David Gonski

“Education reform is like a bus. Miss one reform, don’t worry, another will be along in a minute!”

By the time you read this the media will most likely have moved on from its fascination with the report they have labelled Gonski 2.0.

In case you are still interested and reading here is a quick summary:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull believes we have a “lagging school system”. He asked David Gonski to compile a report that would assess how education spending could be better targeted to improve ailing results.

Some of the key areas included in the report include:

What Australian education should look like:

  • A challenge to the Commonwealth, States and Territories to ditch their “industrial model of schooling” in favour of a more modern and individual approach.
  • Greater autonomy for school principals, and measures to boost the social status of teachers.
  • An urgent review of Year 11 and 12 curricula, which vary from state to state, was needed in part to counter the undue focus placed on getting students into university.
  • The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) plays “a disproportionate role as a yardstick for overall school performance”.
  • The creation of an independent institute to assess educational evidence.
  • The changes should be seen as a package deal, not for picking and choosing by politicians. “Taken together, and implemented in a sustained way, these reforms will reverse the decline in student outcomes in recent decades”. 

Reporting:

  • Scrap end-of-year results in favour of “learning progressions” that can be assessed and attained at any time – and tracked, even if a student changes schools or states.
  • A clear assessment of student progress is needed to ensure that we don’t just have students who cruise by in their education because they’re not being extended.
  • Reporting against year-level achievement standards hides both progress and attainment for some students, and does not amount to a diagnostic assessment of real learning needs.
  • A new online assessment tool that teachers use to gauge where their pupils are up to and develop “tailored teaching and learning strategies” for individual students.

Obstacles to improvement

  • Stronger students are “not being stretched” to achieve in the top levels of proficiency in mathematics, reading and science.
  • The national curriculum is a handbrake on education, serving up “a fixed year-level diet of knowledge, skill and understanding”.
  • Teaching curriculum based on year or age levels rather than levels of progress leaves some students behind and fails to extend others, limiting the opportunity to maximise learning growth for all students. 

The government who instituted the Report has responded positively to its recommendations. Others were not so enthusiastic.

Gonski 2.0:  Critiques and Opinions

  • Blaise Joseph, Policy Analyst, and Dr Jennifer Buckingham, Senior Research Fellow in the education program, Centre for Independent Studies: “It is full of generalities and a head-spinning number of platitudes. The central recommendations of the report have no research to support them, putting psychobabble over cognitive science. There is absolutely no evidence that the proposed new assessment and reporting regimes will have the impacts claimed.”
  • Rob Stokes NSW Minister for Education: Mr Stokes also threw his support behind recommendations to change standardised tests and have Australia move away from its “industrial model of school education.”
  • President of the NSW Teachers Federation Maurie Mulheron: Supports changes that “are managed and driven by the teaching profession.”
  • Labor’s education spokesman Jihad Dib: Supports the changes the plan introduces in principle.
  • Jennifer Hewett, Australian Financial Review: “Unfortunately, this blueprint is destined to fall straight into the sinkhole of jargon-filled reports purporting to address Australia’s steadily declining education standards but offering almost nothing to alter that dismal trajectory. The tactic was to co-opt David Gonski to back its plan to dramatically increase federal funding for schools over the next decade. This is despite all the evidence that providing more money to do more of the same will do little.”
  • Glenn C. Savage, Senior Lecturer in Education Policy and Sociology of Education, University of Western Australia: “In many ways, the report reflects a smorgasbord of popular ideas that have been doing the rounds for some time.”
  • Jenny Allum, Head of school at SCEGGS Darlinghurst: “The Gonski review is an abject failure and we have missed an opportunity to make meaningful changes to the Australian education scene…Much of the argument used to justify this wide-ranging ‘blueprint’ is filled with motherhood statements and meaningless drivel.”

So what about SCAS? 

We believe that:

  • The 19th century model of education has to change to give our students a chance in the “real” world. Our subjects need to be relevant, well planned and engaging.
  • Funding certainty for schools would make strategic planning more effective.
  • We need to individualise our teaching rather than assuming all students are at the same level at the same age and all students learn the same way.
  • There are other ways of assessing knowledge and skills than just tests or examinations and we should use these to get a better picture of each student’s learning and skills.
  • Many of our curricula are politically reactive and overcrowded, limiting deeper learning.
  • The education wars are not going to end with this report → “While public schools cry out for cracked windows to be fixed, ancient carpet to be replaced and playing fields that don’t flood with every serious rain, private schools are running not primarily as educational institutions but as businesses – and getting our help to do it.” Winner takes all: how private schools make everyone nastier, Elizabeth Farrelly. SMH, May 2018.

Whether our various governments support Mr Gonski’s reform platform or not, SCAS will continue to evolve its educational platform to meet the needs of its current and future students.

Simple.


Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School