Education Transitions

Tabled: 18 March 2015

3 Middle-years transition

At a glance

Background

To transition successfully to secondary school, children need to be supported before, during and after the transition. Children who have difficulty with this transition are likely to become more disengaged and have poorer academic outcomes in the future.

Conclusion

Middle-years outcomes are mixed, with some encouraging trends in the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy results and parents' views on transitions. However, the Department of Education and Training (DET) does not provide enough support to schools to properly support students or improve their own practices. DET should monitor children's post-transition outcomes more effectively.

Findings

  • In some measures, children's academic outcomes and engagement with school decline after transitioning to secondary school. Boys' performance declines faster than girls.
  • Parents' ratings of school support for children, as they transition, have improved.
  • Schools undertake a variety of informed practices to support transitioning children.
  • DET has a role to manage inconsistencies across the system and to properly support schools to transition students effectively. It does not do either well.
  • DET does not undertake system-level monitoring to track transition outcomes.

Recommendations

The Department of Education and Training:

  • develops and monitors transition-related outcomes for the middle years, including for children identified as most vulnerable during school transitions
  • develops a more comprehensive suite of guidance and resources to support schools to transition middle-years students
  • improves its systems to allow more timely access to child-level data for schools
  • examines the appropriateness of the timing of the Year 6 review for children who receive funding under the Program for Students with Disabilities.

3.1 Introduction

The transition into secondary school is a significant one for children and it occurs as children are undergoing the developmental changes associated with the onset of puberty. In moving to secondary school, children enter a new social world and move to a more independent learning environment. The shift often involves a change in the type of curriculum and pedagogy (teaching methods) from that experienced in primary school. There is wide recognition of a drop in children's achievement and engagement with school after they make this transition.

The challenge for schools is to sustain children's progress and motivation as they make this transition during Years 5 through 8. Making a successful transition from primary school to secondary school has an impact on both children's engagement with school and their later academic outcomes. International research suggests that children who fall behind at this point will find it increasingly difficult to make up the lost ground.

3.2 Conclusion

There have been modest improvements in some middle-years transition outcomes over the past seven years. However, there are well established gender-based differences in both academic and engagement outcomes during the middle years that the Department of Education and Training (DET) has not addressed.

The static nature of middle-years outcomes over time suggests that there is room to improve the approach to managing this transition. However, DET has not done enough to fully examine the trends in the data and relate this back to the strategies and approaches being employed by schools to transition students.

Unlike the early-years transition, DET does not have a clear strategy or framework guiding the middle-years transition. It does not require a transition statement to be prepared and shared with secondary schools. As a result, schools are tackling middle-years transitions in varying ways and while this has resulted in some innovative practices, it has also lead to inefficiencies across the school system.

Given the lack of guidance and support from DET, the modest improvements in middle-years transition performance can only be attributed to the schools themselves tailoring their delivery of education to their students.

System-wide change is required if consistent long-term gains are to be made, and if issues such as the uneven impact of transitions on male and female students are to be resolved. There are simple steps that DET could take to better support schools to improve middle-years transitions, including evaluating the available data more thoroughly to inform targeted strategies and initiatives to support vulnerable students, and drawing on the successful approaches already in place for early-years transitions.

3.3 Middle-years outcomes

For children transitioning between primary and secondary school, a range of academic and wellbeing-related data is available. This section examines:

  • academic performance
  • children's engagement with school
  • parents' assessment of children's transitions.

3.3.1 Academic performance

There are a number of ways in which the academic performance of school students is measured and monitored:

  • The Australian Curriculum/Victorian Essential Learning Standards (AusVELS)outline statewide standards for students between Prep and Year10 that schools use to plan learning programs, assess progress and report to parents. Every semester teachers assess each of their students against the relevant AusVELS standard. These replaced the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS), which were in place until 2012.
  • The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)is used to assess the performance of Australian children against a national minimum standard for numeracy and reading and writing. Children are tested at Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. The Year 5 and 7 assessments fall either side of the middle‑years transition and provide a good measure of their transition outcomes.
Teacher assessments of student performance against AusVELS

Teacher assessments against AusVELS show that the percentage of children whose performance is below the expected level increases as each child progresses through school, as shown in Figure 3A. Despite this fairly linear change, there are some notable variations:

  • Year 6 results immediately prior to transition show a lull in the trend, particularly for English, with less of an increase in the number of children who are below the expected level.
  • Year 7 results immediately following the transition reverse the Year 6 gain, and is then followed by a pattern of declining performance from Year 8 to Year10.

Improving the middle-years transition process could assist in achieving significant improvements to student outcomes in Year 7 and beyond.

Figure 3A

Percentage of children in 2013 assessed as being six months or more below the expected levels in English and mathematics

The chart shows that teacher assessments against AusVELS show that the percentage of children whose performance is below the expected level increases as each child progresses through school.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on AusVELS 2013 data, provided by DET.

Figures 3B and 3C show the gap in outcomes between Year 6 and Year 7, from 2007 to 2012, in both English and mathematics. In both charts, a downward trend indicates a positive outcome.

In both English and mathematics, the gap between Year 6 and Year 7 performance has increased.

In English, teachers of Year 6 students were more positive about the capabilities of their students, while teachers of Year 7 students maintained their position.

In mathematics, teachers of Year 6 students have held a consistent view of student performance over time. However, the proportion of Year 7 students assessed as below the expected standard rose significantly from 15.3 per cent to 21.1 per cent over the five years.

Figure 3B

Students assessed as being six months or more below the expected level in English

Figures 3B and 3C show the gap in outcomes between Year 6 and Year 7, from 2007 to 2012, in both English and mathematics. In both charts, a downward trend indicates a positive outcome.

Note: From 2013, teacher assessment data was collected against a revised standard, which is not comparable to past results.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on VELS data, provided by DET.

Figure 3C

Students assessed as being six months or more below the expected level in mathematics

Figures 3B and 3C show the gap in outcomes between Year 6 and Year 7, from 2007 to 2012, in both English and mathematics. In both charts, a downward trend indicates a positive outcome.

Note: From 2013, teacher assessment data was collected against a revised standard, which is not comparable to past results.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on VELS data, provided by DET.

Student performance in NAPLAN

NAPLAN results tell a slightly different story to the teacher assessments of student performance. As Figure 3D shows, the percentage of students assessed as being 'at or above' the minimum standard in reading and numeracy tests has improved for students transitioning from primary to secondary school. However, performance in writing assessments has dropped in each year as students transition from primary to secondary school. The gaps in performance between Year 5 and Year 7 have changed little over the last five years.

Figure 3D

Percentage of students meeting the national minimum NAPLAN standards

 

Reading

Numeracy

Writing

 

Year 5

Year 7

Year 5

Year 7

Year 5

Year 7

2010

91

93

94

94

92

89

2011

91

94

93

94

91

87

2012

90

92

93

93

92

89

2013

95

92

93

94

92

87

2014

92

92

92

93

90

87

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on NAPLAN results for students at government schools, provided by DET.

Figure 3E shows how boys' writing performance declines at a far faster rate than their female peers as they progress through school. This is particularly notable following the transition to secondary school.

Figure 3E

Victorian students meeting the national minimum NAPLAN standard for writing, 2014

Figure 3E shows how boys' writing performance declines at a far faster rate than their female peers as they progress through school.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on NAPLAN results provided by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.

3.3.2 Engagement

Engagement refers to the active participation of children in their learning and development, and is a strong predictor of student retention in later years, and a child's academic outcomes. In school settings, engagement has three components:

  • behavioural—including attendance and participation in school activities
  • emotional—including a child's sense of belonging and feeling valued at school
  • cognitive—including beliefs about the importance of school for the child.

While it is not possible to directly link these outcomes to particular transition activities or approaches, it is clear that performance in these key areas drops off following the transition to secondary school. While there have been small improvements for Year 7 children, the drop in engagement after children transition to secondary school remains, suggesting that a different approach is needed to tackle these issues.

Attendance

On average, Victorian children are absent from school for around 16 days per year. Absenteeism rates remain relatively stable through primary school and into Year 7. However, as shown in Figure 3F, once children transition into secondary school absenteeism rates start to rise rapidly—with a dramatic increase in Years 8 and 9. This pattern of absenteeism has not changed over the past five years.

Figure 3F

Average days absence per full-time equivalent student in 2014

However, as shown in Figure 3F, once children transition into secondary school absenteeism rates start to rise rapidly—with a dramatic increase in Years 8 and 9.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on DET data.

Suspensions from school

As Figure 3G shows, very few children are suspended from school during their primary years. However, immediately following the transition to secondary school the number of suspensions increases dramatically. Notably, the vast majority of secondary school suspensions are boys, again reinforcing the need for more gender-specific strategies. The current pattern of suspensions has remained consistent in recent years.

Figure 3G

Student suspensions in 2014

As Figure 3G shows, very few children are suspended from school during their primary years. However, immediately following the transition to secondary school the number of suspensions increases dramatically. Notably, the vast majority of secondary school suspensions are boys, again reinforcing the need for more gender-specific strategies. The current pattern of suspensions has remained consistent in recent years.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on DET's August 2014 census of schools.

Connectedness and stimulating learning environments

DET's Attitude to School Survey asks children in Years 5 to 12 a number of questions about their experiences at school. The Attitude to School Survey includes assessments of how stimulated students feel by their learning environment and how connected they feel to the school. Both of these indicators decline significantly following the transition into Year 7, only recovering marginally as they progress through the latter years of secondary school.

Figure 3H displays results from the 2013 student ratings for these two measures on a scale of one to five, with five being most positive.

Figure 3H

Student ratings of stimulating learning and school connectedness

Figure 3H displays results from the 2013 student ratings for these two measures on a scale of one to five, with five being most positive.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on an analysis of DET data from the 2013 Attitude to School Survey.

Over the past five years, both measures have improved incrementally. However, the overall pattern of performance remains unchanged showing that more specific, targeted action is required.

Year 7 girls were significantly more positive than Year 7 boys on their:

  • connectedness to peers
  • school connectedness
  • student motivation
  • student morale.

3.3.3 Parental feedback

DET's Parent Opinion Survey collects parent views about their children's experience of school, including parents' views of how schools are handling children's' transitions. This data shows that:

  • parents of primary school children are more positive about how schools handle transitions than parents of secondary school children
  • parent ratings of how well primary and secondary schools have supported children during transitions have consistently improved over the last seven years.

While these questions indicate parents are more positive about schools' support for children who are transitioning, DET has no information that links this data to what schools are actually doing, which limits the usefulness of this data to drive system improvement.

3.4 Strengths in the current approach

There are a number of strengths in DET's current approach to supporting middle-years transitions.

3.4.1 Renewed focus on middle-years transitions

DET has long acknowledged that the middle years of schooling—covering Year 5 to Year 8—are a critical time in students' learning and development. Over the six years preceding 2003, DET had a range of initiatives in place to improve teaching practices and student learning outcomes in the middle years. These initiatives aimed to address declining student performance and engagement during the transition to secondary school. DET provided no explanation as to why these initiatives stopped. DET's Strategic Plan 2013–17 and its 2012 document Towards Victoria as a Learning Community both placed renewed emphasis on middle years. However, to date, DET has not developed a more detailed plan or framework to support middle-years students.

Unlike in earlier years, DET does not currently fund specific middle-years programs. However, its school funding model is designed to target disadvantage and is weighted to encourage schools to invest in Years 7, 8 and 9.

In 2013–14, DET administered $5 484 million to government schools, with the majority of this delivered through its school budget—the Student Resource Package. The majority of this funding, $4 165 million, was provided as core student funding. Core student funding includes a standard funding component for each student in the school, supplemented by a series of loadings designed to recognise the costs associated with different year levels, different types and sizes of schools, and the additional costs imposed by rurality and isolation. In 2014, the core funding for each student was:

  • Prep to Year 1—$6 684
  • Year 2—$6 206
  • Year 3 to Year 6—$5 688
  • Year 7 to Year 12—$7 554.

In 2008, DET increased the funding level allocated for the year levels immediately following the start of secondary school—Years 7 and 8—to match the allocation to Years 9 to 12. DET has maintained this single weighting to encourage schools to invest in early intervention.

Further information about DET's school funding arrangements are available in VAGO's Victorian school funding explained information piece, published in February 2015 as an appendix to the performance audit report Additional School Costs for Families.

3.4.2 Support for children with additional needs

There are a range of children who may require additional support when transitioning to secondary school. DET offers better support to schools to transition students with additional needs than it does mainstream students. Much of the high-quality guidance and material prepared for these purposes could easily be adapted to apply to the general school population.

Students with disabilities

In addition to administering $640 million funding under the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD) DET's Transitioning from Primary to Secondary School resource provides extensive advice to families and educators on how to support students with additional or complex needs that arise from disabilities, when moving from primary to secondary school.

Many of the principles embedded within this approach apply more broadly to the general school population. There would be considerable value in DET reviewing this document with a view to establishing it as the starting point for a broader middle-years transition framework.

There is currently only one mandated review point to determine the appropriateness of supplementary funding provided to schools under PSD. This occurs at Year 6. DET advised that it should inform students' secondary school placement options.

However, audited schools consistently expressed concern with the timing of the review of PSD funding for students, which occurs just before they transition to secondary school. Audited school staff suggested that a review after the child is at secondary school would likely provide a better understanding of the need for additional ongoing support in their new school environment. It would also mean that they continue to receive additional support during their transition into secondary school.

In 2014, one in five Year 6 students were assessed as no longer being eligible for additional support through the PSD. A similar number had their funding levels reduced following this review. This means that almost half of the Year 6 PSD-supported students received less support immediately following their transition into secondary school—see Figure 3I. It is reasonable to assume that the need for extra support will decline for some students as they progress through school. However, the current approach is at odds with the fact that DET has built a framework specifically to assist students with additional needs to transition effectively into secondary school.

Figure 3I

Outcomes for Year 6 students undergoing review of PSD funding prior to transitioning to secondary school, 2010–14

Figure 3I shows that almost half of the Year 6 PSD-supported students received less support immediately following their transition into secondary school.

Note: 2014 data excludes 50 reviews—out of 2 085 in total—that were still underway at December 2014. Data for 2012 and 2013 do not add to 100 per cent due to rounding.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office based on information provided by DET.

These concerns were raised by the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission in its 2012 report Held back: The experiences of students with disabilities in Victorian schools. It found that funding reviews before entering secondary school may prompt a step down in support, even though the secondary school environment and curriculum may be more challenging. It recommended that DET investigate any systemic patterns of reductions in funding occurring during middle-years transitions.

DET did not address this recommendation with a specific review and has not comprehensively evaluated the impact of the Year 6 funding review timing on the successful transition of these students into secondary school. DET advised that rather than conduct a one-off review, it relies upon what it believes are high levels of quality assurance applied to all PSD applications. This audit did not examine these processes in detail. Even with DET's approach, there may remain some value in a more comprehensive evaluation of the impact of this review on the transition outcomes of students.

From August 2014, Victoria has participated in the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability. This joint initiative with the Commonwealth Government was endorsed by all education ministers in Australia, and will allow an annual count of the number of students with disabilities receiving adjustments at school—including children who receive PSD funding and those who do not.

DET states that the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability will allow it to better target programs and make resourcing decisions that contribute to more effective outcomes for students with disabilities. However, it is too early to assess whether this aim will be realised.

Students learning English as an additional language

DET has developed and implemented a strategy to support students transitioning from English language schools or centres into a mainstream setting. The New Arrivals Program is designed to prepare eligible students to fully participate in mainstream schooling. The support provided for the transition is part of the program, not its purpose. It provides intensive instruction in English for a period of 6 to 12 months. Despite English language schools or centres being in existence since the late 1980's, DET has never undertaken a review that examines the outcomes for children who transition from them to mainstream schools. In 2013, 2 831 students exited from English language schools or centres to enrol in a mainstream school.

This audit visited two English language schools, both of which had:

  • transition reports—standardised reports for each child outlining their stage of English development and future learning needs
  • transition officers—dedicated staff who provide intensive support for children transitioning into mainstream schooling. This support includes preparing for the new school—beginning in the term prior to exiting—and ongoing support once students are at the new school.

These English language schools undertook these activities as a matter of good practice, rather than under any DET direction or insight into what constitutes better practice. Both were considered by mainstream schools to be helpful practices to support any child making a transition.

3.4.3 Local decision-making

Under the current devolved accountability model, government schools are largely autonomous. School principals are free to develop specific approaches to managing transitions that meet the needs of their student population.

Audited schools had adopted a range of practices to support students to transition effectively into secondary school—these are outlined in Appendix B. Most of the activities undertaken by schools were targeted towards preparing students to transition, and the actual transfer from one school to another. Consistent with international research, the majority of transition activities targeted the administrative, social and personal aspects of transitions.

Audited schools had far fewer transition activities that targeted curriculum or pedagogy, despite a number of schools stating that they were aware of the benefits of these activities.

There are risks associated with increased school autonomy, mainly relating to inconsistent practices. As described later in this report, inconsistent practices between schools can lead to inefficiencies and duplication of effort. It can also impact the quality and smoothness of the transition experience for students and their families.

DET has a role to manage these types of inconsistencies across the system and to properly support schools to transition students effectively. It needs to provide clear guidance on transitions and help schools to gather and share information about good transition practices. It does not do either well. Audited schools identified the support from DET's regional offices as critical, but recent reforms have limited DET's regional offices' capacity to directly support schools.

Figure 3J exemplifies both the positive and negative sides of school autonomy.

Figure 3J

Case study: School relationships under school autonomy

School A is a large secondary college in a metropolitan area of Victoria. Schools B and C are two primary schools that each send the majority of their exiting Year 6 students to school A. Both primary schools described very different relationships with school A when it comes to transitioning children.

Primary school B describes their relationship with secondary school A as good:

  • Our transitions coordinator has a good relationship with their equivalent at school A.
  • We work collaboratively with school A to successfully transition our Year 6 children.
  • Our teachers spend time at school A to see and understand their approach.
  • We have shaped our pedagogy to match school A in order to smooth the transition for children.
  • Teachers from school A visit our schools to give presentations to our children.
  • We have developed this relationship ourselves, not as part of the organised local network of schools.

Primary school C describes its relationship with secondary school A as poor:

  • Our attempts at collaborating with school A have not been successful.
  • We suggested and put in place a written agreement for transitioning students, but it was not followed by school A.
  • Our teachers have very little contact with staff at school A—visits rarely occur.
  • Our children have contact with school A only when they go on school tours.
  • The important information and understanding we have about our Year 6 children—such as individual learning plans for students with disabilities—is often ignored by school A.
  • Our request for access to NAPLAN data on our exited students to reflect on how well we prepared them for their transition was initially refused due to 'privacy reasons'.
  • We feel school A is focused on teaching subject content and not meeting individual children's learning needs.
  • We participate in a network of schools which share ideas on best practice, including around transitions, but school A is not part of that network.
  • As our main destination school, we would like, but have not been asked to, provide feedback for peer reviews on school A.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office.

DET currently takes no role in assisting schools to develop positive relationships with other schools when they share the transitioning of children, nor does it hold schools to account for the quality of those relationships. It is clear from this case study that some level of oversight and intervention are required to ensure that schools are not isolated or disassociated from their nearby schools.

3.4.4 Improved school-level monitoring

Under the Towards Victoria as a Learning Community schools policy, one of DET's identified roles is to provide a range of high-quality data about schools and their students to support schools to make informed decisions.

In April 2013, DET launched a new School Information Portal (SIP) to replace the School Level Report previously provided to schools. The SIP provides a central access point for school data and is intended to support school-level planning and self-evaluation.

The SIP provides schools with a much greater capacity to analyse and use school-based information as soon as it becomes available. This data allows schools to benchmark and track their performance across a range of data, such as student achievement, parent and student attitudes, enrolment, retention and participation. DET has proven responsive to feedback from schools on adapting and tailoring the reports available on SIP, and plans to add further capacities and functions over time.

The development and implementation of SIP is a significant step towards allowing principals to effectively monitor the performance of their students and their school. This system has the potential to provide principals with the type of meaningful, timely and comprehensive information about transitioning students they need to make informed decisions.

3.5 Weaknesses in the current approach

DET's current approach to middle-years transitions has a number of weaknesses, including that it has no overarching framework, makes limited use of available data to track transition outcomes, and has problems associated with transferring information between schools.

3.5.1 Problems with transferring and accessing student information

In order for children to make successful transitions, it is vital that the academic and other information needed to assist their learning is available to the staff supporting them. However, DET's guidance is unclear and schools are interpreting their privacy obligations in inconsistent and incorrect ways. As a result, the processes used by schools to collect, use and disclose academic and other information are ad hoc and inefficient. This adversely affects schools' ability to transition students efficiently and effectively.

Use and disclosure of information

Schools collect and use a large amount of personal and health information on their students. In Victoria, the Health Records Act 2001 and the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 outline obligations in relation to the collection, use and disclosure of personal and health information.

Audited schools were not clear about what information they could share and what process they should follow for sharing information between government schools. They were also uncertain about whether parental permission was required to pass on the information contained in children's school files.

Student files contain important information about children's welfare and educational needs. DET advised that new schools require this information to discharge their duty of care and meet their obligations under disability discrimination laws and that by the time of transition, schools will have the consent of parents or guardians to collect and store information. Therefore, the transfer of information between government schools should occur as an administrative matter. While DET was able to provide this advice to VAGO on request, it has not provided clear, definitive and widely available advice to schools on this matter.

Access to student data and other information

Secondary schools cannot easily and efficiently access the full range of academic data—particularly NAPLAN results—on their new students. While this information is collected and stored centrally, it is not immediately or comprehensively available to schools. Quick and easy access to this information would assist schools to tailor the teaching of new students, and fully track and understand their progress as they transition. In most cases, audited primary schools provided whatever information the secondary school asked for on each child. However, a number of schools commented on the inefficiency of this process.

In a similar manner, primary schools cannot access any information about the progress of the students that they transition to other schools—even in a de-identified format. This information would provide them with useful insight into the success or otherwise of their approaches to transitioning students. It is hard to see how primary schools could improve their approach without meaningful, objective evidence on student outcomes.

Approaches to collecting, monitoring and using student information

All schools demonstrated significant efforts to collect, monitor and use data that would inform them about their students' education, engagement and wellbeing. Strategies to do this involved:

  • using a spreadsheet based on the DET Student Mapping Tool
  • developing school-specific spreadsheets to monitor student outcomes
  • purchasing—sometimes multiple—commercially available software packages to monitor student outcomes
  • designing surveys for parents and students to get feedback on transitions.

These approaches rely heavily on staff expertise and schools having the resources to allocate staff time to conduct the work. Much of the data collected and used by schools was collected in different systems, and on occasions was re-entered manually by schools to suit their purpose.

Audited schools based their knowledge of available programs on informal professional networks or on information provided by commercial providers. Despite many schools purchasing the same commercial programs, each school visited did so within their own school budgets. As such, there wasn't an opportunity to negotiate for discounts across multiple schools.

There is scope for DET to take a larger role in developing tools that can be used by schools to more efficiently monitor school outcomes.

Information transfer practices and school networks

DET has developed standardised transition statements for students transitioning into primary school and for students with additional needs. However, it has not developed a standard tool for students moving between schools.

DET provides no guidance for schools that outlines the basic information that should be transferred from one school to another when a student transitions. The consequence of this is that primary schools that need to transition students to a range of secondary schools may be asked to prepare information in a range of formats, and with varying levels of detail.

Audited schools advised that they regularly have to copy information from their electronic systems onto paper for the secondary school, which is then manually re‑entered into the secondary schools' incompatible system.

Figure 3K shows the large number of early childhood education and care services involved in student transitions. In this environment, schools cannot develop and maintain strong relationships with such broad networks of schools. This highlights the importance of having a standardised data set.

Figure 3K

Number of services or schools sending children to schools visited during the audit

School

Number of

transitioning children entering the school

Number of

early childhood services or schools children come from

Number of

early childhood services or schools sending only one child

Primary School 1

116

16

Primary School 2

106

16

2

Primary School 3

84

21

9

Primary School 4

52

26

16

Primary School 5

50

13

7

Secondary School 1

271

48

18

Secondary School 2

203

35

12

Secondary School 3

187

43

21

Secondary School 4

165

20

10

Secondary School 5

64

16

6

Note: Data provided for either 2013 or 2014 school year.

Source: Victorian Auditor-General's Office.

DET's schools policy Towards Victoria as a Learning Community requires schools to set up networks and partnerships with early childhood education and care providers and other schools.

All the audited schools reported being in established networks. However, most schools participated in networks that were set up between like-minded schools or school principals, rather than with nearby schools which shared transitioning students. In these cases, the networks were valued for the range of professional learning opportunities and support they offered. However, valuable opportunities to develop collaborative approaches to transitioning students were lost by the dispersed geographical nature of some of these networks.

A number of schools commented that they were able to access much more support from DET's regional offices prior to the department's restructure.

Among the audited schools, there were two well-established and well-functioning networks that included all local schools. These networks had developed and implemented innovative and practical solutions to efficiently and effectively manage transitions, including principals jointly agreeing to:

  • a single day when all Year 5 and 6 teachers could meet with a secondary school representative
  • primary schools providing specified data to secondary schools using a modified version of the DET Student Mapping Tool
  • coordinate the management of mid-year school transfers to prevent 'school hopping'—where parents move their children between schools during the year to find the best fit
  • decide on which school should take children who have been expelled
  • hire specialist resources—including Autism coaches and Koorie education officers.

3.5.2 Limited monitoring of transition outcomes

DET provides schools with student and parent surveys, which are administered by the school. DET then collates the surveys on behalf of schools, and provides school-level data back to schools via the SIP. DET does not however, systematically or routinely analyse this data to inform transition‑related policy and guidance.

DET's 2013–2017 Strategic Plan identified its intent to shift the balance of its efforts from focusing on inputs to outcomes. To facilitate this, it is developing a new Outcomes Performance Framework designed to support evidence-based decision-making and monitoring. The current draft of the framework includes two transition-related measures of a successful transition into secondary school—student connectedness to school and student motivation, neither of which measure academic outcomes.

Through its Abilities Based Learning and Education Support Resources project DET has made some progress on measuring outcomes for students with disabilities. However, it is not clear if this will enable DET to examine whether the funding allocated to support these students is being used effectively, or if the extensive policy and program work aimed at supporting these students during transitions has been effective.

3.5.3 No comprehensive framework to support middle‑years transitions

Unlike its approach to early-years transitions, children with additional needs and children at English language schools, DET does not have a comprehensive middle‑years transitions framework, and provides limited guidance or direction to schools.

DET's guidance to schools focuses on providing strategies to support students or groups of students who are either known to be, or likely to be, vulnerable to poor transitions. However, it does not provide comprehensive advice on how schools should address the risks to engagement, wellbeing and academic achievement for the majority of children making this transition.

3.5.4 Lack of gender-specific guidance and support

International literature and Victorian early- and middle-years transitions data shows that there are significant, persistent gender-based differences in both engagement and academic performance. Despite this, DET does not provide schools with guidance about managing gender differences in learning and engagement, either during transitions or in other aspects of schooling. In contrast, the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities has developed a Boys and Girls Education Strategy, which provides its schools with a strategic framework of six objectives for addressing the education and wellbeing needs of students that takes gender into account.

Only one audited school actively monitored gender-based student outcomes, let alone gender-based transition outcomes. The persistence of gender differences in educational outcomes suggests that DET's current and historical approach is not working and change is required.

Recommendations

The Department of Education and Training:

  1. develops and monitors transition-related outcomes for the middle years, including for children identified as most vulnerable during school transitions
  2. develops a more comprehensive suite of guidance and resources to support schools to transition middle-years students including:
    • clear advice to schools on the use and disclosure of children's information and data
    • a standardised minimum set of data for transitioning students
    • developing transition networks with geographically similar schools and sharing best practice approaches across the school system
  3. reviews and improves its systems to allow more timely access to child-level data for schools
  4. examines the appropriateness of the timing of the Year 6 review for children who receive funding under the Program for Students with Disabilities, and its impact on transition outcomes.

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