Back to school a brand new experience

The expansion of the School Experience Program is proving as popular as it is invaluable. Glenn Cullen reports.

Students and adults posing for a photo. Students and adults posing for a photo.
Image: Alicia Peck (Leader Business Support Early Childhood Outcomes), Mark Barraket (Deputy Secretary, Early Childhood Outcomes), Prue Car (Deputy Premier), Olivia Parry (Ultimo Public School Principal), Elizabeth Burford (Manager Policy and Strategy, Early Childhood Outcomes), Kobi Shetty (MP) and Murat Dizdar (NSW Department of Education Secretary) with students at Ultimo Public School.

When NSW Department of Education senior executives and new corporate staff were encouraged to go ‘back to school’ last year, there was little indication just how popular the program would be.

Now expanded to include all office staff, the School Experience Program (SEP) has already locked in 75 groups to participate in 2024, with phones and emails running hot from those wanting to take part.

A firsthand experience of what it’s like to work at a school, the SEP can take in everything from witnessing lesson planning and delivery, to sitting in on lessons, observing staff meetings and management, as well as playground duties and excursions.

On Monday 8 April, a team of 10 staff from Early Childhood Outcomes spent the day at Ultimo Public School, gaining valuable insights into how impressionable young pre-schoolers can transition into primary school.

They were joined by Deputy Premier and Minister for Education and Early Learning Prue Car and Department Secretary Murat Dizdar to officially launch the next phase of the program.

Mr Dizdar, who spent a week at Toongabbie East Public School last year when the program was trialled with executives and new staff, said the experience was deeply impactful.

“As a former teacher and principal in this system I know that whether you work at headquarters, in IT or procurement or HR or finance – the real action is in the 2200 schools and 95,000 classrooms, just like the wonderful classrooms here at Ultimo Public,” Mr Dizdar said.

“It’s really important that our people and new recruits embed themselves in the functioning operation of a school.”

A woman sitting at a desk with students. A woman sitting at a desk with students.
Image: Elizabeth Burford participating in classroom activities with students at Ultimo Public.

For Elizabeth Burford, Manager Policy and Strategy, Early Childhood Outcomes, it was a fantastic opportunity to speak directly with the principal and teachers to get their perspectives on the cognitive and social skills required for children to achieve success at primary school.

“From our perspective, it’s important to set kids up with a level playing field when they enter the classroom so they make the most of it,” Ms Burford said.

Her colleague, Alicia Peck, Leader, Business Support Early Childhood Outcomes, agreed.

“It was just a really valuable experience to see firsthand a day in the life of a school and to interact with these amazing students and even more amazing teachers,” she said.

Ultimo Public School Principal Olivia Parry said the day was a great success, as the Early Childhood Outcomes team proved to be a great fit for the inner-city primary school.

“Some of things that we were talking about were transition programs with early learning centres and the challenges we face in that space, as well as some of the things that we are doing here to support students who are coming into Kindergarten,” Ms Parry said.

“Being able to have those conversations face-to-face is so much more powerful.”

The one-day SEP program is open for teams of up to 10 within the Department and can be tailor-made to align with the work of a given group. For example, a team working on an IT system can see the impact the system has in schools firsthand.

All current Department support staff teams are eligible to take part in a school experience. Team leaders are responsible for arranging a one-day visit by contacting the School Experience team at

More information is available on the School Experience Program Team Visits information page.

A woman holding a container while students look on. A woman holding a container while students look on.
Image: Alicia Peck with students at Ultimo Public School.
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