“Teaching is the only major occupation of man for which we have not yet developed tools that make an average person capable of competence and performance. In teaching we rely on the ‘naturals’, the ones who somehow know how to teach”.

— Peter Drucker

Having [hopefully ?] given a very basic coverage of the various areas of education over the last couple of months, it is time to move on and look at some specific items. While many are still progressing, two have struck a chord with media, government and others over the last few weeks. These two come from different ends of the spectrum. One is related to the international education sector and, while it has achieved a reasonable following in the news sector, it is nothing compared with the other. The second, based around the latest NAPLAN testing results covers every aspect from disappointing results to multiple suggestions we should implement for improved achievement in the future.

International students are a bonus for the tertiary sector. In return, we gain financial benefit while also forging links with other countries. In doing so, we also attract a number of students who, when they have finished their studies, find they would like to be Australians in addition to already having spent time studying here. Unfortunately, where there are possibilities such as this, there are also people who are willing to take part in less desirable ways of achieving it. This has come to the notice of relevant bodies who oversee the complete process. In doing so, they have broken agreements designed to provide learning for students and benefits for bodies that assist them.

Concurrent enrolment - allowing international students to change to cheaper providers. Students using this option have ballooned dramatically [“17 000 concurrent enrolments created in the first half of this year, compared to approximately 10 500 for the same period in 2019 and 2022”]. Providers who still persist now also know the government will “consider using its powers under Section 97 of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act [ESOS Act] to issue suspension certificates to high-risk education providers. A suspension certificate means providers would not be able to recruit international students”. From the evidence provided, it would seem to be a stupid challenge to take up for the government is very serious as their statement clearly indicates.

Fortunately, action was swift as detailed in Action to end rorts in international education, detailing information and action from the relevant Government Ministers. This was promptly supported by Universities Australia. In addition, additional steps have been taken to ensure students can indicate enough personal savings [now 17% higher], to ensure they can cover essential expenditure, which like most aspects recently, has increased noticeably.

However, at the same time they have potentially opened another avenue for these students - that of consideration as future migrants to Australia. At least two sources, Sky News Australia and The Pie News have written that international students will be able to “express their wish to migrate in their visa applications, under new reforms [which have been] tabled”. Even an initial suggested levy, linked to enrolments, was discarded as detailed in the Sydney Morning Herald by everyone involved.

Done properly, everyone could benefit. The nation would gain qualified people able to assist with future needs. Students would win, the country would win and those who take the wrong path will find it was the wrong choice.

NAPLAN has been waited on by a wide range of people and finally results have arrived for the current year. They are the result of testing carried out much earlier in the year and using technology rather than pen and paper. Ratings have changed, now using four levels - Exceeding, Strong, Developing and Needs Additional Support. Results have also been slower this time than previously due to a new system being used. This is not expected to be the case in future years. “At the time of the announcement, many education experts warned that 2023 results might be lower than usual”. More specific detail is found at NAP - Home and in their Media Release [PDF]. Some of these factors are among those discussed by The Conversation, as part of one response to results obtained.

Not unexpectedly, there were numerous online responses to the results obtained. Academics weigh in on NAPLAN tests, NAPLAN : Australia can’t close Achievement Gaps without closing Resources Gaps [Australian Education Union], NAPLAN dive shows funding splurge is no fix for learning woes [Centre for Independent Studies] and Calls for ‘international expertise’ to help fix Australian education [Sky News]. Others looked at different aspects. The government indicated NAPLAN raises the bar to identify and help children who need additional support, believing if we have more specific information, we can more accurately direct support in whatever chosen form/funding much more accurately, thus solving many of the evident weaknesses currently displayed. The one thing said is that there will be No ‘blank cheques’ for hard up schools believing we should “tie funding to the sort of things that are going to work”. The Minister also “hinted at extra federal funding in the next intergovernmental meeting on public school spending, to be negotiated next year”.

It has been interesting to see the diversity of responses from other sources [some listed above]. With Homeschooling increasing in numbers over recent years, there should be concerns over these numbers accelerating further. Student refusal to attend school has also risen dramatically. While this can be seen as partially linked to the COVID pandemic, there are numerous other factors at play. There is also an increasing movement of students from public to private schools [ABC News and The parents fleeing Australia’s public school system – and those choosing to stay, even after rises in private school fees. Some have even started their own school - Parents have started their own school in Sydney. The rise in violence is another and is not restricted to student violence, but can also arise between parents and schools. A number of others, as indicated in different articles, do not like several of the topics being taught, especially in light of the NAPLAN results and could follow those who have left already. Only time will tell if this is the case and what impact it may have.

This brings us to another option. If our system is not working effectively, whose system does ? Should we be looking to some of these to see why they work and whether we could adapt and/or adopt relevant sections and implement them here ? This is not an easy one to answer. Other countries who have achieved great recognition, achievement and ranking do not necessarily have easily transferable structures because they are designed for totally different cultures and educational structures. It is possible to take parts of a program if it is deemed appropriate, then implement a scheme based on it. A couple of these could quite easily include two friendly countries. Singapore is one. A Research Article from New Zealand has done all the work - Singapore’s Education System : Some Key Success Factors, even though it is several years old. It still reflects positives to be found while also recognising it could not simply be picked up and wholly implemented there [or here]. Why is Singapore’s school system so successful and is it a model for the West ? provides further information.

A second example is more recent. Katharine Birbalsingh showed how one British school could be totally changed to one of achievement and success. ‘Known as “Britain’s meanest headmistress” because of her use of detentions and rigorous application of school rules, it has earned her the condemnation of progressives within her profession, but the gratitude of parents’. [See more information here.] What is important is the process - comparable with what used to be the norm in Australia not too long ago - has again worked exceptionally well, ending with results considerably higher than most in all aspects of school life and learning. This educational process is also reflected in other articles and discussions, e.g. Old-school teaching proves to be a catalyst for learning. A year or more ago, this might not have been considered. At least now they are being aired as in Canberra Catholic schools reap benefits of literacy program and are being implemented with considerable success.

In addition to all of the above, there is still concern about student teacher development, both in respect of pedagogical learning as well as the practicalities and knowledge required for classroom control and effectiveness. Again this is not something new. Back in the late 1980s we had students having their first practicum in their final year of study. Some handled it well. Some were devastated and ended any possibility of continuing on to a teaching career. This was a regrettable waste for everybody involved. If you can’t control a classroom [it now appears to be more difficult], it doesn’t really matter how much theory you understand and believe in - you will not be an effective teacher. Periods of practice teaching are now less even though over a longer course. They also have other impacts on students, such as restricting casual employment/payment which, in turn, causes other imposts and ability to concentrate. This is an area which really seems to need greater consideration and assistance. Student teachers should spend more time on practical skills, less time on philosophy of education, panel recommends covers a possible starting point, one aspect of which, paid placements, is being sought by many. While this is one aspect, a number of options are canvassed in the above and also in Starting off on the wrong foot : How to improve Initial Teacher Education.

The future holds decision making which will prove essential to solving a range of problems in schools. Many have not been covered but are easily found when reading a range of commentary about multiple aspects, all designed to lead to significant improvement in areas such as NAPLAN, but also in other aspects of education at school level. NAPLAN results have simply brought multiple factors to the fore, all of which are interrelated, all of which are essential if genuine improvement is the end objective. This presentation only touches on a number of points which have been raised. There are many more. There is also a multitude of presentations available to look at diverse points. A number are listed below should you wish to look further. They vary in both length and topic. All are interesting to read, whether you agree with all, some or even none of what they say. I hope they prove informative and also get you thinking about what must be be done to achieve better results in this area.

Pupils at the Presbyterian Women’s Union school for Chinese girls, in traditional dress, Victoria, c. 1890s

“Pupils at the Presbyterian Women’s Union School for Chinese girls, in traditional dress, c. 1890s. The Presbyterian Women’s Union conducted a ‘school for Chinese girls’ in a brick building on the corner of Little Bourke Street and Heffernan Lane”.
Available at :, Victorian Collections - Pubic Records Office, Victoria. [accessed 26 August 2023].

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