Aussie Educator

A willingness to acknowledge and learn from failure is essential for all progress. Geoff Masters

All pages have been updated over the last two months. This does not mean there are not changes since the pages were done. Nor that there will not be changes in the near future. A number of major bodies are making changes to their sites as you read this. We will be working to ensure we keep up as quickly as possible.

While we have concentrated on two major topics below, a range of other actions, proposals, impasses, ... , have also occurred. Some of these are restricted to specific areas around Australia. Others have the potential to spread more widely. The two chosen simply appear to have the greatest impact across the whole community at this time.

If you are interested, consider among others [in no particular order] changes to the curriculum in NSW, the University of Tasmania’s proposed new STEM centre in Hobart, the impact of online teacher courses on future planning, student behaviour linked to impact on learning, concern about competency-based VET, a perceived threat to “Australian” values in specific schools in NSW, concerns over the impact of selective schools, and the list could go on and on.

Back to the topics at hand.

That started as a good idea ...

Education is an expensive business. It has always been so. Funding for education has had its ups and downs over the years. As Tom Bentley indicated in Educating Australia : Challenges for the decade ahead, The deep politics of school funding remain unresolved. Periodic bouts of intense debate and conflict regularly resurface. While not directly addressing this specific situation, is a clear indication of what usually happens with funding matters.

The last major change in this area was the advent of the Gonski Review and its recommendations. Much has been written about the review, the funding, the numerous agreements, proposed changes, etc., over the last few years. Numerous news items have been listed on these and other pages. Opinion pieces have been presented by many, scanned and reacted to by others. Positions have been adopted. Proposals have been promulgated and discussed. Yet what will happen in the last period of the planned funding has still not been finalised. A decision is getting closer we are told. What then ? Will we once again go back to another bout of intense debate and conflict ?

Meantime, you may well come across a big, green bus. AEU : All aboard for Gonski provides details of good things that are happening and what they see this campaign is about. March 22 when they arrive in Canberra will certainly make the news.

The burning question is, will people remain glued to their stated positions ? Or, will there be movement to ensure the best possible outcomes, even though they may not accord with their specific belief ? Will genuinely difficult decisions be made, or will people stick to specific positions and postures ? To go back and achieve the original Gonski aim, a number of difficult decisions will be required. Are there enough people in appropriate positions and with old fashioned grit, prepared to make them ?

Are these various positions well known ? They should be, but some also seem to slip under the radar. Ken Boston, a member of the original panel, has recently had several articles published. Gonski at five : vision or hallucination ? is among the latest. The introduction includes as part of a position for a new funding structure it’s not the one Labor, the Coalition or their critics have in mind. Could he be right ? Tom Bentley states that this task must involve both equity and efficiency in public funding. Glenn Savage, in a much earlier piece, says current debates are handicapped by a number of myths. Regrettably they still appear to be.

There is no doubt that some significant achievements have been made by some schools across recent years. Boston indicates this with his statement that there are good examples of improvements in educational achievement as a result of the intelligent application of the funding to classroom practice. More is still needed. Regrettably he continues on - neither side of politics has come to grips with what needs-based funding really means. This does not bode well for a continued expansion of achievement. As NAPLAN, PISA and TIMSS results indicate, high achievement are not words one would readily use.

A final comment from Ken Boston sums it all up. The government and the opposition are fluffing around the margins of the issue, and neither appears to understand the magnitude of the reform that is needed, or - if they do - to have the capacity to tackle it. More dramatically, he goes on to say the issue is profoundly deeper than argument about the last two years of Gonski funding, or changes to the governance of federal-state funding arrangements.

If we are going to have “Gonski”, at least let us have what the Gonski review actually recommended. Otherwise, what was the point ? Everyone should be working toward this and leaving aside any other interest or “version” which may be preventing it. Let’s hope we see this in the coming months.

Where are we going ...

The tertiary academic year has now commenced but there still appear to be some doubts about where the sector is going and how it is going to get there. As well, a host of smaller situations seem to be surfacing.

Among these are multiple student concerns including the handling of sexual assaults where policies are often ‘inconsistent’ and ‘confusing’, changes with the “typical” university student, traditional learning structures, concerns over future options for graduates and uncertainty about research options and roles to name a few.

The reform process is still on most people’s mind. The burning question is what form will this take and what areas will be affected. Since 2013 there have been 26 reviews, options papers, inquiries and discussion papers into the higher education and research sectors [The Australian]. This provides a wealth of data and opinion from a wide range of sources. There has been a range of responses to this. This has come from academics, academic bodies and political opponents.

Universities Australia still believes there is No need for a ‘dramatic overhaul’. Margaret Gardner, the new Chairwoman, says they have a primary aim of ‘maintaining funding at current levels’, and the retention of the demand-driven system and a range of other specific programs. ‘It would be healthy for us all to talk about the shaping of the sort of tertiary education system that is best for Australia’s future’ is a major statement. [The Australian]. See also the link below to Visions for Australian Tertiary Education.

Change will be proposed. Of this there is no doubt. Getting down to basics is worth a short read in this regard, as is All Bets are Off and the Ministers' address to the recent Universities Australia conference.

One could quote more comments including from Tanya Plibersek, John Dewar and Gavin Moodie, plus earlier submission comments from a range of universities and others. Even overseas academics, such as Ken Coates [podcast] have had their thoughts on the future of higher education provided to us.

And the time is right to finally discover where this sector is actually going. Perhaps a month or so and the advent of the Budget will prove more likely. However, the time for further discussion, review, positioning, etc., is surely past. As the Minister said in his speech to Universities Australia, We cannot make everybody happy but we must balance priorities to do what is in the best interests of Australia and the people we are here to serve. One hopes this will prove to be an overall plan that is right for the sector, the government and, more importantly, the Australian community at large. If it is, then it should be supported by everyone without fear or favour so we can move on to an implementation process.

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

Gonski at five : vision or hallucination ?
‘Australia urgently needs a new school funding structure, says one of the authors of the Gonski report, and it’s not the one Labor, the Coalition or their critics have in mind’. Ken Boston is the author and covers the original intent of the “Gonski” process. As one of the members of the panel, he should be a good starting point to go back to what was originally indicated by David Gonski and the others, not the politicians.

Visions for Australian Tertiary Education
‘The chapters in this volume offer provocative ideas for transforming Australian tertiary education. Each is grounded in current issues or trends but goes beyond present thinking to propose ways in which policy and practice might make major advances. The Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education last produced a volume of this kind in 2013’. An extensive presentation but one well worth reading, and digesting.

What Doesn’t Work in Education : ...
The Politics of Distraction. John Hattie. ‘In this new paper, the first of two, he addresses the question of what this search for more impact means, and he does two things powerfully. The first is to make the case that the minimum goal of education, when rightly expressed, should be for all students to make at least one year’s progress for one year’s input, no matter where they start. The second is to argue that at the level of public policy there are many ideas, many of them popular and plausible, which do not pass the 0.4 test. These comprise what he calls the politics of distraction’. Fascinating. Also see below for the second document.

What Works Best in Education : ...
The Politics of Collaborative Expertise. John Hattie indicates ‘What we need is a defensible and compelling narrative that leads to long-term, coherent and focused system-wide attention on student learning. I call this territory ‘the politics of collaborative expertise’. Its premise is that there is differential expertise across our schooling system and that there can be wide variation within schools. The aim of this paper is to begin describing what a model of collaborative expertise would look like and what we need to get done to make it a reality’.

The Vanishing Private School
Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd. An interesting title for a long argued topic. Considerable information is provided. Several suggestions are provided as a result of this. As they say at the end of their synopsis ‘we can’t create a better conversation about the future relationship between the public and private school sectors until we deal with the current realities. The near-full public funding of private schools, and its implications, is one of those realities’. See whether you agree.

Research Messages 2016
NCVER provides extensive research and other information each year. This publication ‘summarises the research into Australia’s vocational education and training sector published by NCVER during 2016. It has been expanded to include other relevant and informative resources, including summaries, infographics and statistical papers’. If you want to know about a specific area or topic, this is a brilliant starting point.

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