An interesting few weeks in Australian political life by anyone’s standards. While the politics can take care of themselves and you can either suspend belief or believe what you will [I’m going for the first] there is still the educational process to follow.While Gonski [National Plan for School Improvement, Better Schools, …] has been the dominant feature there are other things also happening even at this late stage of the last parliamentary sitting.
Gonski at least got a gong in the lower house. You can read the Australian Education Bill 2013 - Parliament of Australia, amendments and all here or also through this Australian Education [Consequential and Transitional Provisions] Bill 2013 if you wish. Even though it was expected, it was still a close call, closer than it is likely to be when it hits the Senate.
While there will certainly have been those who would have cheered, others were less certain. Gonski reforms : PM and Education Minister banned from visiting schools even made a UK paper [12 June] as did the fact that South Australia signs up for Gonski School Funding [The Guardian UK, 14 June]. Meanwhile Tasmania steps back from signing Gonski Deal [ABC Online, 15 June].
At the same time, it appears that Julia
Gillard offers [a] funding carrot for WA to sign up to Gonski Program [The Guardian, UK, 12 June]. Same
higher figures [much higher]. NSW, if one is to believe what has been said about not being disadvantaged if higher figures are
made to any other state, must be rubbing its hands with glee. Ah well, everyone is going to get the same formula anyway -
aren’t they ? We still don’t know where the money will come from, when it is due, as the Greens, at least, have
said they will not agree to the tertiary funding reductions, while it is unlikely the opposition will agree.
Other articles pose some interesting questions. These include What happens to Education if Gillard is gone-ski ? [AFR, 15 June] and Julia Gillard to punish Gonski school funding hold-outs [The Australian, 5 June]; more general articles include Education’s ominous national plan destined for Failure [The Australian, 15 June] and Poor policy process makes a mockery of commitment to Education [The Australian, 12 June] determines the abruptness and shortness of the process of legislation left a lot to be desired.
With only a week or so of parliament to go before the elections, we will soon know if the policy is legislated into being. The other conundrums may take much, much longer.
16 June 2013
Meanwhile, back at the farm the rest of education continues its progress [?].
Research keeps appearing from around Australia and around the world. Have you taken the time to read what this is all about ? Do you ever feel the same way about the topics/findings ? Sadly many of them remind me of Homer Simpson and his “doh”. Take, for example, one of the latest. School engagement predicts success later in Life [The Conversation, 13 June] that describes a study which shows ‘Children’s interest and engagement in school influences their prospects of educational and occupational success 20 years later, over and above their academic attainment and socioeconomic background, researchers have found’. Who would have thought it ? On a lighter note, read the last item in High Wired [12 June]. Must say, I was also with Stephen Matchett on this one.
Not sure what to make of this one, though great praise was never one of my favourite responses. The paralysis of praise [The Conversation, 3 June] looks at one school which is going to limit the level of praise it uses so students get a more realistic taste of the “real world” where we often experience disappointment. What do you think about the concept ?
Finally, it is good to see that other countries face similar problems and decisions to Australia. For example, among the education news in England at the moment is concern about the expectation of children in comprehensive schools [The Telegraph, 13 June], with an interesting response [similar to those from teachers in Australia to their own concerns] in Are teachers doing the best for the best pupils ? [The Telegraph, 13 June]. There are also concerns about their GCSEs with the Education Secretary indicating GCSEs to become more demanding and Rigorous, [The Guardian, UK, 11 June]. At the same time, there are worries about the tertiary sector as seen in UK higher education : why the current numbers don’t add up [Guardian Professional, 10 June]. Maybe we are on the same planet after all.
16 June 2013
The Gonski Reforms [Australian Education Bill] looks like it will be before parliament as we write this, even though only two other parties, NSW and ACT [ACT signs up to Gonski education reforms, ABC News, 30 May], have signed up to the deal [Labor to put Gonski education reforms before Parliament, The Australian, 3 June]. At the same time, the other states and territories are ranged between limited support but no commitment, through considerable concern and no commitment through to total opposition to what is on offer. Even some who have agreed to be involved have concerns about funding in the next year or so [Principals anxious on eve of reform funding [SMH, National, 1 June] and Fears Gillard will go too soon on Gonski [The Australian, 1 June].
Meanwhile, the cross currents keep on flowing, with responses from the PM’s Press Office in response to reports in The Australian, Misinformation regarding the Gillard Government’s National Plan for School Improvement [31 May]. A number of states are saying absolutely no before 30 June at least.
Meanwhile, even though Gonski suggests every school should be on the same levels with special loadings for specific areas such as disability, etc., we now have the situation where 350 schools across Australia will have an additional $76 million allocated for disability support [$76 Million For Students With Disability In Special Schools, Ministers’ Press Office, 3 June], though it will not come into operation until 2015. Silly me. I thought the funding figures had been fixed and everyone knew what they were. Makes this additional funding, and the continuing complaints that people are unsure of what they might be, raises concerns.
As a national plan, the introduction of legislation designed to implement a scheme to which only a quarter of the other parties has agreed, with half of the remainder suggesting they will not, seems somewhat strange. In fact you could look at it one of two ways. It is designed to make these groups come on board even if they do not want to do so or, cynically perhaps, once we have it in place, it will be politically difficult if not impossible to remove the legislation.
Is it likely to be passed ? Yes. The government would seem to have the numbers in the lower house and with Greens support, certainly have the numbers in the Senate. Will it ever be administered in this form ? That is another question only time will solve. Will it ever be able to achieve what it originally set out to achieve in that case ? That would appear most unlikely unless all other states come on board at some time in the future and that would seem to require considerable change from the proposed structure. You might consider whether there are other possible reasons for rushing in now after clearly allowing till 30 June for final decisions to be made
2 June 2013
Meanwhile there are more articles about Gonski that get away from Gonski figures and offer reflection on process and aims. These are The cost of Party Bickering [UNSW Newsroom, 28 May] and School reforms overshadowed by dollar debate [The Australian, 1 June], while Report from the Frontlines [Newcastle Herald, 3 June], though not specifically on Gonski, looks at raising teacher standards which are an integral part of the original recommendations and is a thoughtful presentation from AITSL.
We made mention of the fact that computers will no longer be supplied to students [Digital Education Revolution]. This is hastening the BYO process, BYO laptop to school as funds dry up [SMH, 2 June] is going to become an increasing problem not only in terms of equity, balancing those who can afford to do so and those who cannot, but also the concept of whether you mandate a single platform or work around the multiplicity of platforms and devices. This has caused some difficulties in other jurisdiction where BYOT and/or BYOT schemes have been implemented. These schemes, based on the evidence from both here and overseas suggest this needs to be carefully thought out before any scheme is implemented.
Finally - wonderful what polling can bring out. As indicated, polling depends significantly for its accuracy on what the questions were. Recent polling suggests ‘One third of voters are likely to change their voting intentions as a result of the cuts to universities in the recent budget, a survey by peak group Universities Australia has found’ [and also found 87% supported increased funding for universities. This was also mentioned in High Wired - check the paragraph headed Polldancing. Wish I’d thought more about this process when sending out surveys years ago.
2 June 2013
NAPLAN has come and gone and there are still those who think it is a great idea and those who consider it of little value. Some schools were up front in advising parents their children did not have to take part, others gave prizes for being involved [one state even rewarded those who performed best], and later this year, schools and parents will have the data about their children and be able to take action about any weaknesses that are demonstrated [as if schools couldn’t already]. However, there seems to be a fairly small but continually growing band who are strongly opposed and making their feelings well and truly known.
Cuts to university funding are now starting to bite, with many of the universities predicting significant financial shortfalls over the next few years, and beginning to nominate areas that may/will be cut [though in some cases not everyone will feel the pain]. For example ANU freezes non-academic hiring after $51m Budget Cut [AAP/The Canberra Times, 22 May] and Parker cuts at Canberra : but UC staff pick up a Pay Rise [The Australian, 25 May] just to name two. At least their pay rise was less than is being asked at most universities.
As well, there are concerns both here and at Curtin to name two universities about the future of language courses - Asian Century anyone ? [This problem is also being flagged across a number of school systems]. At least we now have a consultation document on teaching and support of Indigenous languages at a national level : First national approach to Indigenous Language Teaching [Ministers’ Media Centre, 21 May].
Vaccination and another bit of bureaucracy featured in the Early Childhood sector this week. NSW and Queensland are looking at legislation that will allow child care centres to ban children who have not had their vaccinations, NSW bill to ban ‘anti-vax’ kids [News.com.au, 19 May] while the ACT is considering amending their legislation to allow banning during any “serious disease outbreak”. Only time will tell if it generates the same concern in other states and territories and develops the same response and proposed solutions as it has so far.
Meanwhile back at Childcare Central, a new Early Years Quality Fund Advisory Board has been established to ‘help deliver better outcomes for both workers and the children in their care’. Sounds great, but what will they be doing at the end of the two year period when the allocated funding runs out - will there be more funding, who will supply it, or … ?. You can find out more about the board at www.deewr.gov.au/earlyyearsqualityfund
26 May 2013
Gonski refuses to leave the limelight and it is becoming hard to work out what is what when both sides of the argument are throwing figures around and saying unkind things about their opposite numbers. Beyond the fact that, according to multiple reports, neither side can count properly, and they’re telling lies anyway, who knows what the actual figures are. There are some things we do know though.
One - people expecting a significant rush of money into schools in the next couple of years are going to be sorely disappointed. Money in reasonably large amounts [though not as much as Gonski recommended by any means] will start to appear but not for several years, so don’t plan on a big spend up just yet, PM’s School Reforms to bring Two Lean Years [AAP/The Canberra Times, 18 May]. Indeed, it could even be after the election after this one before really big funding starts to actually appear. Then it will only have a significant impact if it reaches the right places and is spent in the most effective way, with very specific targets as part of a larger plan that is well thought out.
Two - groups continue to express support or concern. For example Communities rally for School Funding [Australian Teacher Magazine, 22 May] and Schools unite to take on Gonski Reforms [The Australian, 24 May].
Three - ignoring the point scoring, arguing, deriding and various other assorted ‘compliments’, we are now starting to see an increasing number of thoughtful articles being presented. This is good to see. It is far better than just being told by one side ‘we’re spending more than you are’ and then told by the other ‘no you’re not’. After all, money will assist, but it is not the be all and end-all of any solution. Certainly significant expenditure does not seem to have achieved much, if anything, over the last several years.
Among the articles indicated are : Battling disadvantage through Gonski : will it work ? [The Conversation, Nicholas Biddle, 23 May]. This poses the questions : ‘How do we define educational disadvantage ? And are the government’s new reforms and extra funding targeting disadvantage in the right way ?’. Another is Julia Gillard ‘rewriting’ Gonski brief [The Australian, 23 May] where Kathryn Greiner, a Review Panel member, talks about what the panel was tasked with and whether other things than just the funding need to be considered. It includes quotes from Bill Scales [another panel member] and Ben Jensen.
The Timing on Gonski is all Wrong [The Australian, Opinion, 24 May] poses the obvious question of why it took so long to actually get to this point when a swifter process would probably have been more desirable both politically and in terms of the program itself. Even Battle over schools money heats up [The Conversation, Michelle Grattan, 19 May] looks at things in a rational manner.
Just as a background you might also like to consider Gonski Reform Facts [The Age, 14 May] which is sub-titled ‘What is the Gonski Report and what does it recommend ?’ and lists the information in a series of points. While a bit more negative, So much was promised but so little delivered [The Australian, 22 May] does trace the education programs implemented over the last several years leading up to Gonski. It makes interesting reading.
While the government can be pleased that several other states seem to be moving toward agreement, e.g. Giddings funds Gonski in State Budget [Australian Teacher Magazine, 23 May], it is certainly not yet a done deal. It will remain a major political topic till the election. Hopefully, the emergence of thoughtful articles will be a precursor to many more rather than simply talking about $s, and we will start to look at what might be, whether it is actually the best way and other aspects of improving standards across the board.
26 May 2013
If you were a political or financial pundit, this would have been one of the highlights of the year - a budget leading into an election, “wedging tactics”, the beginnings of a scare campaign [“cuts to the bone”, “send shivers down your spine”] and a refusal/inability to provide exact statements till a full, accurate fiscal position is established closer to the election. And that was only the beginning, stay tuned for more [or turn off the sound, just make up your own mind till 14 September, and retain your sanity].
Gonski may become a lost cause depending on what happens between now and 30 June or by 14 September, if what people seem to believe will happen actually occurs. If nothing else, people are going to have to come to grips with the fact that any significant change to funding will not occur for several years at least. Nobody knows what will happen with funding cuts in the tertiary sector until the vote comes up, with the Greens and Andrew Wilkie [at least] opposed to them. Vocational education, in comparison, just seems to have been placed in some black hole. NAPLAN [see much more below] is now the subject of a Senate Committee enquiry.
Education will certainly be one of the major areas that will be argued, debated, ridiculed, costed to death [by as many groups as possible and in as many ways as you can imagine] and be the basis for verbal stoushes for some time to come and not just about these topics. Be prepared.
19 May 2013
If anything else educational was going to make headlines in budget week, NAPLAN was it. Around Australia, more than a million children in four grades were sitting the NAPLAN tests. There were a few positive or just plain interesting reports [but only a few], such as Canberra Private School Sets a Great Example on NAPLAN [Save Our Schools, Canberra, 11 May]; Closing the gap : NAPLAN will help improve Indigenous Education [The Conversation, Zane Ma Rhea, 13 May]; No-stress approach pays off for school when it comes to NAPLAN [SMH, National Times, 14 May]; NAPLAN testing in remote Australia [RN Drive, ABC Radio National, 16 May]; and of course a Ministerial Press Release : NAPLAN helping us learn what works in Schools [13 May].
Quite a defence you might think. Then you begin to see the reaction from a different viewpoint, with articles and views pouring forth in great numbers from schools, groups, commentators and other politicians.
Just as an example : a Senate Committee led by the Greens wants an inquiry into the program Greens want inquiry into NAPLAN Tests [Australian Teacher Magazine, 11 May], while their party in NSW is linking it to concern about the MySchool site which uses the results as a base for ranking schools, My Schools site hurting kids : Greens [Computerworld, 14 May].
Allied to this were articles such as NAPLAN faces scrutiny [The Age, National Times, 16 May] Teachers [are] urged to talk about NAPLAN [The Age, National Times, 17 May] suggest concern is quite widespread. Certainly, School principals say parents [are] putting pressure on children to perform well in NAPLAN Testing [The Australian, 11 May] which has led to Brands cash[ing] in on NAPLAN test fear [SMH, National, 11 May], [for example having a NAPLAN practice booklet in the Topseller Book lists] and Parents pay[ing] up for the big business that is NAPLAN [ABC News, 14 May]. Of course, the government expects its program to be vindicated as can be seen from this article, Senate Committee to mark NAPLAN [The Australian, 17 May]. Results must be in before 27 June, which is the last sitting day of parliament.
Concerns were also expressed over the failure of schools to indicate to parents their right to withdraw their children from the tests [Save Our Schools, Canberra 13 May], while some parents groups were also becoming concerned at the perceived stress levels [ABC News, 14 May ]. Examples of the stress level impacts were included in two offerings from Save Our Schools, A Day in the Life of NAPLAN and More Stories About NAPLAN. Save Our Schools also continued to emphasise the concerns emanating from overseas about the standardised testing process [it has also occurred in Australia we are led to believe] in Study Shows Schools Rorting Test Results [16 May].
Meanwhile there were several commentators with articles looking at NAPLAN and its role and whether it was being used for what it was designed to actually achieve. These begin with NAPLAN is fine but the way we use it is Broken [SMH, 13 May] which indicates the test is good, we are just not using it as intended. This was followed the next day with NAPLAN only measures a fraction of literacy learning [The Conversation, Stewart Riddle, 14 May], which people tend to forget, so it it can only be one indicator for, as the author indicates “NAPLAN primarily measures students’ capacity to effectively sit NAPLAN tests”.
We even reached the stage of an editorial, indicating NAPLAN : Results are only a guide to Future Performance [SMH, 15 May] where a range of concerns and possibilities are canvassed. A final example is NAPLAN fails to pass its own Test [The Australian, 17 May] which indicates “The inquiry is timely, as concerns about NAPLAN, the My School website and using the one-off standardised test results to measure school and teacher performance are increasingly widespread” and goes on to express a range of concerns.
If I had to pick a commentary, I’d choose Spare play time and grill the Child [SMH, 15 May] if for no other reason than having gone through all the above, you need to be able to look on the lighter side. Hopefully, your sense of humour has not been deadened.
What will the inquiry find ? Will there be vindication ? Will we be told the tests should go, be modified, strengthened … ? Roll on the 27 June. However, on past experience, it would be unlikely that it would be removed or modified to any great degree. To do so would be to admit you were wrong about its use. That seems not to have happened anywhere else and it is unlikely to happen here.
19 May 2013
Highlighted Education Site
‘Poetryclass aims to enthuse and empower teachers, equipping them with fresh ideas and methods for making the most of poetry in the classroom’.
Includes sections covering Downloadable poetry lessons, Featured resources, Recommended websites and Poet biographies. Most resources are free, though there are others that can be purchased from this British site.
For those who want to use poetry both for its own sake but also as a way of teaching literacy, this could prove a really useful site to know. It also presents the possibility of finding new poets who might otherwise escape your attention.