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More than 50 students aged 11 and 12 years old will gather at the University of Melbourne this week to compete for bragging rights, debating Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related topics.

While management responsibilities are a fact of life, the core business of school leaders must be the facilitation of teaching and learning, argues Professor Stephen Dinham from the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education.

School principals who set clear strategic objectives, encourage professional interaction among staff and promote professional development for teachers significantly raise student achievement levels according to a University of Melbourne report on principal effectiveness.

The most efficient way to run, fund and regulate primary and secondary schools in Australia is for the State and Territory Governments to have sole responsibility, a report published today by the Melbourne School of Government has found.

A two-year study has revealed the final years of primary school are critical for developing children’s confidence and independence to travel without their parents in their communities.

School expenditures have increased by 17 per cent from 2001 to 2009, while student performance has declined by 2.5 per cent - equivalent to about one third of a year of schooling – according to a report in September’s Australian Economic Review.

Professor Lyn Yates says funding for school buildings and facilities will help improve student morale and retention rates.

In today’s state budget, the Victorian Government has allocated $402 million toward the rebuilding and renovation of 113 state government schools across the state. These funds will be combined with the Federal government’s allocation of $686 million for Victorian schools’ infrastructure projects.

Professor Yates said receiving such a large amount of funding from the Federal government in such dire financial times was an encouraging sign that the Government was taking investment in education seriously and that the funding will do a lot more than simply make things look “shiny and new.”

“Teachers, students and parents really get a sense of whether or not they are valued in an institution if it is shiny and new, we should never underestimate the morale and valuing aspect of improvements of infrastructure,” she says. 

Professor Yates predicted these improvements could increase retention rates, with students actually enjoying their surroundings and deciding to stay on till year 12. Professor Yates also said she hoped this funding will begin to close the disparity between rich and poor schools by “at least making the base level something people will feel happy about.”

Professor Lyn Yates is Professor of Curriculum in the Graduate School of Education.