LEADING FOR SOCIAL COHESION IN VICTORIAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS:FINAL REPORT
Authors: Jane Wilkinson, Lucas Walsh, Amanda Keddie and Fiona Longmuir
This report examines key findings from a survey of 91 Victorian public school principals/assistant principals on leading for social cohesion. Conducted from February-April 2020, the survey aimed to identify:
1. The major social issues that were impacting students in Victorian public schools;
2. Key resources and supports that were helping school leaders to build more socially cohesive school communities;
3. Gaps in supporting/resourcing school leaders to carry out this important role.
The survey findings need to be treated with caution. They are not a large sample and therefore generalisations need to be tentative. They also represent the view of one key stakeholder group, principals and assistant principals, and students, teachers and parents may well give differing perspectives.
In brief, the survey findings suggest that in relation to Question One: major social issues impacting Victorian public schools, issues included: higher rates of cyber bullying; racism; mental health; poverty and exposure to family violence. In relation to Question Two, key resources and supports in building more socially cohesive schools, these included: a range of programs including, but not limited to, Respectful Relationships; anti-discrimination policies; and building strong connections and partnerships with parents. In relation to Question Three, gaps in supports and resourcing, school leaders identified: a lack of training for staff in dealing with discrimination and harassment among students; inequities in funding allocations and resources; a policy stress on academic outcomes rather than a more holistic view of educating; growing gaps between rich and poor in society with families falling through the cracks; competition between schools for enrollments; dysfunctional home settings; and diminished standing of schools in the community due to negative media representations (c.f., Wilkinson & MacDonald, 2020).
On a positive note, in regard to overall perceptions and attitudes toward social cohesion, school leaders reported: improvements in students being willing to help one another out; students feeling safe and experiencing a sense of belonging at school; and students being more accepting of those perceived to be different from them.
A number of recommendations flow from the above findings. Some are more easier to put in place, whilst others require a more whole of government approach to rethinking the role of schools in our society. Recommendations have been divided into three areas, which include: supporting schools, government/systems, research.
Adopted from Monash University