAN particularly serious as a benchmark, to look as a snapshot to see how we’re going. And if we take it from that perspective and do comparative data across the state, and across the national, Queensland, I think, because of the energy that sits behind it, in wanting to improve and grow students’ learning, and value add to it, is positioning itself quite nicely compared to other states. So I think Queensland is doing quite well for itself.

Andrew: Yeah, and for you as the principal, you’ve been here for a little while now, and you’ve put a few programs in place, which you’re seeing some results out of. Can you just tell us about some of those?

Les Conroy: Yeah, and I think Stacey and Scott in particular can talk more to it. I get to do the proud parent bit, and talk about some of the stats, I get to say these are the highlights. Some of the stuff that we’re doing, we know that we’ve got excellent results in growth across the state, and puts us in the top 12% of schools in Queensland for value adding in NAPLAN, which we’re very proud of, and that comes down to the hard work of the teachers, the hard work of this team here, and also the parent support that we have, that supports us at home, with our reading and writing programs, and our academic performance. And yeah, Stacey and Scott can talk more about that we read more, and we write more.

Andrew: Yeah, Scott, you’ve been dobbed in. You and Stacey, first Scott, if you kick it off, this program that Les Conroy just mentioned, which was the Read More, which then also leads on to the Write More, for you it was very data driven?

Scott Booth: Yeah, absolutely. It forms a bigger picture of excellent learning and teaching initiatives that the college has been working through in recent years, and I guess the We Read More initiative that started in 2017, was really a bit of a symbolic figurehead that pushed us forward in this space where we saw our data, and we saw areas where we wanted to improve, and the program was really simple.

We call it a revolution, but in some ways it wasn’t revolutionary. It was a way where students who have become disengaged with reading, a lot of adolescents, they’re really good readers up until they hit those adolescent years, where we made sure every day they’re reading, they’re reading for pleasure, and that reading becomes a normal thing the kids do in school. That’s how it started, and we saw bumps in our data from that, but also, it became a bit of a, as I said, a bit of symbolic program for us around a wider push for excellent learning and teaching, and then that led into We Write More.

Andrew: Yeah, let’s drill into that a little bit more, but I just want to, you mentioned the word symbolic a couple of times, and that was really tied to the launch of the We Read More. John Thomas, I just want to jump to you for a moment, because symbolism, you work a lot around symbolism. Can you just tell us how important that is for a student’s mindset, to maybe be successful at something? Maybe not just specifically to read more, but just in starting to change maybe a habit in their life, which in this case has been reading?

John Thomas: Yeah, look, kind of backing on from what Scott was saying, the fact that you put it, I’m going to use the term put it in their face, and say, “Look, we value this.” And I don’t know, I think most of the data is anecdotal from the We Read More, because we’re not testing that in the same way you might test through a NAPLAN, or through the writing that Stacey will talk about shortly. But the fact that we went to all that effort to launch it, we had everyone up there in Servant Court all reading, and it was an incredible thing to see, really, but then it went into the classroom. And so, the expectation that students would have a book, even that is symbolic, you know?

I go into senior classes, and in the afternoon, kids get out their book, and you think, I don’t, you don’t have to say anything. And so what’s happening, is the kids pick up on it. And they pick up on the energy that Scott and Les particularly, in the beginning, put out to them. “Look, this, we think this is important. This is going to make a difference to you.” And I know, through parent teacher interviews, and parents will turn up, and their kids can’t spell, and they say, “Well, we’ll do spelling lists.” And I say, “No, no. Don’t do spelling lists. Read. You know, they need to read.”

If they read, they see language written properly, they see words spelt correctly, and then they pick up on that. So the reading is critical to almost everything else that they do. But symbolically, what we’re trying to do, is we’re trying to really establish the critical importance of this one aspect. If only it flowed as nicely from the We Read More into the spirituality stuff, which, because there’s a whole other space there, but certainly, certainly that’s the thing for me. It’s about the fact that we held it as important, and the kids picked up on that, and the parents as well. The parents were right on board.

Andrew: So Stacey, there’s been a lot of emphasis on the We Read More, We Write More. It seems to be central and important to the college. What sort of support have you had, and how has the program rolled out from your perspective?

Stacey Readman: I was really lucky when I arrived at the start of last year, to have Scott start such a great program, and it was just a natural flow on for me to extend that into the We Write More in the morning. We’re very lucky here that we have such a wonderful group of staff that are just really willing to take on whole school initiatives like this, and it wouldn’t work in every school, but here it’s worked exceptionally well. Every morning, for 10 minutes when the students get to school, they write, the writing is connected to the curriculum that they’re learning in the classroom at the moment. So in maths they’re writing about maths. In science, they’re writing about science. It’s not just a journal where they’re writing about their weekend, so it’s really emphasising the language and the knowledge in those particular curriculum areas. And so, the teachers don’t see it as taking away from their time for their subject area, they’re actually enhancing that, and incorporating those skills.

Andrew: So you’re getting right in as the students arrive from primary school, as they start into secondary school, you’re getting them right at that point, and you’re making sure that those foundations are built for reading and writing, yeah?

Stacey Readman: Yeah, that’s right. We’ve got a really good transition program for the Year 7’s that come into our school, and right from the word go, they’re very heavily into our writing and reading programs. This year, we introduced the Write That Essay online tool for our Year 7 students, which is a really fun, interactive writing tool, where they write about a concept that the teacher has decided for them, and they spin little wheels, and they click on little things, and it gives them prompts to improve their writing, which they just love. They really love it. Next year, the writing tool is going to be even better, and it will actually give them hints and edit their work, and they can improve it in that way as well.

Andrew: Yeah, I think we’re going to be talking a fair bit about technology, particularly when we start looking at the vision. Now, Stacey, while you take care of the middle years, Nathan, you take care of the senior years. This hard work that gets done in those middle years, how do the senior years benefit?

Nathan Camilleri: Yeah, I think it’s really important, and part of the Super Six Strategy is that they’re working on kids’ imagination. They’re seeing the words, they’re hearing the words, they’ve got a vision that’s part of that as well. And that’s an important part of working their way through the senior years as well, and there’s a number of different ways that the kids are assessed, and part of that imagination obviously helps to extend their own writing and look at new ideas, and part of their research, and innovation, and collaboration, and all those sorts of things.

So it branches out a little bit further than just being able to write better. It’s being able to be able to look at something which is a vision, as they’re working their way through their assessment pieces, looking at different ways of being able to present. And it extends really well into a whole heap of different areas when they’re starting to think about, “How am I possibly going to sketch this idea for someone to be able to understand.” So, it really does, there’s different facets to it I guess, that it’s not just about writing in a better way. It’s understanding different ways, and seeing things in a whole new light.

Andrew: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Scott, with the We Read More, We Write More, that doesn’t just help with English results, does it?

Scott Booth: No, absolutely not. We still, in our education system, we’re still very literacy based.

Andrew: Yep.

Scott Booth: At the end of the day, especially in the senior years, students need to be able to write. They need to be able to deconstruct exam questions, and respond to that. So, regardless of all the technology we use, and we use technology, I think, really well, at the end of the day, we can’t forget those basics, and we need to make sure that we have a foundation in those, and we use other innovations to value add, not to replace those really fundamental basics of education.

John Thomas: To some extent, some of the assessment in the new ATAR subjects, the general subjects, is actually much more literacy based than it was in the, I’m going to say the old system. So there were many other options in terms of multi-modals and aurals, many of which have been taken out in the new system. So, and that’s been replaced by the exams, and assignments.

Andrew: So did the college preempt this with the ATAR system coming on to the horizon? Or was this something where there were other reasons that you took it on, and now you’ve got the benefit of it positioning you really well for the ATAR system?

Scott Booth: It could be a bit of both. We like to think we preempted it, and certainly it became clear to us in the planning for the new system, that students would have to write a lot more, it was far more rigorous. They would have exams that were longer, and involved far more academic rigour, I guess, than perhaps they had before. We knew that they needed to give them opportunities for extended writing, and that’s why from Year 7 they do that every day. Because we actually had a look at, especially in some middle years classes, and at some times, students could go through a day, and they might have a particular arrangement of subjects where they may go through a whole day without writing a whole lot.

Andrew: Yeah.

Scott Booth: And we thought, “That’s probably not good.” Well we need to make sure we gazette that time every day, so that they are doing that in a sustained way.

Andrew: So so far we’ve been talking about the results of reading and writing, and the improvements of that within school life. How does this benefit a student going through, and then graduating college, and maybe wanting to go to university or picking a career, or some other vocation?

Nathan Camilleri: It’s, I guess when we’re looking at those sorts of things, it’s not just the reading and the writing, which are central to everything. We’re, particularly in the new system, we’re starting to look at things with what they call the 21st Century skills. So it’s being a problem solver, it’s being a critical thinker, it’s being able to communicate with other people. It’s about being able to understand challenges.

So, the reading and the writing I guess, are our bedrock to all of it, but it’s all those other skills which go with that as well. So, it’s that use of technology, it’s the use of innovation, being able to problem solve. When the students can read well, and when they can write well, they can express themselves a lot better as well.

So, they can start bringing in those other schools, and they can work their way through, obviously, in those senior years, so that when they do graduate, they’re not just walking out with a good education you see, they’re actually walking out with a series of skills which are going to help them vocationally as well.

Andrew: Yeah. Geoff, you have been a bit quiet. I just want to learn a little bit more about what it is that you do on a day to day basis?

Geoff Skippington: Oh yeah, well, I’m only recently in the role in terms of administration of systems, and so very little in that part so far, but I guess I can talk to some of these things, some of these programs and still in terms of pastoral perspective as well. So, one of the things we noticed, is sometimes that reading can be, it’s death watch at the questions, you know? And parents must feel that doing homework with the kids as well, through primary school. And I think bringing that back, and number one, about reading for enjoyment, and that what it’s really about, and lots of students would enjoy that.

And I guess the other side from a pastoral perspective is that idea of some academic confidence around what they’re doing. The fact that when they get into these senior situations where they’re required to write things within restricted times, they’ve had that experience from doing it every single morning with their We Write More, and I think that we can then say to them, “You know, you’ve done this before. You’ll be right heading into that.” And it just does wonders for the self-esteem as well.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. Now, Les Conroy, we talk regularly, you’re into vision, you look to the future. Vision 2020, where do you see the college going?

Les Conroy: That’s a big question, isn’t it?

Andrew: Yeah.

Les Conroy: It’s huge, because it probably depends on which angle you come in at. We’ve got many balls in the air, which we’re juggling to try and bring together. But each one of them are critical on the other, so the symbiotics between them is quite important. We talk about ATAR, we talk about curriculum. We should talk about VET pathways, and then underlying the curriculum side of it, is about making sure that when a student graduates from here, like all schools, they’re confident, they’re competent, they’re resilient, and they’re ready to launch themselves into a bright future. That’s what we want. So everything we do drives towards that.
The other parts of it is making sure that we’ve got a campus that’s inviting, it’s contemporary, and it’s a great place to be. We want parents to feel engaged and welcome within a community. We want to staff to feel welcome and cared for within the community. We want students to feel welcome and cared for within our community. So, it’s making sure that everything we do has multiple lenses cast over it to make sure that what we do here at school give students and families the best opportunities to be successful, whatever that might be.

Andrew: So a question, absolutely without notice, and I want to go right around the room on this one, how do you think, because you mentioned the campus needs to be contemporary. We’ll start with you, Les, so you can set the tone on this, but, 10, 15 years’ time, with the way technology is moving, the way people are communicating with each other, the way people are learning, how do you think campuses are going to look, say 10, 15, 20 years’ time?

Les Conroy: Yeah, I don’t think they’re going to look like classrooms as we see them today. I think students will come and go from a campus based on where they’re at in their learning, and what subjects they want to do. I see more virtual reality being used, so the student may be at home. But what we want them, a bit like universities are today, so they’ve changed even the way they’ve become social hubs within a community, and that’s probably what we are driving towards ultimately, at school, is becoming a social hub, where they can come and connect with teachers, connect with other people, their peers, as learners within this community of STMC, and that’s, I think, ultimately where we see it.

So our campus will change, it will be more open space, it may be more café style learning, open spaces, group spaces, all that sort of stuff. I think we’ll probably start to see the beginning of the end of the four walls within a classroom. It’s quite exciting.

Andrew: What about, like there are schools that have variations, but by and large, the 9 till 3, do you think that will stay?

Les Conroy: Yeah, I think we’re starting to see it now. Attendance is a big thing, and when you drill down, there are some students that have genuine issues around attendance, but I think also that we might be starting to see saying, “Well, actually, I think I can do this differently, I’ve got a different pathway.” You know we’ve already got students that will do multiple pathways with TAFE and the workplace in school. So they’re already at three different locations throughout a normal week anyway, and I think that’s what will change, and that’s what we will have to grapple with as a profession. Not just us as an organisation, but as a profession, moving forward.

Andrew: Scott Booth, your thoughts?

Scott Booth: I was just thinking, even today, you would never say that our school is a 9 to 3 school, and that’s most modern schools. We have students here from 7, 7.30 in the morning, engaging in practice for our marching band, or the ensembles. We have students here till 5 every day, in homework club, and a range of tutorials. Plus, throughout the day, I’ve actually never been at a school where there’s so much that students can do to engage in the life of the college beyond the classroom, and I think that’s something about what the future of education could be, because you can’t deny that really quality learning is happening during those times.

We’ve got 1,000 students here, the last bit of data we had is almost 700 are involved in co-curricular activities. And it’s not just sport, you know back in the day, oh that’s footy training. It’s not that at all. I run a Minecraft club three times a week. We’re a very niche group of students involved in that. John has a massive range of social justice spirituality activities every single week that another group of students are engaged in that way, and I think that’s the future of education in many ways. And that’s the relation, the education at the end of day is relation.

Andrew: And I don’t think that our community is going to let us be a 9 to 3 operation when we’ve got a multi-million-dollar facility. I think that the pressure from our community is going to be such that they’re going to insist that the doors don’t get locked at 3:30, and no one can access the facility. So I think we’re going to see that shift.

We’re already talking, next year, for when the first round of external exams happen in the ATAR system, about operating differently. Where we’ll be running tutorials. We don’t even know what that’s going to look like yet, except we need to be talking about it, and we need to have something in place, because it’s a different space to where we’ve been. I’ve been teaching 40 years, that’s nothing like what I’ve experienced in a number of different systems, right up till today. And so we’re breaking new ground, and I guess Nathan might want to pick up and talk about some of that.

Nathan Camilleri: I guess one example of that would be particularly in the vocational studies areas in here, where we’re starting with some students who are able to be in a classroom, but they’ll be in a classroom with a virtual reality headset on, and the class will be beamed from another space. Brisbane Catholic Education actually across a number of different campuses, actually you’ll have one school that might be hosting, let’s say a Study of Religion as a subject, and then there’ll be four or five other classes from other schools that would be tapping into that same lesson happening.

So, things are definitely changing. The old idea of the teacher at the front, the students sitting at the desk is well and truly going to change. I think in time we’ll end up seeing more collaborative spaces happening, classes will range in numbers, whether they’re actually sitting in class, or they might be in a different site. More time for students to actually be working together, to be able to solve problems that they might be dealing with in the classroom.

There are flip classrooms around the place these days, where the students are actually leading the learning within the classroom itself, all guided by teachers. I think the traditional site of a school will well and truly change, and it’ll be very quick, I think. In the next maybe five to 10 years we will see things very different, probably here, but I would say as an education setting moving across in different areas, is well and truly the sky is the limit at the moment.

Geoff Skippington: Yeah. Well we’re seeing it with workplaces at the moment, aren’t we? Certainly changes within workplaces, in office spaces, it’s gone away from having individual offices, to open walls and people working collaboratively. So, if schools are microcosms of society, we’re going to see that happen here too, as well, aren’t we?

Andrew: Do you think that for you, Stacey, do you think that the change that’s been talked about, it seems to have more of a focus on the senior side of the school? Do you think that change is going to be as drastic for the middle years as well?

Stacey Readman: It certainly will be. Anything that happens in the senior school needs to be reflected in the middle school as well. We look very carefully at what’s required for the senior students, and we try to map that back and prepare them as well as we can. We’ve been talking a lot about the walls of the classroom, and for a very long time, teaching has been a very private practice, and you don’t often get to visit other people’s classrooms, and see what they’re doing. But it’s really quite a shame, because people are very diverse in their teaching styles and their knowledge, and especially with the use of technology.

Some are more confident, some are still learning, and we can really learn a lot from each other, and that’s one of the spaces that we’ll be moving into next year with a shared practice program In the shared practice program, we’re getting teachers to identify a particular area of the effected and expected practices which they think that they would like to learn more about, and then pairing them up with a teacher that is confident in that area, and giving them time to go and visit that teacher in the classroom, and learn something from each other.

Andrew: So it sounds like there’s going to be more flexibility introduced into the way students learn, but as you introduce more flexibility, how do you ensure that maybe a student has got something going on in their personal life, or some other underlying issue, and that starts to impact their learning. How do you make sure that you still, with all of that flexibility, they don’t get lost in our flexibility so to speak? So it gets identified, and you can maybe bring them into a more structured arena so that they can be put back on track?

Les Conroy: And I think that’s where pastoral care is key, and it’s the same old story, and it’s been forever and a day, relationships, relationships, relationships. It’ll be so key, and that’s where I think the social aspect of the school, with the co-curricular life, will be that connection point, because you there’s so many variations to how you can access the curriculum, but that social aspect of co-curricular will be where relationships are formed with peers, with teachers, and with families, and I think that will be the connection point that will become more and more critical.

And if I can just bring back to, back on to what Stacey said, one of the students that we’re working with now is at a primary school, he’s in Year 4, I think he’d been bumped up from year three. He skipped a year, and went to Year 4.

Andrew: Wow.

Les Conroy: So, he probably should be in Year 3, but he’s in Year 4 now. They approached us and as a school and said, “You know, he’s really quite gifted in his maths, and the school’s found its limits, so he’s already doing Year 6 maths now, and he’s getting straight A’s and he’s coping with it, and he’s finding it quite boring. What can you do for high school?” Where if you go back to just even five, six years ago, we would’ve gone, “Oh, no. Can’t help you.”

Andrew: Yeah.

Les Conroy: Or we would’ve said, “Oh no, he has to be here in high school, he has to be in front of a teacher for us to be able to actually value add and move him forward.” Where, it was interesting, just even the conversation where, “Oh yeah, actually, we can do something here. We can actually do podcasts. We can use One Note, we can use Skype, we can use Swivel.”

All of a sudden, with the technology, and our thinking, there’s no limits as to what we can actually engage in, and I think that was probably the first insight as to how things could be different in the classroom moving forward. This student will attend our school, but probably for 18 months, won’t come near us.

Andrew: So for a parent that’s listening to this, and they’re going, “Hang on. I’ve got a child that’s gifted.” It might be in reading, or writing, or science, or maths, should they be reaching out, but if their child is in our primary school, if they’re thinking this resonates, should they be reaching out to say, St. Thomas More College and going, “Hey, can there be something done? I just don’t think the child’s being extended at this point?”

Les Conroy: I think what we’re open to is thinking differently. Can we accommodate, can we help, what can we do to engage? All of us got into teaching for one reason, and that was to value add to what students do, and can do in life. So we’re open to different ways of doing things, but at the same time, the parents have got to be open to there might be some limitations as we learn these things, and as we move forward, that we can’t go from naught to 100 straight away. We might have to take steps to work with our limitations, and stretch, but we’re open, and we’re prepared to stretch ourselves in order to find new frontiers.

Andrew: The college right now is going through the process of preparing for graduations for the year 12’s this year, what sort of jobs and careers are they looking at in their future?

Nathan Camilleri: You can probably come up with an easy question, really, Andrew. It’s, they’re quite varied. We have students who will go all around the state to go to university for different areas. We have some students who are looking at medicine, obviously, and the engineering areas. We’ve got students who are currently working, they’ve probably started their apprenticeships or traineeships, like most colleges already have. They’re quite varied.

We look at particularly our Year 12 group that we’ve got at the moment, they’re very talented, they’re a good bunch of kids. They’re going out, and they’re going to be looking at doing a lot of different things I guess over their time. So to try and pinpoint any particular area where they’re going to go into, it would be very difficult to be able to do that because they are very diverse in their aspirations. But, they’ll do well.

John Thomas: But the reality too, with this group of kids, and subsequent groups, is that they won’t have this one job forever. And unlike me, they’ll take me out of here in a box, but, these kids are going to change careers. So not just change jobs, but change careers. And they’re talking five to seven across their work lifetime.

So that, so really, when Nathan and Stacey talked about the skillset that kids get as part of their educational process here, that’s really the critical thing. So this first job they go to, or this first study, or apprenticeship is the first one. And that’s going to lead them to another one, and another one, and another one. And we don’t even know what that’s going to look like, except we know that’s going to be the reality.

Nathan Camilleri: End of the day, the results will get them into where they want to go to, but the skills are what’s going to help them succeed.

John Thomas: Yeah.

Nathan Camilleri: So, to be able to equip those kids and make sure that they’re ready, that they do have those skills, the communication, the innovation, the being able to problem solve, be critical thinkers, all that sort of thing, that’s probably the most important part. They’re walking out, and they’re feeling confident in who they are, and knowing that next step, whether it be the right one at this stage, or if they look at something six months, 12 months, or five years down the track, at least they’re still carrying that same skillset to be able to deal with those issues as they come up, and be able to succeed in whatever it is that they put their hand to.

John Thomas: And we’re not alone in that, like I’m on a committee at the University of Queensland where in the Bachelor of Arts, and we’ve been talking about the skillset that a bachelor of arts student has, and what makes them employable. So it’s not just about getting them into the degree, it’s actually about considering what’s going to follow, and what’s going to value add.

So while they might be, I think there are 14 possible majors, and 14 possible minors in a Bachelor of Arts degree, those things have become inconsequential in terms of, “Well, what’s the skillset?” Because employers are after the skillset, they’re really not after, “I’ve done this course.” Or, “I’ve done this course.”

So what do you bring? What are you going to bring to the workforce? The degree is important, because that’s what, we’re still operating like that, but the skillset that comes with that is really critical. And I can tell you that the University of Queensland, like every other institution, that’s their conversation. So they’re not really interested in, “We’re just going to pour out these doctors, or these engineers.” It’s more than that now. And they’re a bit slow. They’re a lot slower than we are at a school level, because they’re such a huge institution that things grind really slowly, but the conversation is there.

Les Conroy: And one of the things that we’re finding, is just even from a few years ago, is esports. It was never spoken about. Now all of a sudden…

Andrew: Okay, you need to explain to us, what’s esports?

Les Conroy: Anything electric. Not joking, my age. So, gaming, drone racing, anything digital and technology wise I suppose it would be a good way of summing it up. But if you said, if a student came to us three or four years ago, and said, “I want to become a professional gamer.” We would’ve gone, “Eh.” Told them to get a real job.

Andrew: Yeah.

Les Conroy: Now it’s actually a legitimate pathway. People are making good money out of esports, and gaming is one of them. There’s marketing around it, so people can go into, it’s very specific marketing positions around esports, setting up stadiums, the computer is driving that sort of space. E-cycling, something that we’ve introduced, and there’s a whole team of people now and staff that are into e-cycling. We kicked off drone racing. The interest is so good Nathan introduced a remote pilot licence as a course.

Andrew: Yeah, right.

Les Conroy: That’s an interesting space, because would we have thought of that five or six years ago? Would there have been an opportunity for that? No, now it’s like there’s so many opportunities around drones, that that’s a skillset that some people will need to move in their occupation. I heard a comment this morning on radio that people are changing careers into helicopter licencing and it’s become huge. Well drones is really the next generation of helicopters, which will be piloted by people sitting on the ground. We’re already seeing that in the military. That’s going to be a driving skill in the future, and I think Nathan could comment more, but it’s, ….of introduction, it’s going to be hugely popular.

Nathan Camilleri: It will be, it’s a subject that has taken on quite a few students who will come into that next year. It’s actually one of our vocational offerings. So the students will end up with a Certificate II in engineering, and then a Certificate III in the Line of Sight, Aviation. And I guess we’re pretty well placed here, that we’re not that far away from Archerfield either, so there will be points where we’ll be able to take the students down, they can be in a real airfield and be able to see what’s happening around that area. And then obviously be able to link that back to the course that we’ll be offering here at school.

So, I can see that that’s going to open things up a lot more. We’ll start off with the Aviation Certificate, where that takes us after that, who knows? It grows wider than that, as well, because there all those Defence Force contracts that are around the place at the moment. If we’re giving the students a bit of a leg in with some of that, then they’re in a good place for it, I guess.

John Thomas: And it really highlights the necessity for educators now, to be open to things that we were never open to before, and to be responsive to what’s happening in society. I mean, I think of mobile phones. So we’ve said, “No mobile phones. They’re in your lockers.” Now I assume that within the next few years we’ll revisit that, because of the ability that a mobile phone gives you within an educational possibility. And so, all of those things, and we can’t be closed off. And I think schools of old were very closed, weren’t they? And that would’ve been all of our experience in schools. We went along, and what our educational experience is probably very much like our parents, and there was very little change in all of that time, except we went from slates to something else, but-

Nathan Camilleri: Modern. We used chalk.

John Thomas: Chalk, yeah.
Andrew: So you just mentioned parents. We’ve been talking about where schools have come from, where they are now, where they’re going, the changes that are afoot from slates to chalk, to now digital boards and all that sort of stuff. What about parents? What are the changes that they have had to undertake, and where do you see the role of parents and caregivers changing in a child’s education?

Les Conroy: Yeah, that’s interesting. At our Nights of Excellence, we just had this conversation a couple of years ago, parents, and we still do too, and as society, we value those hard skills. So we say maths is really important, science is really important, and they are. But the reality of when you’re actually dig a little bit deeper, the way we’re moving it’s actually more soft skills that will actually be more highly valued in the future, and that’s around creative thinking. And that’s probably something that is probably underestimated in educational circles.

We talk about it, but I don’t know if it’s a real reality. We talk about risk taking, is something that is valued, but do we actually reward those who do take risks? And that’s an area that we have to examine, and ask ourselves those questions. Because it’s those soft skills of creativity, solution finding, collaboration, and then they’re human skills. There are human interaction skills, which are probably not as valued as much as, “Well I’m good at science, I’m good at maths, I’m good english, I’m good at these sort of things.” And I think that will be the twist that we’ll have to move to in the future.

Andrew: Yes, Scott, you’ve been nodding your head, and checking [crosstalk 00:38:59] yeah?

Scott Booth: Yeah, I was just reading an article recently where it looked at those, what was it, the different types of learners, and the different skills, Gardiner’s Multiple Intelligence, that’s what it was. So, in schools that was one of the paradigms that used to kick around not so long ago, the different intelligences that student might have. And it looked at how basically AI, artificial intelligence could replace all of those, and you could see examples of where artificial intelligence is replacing a lot of those skills today. The things that artificial intelligence isn’t replacing are those skills like interpersonal skills, collaboration, creativity, innovation, and unfortunately for us educators, that’s probably the thing that we have been least attentive to. We’ve been least attentive to the things that robots can’t replace. We need to start to be attentive to the things that robots can’t replace.

Andrew: Yeah, and so that’s broader isn’t it? That’s actually been a position that society has taken, because I’ve had conversations with teachers that have, particularly in the creative industries, when it comes to learning how to be creative with filming and telling stories, and narrative, all of that sort of stuff, and they say that the students quite often, they take those subjects, but they don’t take the subjects all that seriously. Yet, they’re the very things that are going to be almost impossible, I mean you never say impossible now with technology, but, most likely impossible to replace in future with AI. Is it time for society to make a massive shift? And maybe, we talk about taking risk, but take real risk and go, “Okay, let’s focus on those things that we haven’t taken seriously before?

Les Conroy: Critical thinking, I mean we talk about, one of the subjects that pops to my mind, is straight away, science. Science should actually be the most creative subject in the school because of what they can examine, and it can be life changing. But we probably stick to a very rigid notion of what science is, but that’s where I think creativity can absolutely take off and fly.

Andrew: The periodic table and things like that?

Les Conroy: Yeah.

Scott Booth: And those 21st Century skills that Nathan mentioned earlier, they’re actually the underpinning skills of all the new syllabus documents in Queensland. While we as educators just need to uncover those skills, and make sure that we’re actually embedding them in all we do. And that’s our challenge going forward.

John Thomas: And one of the issues we have of course, is that the maths and science particularly are the things that are valued in the new system. So, even when we look at things like the portion of external assessment, for instance. So the maths and science areas, it’s 50% external assessment, and in the humanities area, where you’re getting into more of those kind of areas, it’s 25% external assessment, and then you get to art, and I think it’s 10%. And so we’re really not valuing, sorry, the education system isn’t valuing what we’re saying is important. And that’s where the hold up is in terms of moving forward, because at the end of the day, that’s our master, and we have to play to that, and if we don’t play to that, our kids are disadvantaged in terms of their first option to get to university, or TAFE or whatever it is.

Nathan Camilleri: And that does play in, obviously with our timetable in that we are wholisitic I guess, and the students are still working in the space, particularly in middle school, that they’re all working in the arts area, they’re all working in the design area. So they are going into those skills in different ways. They’re not streaming themselves, and trying to pick one particular area when they’re quite young. So, it opens a lot of different things up.
It gives them the opportunity to be able to look at problem solving in a different context, so when you’re sitting down and you’re designing something along the lines of a mobile phone for a person with limited mobility, how does that happen? Well, what do you need to consider for that to be able to come about? And in a class of 30 kids, you’ll have 30 different ideas as to what they’re going to do. All with the same goal in there, but very different pathways of actually getting to that goal. So that’s a really important part, I guess, to all education.
We’re not limited to that, it is something that we value, obviously, and there are other schools that think the same way, but it’s one of those skills I guess, that in time, the problem solving side of things, the critical thinking, being able to work with other people in group dynamics, that will work really well going into senior, but it will work extremely well when they’re working out, or finishing school, and going out into the world of work. Or going into university, or going into TAFE, or running their own businesses, as some kids are doing when they’re finishing school.

Andrew: Well, are some of the kids even waiting to start their businesses before they leave school?

Nathan Camilleri: No.

Les Conroy: Some have got their own businesses now.

Nathan Camilleri: Yeah, we have students who are 13, 14 years old that have, own their own business.

Andrew: So that’s happening in middle school? How has that shifted, how are you creating creative, problem solving individuals that are able to start businesses when they’re that young?

Stacey Readman: We’re really trying to promote gradual release of responsibility with our teachers, and by allowing the teachers to support the students quite heavily in the very beginning of high school, and then slowly stepping back and allowing them to have more decision, and control over, and directing of their learning, it really encourages them to explore things that the teacher themselves may not have actually thought of.

A really good example that I can think of is in a science class. The students wanted to investigate how they could make plants glow, and I said, “Why would you want to make plants glow?” And they said, “Well we could plant them along the side of the road, and they could replace the street lights.” And I just thought, “Wow. That’s just an amazing idea.”

And we talked about how they could actually achieve that, and they wanted to get the highlighter fluid out of highlighters, and they wanted to get the fluid out of glow sticks. And they just thought of all these amazing ideas. And we actually did achieve it in the end, but we had to do it under a UV light to get it to glow, but they were so excited that they’d actually achieved the glowing of the plant, so, yeah. It’s incredible when you give them that opportunity, and the time to explore ideas of their own, what they can actually come up with.

Andrew: How are we going for time? Well as much we’re innovative, we’ve still got bus duty. Well what we might do, is we might go around and just look a final thoughts in relation to education. We’ll start with you, Scott Booth, and come around to Les Conroy. So, just a few comments on where you think that education as a whole is.
Scott Booth: I think, like Les said, we’re in a time of disruption. I think in many ways, you could transplant someone from the industrial revolution to a classroom, and it wouldn’t look much different. I think in the next five to 10 years, it will look completely different, and it’s an exciting time to be in education, but we really need to be people who are willing for a challenge, and to think outside the box.

Nathan Camilleri: I think our biggest challenge at the moment is to actually look at how we’re going to be able to collaborate. Not just within our own site, but look at how we’re going to be able to do that well with schools outside, with TAFE, with university, with parents, with the whole vast number of people that we can go a little bit further with. We’ve had in our careers program, with people who have come in and spoken to our students, they’ve picked up a little bit of knowledge there. Which may not happen always, because not all of our students want to listen to us all the time.

But there are, I think our challenge is to be able to look at our wider community, and how we can have more of that coming into our classrooms. And being able to see very different perspectives on sustainability, on innovation, on how technology can be used, and how that then is applied to our students in their different subjects.

Andrew: Stacey?

Stacey Readman: I really believe that collaboration and shared practice of teaching is really going to get people onboard, and teachers used to teaching outside of their usual practice, and exploring different ways of doing things, so it’s really important that we don’t leave our teachers behind in this journey.

Geoff: And I reckon we need to, we’re hearing about the teachers. Sometimes we forget we’re the successors of the schooling system. So, reaching outside of that, we’ve got to hear from some other students who have some difficulties with school as it stands, and get their take on what education could look like. And parents as well, who’ve been through the rough schooling, come out the other side, and what were the skills you needed through school? And tap into that, as well.

Andrew: John?

John Thomas: I think this is a hugely exciting time to be in education. We’ve lived through the ACARA, the bringing together of all of those, that junior curriculum, and now we’re seeing the development of this whole new senior system, our QCS system served us very well, I was part of that at the very beginning, and so I kind of love it from that perspective, except it got tired, and sad towards the end, and we’ve now got a whole new system, which I find really exciting, and I’ve been part of writing syllabuses, and I think it’s a genuinely, we’re genuinely moving forward in a very positive way.

Andrew: Les Conroy?

Les Conroy: Yeah. Brisbane Catholic Education asked us to challenge. Teach, Challenge, and Transform, and that should be the driver, and we just shouldn’t see it being that, a commitment to students, we should see that as a commitment to our community, we should see that as a commitment to our staff, and we should see that as a commitment to our parents, that we challenge each other, we grow each other, and we transform each other. And that’s our big goal.

Andrew: Les Conroy, I’ve got one last question.

Les Conroy: Uh-oh.

Andrew: So you’ve got the ecycling programme, if somebody e-cycles home, do they actually get home?

Les Conroy: I love e-cycling. From a workplace health and safety, I don’t have to worry about someone being run over, as some do, or coming off their bike. If they do, they’re trying really hard, aren’t they John? To fall off an e-cycle. But yeah. It’s- [crosstalk 00:49:31] actually pretty exciting.

Scott Booth: [crosstalk 00:49:31] I prefer on the road.

Andrew: Thank you very much for spending the time with this podcast, and just sharing your knowledge and views on where education is, and where it’s going.