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Academic Views - It's My School too: Students have their say

24 March 2010

Adam Smith, chief executive officer of The Foundation for Young Australians, says a new national survey of high school students is a major missing piece of the My School jigsaw.

Speaking up ... Foundation for Young Australians CEO Adam Smith.

Speaking up ... Foundation for Young Australians CEO Adam Smith.

Those of us who work in education and with young people know that success in school means more than simplistic test scores on numeracy or literacy. It can mean creativity, confidence, community involvement, caring for others, and developing a love of learning. And yet these things, like the opinions of young people, continue to be largely left out of the debate on school performance.

On February 1 this year, Kevin Rudd promised to expand the Federal Government's My School website to include a national parent survey on bullying and teacher quality and spoke of providing a "rounded view of a school's overall culture". The Prime Minister is to be commended for his commitment to building a more holistic view of school performance.

With reforms that aim to expand and deepen our understanding of school performance, the question of how we define and measure excellence in education becomes crucial. At The Foundation for Young Australians we regard recent Government actions as positive signs, but recognise there is a long way to go before Australians are given a holistic and balanced picture of school success.

This is why we launched Tell Us: Are you more than your marks? last month, Australia's first national study of how young people view success at school. All Australian secondary students are invited to use this online survey to tell decision makers what success in school means to them. By amplifying the voice of young people, Tell Us can broaden perceptions about the meaning of school success.

At Tell Us, external page (will open in a new window) students across Australia are encouraged to complete a short survey and speak up creatively using video, text and photography. Prizes are offered as an added incentive to having their say.

The project is an initiative of The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) in partnership with the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD). Tell Us aligns with the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, a national agreement on the desired outcomes of Australian schooling: that all schools promote equity and excellence, and all young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens.

Our education system assesses the first of these through the rigorous measures of literacy and numeracy. While important, these alone cannot capture or encourage the range of factors that are needed to prepare children for the real life application of knowledge.

Already, student responses to Tell Us indicate that while traditional academic assessments contribute to their feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction at school, a broader assessment agenda is their preferred way to go.

Tell Us runs until the end of April and will deliver a set of findings from thousands of young people later in the year. I encourage all teachers to suggest their students get involved.