In the large majority of rural and remote communities across Victoria, education settings are deeply embedded within their local communities and are interwoven into their fabric. While they provide real advantages for both rural and remote communities and their learners, they are often challenged in the provision of learning that children and young people need and desire in achieving their career pathways and dreams especially as a result of:
- Decreasing populations, especially of school age children and young people;
- Changing demographics due to cheaper housing being available;
- Difficulty of recruiting and retaining quality educators and education leaders.
These have a direct impact on the learning opportunities and choices that children and young people are provided with especially in curriculum areas such as post compulsory, early years, specialist areas (eg Science, LOTE, technology) and access to enhancement learning opportunities such as Scienceworks, Museum, etc.
Over many years, these communities have utilised the concept of clusters and partnerships to facilitate the broad range of education programs and initiatives to accommodate these challenges, as well as supporting education leaders and staff in providing collegiate and professional learning.
These arrangements have been decreasing over the past 15 to 20 years as a result of greater autonomy and self-managing policies resulting in education organisations operating much more as individual identities.
However, a growing interest amongst rural and remote communities in recent times has seen several of them re-exploring the concept of clustering as a key strategy to support the provision of high quality teaching and learning within these communities, thus providing a foundation upon which enhanced learning opportunities can be provided, and improved education outcomes possible.
Over the years, the Country Education Partnership has learnt a great deal from these initiatives and the significant impact they have on the learning opportunities for children and young people within these rural and remote communities. The sharing of human and financial resources; the development of innovative programs; the use of communication technology; and the involvement in cluster wide professional learning and development are some examples as to the value of clustering.
In addition, Country Education Partnership has developed strong partnerships with key education leaders who are undertaking similar work within other states of Australia and other countries. As a result, it has developed strong relationships with people such as Maggie Farrar, Steve Munby, Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves who have provided valuable support, advice and on many occasions facilitation of workshops and forums.
Country Education Partnership has supported a number of these clusters with a strong focus on four rural communities in establishing approaches and strategies that ensure that their children and young people have access to quality learning. These four communities include Far East Gippsland, Korrumburra, Nathalia and St Arnaud and each have explored potential areas for collaboration across:
- Shared education leadership approaches;
- Collegiate professional learning and growth initiatives;
- Combined approach to the provision of learning programs;
- Shared resources – human, physical and financial;
- Strong school and community partnerships.
As a result of this work, CEP has received inquiries from a number of other rural communities interested in developing clusters/partnerships within their communities. However, due to limited resources available, CEP’s support has been limited due to the current CEP Service Agreement:
- Upper Murray
- Ovens Valley
- King Valley,
- Sale rural school communities,
- Shepparton rural schools communities,
- Mallee Track,
- Yea and Mansfield,
- Swan Hill
- Mid West area.
CEP believes that the support of clusters and partnerships based on rural and remote communities working collaboratively together is the strategy that will support children and young people within these communities gaining the learning they need and desire. It believes in the approach of:
“a place based, locally determined whole of community partnership (Clusters, Learning Alliances, etc.) that builds on, and strengthens, current and past cluster and co-operative arrangements.”
In conversations with the State Government and Department of Education and Training representatives Country Education Partnership has proposed the further development of the cluster and partnership approach through the expansion of the Service Agreement between it and the Department of Education and Training, and suggested the development of a cluster/partnership incentive as part of the Bracks Review recommendation relating to the development of a “Collaboration Fund”.