Aussie Educator

Research will never be able to identify instructional strategies that work with every student in every class. The best research can do is tell us which strategies have a good chance of working well with students. Robert Marzano

Welcome to a revised page. There is a miscellany of topics to consider but a few seem to have dominated others over recent weeks. These range from student cheating to the impact of behaviour on learning, curriculum subjects and levels, the role [or not] of a chaplain, changing enrolments for public and private schools, even the role and type of universities in the near future, funding [of course !] and the list could keep expanding ad infinitum. However, the two that began to dominate over recent weeks were certainly Gonski 2.0 and NAPLAN. More on these below. In addition, we note the following specific reminders for your information.

  • ‘As a teacher working in children’s education and care settings your voice is needed to help us understand the professional learning experiences unique to your contexts. We would greatly appreciate you completing this 10 minute survey to help us better understand how professional learning is currently being selected, applied and evaluated by teachers working in Australian children’s education and care settings’. The survey, High Quality Professional Learning Survey - Children’s Education and Care Teachers is found using this link. The survey is only open till 1 June 2018.
  • Wikispaces has been around for some time and been used by numerous education personnel to produce quality resources used by many in the profession. Regrettably, Wikispaces is about to close. Classroom and free wikis will end on 31 July 2018, while other types will end at later dates. More information from the site.

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 ...

Now the report, Through Growth to Achievement, or Gonski 2.0, has been publicly released it has become fair game for everyone to comment and many certainly have. Comments range from supportive to totally opposed and every level in between. Some have automatically linked it to other aspects such as funding, teacher roles, concerns it will open the floodgates for other concepts to be introduced and the list goes on. Some may be relevant, some undoubtedly reflect personal preferences or biases, some take a negative view of particular aspects. Most positions you can think of seem to be taken by some person or group. If you are not an avid reader of documents, more of a listener, you might like to tune in to an ABC Nightlife episode on Gonski 2.0 with Peter Goss [Grattan Institute] and Correna Haythorpe [Australian Education Union] as guests.

One should look first of all at what Gonski [and his team] came up with. In doing so, it is almost guaranteed there will be sections which draw support or objections from individuls or groups because no change in any system is universally welcomed. Michelle Grattan came up with a reasonable outline of major points; Chris Bonnor indicates ‘the report doesn‘t pull any punches’ going on to clarify a number of these. He describes the report as an ‘exhaustive investigation into what we need to do to improve school education’ and goes on to ask ‘will it all come to pass this time around ? what can we expect ?’. He finishes his piece, indicating it ‘deserves to be a springboard for authentic and sustainable impovement’.

Others, too, have evidenced support for the plan. The government issued a release including numerous instances of this. The Catholic Education Commission has welcomed many aspects of it. Peter Hutton goes so far as to suggest ‘a B+ on Gonski’s report card’ and provides several plus and only one minus commentary. As with the first report and discussion, Ken Boston comes out in defence of the report providing not only specific responses but also indicating ‘critics are out in force, misrepresenting the report and naysaying approaches that promise to bring real improvement’.

Others targetted specific areas [reflecting that of Singapore and other countries] such as having a leadership track which caters for those wishing to undertake leadership roles while still rewarding teachers who prefer to use their skills in the classroom. Others believe some of the suggestions, e.g. creativity and critical thinking, are already being implemented. Another area is that Gonski 2.0 would overburden already stretched teachers. Gonski review reveals another grand plan to overhaul education : but do we really need it ? considers the ongoing need for any new plans. Some are concerned that the actual pedagogy, exemplified by the statement ‘there is simply no road map to school improvement and school systems transformation’ [Noel Pearson]. He also goes on to say - ‘how does it ensure the money it provides to state, territory, independent and Catholic systems is invested in those things that will achieve educational excellence ?’. This may well prove one of the most difficult tasks of all.

Others were less charitable in their review of the report. Descriptors included ‘Report’s legacy to dumb down the curriculum’; ‘Critical thinking trumps knowledge in Gonski 2.0’ [even though both David Gonski and Simon Birmingham were at pains to stress this would not be an end product]; ‘Gonski review an abject failure and a wasted opportunity’; ‘Gonski fix “puts basics at risk”’; ‘The Gonski 2.0 report is a fail’ ‘the report released today is full of self-evident platitudes about education’ and ‘Things will not improve until school is made hard’. Not much ground left to cover is there ?

One could not expect funding to miss a guernsey in the melee of commentary. In one report it takes a dominant role with claims ‘the long-awaited review fails to address the “gaping resources shortages” facing public schools’. While not many address this point as yet, be prepared for others to take up the same cry as time goes on.

Funding also comes under significant scrutiny in another article titled Ruining Gonski’s school funding plan by Jane Caro. She opines that ‘thanks to the Turnbull version of Gonski, those hopes have now been well and truly dashed’. Towards the final section of the article, she goes on to say - ‘Australia needs political leaders who will drive progress towards what this country needs : schools funding arrangements that are transparent, efficient and effective and fair to all’. Worth reading.

This time at least, David Gonski has been less reticent about making statements related to such a report. This is valuable and essential. He indicated to parents that ‘they should not fear sweeping classroom changes’ and suggested ‘some senior students are doing things in Years 11 and 12 that are not useful to them’. He has also stressed that ‘we are categorical in the report - absolutely categorical - that you need the basics’. Hopefully he and others linked with the report will continue to defend the work they have done and the conclusions that were reached instead of stepping into the background.

Only time will tell what the end product will look like. There are many powerful and committed groups who may not agree with all, or even any part of the report, who will continue to press their point of view. Governments will come and go [as the plan is not an instantly implemented one]. Modifications may well be made, but let us not turn around and start all over again, Whatever weaknesses are felt to exist can be overcome. Anything rather than start the cycle again. Let us see what happens in the near future and hope for the best.

NAPLAN remains as one of those love-hate things in education. You can decry its very existence or castigate it in a vast number of ways for a multitude of reasons. And this has not been helped by the arrival of the Gonski 2.0 report. In fact, there seem to be two specific camps rather than a spread of feelings and opinions. The NSW government called for the abolition of the tests. This was promptly rejected by the federal Minister of Education using the belief that it ‘serves a very important purpose for many Australian parents’. Rob Stokes belief that ‘the results published on the MySchool website have become a rating tool rather a measurement of student progress’ may well have considerable substance. There at least seems to be some movement toward a review of the test. It should make the NSW Teachers Federation a little happier in relation to NAPLAN, as well as concerns over curriculum changes which are being mooted at the same time.

Of additional concern is the move online for the tests. As with the need for them, there are two camps in relation to this. Those with concerns about the impact of a range of points linked to these tests, including everyday factors such as equivalence of computing skills and those who believe the system has been developed to cater for all of these. This may become something of the past if, as believed by Adrian Piccoli [UNSW], we are shifting away from the emphasis on NAPLAN. Certainly, if the Gonski 2.0 process is actually implemented, there would seem to be little need for it. At the least it should return to being a systemic rather than a school level testing process as many believe it was actually meant to be.

Many of the things occurring recently in the university sector have somewhat negative aspects. Leading this area is a growing concern over cheating, dominantly through the use of paper mills [essay writers] which is not actually such a new phenomenon. These groups are now using a wide range of placements and techniques to put forward their capacity to ‘write according to your instructions and give you the best so you can stand out of the crowd’. Twas ever thus. It’s just that nowadays there are a multitude of opportunities for people to set up, carry out this process and even proffer advice on how best to avoid plagiarism checkers [See here]. When figures such as 4 out of 10 teachers suspect their students are serial cheats then there is something that really needs attention, and now not later. Certainly, it appears many in the sector are pursuing ways of preventing this. We wish them every success.

At the same time there is real concern about the role of mathematics in the sciences at university and the apparent lack of capacity on the part of significant numbers who wish to enter those fields. Deans study maths role in uni success indicates a number of universities are working together to research the level of importance of high school maths for attaining success in tertiaty science studies. This could lead to pre-requisites for such courses, including higher level maths study. It backs up an earlier concern when comparing the success or otherwise of students in NSW who had studied the Mathematics General course in later high school. Those who have already been urging the need for pre-requesite courses should at last see some increased justification for their efforts.

Finances are always a major topic in the tertiary area in both university and vocational sectors. It certainly still remains in the university sector. In recent times we have seen articles indicating the uni course funding freeze ‘would cost $16bn dollars over 20 years’, while concern over funding raises its head in numerous other places. Among these are Canberra Giveth, and Taketh Away from Vicki Thomson and the Group of Eight, which is not all negative but does express several concerns. It concludes with the statement - ‘Our government can and should do the same with carefully planned investment in the future of Australia’. Two other positives, however, seem to be found in the research planning which has won sector support, followed by Universities welcome pledge on uncapped uni places. Perhaps they hadn’t read the piece by Tim Dodd, Where’s the substance Labor ?. They would also have been concerned to see a later news item about our nearest neighbour - Budget freeze threat to NZ implementing a freeze similar to the Australian government. Where to now ?

Finally, a recent report by Ernst & Young personnel, titled Can Universities of today lead learning for tomorrow ? [or The University of the Future] asked whether universities of today could remain the same and striving change, the university of the future, transformed universities, a series of recommendations and provide contacts for further information. Its belief is that the system is essentially broken and that the system and the role it plays, are no longer necessarily what are needed. As a quote from Glynn Davis states ‘The Australian idea of a university has served us well. It may also have run its course’. There is also recognition of this from others in the university sector as seen in Threats to Universities on all sides while advice is freely available in Six things Labor’s review of tertiary education should consider as well as the earlier Four ideas for reforming higher education policy-making. Some fascinating thoughts and certain to put the cat among the pigeons in the tertiary sector.

Vocational Education
Craig Robertson has provided a range of interesting acknowledgements, concerns and general thoughts in Pathway to a fulfilling, productive career begins at TAFE. Many thoughts would be acknowledged by others as being common sense and reflect the beginning of presentations by people who wish to see this component of the tertiary sector regain its previous position. Vision for the sector is also a component of the piece by Rod Camm. He leaves little to the imagination with statements such as ‘Nationally, VET is being left to slowly decay through what looks like benign neglect or indifference’. It is also not just the federal level which he addresses. In addition, he makes a particular case for the private sector component.

In many ways, it is surprising that the sector is not beginning to blossom. Articles such as Why some young people fare better than others in the job market indicate, among other points, that ‘vocational education and training qualifications seem to result in good employment outcomes, with more than 86 per cent of vocational education students employed upon finishing training’, though there are other relevant factors in respect of long term employment and perhaps financial gain as a consequence. Permanent employment certainly appears to be more rapidly achieved than for many in the university sector.

The sad part is that when you review documentation over a longer period of time, similar concerns, opinions, suggestions, almost pleas have often arisen, yet we are still seeing the same appear in the present. Over this period, there have been changes, funding variations, catastrophes and more, yet we do not seem to have engendered the capacity to benefit from hindsight when facing a similar experience. Without someone biting the bullet in the near future, we look fated to repeat the same style of errors well into the future, to the detriment of those directly involved as well as all in the wider community.

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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. Most items are Australian in origin. Follow each link that piques your particular interests.

Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education
‘Emeritus Professor John Halsey from Flinders University conducted the review to examine the challenges faced by these students and find innovative solutions to help them succeed at school and beyond. He held consultations with education authorities, peak bodies, schools and communities, and received over 300 submissions from stakeholders. Professor Halsey made eleven recommendations and suggested fifty-three actions as examples of how to progress them’.

The Social Make-up of Schools
This was a ‘report prepared for the Australian Education Union. It begins with an investigation into the social make-up of primary and secondary schools in the three sectors based on family income. It provides a review of family income, Indigenous status, family type, religion, languages spoken, disability, home internet access, housing tenure, and geographic mobility of students in public, Catholic and independent schools’. A huge range of information and the conclusions that come from them.

What Price The Gap ? Education and Inequality in Australia
‘The question of inequality has permeated recent public debate in Australia. This Issues Paper sheds light on this educational inequality and its cost to Australia. It analyses the costs of students at the bottom falling further below those at the top and estimates that over the six years from 2009-15 alone, this growing inequality has cost Australia around $20.3 billion, equivalent to 1.2% of GDP. The longer-term cost to Australia is even bigger, because the gap was widening well prior to 2009’. The Public Education Foundation.

Future job openings for new entrants by industry and occupation
One of the most important things for most students is the prospect of a job, especially a permanent one. ‘This report provides forecasts of job openings by industry and occupation for new entrants to the labour market from 2017 to 2024. These job openings are estimated by accounting for both growth [or decline] in the occupation or industry as well as the replacement needs due to workers leaving the occupation’. NCVER.

Can the universities of today lead learning for tomorrow ?
The University of the Future. This is a period of ever increasing change and universities will not be exempt from this. This ‘report explores four divergent views of the higher education landscape in 2030 and provides insights to how universities need to transform themselves to serve a changing society and a profoundly changed world’. Makes for fascinating reading. Ernst & Young.

Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools
This is the report that has drawn praise, condemnation, concern and virtually every other feeling possible. David Gonski and the panel must wonder what hit them. At least by reading the report, you can find exactly what was said and the full context in which it was said.

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