Fears 'School Improvement Unit' will overlook rural issues

PRINCIPALS in rural and regional Queensland fear a new unit dedicated to underperforming schools will overlook the unique complexities they face.

A new School Improvement Unit - expected to include outside consultants, non-state school principals as well as departmental staff - will audit struggling schools and try to bring them into line with higher performing schools.

Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said principals from Queensland's provincial cities and regional areas were already expressing concerns for the process.

He said principals believed the teaching and learning audits already in place were international best practice and they were surprised at the "dramatic change in attitude" from the State Government.

"What principals are saying to us, particularly in regional and rural regions, is that we're struggling against low levels of funding, significant community issues impacting on student learning and we can't rectify this with a magic wand," he said.

"The issues typical of smaller communities in Queensland are beyond anybody's ability to change but will impact adversely on what they can do.

"They fear these processes won't be sensitive to those unique issues for regional Queensland."

Mr Bates said regional areas battled long distances, generally had smaller schools which meant they found it more difficult keeping a broad curriculum, and had trouble keeping up with technology.

"Modern education is reliant on IT. Despite the best efforts of some governments we still don't have high-speed internet everywhere ... some schools are still at dial-up speed which is unacceptable," he said.

Mr Bates said socio-economic status also played a role as drought and a downturn in the economy impacted communities and in turn had consequences for rural school outcomes.

He said also there tended to be a higher representation of children from indigenous, refugee and migrant worker families outside Brisbane which presented further significant challenges.

"Those are the sorts of the facts identified in Gonski (school funding review) impacting on education outcomes and they create disadvantage in those areas," he said.

Mr Bates is calling for a meeting with Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek to discuss the unit further.

Queensland Education Deputy Director-General Patrea Walton, in an email to all principals in the state, said the School Improvement Unit would assess the performance of each state school, including independent public schools, to determine the type of review each school would have.

She said the initial assessment would look at student attendance, annual NAPLAN improvement compared to similar schools and relative school performance in key disciplines such as English, maths and science.

"It's not about ranking schools but is designed to identify any issues, capture successful practices, and prioritise schools for reviews," she said.

The plan will be trialled in schools this semester before it begins permanently next year.

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