Aussie Educator

What we’re looking at is trying to teach children a specific way of thinking, a way of problem solving, not being afraid to fail, and being able to seek out their own solutions ..... . Kelly Tagalan [Code Club Australia]

All education levels are now into full swing for the year and we are rapidly approaching Easter. Over recent weeks we have seen actions, reactions, politics, investigations, claims and counter claims. These include topics such as stress and strain on principals to mental health concerns for preschoolers; concerns about NAPLAN to claims about international student numbers; and the list could go on.

We have endeavoured to cover a range of these below. However, it is not possible to cover all topics.We have therefore covered several we found to be of interest. These are detailed below. In addition, we note the following site items for your information.

  • The redirect pages will be removed from the site from the end of this month. We believe adequate time has been allowed for people to make required adjustments with these.
  • You may also note we have started a gradual updating of pages [not counting those which clearly indicate they will not be updated at this time] and this will be ongoing as quickly as we can do so.

We have also included new articles in the relevant section. Some of these are also referred to in the commentary. There seems to be an unending supply of documents and articles being produced in this area and it often proves difficult to select only the few that appear. As someone said - ‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy’.

Among major talking points were ...

Many aspects of schools have come under consideration in recent times. This has particularly applied to the role teachers play in the education process. While teachers, as a group, have been under the spotlight, principals have generally avoided this. However, a recent survey has certainly brought them to the fore. It makes for fascinating but worrying reading.

Headlines on articles included Bullying, threats and violence : report details the difficult job of a principal, Principals facing high rates of violence, bullying in schools : survey and School principals at higher risk of burnout, depression due to workplace stress, survey finds to name a few. You might also consider this opinion piece, “It’s a lonely job”: how can we help stressed-out principals ? which certainly strikes a chord. So, not just beer and skittles to use an old-fashioned expression. Is it something new ? Experience says it is not, but it is increasing both in scope and methodology used [the internet for example].

The corollary is that systems will find increasing difficulty in getting people to fill such positions. While once it was the aspiration of most who entered the teaching ranks [even if many changed their minds once on their way], this may not continue to be the case. Educational leadership in schools could well suffer. Having to spend inordinate amounts of time on this aspect of their role is not what principals want. Instead, being able to commit the vast majority of their time to improving the educational process as well as the achievement and satisfaction of all parties, is vastly more important.

Like everything else in life, there will always be problems to solve. However, surely the best result for all is achieved by doing this in a way that does not cause conflict, stress and disruption. Especially not for the one person in schools who usually ends up in the middle.

Research. Research has suddenly become a buzz word for school education. Labor to Take Politics out of the School Classroom was a media release indicating significant funding for an Evidence Institute for Schools. This would ‘help improve schools and early childhood education centres by ensuring teachers and parents have high quality research at their fingertips’.

Shortly after, came news that Adrian Piccoli’s new institute [was] to look at education’s trickiest questions. This would include such things as ‘Whether the ATAR system is discouraging hard work; why some of the top Australian students have declining results; and whether families need to play a bigger role in education’.

Two responses to the first proposal came in the form of An education research institute won’t take politics out of the classroom, which looks particularly at the model and part of a Dean Ashenden article titled Dear Ms Plibersek [scroll down to the postscript].

Both express a variety of concerns but between them there is a clear understanding that, as Dean Ashenden succinctly puts it - ‘The proposal arrives very late on a well-populated field’. Between them the two authors name just a few sources including What Works Clearinghouse [USA], the National Centre for Education Research [USA], National Foundation for Educational Research in England and Wales, ACER, AITSL, John Hattie’s formidable digest and the fact ‘Australia has 3 000 full-time-equivalent education research academics, and contributes 4 per cent of the discipline’s total global output’.

Add to this the potential value of some research, and one wonders if what is being suggested is really the process needed.

Gonski For a while it looked as if the new Gonski process which, in many ways is closer to the original concept, would provide an appropriate solution. However, money continues to raise its head. The Opposition has promised additional funds for Catholic Schools if elected. Trevor Cobbold has detailed a number of anomalies that currently exist. The Catholic System, especially in Victoria, continues to raise concerns and complaints. As Chris Bonnor and Lindsay Connors write, A school funding horror story : special deals are back. For a different viewpoint on the value of funding every school, you could also do much worse than read this David Zyngier article.

NAPLAN It wouldn’t be normal if this didn’t raise concerns each year. And sure enough, ... . Calls for NAPLAN review after report reveals no change in decade of results was just one of a number of reports and media presentations. I am not a great fan of this testing process, but the data does have some value when used appropriately. However, it can not be blamed for everything that doesn’t occur or lauded for achievement when it does [e.g. progress]. Results may be displayed in the data provided, but the test does not have a role in the capacity of the students doing it. That comes down to a range of other factors. If in doubt, see what has been done in schools who have achieved improvement in their results and give them the recognition they deserve. Steven Schwartz sums it up nicely in an article titled The NAPLAN nervous ninnies.

A review with possible changes for tertiary institutions seems to have generated its own impetus since Labor promised just such a review in February. Especially when this is allied to the funding freeze put in place by the current government. There is certainly plenty of advice, as well as groups ensuring particular viewpoints are known. However, the major emphasis still remains with the university sector, rather than covering both universities and vocational education.

Among those offering advice were Peter Noonan who looked to define a series of issues needing to be addressed; Gavin Moodie who concentrated on four main ideas; and Linda Kristjanson whose comments indicated ‘We need a tertiary master plan’. A fourth, Margaret Gardner looks more at the freezing of funding and its impact, predicting that this is ‘out of step with the views of most Australians’. She also explains her thoughts on a related issue in a second article titled $2.2bn funding cut to universities ‘a cap on opportunity for all’. Caroline Perkins puts the case against a funding cut [even if for a relatively short time] indicating ‘Regional students will bear brunt of this university funding freeze’.

Among a few items linking both university and the vocational sector [especially TAFE] are those from Universities Australia which looks at a requirement for both sectors to be strong and a suggestion from Simon Birmingham that ‘Unis should get together with TAFEs as a way of being more efficient’. Labor has also suggested the two sectors need to work together. An example of what is possible, in countries such as Germany and Korea, can be found in The future of tertiary education. Perhaps post-secondary education will be a winner after all.

One does need to see the full picture before deciding who is going to do what. However, Stephen Matchett in his writing on 1 March also states ‘Labor’s education shadow minister will also warn, “with that freedom comes responsibility”’. This has still to be interpreted and while it may mean the retention of the demand driven system, the other side of the coin may prove less desirable. We need to see what detail is behind the present proposal. Then we may be clearer on exactly what is proposed and whether it will be able to provide a worthwhile and workable solution.

Hazing, bullying, abuse, ... is still coming under fire, especially after the release of The Red Zone Report at the end of February. Sydney University students were among those who reacted strongly to its contents. A overhaul of residential colleges was called for by student activists. Labor indicated they would be prepared to use laws and fines against badly behaved colleges. While the report and many of the reactions concentrated on the University of Sydney, it is likely problems are not restricted to one site. One recent response by Sian Powell detailed the difficulty in making a complaint about unacceptable events in this area. At one point she indicates ‘Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct allegations have dogged Australian universities for decades’. It suggests that even though some steps have been taken, it will not be the last time this most undesirable and unacceptable action raises its head and has, once again, to be dealt with.

International students are a vital component for not only universities but also many other tertiary institutions, and even a number of secondary schools. They bring many things to Australia, not the least of which is financial input to the various systems. It would seem the numbers keep increasing. Students flock to Australia from around the world is a governmental view. Australian universities report record foreign enrolments is even reported in Times Higher Education and is echoed by University World News. The Educator states that ‘international students are flocking to Australia in record numbers’. Even Universities Australia is lauding the present status.

However, there is a glimmer of concern. Our largest cohort of students comes from China and the THE indicates Australian universities’ student recruitment from China flatlines. There also appears to be an increasing tension between the two countries which, allied with the rise of Chinese higher education against the rest of the world, could presage difficulties ahead. An article titled Foreign students’ tuition fees are a double-edged sword looks at international students in a number of countries including Australia and what impacts came from various decisions. Worth reading.

Other Items

Languages often seem to be an ‘odd man out’ when it comes to learning. Many reasons are given for this. Lack of specialist teachers. Not enough time. Lack of interest. However, in an ever increasingly connected world, the knowledge of a second language can be of considerable value. One scheme to develop languages has been Early Learning Languages Australia [ELLA]. This has made the most of working with young children [a better age for learning languages] and has continued to flourish and expand. An extra 20 000 children will be involved in 2018. One hopes it will long continue.

I had left the system by the time autonomy became a buzz word and there was a strong push to allow “autonomy” to create independent state schools. Being somewhat of a sceptic, and a pessimist to boot, I was of the opinion that there would always be a quid pro quo and that in reality there would be no “freedom” in the sense that many others seemed to be espousing. While there are still those who champion the process, who believe it gives scope to achieve more than the previous system, others are are now starting to express a variety of concerns. Among the latest is Doubts cast over impact of school autonomy. It makes for interesting reading. You can also check links to related articles at the bottom of this and the related pages for further writing on this topic.

Now one where you need to put on your thinking hat and just consider the value you can find in what is being said. When you discuss schools the most common thing for most people would be what is being learnt, student behaviour, whether holidays are too long and teachers work hard enough, individual teacher quality, ... . Dan Hassler raises a different topic which he has titled This might be the biggest challenge facing your school .... Does your school face this problem ?

A study asks young people what they think about school, with surprising results’. So begins a desriptor for a recently issued report [leading to a book]. School is failing our youth is replete with statements such as for a lot of these young people, school just hasn’t been relevant and what they [the reporting group] found makes for troubling reading. Not only does it cover this specific report but also links with the School to Work transition inquiry being conducted by parliament. It also brings to mind a recent blog post by Dan Haesler entitled **THIS** might just be the biggest challenge facing your school... and even his other post, Do Schools Kill Learning ? They all make for a genuinely worrying potentiality.

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There are recently produced items that warrant at least a brief mention. See what you think about each and whether you agree or not. All items are Australian in origin. Follow each link that piques your particular interests.

Timeline of Australian VET policy initiatives 1998-2017
‘Australia’s vocational education and training system has transformed over the past 20 years in response to changing economic and societal needs. This timeline helps understand the scale of change and the individual policies, programs or initiatives that have shaped VET at both the national and state and territory level’.

What Finland wants to learn from Australian schools
For some time, Finland has been lauded as one of those countries whose students perform well above where you would expect them to be. In this article, Mercier Pukka looks at what she sees Finland can gain from her experiences in the Australian education system.

Lifting our Game
Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools through Early Childhood Interventions. As the Executive Summary indicates, ‘The Review has been asked to consider, and make recommendations on, the most effective interventions to be deployed in early childhood, with a focus on school readiness, improving achievement in schools and future success in employment or further education’. It does this well.

What’s happened to the University ?
‘Although we haven’t experienced a transformation as radical as our counterparts in the US and UK, these notions of restricting free speech all in the name of not causing offence will grab hold and cripple our universities. This is an engaging, informed and robust look at how we got here, where we are headed and what the alternative is to this new status quo’.

Building Skills for All in Australia
Policy Insights from the Survey of Adult Skills. ‘The review examines the strengths of the Australian skills system. It explores, moreover, the challenges facing the skills system and what can be done to enhance basic skills through education, training or other workplace measures’. OECD Report available in several formats.

PISA- shock : ...
How we are sold the idea our PISA rankings are shocking and the damage it is doing to schooling in Australia. Aspa Baroutsis and Bob Darling. ‘The term PISA-shock is now used widely within education circles. We would define PISA-shock as the impact of PISA results when those results are disjunctive with a nation’s self-perception of the quality of the schooling system’. Rational, well thought out commentary.

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