Rural education boosted by scholarships

Professor John Halsey

The vital contribution made by schools to rural and regional centres will be further enhanced with a new qualification in educational leadership and management to be offered by Flinders University to principals and staff.

Backed by generous financial support from the Origin Foundation and Principals Australia Institute, 40 scholarships will be available to study a Master in Education (Leadership and Management) at Flinders, commencing in the second half of this year. Flinders University thanked the NSW Government for its support of the scholarships.

The Rural Educational Leadership Scholarship (RELS) initiative, under which successful applicants will each receive a $17,950 scholarship to build educational leadership capacity in rural schools and regional centres in NSW, is valued at more than $700,000.

Professor John Halsey, the Sidney Myer Chair of Rural Education and Communities at Flinders, said leaders in education “are at the heart of improving learning”.

“Schools in rural areas frequently have to be more than schools, often because they are the one remaining organisation in a town with links to all sections of a community. In addition to educating and caring for children and youth, rural schools support a wide range of facilities and services including social centres, recreation centres, community libraries, health and counselling services, public meetings and voting, and safe refuge centres,” Professor Halsey said.

“Historically in Australia, appointment to a country school as a principal (and also a teacher) was predominantly the route to eventually gaining a city appointment. At a country school you learnt how to be a principal and at a city school you refined and further developed your expertise. With some exceptions, the pattern continues today. The RELS initiative is a major contribution to turning this around. For rural schools and communities, corporate, city-centric models of leadership are not sufficient to create, drive, energise and harness the potential of the rural sector in shaping and building Australia now and into the future,” he said.

“The introduction of a Masters level qualification in educational leadership and management sends a very positive message about the importance of ensuring those who lead and manage rural schools are well qualified for meeting the challenges and opportunities of leading and living in country communities.”

Applicants for the scholarships will be required to have a four year degree, preferably in education or a related field, or equivalent, and two years of work experience. The majority of successful applicants will come from rural schools, with the rest aspiring to work in rural areas. Once graduated, recipients will be expected to work in rural and remote schools. Successful applicants will each have to complete the equivalent of one year of full time study over a period of three years.

Professor Halsey said the Masters degree was designed “to build leadership and management capacities from the strengths individuals bring to their study rather than by imparting ways to ‘fix problems’.”

The Origin Foundation is a philanthropic foundation established by Origin Energy in 2010. Its focus, chosen by the people of Origin, is to support education, training, and development programs that have the power to transform lives and improve communities.

“Rural and regional schools represent approximately 45 per cent of all schools in Australia.  Yet student performance within Australia decreases with distance from the metropolitan centres,” Mr Sean Barrett, Head of the Origin Foundation, said.

“For rural and regional communities to survive, prosper and be the innovative places Australia requires, leadership of schools in these areas needs to be better understood, valued and supported,” he said.

Principals Australia Institute Chief Executive Officer, Mr Jim Davies, said the RELS initiative was unique because it establishes “a network of rural school principals through virtual environments”.

“One of Principals Australia Institute’s goals is to address the relative isolation that principals in rural and remote locations often experience,” Mr Davies said.

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