As the new school year begins in earnest, many of us turn our minds to challenges that lay ahead.
School shoes are my favourite, hoping they last more than a term of relentless pounding and, what appears to be, exponential growth.
At the other end of the cycle, some students will already be thinking about their Grade 10 leavers’ dinner.
Young people focussing on this celebration early in the school year is not raised as a criticism, rather in the consideration of worthwhile pursuits that encourage students to step up and be their best.
But leavers’ dinners have lost perspective, and it should be discussed.
However, I admit, if our children were graduating this year, we too would be planning for what is a rite of passage and not punishing them for peer and community expectations.
Once upon a time in Tasmania, many students finished Grade 10 early to find or start work. There were jobs to be organised, apprenticeships to be had, and money to be made, while others were off to college or TAFE, transitioning to a more relaxed and grown-up learning environment.
Conversely, in recent times, there has been a strong and important message championed by the state government with the support of respected economist Saul Eslake concerning retention to Year 12, with extension schools supporting the established college system.
My view remains that retention begins much earlier (Tasmanian Grade 12 retention via ACARA, 2010: 70.5 per cent and 2017: 71.5 per cent, compared to the national average of 82.5 per cent), with the engagement and motivation required to enhance achievement, develop a love of learning, and stickability to persist when tasks become challenging, of paramount importance (Munns, Lawson, O’Brien & Johnson – 2006 and Irvin, Meltzer & Dukes - 2007).
Further, childcare providers, Child and Family Centres and schools support and guide progress, with intervention to assist the literacy skills of our youngest students and their parents critical for success.
In 2020 the amended Education Act will start, and all students will be required to stay in school or training until aged 18 or transition to full-time employment.
But, the thirst for Grade 10 leavers’ dinners will not diminish as a result.
If there was ever a mixed message about the education journey in Tasmania, there you have it.
Grade 10 students are 16 years of age, yet there are examples of underage revellers arriving at school for their final assembly a little worse for wear,
As a result, people still describe adolescents’ behaviour as boys will be boys to deflect attention. Effectively dismissing and justifying risk-taking to excess, and all the consequences that may occur, is no way to assist people beginning to navigate their way through young adulthood.
Schools work extremely hard to deliver fairness and equity of learning and opportunity. What were once known as class divisions are lessened through targeting resources, a commitment to uniform policy, and inclusive practice and language.
That worthwhile idealism could be thrown out the window when considering leavers’ dinners, with dressmakers booked, and, tragically, some parents and guardians having to cut the food budget to cater for suit and car hire.
Young people focussing on this celebration early in the school year is not raised as a criticism ... But leavers’ dinners have lost perspective, and it should be discussed.
It is time to stop and check that the inclusivity we are searching for does not unintentionally reinforce the existence of the haves and have-nots in Tasmania.
From 2020, perhaps formal leavers’ dinners should only be held at the end of Grade 12, aligned with the changes to the Education Act, to send a determined message?
A scaled-down event to celebrate and acknowledge four years of learning and friendship the substitute.
The leadership required to potentially moderate this celebratory milestone must come from much higher in the decision-making chain, not just parents.
The topic of leavers’ dinners is an important community conversation that should be had, because the school shoes of today will, in the blink of an eye, be the leavers’ footwear of tomorrow.
- Brian Wightman is a former Tasmanian Attorney-General and school principal