Report on Phases 1 and 2 of the Building Bridges: Enterprise

Final Report on Phases 1 and 2 of
the Building Bridges: Enterprise Learning
in the Middle Years
Action Research Project1
for the
Vocational Education in Schools Directorate
NSW Department of Education and Training
Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) Initiative2
July 2006
This report is provided as part of the NSW DET Building Bridges: Enterprise Learning in the Middle Years Project
2005 – 2007. Funding for this project has been provided by the Australian Government Department of Education,
Science and Training (DEST) as part of their Enterprise Learning in the 21st Century Initiative.
The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the Australian Government
Department of Education Science and Training.
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Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION................................................................................................................................. 3
THE ACTION RESEARCH MODEL ........................................................................................................ 3
KEY FINDINGS ON THE FIRST PHASE ................................................................................................. 4
Structure and organisation ................................................................................................................... 4
Middle schooling ................................................................................................................................ 5
Curriculum ....................................................................................................................................... 5
Enterprising learning .......................................................................................................................... 5
Community and parent partnerships ...................................................................................................... 5
Support ........................................................................................................................................... 6
KEY FINDINGS ON THE SECOND PHASE ............................................................................................. 6
Structure and organisation ................................................................................................................... 6
Middle schooling ................................................................................................................................ 8
Curriculum ......................................................................................................................................11
Enterprising learning .........................................................................................................................12
Community and parent partnerships .....................................................................................................17
Support ..........................................................................................................................................19
THE PRINCIPAL HELPING FACTORS ...................................................................................................20
THE PRINCIPAL HINDERING FACTORS...............................................................................................21
SUSTAINABILITY AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS ......................................................................................22
CONCLUSION ...................................................................................................................................22
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Building Bridges Action Research Project
Final Report on Phases 1 and 2
The Building Bridges Project is an initiative of the Vocational Education in Schools Directorate
of the New South Wales Department of Education and Training. The project commenced in
late 2005, with an associated primary school and high school from each of the State’s 10
regions participating in an introductory workshop.
The Building Bridges Project has three focus areas:
the science and technology curriculum area
middle schooling
enterprising learning.
The participating primary and high schools developed proposals that incorporated the three
project focus areas, and these proposals constituted the basis for the work that they then
undertook in the Building Bridges Project.
The action research model
An action research model was established in order to track the implementation of the project
in the ‘partnered’ schools over time and to gain understandings of its impact in the three
focus areas. Each project school was provided with a comprehensive kit of resources to
assist them in the action research. The kit included:
the teacher journal
the enterprise education measurement framework
student, teacher and parent surveys
an overview of enterprise education
a data entry spreadsheet.
All schools were provided with a timeline regarding points at which data should be collected
and provided for analysis.
The focus of the action research was around nine case study schools in five regions.
The consultants visited each case study school twice during the course of the project. The
purpose of the first visit (Phase 1) was to gather and analyse ‘baseline data’ in order to
establish understandings about the ‘starting point’ for each school in the context of the
project objectives. Qualitative data were gathered through interviews with teachers, executive
staff and randomly selected students in small groups. In some schools small group
discussions were also held with parents and community members. Schools were provided
with the enterprising learning survey and asked to arrange for it to be completed by students,
staff and parents and returned for data entry. In some schools, the regional consultant was
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present during the visit. Following the visit, each school received a ‘baseline’ report,
including issues for consideration in the future development of the project at the school
The second consultancy visit (Phase 2) was held some three months later, towards the
concluding phase of the project. The consultants’ generally met with same groups from the
first visit, with a focus on gathering data about the progress of each school’s project and
understandings about change and impact in each of the three focus areas. Schools were
asked to again administer the enterprising learning survey. In a number of instances it was
possible to do the data entry for this during the visit. This then facilitated discussion with the
contact teacher/s about the impact of the project on students’ enterprising behaviours and
characteristics. Following the visit, each case study school received a final report for the
project. These reports included charts from the enterprising learning survey.
The following table shows the five regions and nine case study schools and the dates of the
consultants’ visits.
Case Study Schools
North Sydney Region
Riverina Region
South Coast Region
Western Region
Turramurra North Public School
Phase 1
Phase 2
21 Feb
23 May
Ku-ring-gai Creative Arts High 21 Feb
23 May
North Wagga Public School
20 Feb
22 May
Wagga Wagga High School
20 Feb
22 May
Ulladulla High School
17 Feb
25 May
Ulladulla Public School
17 Feb
25 May
22 Feb
24 May
Robert Townson Public School
22 Feb
24 May
Portland Central School
15 Feb
24 May
Sydney Robert Townson High School
Key findings from the first visit (Phase 1)
The following is a summary of the key findings from the first visit3:
Structure and organisation
in some schools considerable planning had been undertaken, with well established
project management structures
A fuller account of these findings is provided in the First Progress Report
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typically, school projects involved Year 6 students and Year 7/8 students working in
combined small teams to undertake research and associated activities, leading to a
culminating event or resource
project goals were not always understood with great clarity, and had often not been
communicated to all stakeholders
school leaders were typically very supportive of the project, especially in its context
as a middle schooling initiative
Middle schooling
there was a view amongst school leaders that the project could provide a model for
further work in middle schooling
it was possible to identify a range of interpretations of middle schooling, ranging
from ‘having fewer teachers for Year 7 classes’ to developing shared approaches and
pedagogies across Years 5 to 8
both primary and high school students were generally very positive about the middle
schooling context of the project
there was a high level of confidence about the curriculum aspect of the project
most teachers had mapped the curriculum in order to align curriculum outcomes
with work to be undertaken in the project
there was little knowledge, prior to the project, of the extent of alignment between
primary and high school curriculum outcomes.
Enterprising learning
understandings in relation to the enterprising learning ‘bridge’ were, in most
instances, tentative
the fuller understandings about enterprising learning contained in the contemporary
research base were largely unknown
most schools acknowledged that the project should have outcomes around students
showing greater initiative and personal self-responsibility
students generally commented that they were not significant risk-takers as learners
the enterprise learning survey data showed generally that students viewed themselves
as largely conforming in their behaviours and did not demonstrate a wide range of
enterprising characteristics above the quantum line.
Community and parent partnerships
while planned for, most schools had not established significant community linkages
at the time of the first visit
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in general, ‘community’ was perceived as a resource by the case study schools, rather
than as a partner in the project
both primary and high school parents were generally positive about the projects in
which their children would be involved
a number of parents were very enthusiastic about the ‘life skills’ aspect of
enterprising learning.
in general, schools felt well supported in terms of resources provided by the
the most important resource identified by school was ‘time’ and they believed that
the project provided sufficient scope for flexibility about the allocation of resources
to cover time
there was some uncertainty about whether the budget could be used to purchase
technology equipment
there was some uncertainty about the envisaged role of regional coordinators and of
the level of engagement that they should have in projects
case study schools were welcoming of the ‘action research’ that would accompany
their projects, seeing it as an opportunity for structured reflection and guaranteeing
clear directions for the project.
Key findings from the second visit (Phase 2)
Structure and organisation
The case study schools varied significantly in their management approach to the project.
These approaches can be categorised as follows:
The first category included those management structures limited to the individual
high and primary school contact teachers liaising independently with each other, with
little or no involvement from other staff. These arrangements conveyed a strong
impression of the teachers being quite ‘isolated’ or ‘independent’, irrespective of any
perceptions they may have held that executive staff members were supportive of
their efforts.
Management decision making tended to be somewhat ad hoc over the course of the
project, rather than based on well considered and developed project plans.
Interestingly, the teachers involved tended to be very positive in the comments they
made about the support and encouragement extended by the teacher in the ‘partner’
school. However, there was invariably a sense that ‘challenges’ were not easily
addressed and that scope in pushing the boundaries was limited.
The extent of wider ‘influence’ of the project teachers operating in this management
structure seemed to be limited. Indeed, in one instance there was a belief about wider
antipathy towards the project. There was typically little sense of wider school,
business or community interest in the project as a model for further work, or there
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was ambivalence about the lessons learnt from it. As a consequence, single class
teacher based individual management is the structural arrangement that is probably
least likely to lead to longer sustainability from the Building Bridges initiative.
The second management category involved a cooperative structure in which some
two primary teachers would work together with a single high school teacher, or vice
versa. As for the first category, the management decision making in the model tended
to be ad hoc, with only limited evidence for longer term planning. However, it is clear
that where more than one teacher in a school was involved in the project, the sense
of isolation referred to above was not as evident. As a consequence, even though the
‘partner’ school may have involved just the one teacher, the sense of shared
partnership even between the two schools tended to be somewhat heightened in this
In other words, the greater the density of the management structure in the
arrangements between the two schools, the greater was the likelihood of genuinely
shared decision making.
The third management category involved a structure where the arrangements were
formalised, irrespective of the number of teachers involved. Two examples serve to
illustrate the approach.
In one case study school, three high school teachers from the one faculty, and one
primary school teacher worked in a well developed decision making structure. Their
processes were characterised by excellent planning, identification and accessing of
resources, strong community linkages, and strong reflection on the impact of the
project against its goals. This structure appears to have been especially effective in
gaining support or interest from others – executive staff, parents and community
In the other example, teachers from different curriculum areas worked through an
existing middle schooling structure and incorporated their decision making into a
wider structure with which they were familiar and to which they were strongly
committed. It was clear over the course of the project that the teachers enjoyed a
high level of trust from the school leadership and that they were able to exercise
considerable scope in their decision making. Challenges around such issues as raising
the profile of enterprising learning, organising technology resources or developing
business and community linkages appeared to readily met. Conversations with
executive leaders were about how the school could build on conceptual
understandings from the project to move forward. The influence of the teachers
involved appears to have been substantial.
No schools moved to have students, parent, business or community members included in
the management structures for their project.. However, in some instances high school
students especially were sought for advice on some issues such as usage of particular
technologies or protocols for contacting community members whom they knew. The
potential for a ‘deeper’ level of student involvement, although identified early in the action
research, was not taken up by any of the case study schools.
Schools generally found it difficult to engage parents in the project, beyond the level of
providing them with information or encouraging them to be supportive of their children. In
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any event, most parent respondents indicated that they would have found it difficult to have
been involved in any management structure due to other commitments such as work or
caring for younger siblings. In one school, a parent was directly involved through assisting
the school with the use of technology, but otherwise parents did not play a major ‘hands-on’
role in the case study schools.
However, in some schools parents expressed such a range of insights into their children’s
learning and the potential of the project that there may have been potential to engage them
in other ways. For example, in one school parents explored ethical considerations about
learning in the community that could have added significant value to the project approach
and practice. The keenness of their insights indicated a richer source of potential
contribution across all schools. In the event, this potential was probably never fully
identified or utilised by the case study schools.
Parents were generally enthusiastic about the ‘real life’ learning approach that underpinned
the project and thought that their children should be more generally encouraged to acquire
‘life skills’. Their views on these ‘life skills’ are ones that project schools could have benefited
from by more purposefully seeking to engage them. A high school parent commented:
“I think schools should be doing much more about ‘life skills’. I want my child to learn
how to get on with a wide range of people, and to do things that will be useful later on.
Even picking up the telephone to call an adult that they didn’t know – that was terrific.”
In some situations close working relationships were established between teachers and
business or community members. Typically, these involved teachers identifying relevant
‘community resources’ and setting up processes whereby students could access them. In
some situations this provided a basis for teachers and community members jointly exploring
and accessing the potential for community involvement. In one case study school this led to
what was envisaged as essentially support for technology tasks being broadened to include a
wider range of learnings.
However, no business or community members were involved in project management
structures. In the management sense, this ‘bridge’ to the community was never really built.
Middle schooling
To a very substantial extent, the project was initially perceived across most of the case study
schools as a middle schooling project over and above its purposes in relation to the
curriculum or to enterprising learning. This perception was largely driven by the requirement
that primary schools and high schools form partnerships to undertake the project, focused
on the Years from Year 5 to Year 8. The middle schooling focus was strengthened by the
necessity to meet with staff from the partner school and to share ideas about local project
design and implementation that would ‘satisfy’ both partners. Thus, because many
participating teachers found themselves involved, perhaps for the first time, in a structure
quite unlike their normal teaching experiences, the focus on middle schooling was
“I enjoyed working with (the primary school teacher). What is going on in the primary
school seems way ahead of what is possible here, I had no idea.”
It is interesting to note that the project title, Building Bridges, was one that teachers in the case
study schools used with their students. Thus, student respondents talked about “doing Building
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Bridges work” or “going to Building Bridges lessons”. To a very considerable extent they saw the
‘bridge’ in the project as the bridge between primary and secondary schools. Their strong
internalisation of the title is perhaps an indication of the extent to which the project was
promoted to them as a middle schooling project.
Only in the central school that was a case study school could it be said that there was already
in place an existing middle schooling structure. This school has invested very substantially in
middle schooling, and is nationally recognised for the excellence of its structures, approaches
and practices. There was early recognition by participating staff of the existing synergies
between what the school was already doing and Building Bridges. These synergies were key
underpinnings for the school’s approach. Thus, cross-Year classes and innovative practices
around the pedagogies of middle schooling were established features of practice and enabled
Building Bridges to be viewed seamlessly from that context.
“Building Bridges just fitted in – the activities may have been different, but the middle
school part of it was already there.”
In the other case study schools, it was apparent from the outset that there was a wide range
of views about what ‘middle schooling’ actually meant. As alluded to in the summary of the
key findings made in the first progress report, these meanings could be markedly different.
In some situations middle schooling was interpreted almost exclusively as what needed to be
done to facilitate the transition of students from Year 5 to Year 6. This is how Year 6
students especially viewed the project, as did many teachers. This was especially the case for
high school teachers.
“It’s good to have contact between the two schools so that the primary school students see
what it’s like in high school. They can then feel confident that everything will be alright
when they enrol in Year 7.”
Indeed, one case study involved the two schools working together on a project that was
essentially designed to promote the high school as a preferred destination for primary
students. This project incorporated associated activities, such as dancing and a bar-b-que that
were designed to make the primary students feel comfortable about the high school
environment and to perceive it as a welcoming and positive place.
Similarly, most parent respondents put the view that middle schooling was about assisting
their children to make the move from primary to high school and about becoming used to
things such as a school timetable, having different teachers and the ringing of lesson bells.
To that extent, they thought the Building Bridges was a worthwhile initiative and were pleased
that their children were involved.
However, in one case study school, a high school, some parents were quite critical of Building
Bridges because they believed that it would disrupt the ‘settling in’ of their children in a high
school environment. They did not wish their children to feel that they were ‘going back to
primary school’.
“Why are the kids getting involved with primary school again? This is going to disrupt
them getting adjusted to high school.”
It was in this school that students were noticeably vociferous about not wanting to
undertake any of the Building Bridges work on the primary school campus. Such data point to
the importance of building parent understandings of and engagement with any work around
middle schooling.
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Another view of middle schooling was that it was primarily about reorganizing classes in
Years 7 and 8 so that students had fewer teachers. This view of middle schooling perceived
it as fundamentally a ‘high school’ issue. In this view, the first two years of high school
would be more effective for students if they were not confronted so quickly by so many
teachers, separate classes or movements during the school day.
“We are looking at having fewer teachers for Year 7 students so that it is a middle school,
and the students will adjust more quickly.”
It was difficult for these schools to make a connection between their beliefs about the
meaning of middle schooling and Building Bridges. In a very real sense, Building Bridges sat
outside their work, or planned work, in middle schooling. It is interesting to note that the
consultants had only minimal contact with executive staff that had responsibility for middle
schooling in these schools. There was certainly no conversation with their associated primary
schools around the high school view.
The third view of middle schooling was that it was fundamentally about the pedagogies that
should underpin school approach and practice in the Years from Year 5 to Year 8. This was
articulated strongly in the case study school that was a central school. Additionally, there was
also evidence over the course of the project in some schools that ‘middle schooling’ should
be seen more in these terms. Both high and primary teachers talked about how their
mapping of the curriculum had made them realise the level of alignment that already existed
between the syllabuses and caused them to question why approaches needed to be so
different. Irrespective of issues associated with factors such as physical distance between
partner schools, there was appreciation of the opportunity to use Building Bridges as a model
for new approaches to middle schooling.
“There’s something about students in that age range from say about 10 years to about 14 years that
we should be looking at as a ‘whole’. Middle schooling should be about what occurs over those years
that addresses their learning needs.”
The project outcomes in the middle schooling area were, in a number of the project case
study schools, demonstrable. In particular:
many teachers worked effectively across the primary/high school interface to
develop shared approaches to pedagogy
relationships between some primary and high schools developed a new focus, more
broadly based than simply addressing immediate transition issues
a significant number of students was engaged by teaching and learning arrangements
that promoted shared responsibility and leadership in cross-age groupings
there was accessing of a wider pool of existing resources and expertise, through
schools working together
there was identification of the scope for aligning work in the science and technology
key learning area and for better utilising the synergies that existed.
Overall, the middle schooling arrangements appeared to orient schools towards a much
stronger community focus. By reducing traditional boundaries, Building Bridges appears to
have promoted a more holistic view of the contexts in which students’ learning could occur.
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As noted in the account of the key findings arising from the first visit, most case study
schools invested considerable effort in mapping the curriculum in order to align curriculum
outcomes with work to be undertaken in the project. Indeed, this was one of the key tasks
that participating teachers set themselves. A motivating factor was the need to ensure that
the project did not function as a ‘curriculum overlay’. A primary school teacher commented:
“I don’t have time for ‘extras’ in the classroom that will take up a lot of my time. There
just isn’t room. Building Bridges had to fit into the curriculum; otherwise we would have
pulled out.”
A high school teacher made a similar observation.
“We were always confident that Building Bridges fitted in with what we doing in TAS
but we know there would be some schools that would look at it and would never have gotten
involved. It wouldn’t suit how they’re trying to teach the syllabus.”
These sentiments were still prominent towards the conclusion of the project. Both primary
and secondary teachers spoke of the attention they gave to measuring and reporting syllabus
outcomes, and were overwhelmingly confident that they had been able to do so within the
parameters of the project. A high school teacher stated:
“I can report the syllabus outcomes quite easily through Building Bridges – it’s not going
to be a problem.”
At the same time, observations were made in another case study high school that there was
discernible unease within the faculty as to whether the syllabus content could be adequately
covered by the project. These views obviously affected conclusions about the relationship
between the syllabus and the project, leading the teacher to state:
“If I did a project like this again, I’d make sure the unit covered more of the content. The
students felt that they were missing out (on the content) and I’d have to make sure that they
knew that they weren’t. The primary school probably wouldn’t need to be involved either, or
involved in the way they were. But I would keep the good things.”
Nevertheless, the greater problem seems to have been the many competing demands on
teachers, especially for primary school teachers. A primary school teacher succinctly stated
the issue in the following terms.
“The curriculum is very ‘urgent’. There’s always the danger of being sidetracked by a
project like Building Bridges and suddenly finding that not everything has been
adequately covered.”
Primary and high school teachers overwhelmingly expressed the view that it was easier to
achieve curriculum alignment between their syllabus documents than they had initially
envisaged. Thus, they spoke about synergies between the two.
“We looked at their curriculum and they looked at ours and it was obvious straight away
that they fitted – we could do what we needed to do in Building Bridges, and they could
do what they needed to do. Neither of us had any idea that they would ‘fit’ like this.”
Most case study schools agreed that Building Bridges had led them to focus on the importance
of relevant pedagogies. A number drew a distinction between ‘syllabus content’ and the
pedagogies that would enable the syllabus to be well taught.
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We looked closely at the syllabus and started to see that we had enormous scope around the
content. Building Bridges got both schools more focused on the teaching and learning side of
things. That was a really important outcome for us. In our project meetings, primary and
high school people actually had to work out how to teach it – that was the harder part, the
‘what we will do’ part of it, that was comparatively easy.”
In a number of projects, it quickly became apparent that the project could not be limited to
an explicit focus on ‘science and technology’. Some teachers expressed regret that they had
not realised this at the commencement of the project.
“We got a bit too much focused I think on the technology thing, all the resources and so
on...I think if we’d known we would have not made it so isolated. We finished up doing a
lot of work, for example, that related to the English syllabus and that went very well…”
In another school, the contact teacher identified potential to actually start making linkages
across the different faculty areas.
There were a couple of teachers in other faculties who were interested in what we were doing.
If we ever did something like this again, perhaps they could become involved and we could
cover different areas, but working together…”
Such a view was powerfully confirmed by teachers in the case study school that embedded
the project in its wider work in middle schooling. In this instance, the teachers immediately
recognised that the project could readily cover different syllabus areas and planned explicitly
for this to happen.
While not universal across the case study schools, issues were encountered about access to
appropriate technologies in order for students to undertake the project. These included the
adequacy of equipment levels and issues associated with access to specialist rooms.
The project outcomes in the curriculum were, in a number of the project case study schools,
demonstrable. In particular:
there was widespread recognition across primary and high schools of the high level
of synergy between their respective curricula in science and technology
explicit syllabus outcomes for both primary and high schools were achieved readily
from within the parameters of Building Bridges
the project offered significant scope for syllabus outcomes to be achieved in other
key learning areas, including English and HSIE
students reported the acquisition of new technology-related skills and expertise in
applying them in ‘real life’ situations
teachers identified significant professional learning through the project in the science
and technology area.
Enterprising learning
As noted in relation to the key findings for the first visit, the enterprising learning ‘bridge’
was, very substantially, the least prominent area across the case study schools at the
commencement of the project. Only in one case study school did it appear that there was
more than a relatively superficial awareness of enterprise education or familiarity with the
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principles involved in it as an approach to learning. Typically, teachers cited examples where
students had been extended opportunities to be entrepreneurial or where they may have
been encouraged to work in small groups on a particular project. Understandings from the
wider literature and research were not in evidence to any considerable extent.
“We haven’t really ever talked about enterprise education all that much. It’s not a subject,
is it?”
Therefore, while teachers focused on the ‘curriculum’ and ‘middle schooling’ aspects of
Building Bridges, the role and potential of the project in relation to enterprising learning were
largely unidentified from the outset. For example, relatively limited consideration had been
given in a number of instances as to how the structure of the project at the school level
could be organised to promote students’ enterprising qualities and characteristics.
“Now I think about it, we could have gotten the children more focused on being enterprising
right from the outset. I think we were more worried about them getting to know each other
and feeling comfortable. The dances we organised for them, and that sort of thing.”
Indeed, understandings about what could be said to constitute the qualities and
characteristics of an enterprising person appeared relatively limited. For example, when the
enterprising learning survey was discussed with teachers, they often made observations about
its value.
“The survey will help me think about my students. I can concentrate on where they can
develop these skills. Otherwise, it’s all a bit vague.”
The first phase individual school reports all point to how much effort was invested during
the first visit to engaging with teachers around the enterprising learning domain of the
Building Bridges project. It would seem that the introductory program conducted in 2005, for
whatever reason, did not sufficiently resonate with participants in order to identify the very
great potential of the project in this area. The following is a typical comment:
“I didn’t think that the project was really about enterprise education. I could see the
technology and middle school aspects, but not the enterprise education area.”
High school teachers especially observed that ‘enterprise education’ was ‘difficult. The
greatest inhibiting factor was the timetable.
“It’s easy for the primary school. (The teacher) can shift things around so that there is a lot
of flexibility. Enterprise education needs pretty lengthy time blocks. That’s not ‘on’ in a
high school – the bell goes, and the students are off to another class that has absolutely
nothing to do with what you have just been doing with them. How can you get enterprise
education into that sort of arrangement? You’ve got no idea how difficult it has been to
negotiate time so that the kids can be involved in Building Bridges.”
Despite the slow start with regard to enterprising learning, over the course of the project
most schools attempted to engage with the enterprising learning domain. The evidence
suggests that many teachers in the project created learning environments where students
would have greater scope to develop and apply enterprising qualities and characteristics.
Thus, quantitative data gathered during the second visit encompassed more detail about the
notion of scaffolding students’ learning.
“I used the design brief to set the boundaries for the project, but we let the students make as
many decisions as possible about their directions. I then talked with them. We discussed the
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strengths of what they were proposing, and the problems that could emerge. I stood back but
I always knew what they were doing, and I always came in whenever things weren’t going so
well. There were some hiccups. Building Bridges was great for their confidence. This was
especially for some of the lower ability kids – some were a real surprise!”
The student data from the commencement of the project indicated that they generally did
not have strong perceptions of themselves as enterprising learners. Most made comments
suggesting that they were largely confirming in their behaviours. These qualitative data were
confirmed very substantially by the first survey. The following chart is for students in a
primary school at the commencement of the project. It shows student, teacher and parent
The report noted:
“In terms of the overall results, the high points are using technology, behaving appropriately,
sticking to beliefs and completing tasks. By themselves, these are fairly conforming
behaviours. More enterprising behaviours such as using own time, cross curriculum
application, setting priorities, using opportunities, seeking feedback and leading tend to be
lower. While the students usually score themselves higher than their parents and both tend
to be higher than the teacher (a usual result on this survey), the students appear to have a
more positive view of their behaviours in organising, persuading, acknowledging viewpoints
and listening.”
The extent of how conforming many students’ behaviours appeared was a marked feature of
the data gathered during the first visit. Students spoke about such things as the importance
of listening and paying attention, and making sure that tasks were completed on time.
The following chart, for a high school, compares student responses from visits one and two.
The result here is typical of those displayed across the case study schools, and indicates the
very significant impact that occurred in growth in many enterprising characteristics.
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Enterprising Behaviour
Student Response Visit 1
Student response visit 2
Responses as Means
“On most characteristics, students rate themselves more highly. Indeed, in relation to some
characteristics perceptions of ‘growth’ are quite marked. These include ‘contributing to
groups’ suggesting a wide range of collaborative learning skills that have been developed.
They also include ‘using own time’, an area that students rated themselves at a relatively
low level in the first survey. Also noteworthy is the sustained growth for those characteristics
in the ‘ethicality’ domain, suggesting almost certainly the influence of community
In discussions with students, it became clear that they attributed their ‘growth’ as
enterprising learners to a number of key factors. They especially identified the following:
opportunity to work in small groups
opportunity to “take what we did outside the school”, i.e. applying their learning in
community-based contexts
opportunity to set their own directions and “own” what they were doing
the fact that the teacher “stood back” but was always ready to assist
having to work out their ‘own problems’, including some issues in the ethical domain
(e.g. whom to contact first in a business)
identifying people’s different skills, so that everyone felt they could contribute
“doing something good ”, i.e. actually making a positive difference through effort.
In one case study school, students felt that the project should have focused much more on
what they could have done to have been enterprising learners. A primary-aged student
observed, insightfully:
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Being optimistic
The report noted:
Sticking to beliefs
Challenging wrong
Thinking out
Contributing to right
Being confident
Resisting conformity
Working through
Buidling own strengths
Using others' strengths
Behaving appropriately
Seeking feedback
Responding positively
Using opportunities
Setting priorities
Cross curriculum
Using own time
Completing tasks
Organising a project
Contributing to
Adjusting actions
Role modelling
Contributing to groups
Using Technology
Setting goals
Enterprising Indicators
“I liked filling in the survey. Those things are very important. It would have been better if
we had all talked about those things at the beginning and then done our projects. We could
have made our projects so that the things in the survey happened.”
The quantitative data obtained through the survey also enabled understandings to be gained
about difference in boy/girl response. The following chart for a high school compares male
and female responses towards the end of the project.
The report noted:
“While the trends are broadly identical, there are some obvious differences. The girls are
generally ‘higher’ in their responses, with significant differences in such areas as ‘listening’,
‘role modelling’, ‘adjusting actions’ and ‘contributing to community’. There is also a
significant difference in relation to ‘behaving appropriately’. These trends and differences
reflect these data on a nation-wide basis.”
The project outcomes in the enterprising learning area were, in a number of the project case
study schools, demonstrable. In particular:
students were much more articulate about what it meant to be an enterprising learner
at the time of the second visit compared to their understandings at the time of the
first visit
most students felt that they demonstrated evidence of being more enterprising over
the course of the project
teachers and parents generally felt that students had become more enterprising as a
consequence of Building Bridges
most teachers purposefully ‘scaffolded’ students’ learning so that there was greater
scope for students to develop and display enterprising characteristics
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understandings about the ‘meaning’ of enterprising learning in the case study schools
deepened markedly over the course of the project
dialogue and reflective discussion around the enterprising learning survey instrument
was seen as a valuable contribution to the project in most case study schools.
participating high schools generally held the view that ‘enterprise education’ was very
difficult to implement well because of the constraints imposed by the timetable
at the level of best practice, where middle schooling was based on a pedagogical
approach it was perceived as “ideally suited’ to enterprise education
parents were overwhelmingly supportive of their children engaging in the
enterprising learning activities provided through Building Bridges
parents valued enterprising learning because of its relevance to the life skills that they
want their children to acquire.
Community and parent partnerships
While there was recognition of building community partnerships at the commencement of
the project, over its course it could not be said that this was always a prominent feature of
the work undertaken. In some instances the ‘partnership’ did not progress beyond accessing
the assistance of a small number of parents and community members. In others, students
accessed the community as a resource in their activities but with only limited suggestions
that schools saw the work as having been untaken in a ‘partnership’ context. At the same
time, some projects had a strong community focus particularly from a community service
perspective. Towards the end of the project there was emerging evidence in these schools of
shared endeavour around the project between schools and community members and groups.
It is interesting that in these school students spoke of their pride in having done something
that would assist the community. A student observed:
“What we are doing will help people. That makes us feel good.”
What accounts for the varying levels of partnership over the course of the project? In part, it
was undoubtedly a factor of project design at the individual school level. Some design briefs
had a strong community focus, others, to all intents and purposes, had none. Where schools
sought to encourage students’ learning to take place in authentic contexts, the likelihood of a
partnership emerging was greater, though not necessarily guaranteed.
Another factor was the perception of ‘community’ held within the school. In many
instances, ‘community’ was perceived as a resource for students (and teachers) to access. In
some instances this was at the relatively superficial level of accessing equipment or seeking
the assistance of a skilled individual. Where this perception was held, there was always an
inherent risk that the wider ‘partnership’ potential would remain unseen.
However, in some instances the design brief envisaged students undertaking much of their
work in the community, thus enabling changes to occur in traditional approaches to teaching
and learning. Interestingly, many parents were strongly supportive of community-based
learning as a positive aspect of the project.
“It is excellent that the school is getting out into the community. (My son) enjoyed the
contact he had with people in the community.”
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There was generally not a strong sense of learning-based community partnerships in which
school projects could be embedded. In most instances, there was a sense of the case study
schools attempting to chart new directions in this area. There was, generally, little to leverage
from. Students often canvassed how ‘different’ their learning was in the project and how
limited had been previous opportunities to learn in ways that were ‘authentic’. Furthermore,
the idea of applying learning in a wider context was something that students very largely saw
as something they had not previously done.
However, many thought that Building Bridges provided a challenging and interesting learning
environment and were welcoming of the community-based experiences it provided. This was
especially the case where the experiences provided scope for personal initiative and the
opportunity to be ‘more adult’. Some students said that they would prefer that more of their
learning would be like Building Bridges.
“It would be good if other lessons let us do ‘real things’.”
With a small number of exceptions, parents were not ‘prominent’ in the projects. Indeed,
there were many instances where schools were unable to arrange meetings between parents
and the consultants as part of the action research. No schools sought to actively involve
parents in any numbers as partners, although some did contribute technical expertise.
Typically, parent involvement was limited to assisting their children with logistics associated
with travelling to and from sites in the community where work was occurring.
Schools typically kept parents informed through their newsletters. Most parents were aware
of the project, although few felt that they were ‘well informed’. Schools indicated that they
received very little parent feedback over the course of the project, other than incidental
comments made by parents when they met staff members. These comments were always
“They’ll stop me in the street, and say ‘the project is great’ and that their child is ‘really
enjoying it.’.”
As alluded to elsewhere, parents were generally positive about both the middle schooling and
enterprising learning ‘bridges’. This was especially true for enterprising learning. For
example, a number of parents observed that they wanted schooling to have a much stronger
‘life skills’ orientation. They believed that Building Bridges was providing their children with
opportunities to develop ‘common sense’ skills that would be useful later in life. These skills
were especially those associated with interacting successfully with a range of other people,
especially adults. They liked the fact that the situations their children were involved in with
Building Bridges ‘mattered’. They saw engagement and relevance being heightened as a
Parents identified the transition from primary to high school as a very significant one for
their children. Parents of primary school children thought that the project was worthwhile in
that it gave their children an opportunity to learn alongside high school students and to see
what high school learning was like. Parents of high school students generally expressed the
view that their children gained benefit from the opportunity to learn alongside younger
children. They thought that this may have contributed to the leadership and caring domains.
As noted in relation to the first visit, a small number of parents of high school students
expressed considerable opposition to the project on the grounds that it would unsettle their
children as they made the adjustment to high school. There was no opportunity to meet with
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these parents during the second visit in order to gauge their views towards the end of the
project. This was the only case study school, however, in which students objected to working
in any way at the primary school campus.
All case study schools thought that the level of resourcing for the project was adequate. They
expressed the view that the budgetary arrangements gave them sufficient flexibility to make
local choices. All schools commented that ‘time’ was the most important resource. With one
exception, all case study schools observed that the project made significant time demands on
teachers and that the hours involved would have been unsustainable over the longer term.
“I put hours and hours into Building Bridges – there was lot of organising, phone calls,
getting things ready, it was good but I don’t think I would do it again in a hurry.”
Interestingly, the exception was the one school in which a middle schooling structure was
well established and in which there was a broadly based management group. These teachers
observed that the work they did in Building Bridges was synergistic with other approaches and
did not make unmanageable imposts.
There was some uncertainty about the extent to which the budget could be used to purchase
equipment. Most schools took the view that, where necessary, they would allocate part of the
funding to such a purpose, and did so. Only in one school was the conclusion reached that
the budget could not cover the purchase of equipment. Issues related to accessing and using
equipment figured prominently in the school’s account of the project. This school felt that
the level of regional support could have been greater because of the equipment difficulties it
was having. The school cited only half of the promised equipment being made available, and
that a major piece of technology did not work.
“The equipment issue was very frustrating; lots of things seemed to go against us.”
Case study schools did not express strong positive views about the role of the regional
coordinators. Typically, they were perceived as ‘outside’ the project structure and as fulfilling
a role perhaps best described as ‘interested observers’. None was identified as a partner or as
an active source of support. There was no evidence of extensive discussions between schools
and the coordinators to ‘mine’ the data and understandings associated with the project. In
one case study school the observation was made that support was principally “internal”
through teachers assisting each other – this was viewed as the best support.
“We help each other and learn from each other, you don’t have time to get on the phone and
chase things, sometimes with no result.”
Case study schools were affirming of the value of being involved in the action research. This
was especially in relation to setting future directions from the first visit, and being attuned to
the data that would enable understandings to be developed. A number of schools referred
positively to the value of having an external ‘sounding board’. The often detailed discussion
around enterprising learning that occurred during the first visit obviously impacted on the
design and direction of a number of the projects.
“The enterprising learning area was a bit of a revelation – it is now much clearer and we’ll
see if it can be extended into other areas.”
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Similarly, case study schools affirmed the value of and support provided by the Curriculum
Directorate. Visits in particular, where practical ideas linked directly with the respective
syllabuses, were seen as especially useful. Resources provided by the visiting personnel or
highlighted as relevant were praised.
However, there was some concern at the perceived distance of the Vocational Education in
Schools Directorate from the project on the ground. High praise was given for the
Directorate officers who visited the schools and helped talk through the issues. The
newsletter was seen as useful although infrequent. The support provided by the Directorate
project officer in answering any questions about administration or expenditure was praised.
Despite these positive elements, overall, the Directorate was seen as sponsor and organizer
rather than on the ground support, adviser and confidante.
In particular, areas where central support might do more were identified during the action
research. These included the development and implementation of a less information filled
orientation to the purpose and scope of the project. While it was understood that much of
the information was necessary, some vital elements appeared to have been rushed. The
inadequate emphasis on enterprising learning was cited as an instance.
The heavy emphasis on the use of technology in the introduction was not seen as supported
in practice over the life of the project. This was especially the case in relation to the Centre
for Learning Innovation which, by virtue of its demanding schedule, was unable to provide
hands on support direct to case study schools.
During the course of the project, common areas where there was a need for scaffolding of
learning were identified. It was felt that the Directorate or the Centre for Learning
Innovation could perhaps provide common resources to address these areas. For example,
all projects undertook project management methodology. Information and useful project
planning resources and technologies for students to use would have been relevant for all
schools. Similarly, all projects undertook goal planning, development of objectives,
scheduling of tasks and establishment of roles. Teaching resources such as flow chart
technologies would have been useful for all schools. Budget and business planning
methodologies might also have been useful. Time constraints prevented teachers from
identifying, adapting or developing these resources themselves.
Certainly, such observations indicate the desirability of a much greater level of resource
development generally around areas that school leaders and teachers find especially
challenging. Deeper understandings about middle schooling and enterprising learning would
have facilitated the project greatly in all of the case study schools.
The principal helping factors
Across the case study schools, a number of principal helping factors were identified. These
especially included:
the extent to which the leadership in schools were generally highly supportive of the
the commitment of coordinating teachers to planning for success and working cooperatively across schools
the resilience of participating teachers in contexts that could be challenging and
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the very significant level of potential to gain active community support
the very significant level of parent endorsement of their children’s learning taking
place in authentic contexts
the investment in project management structures, such that many participating
teachers developed new decision making structures likely to bring about change
the detailed planning work that was undertaken, including development of a timeline,
initial briefs and the identification of supporting resources
the extent to which there was recognition that the Building Bridges project at the
school level had potential to act as a model for work in the areas of middle schooling
and enterprising learning
the curriculum synergies that were identified in many instances
the enthusiasm of the students for learning environments that were different and
the level of funding provided by the project, and the flexibility accorded each school
in its application.
The principal hindering factors
Across the case study schools, a number of principal hindering factors were identified. These
especially included:
uncertainty about the purposes and objectives of the Building Bridges project, at the
school level, and the relative emphases that its component parts should have been
the depth and appropriateness of project management structures in schools
views held by high school executive staff, external to the project, that may have
limited the innovative scope of the project
the extent to which the project could be ‘embedded’ into wider and established
school practices in areas such as middle schooling and enterprising learning
generally low level of awareness or understanding of enterprising learning
the need for a greater level of prior resourcing in schools around enterprising
learning and middle schooling, or development of insights into why existing
resources appear to have had such limited penetration
the scope that teachers had to be highly innovative in the sorts of project designs
that were developed
the limitations imposed as a consequence of the secondary school timetable
instances of limited and limiting views of the meanings of middle schooling
differing views of appropriate pedagogies between primary and secondary schools
difficulties in identifying or obtaining appropriate or sufficient technology resources
parent uncertainty about the purposes of the project, irrespective of their general
endorsement of its enterprising learning component
time demands placed on primary school teachers particularly, viewed in the context
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that most had a wide range of other responsibilities
the commencement of the project at the beginning of the school year made
momentum difficult to achieve in some instances
some primary school students feeling that their confidence reduced by learning in a
‘bigger pool’, including the tendency of some high school students to ‘take over’
uncertainty about how best to identify or access regional and directorate support.
Sustainability and future directions
To what extent will Building Bridges be sustainable on the basis of the evidence gathered and
analysed over the course of the project? Three key points can be made in response to the
Sustainability is likely to be greatest in those schools that embedded the project in
well developed and well informed approaches to middle schooling. The evidence
suggests that, of itself and without wider systemic effort, Building Bridges is unlikely to
create or lead to such approaches. To think that it could, or will, would be a denial of
the depth of the change management processes that will be required.
The capacity of school leaders to leverage off the outcomes of Building Bridges will be
vital if any level of sustainability is to be achieved. It may be that what is now
required is systemic effort that will provide opportunity for school leaders to gain
deeper understandings about the achievements and potential of Building Bridges, as
well as the facilitating and hindering factors.
Density of teacher engagement will be critical for sustainability to be achieved. In
perhaps too many instances it appeared that teachers were ‘on their own’, without
any notion of active or deeply engaged leadership support. Leaders need to be doing
more than simply ‘acknowledging’ the efforts and commitment of participating
teachers. There will need to be built a wider base of support and leadership if Building
Bridges is to have deeper impact and sustainability. This includes the range of
engagements that will be appropriate through the regional structure.
In addition, sustainability will require the development of partnerships with other key
stakeholders, including the community. The evidence points to the desirability of structuring
future effort to be inclusive of the approaches that will enable these partnerships to be
identified, developed and nurtured. With these partnerships, there could be great potential
for Building Bridges to be a basis for innovation in schooling around curriculum, middle
schooling and enterprising learning. Without them, it is improbable that Building Bridges can
ever be more than a ‘project’, albeit a successful and important one.
Building Bridges can point to a very significant level of success. Substantial work has been
undertaken across the project schools in the three bridges – curriculum, middle schooling
and enterprising learning. The level of student satisfaction with their learning and with the
learning environments provided through Building Bridges has been very high. Surely there is
no more significant indicator of educational success than such a perception.
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Additionally, the quantitative data point to quite significant impacts on student outcomes,
complementing the extent to which teachers observed the success of many students in
achieving syllabus outcomes. In particular, the data show that students’ enterprising qualities
and characteristics have ‘lifted’ over the course of the project. Collectively, they now present
as a less conforming group. Rather, they present as a group more likely to take appropriate
learning risks, show initiative and work successfully in teams.
The project has illuminated some quite key issues that will need to be addressed and resolved
before further substantial work is taken around the goals of Building Bridges. The data suggest
enormous diversity in understandings about the meanings of middle schooling across the
NSW government school system. Some of the meanings that emerged from the project
appeared to be so limiting as to make the ‘best practice’ implementation of Building Bridges
problematic. However, where there was a focus on building understandings about the
pedagogies of the middle years, from Year 5 to Year 8, it seemed that Building Bridges was
able to be implemented with a greater likelihood of significant impact on students’ learning.
In a number of the case study schools, the action research pointed to substantial progress to
develop students’ enterprising learning qualities and characteristics. The area was, however,
by-and-large not prominent in the thinking of most case study schools at the
commencement of the project. Where processes were established that enabled teachers to
engage in informed dialogues about enterprising learning, it became obvious that the
learning environments for students were structured to achieve ‘enterprising’ outcomes.
Where such a dialogue did not occur to any significant extent, the learning environments
appeared little influenced.
One of the most telling findings from the project was the extent to which primary and
secondary teachers recognised curriculum synergies. By the concluding phase of the project,
there was a strong sense in many instances of a sequenced view of learning in the science
and technology key learning area and the technological and applied studies key learning area.
Students valued greatly the opportunity to work creatively within their design briefs and to
explore the authentic application of technological knowledge and skills. Stronger community
partnerships, however, would need to be developed for potential in this area to be fully
Building Bridges gained a unique identity in the participating schools – for teachers, students
and for parents. It was overwhelmingly perceived as an initiative that added value to
students’ learning. Despite the issues of teacher time and a crowded curriculum, Building
Bridges was also seen as a project that offered the potential of wider transformation in how
learning environments are structured in schools and how students could achieve outcomes
that would have real consequence in the context of being life-long learners.
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