From the Principal

As we come to the end of a very busy Week Six, we can be very proud of what is going on at the College. We began the week with the community enjoying the Autumn Concert, where half of our Year 7 classes, along with the College bands put on a great performance for an audience of around 300. Congratulations to Ms Maryanne Challis, Mr Adam Croft and all the instrumental music staff involved in the music program. The evening was filled with good talent, lots of great music and most importantly, an abundance of joy. The week continued with a Mother and Son Night for our Year 7 boys on Wednesday evening, followed on Thursday by a Father and Son Night for our Year 8 boys. These evenings provided a wonderful opportunity for our boys and their parents to share a special time together, strengthen their relationships and see each other in a different light. I would like to thank Mr Brendan Douglas, the Year 7 and 8 Year Level Coordinators, the Oratory staff at these levels and all the other staff who volunteered their services to assist in bringing the nights together. The teams in the background which includes the Maintenance, IT and the Administration teams for their wonderful support.

My reflection this week focuses on the world of data. It appears we live in a world that seems to be both inundated and fixated with data. There is no doubt we are experiencing a collection of information we have not known before. Whether its advertising companies tracking our shopping habits, governments collecting information on our travel, our income or our online movements; the data collected is endless. Now all this really shouldn’t surprise us as it was all predicted in George Orwell’s novel 1984. We have to accept that the world has fallen in love with collecting and analysing data. The question we have to pose for ourselves and for the society we live in ‘is this a good or a bad thing?’ My blog this week attempts to make the argument, using the education sector as a base, that it is neither or both.

The education sector is not immune from being obsessed with the collection of data, with schools dealing with KPI’s, NAPLAN, VCE, and My School data on a daily basis. Salesian is no different as we collect and use data to measure many things. In fact we are legislated to do so for accountability, to map the progress of both the school and that of individual students and generally to ensure we have valid information to make good decisions. The demand for data collection comes from the government and the system, as well as our own desire to track various areas across the school. Here at Salesian College, we have identified approximately 20 sets of data we collect on our students across three broad areas; Academic data, including attendance, internal grades, NAPLAN, ACER, VCE and student management data. We are still developing our plan on how to use the data we collect, however, the question needs to be asked ‘are we just like all the other agencies that collect data and obsess over it?’

As we pay more attention to areas of data, we have been able to identify key trends and patterns and are also on the cusp of being able to reasonably accurately predict student outcomes. All this informs our practice and leads us to implementing changes needed to ensure all boys reach their full academic and social potential. As Don Bosco would say, this ensures our boys go on to be good Christians and honest citizens.

We are aware that used poorly, data can lead to gross generalisations, and more importantly, the de-personalisation of individual students in our care. However, on the other hand it would be at our peril if we chose to ignore the data we have. Our commitment is to formalise the data we use and how we use it to improve the education we offer our boys. We are sure that our use of data will be informative both for the College as well as for our students and their parents. We have already been able to identify two very basic trends in our early reflection on our data, and whilst not rocket science, the data clearly shows the correlation between poor student attendance, poor behaviour and student results. We have also identified the disturbing trend that student results in the early years are a very strong predictor of VCE outcomes. Over the past five years, student results at best remain the same in Year 12 as they were in Years 10 and 11, but for most there is a slight decline. It is understanding these sets of data that enables us to inform the boys and their parents that the final educational outcomes cannot be left to Year 12. Everything they are doing in the previous five years appears to be having a significant impact.

It is important that as we come to understand our data more fully and accurately that all in the community take more seriously our use of that data. We will continue to endeavour to use it to predict, and more importantly, to guide our students through their education in the hope we can get all boys to achieve outcomes commensurate with their ability.

Rob Brennan