Sentral’s speedy response to new requirements for 2020 Non-Government Schools Census

 This makes life so much easier than I thought it was going to be. Thank you!”

Chelsea Offereins, Student Services Administration Assistant, Toongabbie Christian College

2020 will no doubt be remembered as a year where the only constant seemed to be ‘change’. And as schools were just coming to terms with new routines as a result of the pandemic, the Australian Government Department of Education released new requirements for the collection of census data. Click here to read our full blog.

Doing good. It never goes out of fashion.

As Oscar Wilde once said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention”. So true.
If there was ever a time when people needed some kindness spreading, then that time is now.

The fact is, doing something nice, generous, helpful, considerate or selfless makes a difference. People remember it for a long time. The size of the out-take, far outweighs the effort of the input. Read our full blog here.

Feedback tips for online learning

Feedback has always been important to making an individual or a team ‘better’. The annual appraisal at work, the half- time pep-talk to the sports team, and of course, in school via the ongoing marking & reports process. Without doubt, face- to-face is the preferred, more personal way of doing it, but with the COVID pandemic and the natural move towards more online learning, times are changing. Click here to read our full blog.

Now is the perfect time to nurture those all-important softer skills!

If we’re to take some positives from the last 12 months, it’s the fact that, for various reasons, we’ve all had to stop and think about our lives, and how fragile ‘normal’ can be.

It’s been a wake-up call and a time of reflection and a period for re-evaluating what’s important to us. We keep being told that the future will be a ‘new normal’, and we should be prepared for it. Click here to read our full blog.

Sentral keeps moving forward in uncertain times

Uncertainty is one of the key themes for 2020. Whilst we can never really be sure of what’s around the corner, COVID-19 throws challenges and curve balls at us every day. Just when we think we’re beginning to understand it, the disease presents us with something new. Reports of the economic impacts of the pandemic are also mixed. Some businesses are thriving whereas others are struggling or failing. Click here to read the full blog.

The new Sentral for Parents App: rebuilt for 2020

Sentral is excited to announce the launch of the new Sentral for Parents app. Completely rebuilt from the ground up, the Sentral for Parents app hosts a fresh new look with improved functionality.

The new app offers a significantly better experience for users and was rebuilt based on extensive school and user feedback. The app now supports a seamless experience with the Sentral Parent Portal, offering access to all features from the convenience of a mobile device. Read the full blog here to find out what Anne-Maree Kliman, President of the Victorian Principal’s Association, has to say about the new app.

Sentral streamlines Primary School Reports amidst COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 situation in 2020 provided unprecedented challenges for schools as they faced a variety of closures, transitions to online learning and phased restarts. In response, the Department of Education in NSW issued new guidelines for 2020 Semester 1 Primary School reports. In close collaboration with the NSW Primary Principals’ Association, Sentral quickly assessed the options available to NSW Primary Schools and made a recommendation for best practice. ‘… There’s no doubt that Sentral’s efforts saved many schools countless hours in providing quality reports for Semester 1, 2020. Thank you, Sentral.’ – Phil Seymour, President of NSWPPA. Read full story here.

Sentral supports key factors for primary to secondary transition success

Transitioning from primary to secondary school can be a stressful time for young students and their parents. It’s something that often gets talked about in the media around this time of year, like this example in the SMH which describes strategies being used at Sir Joseph Banks High School in Sydney. Generally, concerns about the transition include stress, coping strategies, the anxiety of suddenly becoming the small fish in the big pond, and the impact on academic achievement. Some students sail through this without any trouble, but many don’t. Sentral can play a significant role in managing some of these concerns, and to find out how, it’s useful to take a look at some recent Australian research on student transition from primary school to high school.

In a paper by Hopwood, Hay, and Dyment (2016) the authors report on a research study that claims to build upon current knowledge about student transition “by focussing specifically on the perspectives of teachers, as teachers play an important role in guiding and supporting students through the transition years”. This is interesting because it might seem normal to think that the teachers have got it all together, and that it’s the students who are experiencing all the stress. Not so according to the research by Hopwood.

The small-scale study in the state of Tasmania had the specific “goal of accessing authentic teacher voice pertaining to their experiences of facilitating the transition process”. It took what researchers call a qualitative interpretivist perspective. It means that the researchers were more interested in depth than large numbers. They really wanted to know the actual experiences of the teachers. Three key themes emerged for transition success,

  • Curriculum continuity and awareness
  • Communication between primary and secondary schools
  • Adequate teacher support

(Hopwood et al., 2016)

Whilst the above three themes seem reasonably straightforward, they are actually quite complex to implement given the large variety of factors at play. When a student transitions, they may be moving to a different school system or different area which means that continuity, communication and support can be that much more difficult amongst teachers. This is where a common student management platform like Sentral can make a significant positive impact. Let’s take a brief look at some examples.

Sentral improves continuity

In a recent interview with David Summerville, ICT administrator at Callaghan College, Wallsend Campus in Newcastle, David commented that one of the benefits of using Sentral was that so many teachers were familiar with the platform. This dramatically shortened the onboarding process for new teachers. But what about the transition issue? Again, one of the insights David shared was improved continuity of data once all the feeder schools for Callaghan (also Sentral schools) moved to a cloud-based version of Sentral. This would mean that the entire student history could easily migrate to the high school situation, bringing with it all the academic records, student plans and wellbeing information. For high school teachers awaiting their new year 7 students, this level of information could give teachers valuable advance notice of their students’ capabilities and needs. And it’s not only the data that are of value, but the data will be in a familiar format which reduces time spent sifting through hard copies or digital data from another system.

Sentral improves communication

It’s universally accepted that good communication leads to good outcomes. Yet there are still shortfalls in the way we communicate. Consider this finding from the research.

Despite the acknowledgement that communication was an important part of teacher practice, the majority of teachers interviewed reported that communication was not occurring sufficiently between schools, making it difficult to address the needs of their students adequately.

(Hopwood et al., 2016)

But what does the above comment really call for? Does it mean more phone calls, sms, emails or data exchange? Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, findings from the study revealed that “just over half the teachers reported the need for increased school visits” (Hopwood et al., 2016). Whilst this may be desirable, it may not always be practical. So, what do you do? That depends on your personal preferred method of communication, and the tools you have at your disposal. With a fully integrated system like Sentral there are several benefits. The Sentral Communication module may not be able to magically teleport a teacher to another school, but it can provide teachers at both ends the ability to check message history within the school and between parents and caregivers. It provides a way to appropriately share relevant documents, track issues and interview history. Whilst not being able to substitute a physical meeting or visit to another school, Sentral can provide the all-important backstory for teachers to more adequately know the individual needs of transitioning students.

Sentral improves support

Consider this finding from the study.

Teacher support referred to the types of resources available to assist teachers, including access to age appropriate resources, teacher’s aides to work with students in the classroom, increased planning time, support from colleagues and opportunities to attend professional development days.

The common theme in the above comment is that each of the resources listed require time. For teachers to do their work efficiently and effectively, quality time can be created by removing the burden of day to day administrative tasks. As a fully integrated system, Sentral allows teachers to manage tasks such as daily admin, assessment, academic reporting, wellbeing and more using a seamless digital solution that works quietly in the background. With more time and less hassle, teachers can reallocate precious time to things like creating resources, planning and professional development.

Continuity, communication and support are all complex topics and they’ll represent different things in different contexts. That’s one of the reasons why small-scale research studies like the one discussed add so much value; it meant something for those participants. It’s a good reminder for all involved in education to consider ways to bridge the gap between research and practice to achieve better learning outcomes. Staying abreast of this kind of knowledge and insight is also one of the key drivers of Sentral’s mission; to help teachers and students be the best they can be.

https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/the-school-that-s-making-high-school-more-like-primary-20191127-p53emn.html

Hopwood, B., Hay, I., & Dyment, J. (2016). The transition from primary to secondary school: Teachers’ perspectives. Australian Educational Researcher, 43(3), 289-307. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13384-016-0200-0

 

Sentral ready to help drive effective school leadership

As the 2020 school year rapidly approaches, many school leaders will already be attending to the significant task ahead of planning for and providing effective leadership. Whilst some readers may think that leadership is simply a part of the job for principals, it’s worth remembering that education in today’s world is filled with ever-growing challenges and responsibilities. This means that principals and others in leadership roles need to be constantly aware of the changing educational landscape and be ready to respond appropriately. Coupled with insight from quality PD courses and research, Sentral can provide a solid foundation for your school’s leadership strategy. Let’s see how that might work. 

One way for principals to develop new insights on emerging leadership issues is to attend a leadership program, such as that offered by The Principals’ Centre at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It’s a “centre dedicated to the support and development of principals and other school leaders”, and “has attracted thousands of educators from across the globe to its professional education programs, inspiring today’s school leaders to be outstanding in their roles”  (Harvard Graduate School of Education). If you’re in Sydney or can easily get to Sydney, then you’re in luck. From 13 -16 January 2020, the centre is offering a course hosted at the University of Sydney Business School titled “Leadership for School Excellence”.  Those fortunate enough to attend will be presented with hard hitting objectives, including language such as “high expectations for instructional quality”, becoming a “more effective school leader”, “being informed by relevant school data” and “increasing engagement” to name a few. This course sounds like hard work. 

Courses like these come at the right time, for as recent research shows, school leaders and principals are indeed under pressure in several areas. Take for example findings from the TALIS 2018 survey, conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)What’s that? 

“The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) collects internationally comparable data on the learning environment and the working conditions of teachers and principals in schools across the world. It offers teachers and principals the opportunity to provide their perspectives on the state of education in their own countries, allowing for a global view of teachers, the education systems in which they work, and the successes and challenges faced by teachers and school leaders”. (Australian Council for Education Research) 

The report is comprehensive, and a full analysis is beyond the scope of this article. However, let’s take a look at a few salient points. The report states that, 

Almost two-thirds of Australian principals cited high workload and level of responsibility in their job as issues that substantially limited their effectiveness. Principals of schools with a higher proportion of socioeconomically disadvantaged students were more likely to report a lack of principal support such as higher levels of teacher absenteeism, lack of support from parents or guardians, and lack of shared leadership within the school. (Australian Council for Education Research) 

There’s a lot packed into that statement.  This of course is a highlevel view and may not accurately reflect your local school context. However, reversing those issues might seem insurmountable and that’s why courses such as those offered by Harvard are so pertinent in today’s education climate.  

 Sentral helps drive effectiveness 

So how does a school management platform help to address issues like those mentioned above? Surely leadership is done by the people and not the software. Yes, that’s absolutely correct. For example, in a recent podcast interview with Kylie FabriDeputy Principal at Callaghan College Wallsend Campus in Newcastle (a Sentral school), Kylie made very clear that it was the people who ultimately made the difference, but that achieving the outcomes was made that much simpler and effective with the right tools at hand. And that’s why Sentral plays such a vital role at Callaghan. 

Consider these findings from TALIS 2018. 

 A little more than one-third (34%) of Australian principals’ working time was spent on administrative tasks and meetings, while one-quarter (25%) of their time was spent on leadership tasks and meetings. Prior OECD research identified curriculum and teaching-related tasks and meetings as a key component of instructional leadership and supporting teaching(Australian Council for Education Research) 

 According to those surveyed, more than half a principal’s time is is spent on administration and meetings with some leadership included. That’s a fairly substantial proportion. Now imagine if that time could be reduced, or at least made more efficient. The time freed up could then conceivably be used for ‘curriculum and teaching’ related tasks which have been shown to be a key component of instructional leadership.  

 Sentral Administration reduces burden 

 The Sentral Administration module ensures that your school’s student data are complete and secure. Student profiles are intuitively presented to the user resulting in fast access to required information. The ability to find, access and appropriately share information significantly reduces the time taken to manage a number of tasks such as communication, wellbeing and activities. With a centralised system of information, school leaders have access to all necessary information within the one environment.  

Sentral Finance streamlines payments 

 Closely related to student records administration is the handling of payments for items such as fees,  events and activities. Sentral Finance introduces a level of integration and control that enables superior oversight and functionality. Complex family situations and households are handled seamlessly with advanced rules and billing notifications. Together, a properly functioning administration and finance system has the power to make a significant positive impact to the functioning of every school. 

Sentral Wellbeing improves community 

 Consider these findings from TALIS 2018. 

 Incidents related to school safety are a particular concern to Australian principals compared to the OECD average. Intimidation and bullying of students is a particular issue, with 37 per cent of principals reporting that this occurs at least weekly in their school. Also of concern is the relatively high incidence of intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers or staff. Twelve per cent of Australian principals reported that this happens at least weekly, compared to three per cent on average across the OECD. The incidence of cyber-bullying, measured for the first time, was also relatively high compared to the average across the OECD. (Australian Council for Education Research) 

The Sentral Wellbeing module provides a comprehensive system for recording events related to students’ wellbeing and enables a range of staff to collaborate as appropriate. Whether contacting parents, or checking the validity of student accounts of events, Sentral provides the resources to accurately track and record all necessary information. This creates an environment where staff and school leaders can feel confident that they are working with the most up-to-date information on all wellbeing concerns. 

Whilst surveys like TALIS sometimes provide findings that we’d rather not read about, they also contain many positive results. In addition, they remind us that education is continuously evolving and that educators need to evolve with it if Australia is to provide opportunities for excellence in teaching and learning. Sentral recognises that in a climate of increased accountability and regulatory compliance, time spent on teaching and learning is a critical priority. It’s what drives Sentral to continue to innovate and evolve with the industry it serves. Through its commitment to the educational needs of Australia’s children, Sentral will continue in its core mission; to help teachers and students be the best they can be. 

 

 Australian Council for Education Research. (2019). TALIS 2018, The Teaching and Learning International Survey. Retrieved from https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1006&context=talis 

Harvard Graduate School of Education. (2020). The Principals’ Center in Australia: Leadership for School Excellence. Retrieved from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/ppe/program/principals-centre-australia-leadership-school-excellence