Public secondary education

Project name: Strengthening the Future provisions of Public Secondary Education in the inner Sydney area

Client: NSW Department of Education and Communities

Award: This project was Highly Commended in the 2015 IAP2 Core Values Awards (Planning).

Background: The inner city area of Sydney has experienced significant growth in population and this trend is set to continue, with a marked increase in the number of families with school-aged children now living close to or within the CBD.  The Department undertook planning for a new primary school in the Ultimo/Pyrmont area in 2013 and in early 2014 the Inner City Schools Working Party (ICSWP) was tasked with determining recommendations to the Government for addressing future high school education needs.

Engagement brief: Straight Talk, and the ICSWP developed a stakeholder and community consultation program to seek community input on options for strengthening the future provision of public secondary education in the inner Sydney area.

Community engagement needed to:

  • Provide a range of ways for diverse stakeholder groups (students, teachers, Principals, parents, future students and parents, P&Cs, local Councils, local politicians, community and interest groups and hard to reach groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and people of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds) to participate
  • Avoid polarising discussion and debate around the relative merits or failings of particular schools and focus on educational needs and strategies for addressing future growth
  • Ensure feedback represented the full diversity of views so the Department and Government could have confidence in the outcomes.

Description of engagement:: Straight Talk developed a stakeholder and community consultation program to seek community input on options for addressing high school education needs in the short and longer term.

The engagement process recognised that public secondary education is something that potentially affects all of us at some point in time. The comprehensive engagement process ensured that there were multiple opportunities for stakeholders and the community to be involved, and that these methods took into account how individuals wanted to get involved so no one was left out (i.e. whether that be with a group of strangers at a workshop/focus group, group of friends through the Kitchen Table Discussion Guide or individually via the online discussion forum).

Engagement also took into account different levels of literacy and styles of learning. Each activity was tailored to the target group; this resulted in 18 individually tailored processes running at the same time. For instance, some of the differences in focus group structures included:

  • Primary school children were asked to draw what their ideal secondary school might look like.
  • ‘Future parents’ were asked to explain the key factors taken into consideration when selecting a public secondary school.
  • Culturally and linguistically diverse parents were asked if there were any specialist offerings they look for in a public secondary school.

Another critical success factor in ensuring those who were affected were involved was that the invitation to be involved came from both the Department, through its website, social media, advertisements and media releases, and the schools themselves. Emails and newsletters were deliberately ‘trickled down’ from Principals to P&Cs and from P&Cs to their community.

Engagement activities included online, focus groups, workshops, self-directed Kitchen Table Discussion Guides, briefings and regular newsletters and email updates.

Over 4,500 people were involved in the process with over 600 people from a large and diverse range of inner Sydney school communities actively participating in workshops, focus groups, Kitchen Table Discussions and/or the online forum as part of the consultation.

The final decision, a new high school, was announced on 16 February 2015 and the site, the existing Intensive English High School at the old Cleveland Street Boys High School site, was one that had been identified through engagement. In addition, ideas for how the Intensive English High School could be relocated to existing CBD commercial premises, for example, were also identified during the engagement process.

The high degree of transparency about the process and its outcomes contributed to improved relationships between the Department and key stakeholders including inner city parents, and has allowed a greater depth of press coverage to illustrate the complexities of forward planning for public education facilities in rapidly changing urban environments.

Testimonials: The feedback below demonstrates the high level of stakeholder and community satisfaction with the engagement process:

Feedback from principals and teachers:

“Thank you very much for the opportunity. Wonderful!”

“I thought it was a good and fair process”

“Lots of opportunity for people to have their say”

Feedback from targeted focus groups:

“I thought the focus groups functioned well with a diverse group of people”

“It was very well done and all of the group seemed free to talk. I was happy with it!”

“Very important, very valuable, very informative”

“Good, positive, inclusive discussion”

Planning Highly Commended

james iap2

Senior Consultant James Page receiving the Highly Commended (Planning) Award at the 2015 IAP2 Core Values Awards.