Thursday, 24 May 2018

State schools a change agent

The first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from Harvard Law School has labelled the Australian public school system as one of the greatest agents of change for the nation.

Larissa Behrendt, a Kamilaroi woman, was guest speaker at the Public Education Foundation’s awards night at Sydney Town Hall on 21 May and praised the system while pointing out it needed proper funding.

“What became apparent to me as I was at one of the most elite universities in the world was that my education through the public school system in Australia had given me everything I needed to be able to hold my own among the world’s best,” she told the audience.

“Our public school system is one of the greatest agents of change that we have in our society and it produces young adults who have in themselves the ability to be agents of enormous positive change themselves. 

“So for this reason it remains absolutely essential that we invest heavily in our public education system.”

Ms Behrendt, Professor of Indigenous Research and Director of Research at the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at UTS, said the value of education for Indigenous people was fundamental. 

“There’s nothing that transforms the life circumstances more for a person than education and it’s something that once you have no one can ever take it away from you,” she said. 

“This is particularly so for groups within our community who are marginalised in very many ways and particularly in my own area of Indigenous issues, we agonise all the time about the intractable socio-economic issues that face my community.

“But each time we see an Indigenous person finish school and get further education through university or TAFE we see a person who is fundamentally changing their circumstances and those of their family and their community.” 

Ms Behrendt credits her parents for her political awareness and her alma mater Kirrawee High School, where she and her brother were the only Aboriginal students, for nurturing her love of debating.

“It was a time before Indigenous issues were integrated into the curriculum and none of my classmates had even heard of the Stolen Generations,” she said. “The teachers I had for the most part tried to accommodate this, including introducing the first Indigenous elective into the school in history when I was in my senior years.

“[At Harvard] there was no doubt I was coming from a minority but I didn’t lack anything that I needed to be competitive. I can’t ever say I walked the halls with confidence but I think that the motivation for independent learning, the discipline and my love of reading and debating all held me in good stead more than I realised at the time. 

“I deeply credit Kirrawee High School for complementing the values my parents instilled in me. It just celebrated its 50 year anniversary and it was wonderful to see the increasing numbers of Indigenous students in the school and the visible place Indigenous culture has there.”

In addition to the presentation of awards, the evening featured performances by public school students.

From the AEU

Today is Public Education Day, a day on which we can celebrate the importance of state schools, while also demanding they receive the federal funding they need and deserve. We've been out and about today, launching our Fair Funding Now! campaign, which we intend to make a key election issue in the months ahead. Please sign up to get on board with the campaign.

I want to use this occasion to express my thanks to principals, teachers and support staff in public schools for their work and commitment. You are what makes our public schools worth fighting for.

Following our successful principals conference two weeks ago, tomorrow we will host our annual reps conference. If your school has reps attending, thank you for facilitating their attendance. As always, the purpose is to inspire and encourage our reps, which feels particularly important given this is an important election year. With the state election due in November and the possibility of a federal election any time after August, we need to make sure our members' voices are heard.

The AEU is determined to ensure all our schools receive Fair Funding Now! Principals know better than most the difference this would make. We can lobby but it is the power of collective action that delivers results.

The translation of 10,030 school staff from insecure to ongoing work didn’t happen overnight. It was through the efforts of our members – attending and making submissions to the Insecure Work Inquiry, ensuring it was front and centre in our log of claims ahead of the enterprise agreement negotiations, and keeping it on the table during the enterprise agreement discussions – we delivered an outcome.

Our I Give A Gonski campaign, which helped deliver much-needed funding into schools was another reminder of the power a union of 50,000 members has in making our issues become the ones that change votes. 

Our Fair Funding Now! campaign is continuing that good work and we'll be talking about it a lot in the coming weeks and months. I hope you'll be talking about it too. As we get closer to election time, we want you to understand just how powerful your voice is.

Meredith Peace, AEU Victoria President

Monday, 21 May 2018

Ken Boston speaks

Education reform critics are out in force, misrepresenting the second Gonski report and naysaying approaches that promise to bring real improvement to learning in NSW and across Australia.

The federal government asked for advice on how $23.5 billion could be distributed in line with the principles of the first Gonski report "to improve school performance and student achievement”. The second report's recommendations directly answer this request and are solidly grounded in international research and evidence.

They do not recommend a change in the role of teacher to facilitator; separate the teaching of general capabilities from subject knowledge; abolish whole-class teaching as a classroom strategy; require lesson plans for every student; abolish year level classes; replace the ATAR; introduce outcomes-based education; revolutionise early childhood education; eliminate competition between students; or prevent examinations using A-E grades. The report recognises that one year’s growth in learning is not the same for every child, and shows how this is best addressed.

Further, the report proposes evolution not revolution. The strategies it proposes are already well underway in Australian schools.

A key concept is the "learning progression". A learning progression is a sequence of stages of learning in a school subject, from ignorance to mastery. These stages of steadily increasing proficiency are called levels, and are identified by what a student typically knows, understands, and is able to do at each level in the subject.

For example, a child who can write some letters of the alphabet and say the corresponding sound might be at level 2 in literacy; a child who can combine most letters to represent the dominant sounds in words (apl for apple) might be at level 3; correct spelling of apple and other common words might signify level 4. The objective is to move children from one level to the next level as rapidly as possible during the school year, to eventual mastery of the subject. Hence the report's title, Through Growth to Achievement.

Some time ago, Australian education ministers requested the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority develop national literacy and numeracy progressions, which are already online for trial in schools, notably in NSW.

The value of such an approach was confirmed for the review panel in discussion with Andreas Schleicher from the OECD and Geoff Masters from the Australian Council for Educational Research, both of whom focused on the characteristics of high-performing education systems internationally; by the international research literature; by submissions from Australian education systems and universities; and by principal, parent and teacher organisations. The report is not proposing the revolutionary introduction of an untested strategy, but encouraging the continuing evolution nationally of an already proven reform.

Similarly, international research dating back to Lev Vygotsky 40 years ago has demonstrated the effectiveness of two processes in teaching: first, the teacher identifying the level a child has reached on a learning progression (a process called diagnostic assessment); and second, setting the next challenging but achievable learning activity to take the child to the next level (a process called personalised learning or differentiated teaching). This approach to teaching – dubbed the clinical approach because of emphasis on diagnosis and response - is hardly revolutionary or untested: Michael Fullan, John Hattie, Field Rickards and others have researched its effectiveness internationally. It is an increasingly common approach in all Australian states.

The Gonski report is proposing no more than the scaling up of these proven reforms to national level, by a phased and managed process. We recommend that over the next five years, the national curriculum be expressed as national learning progressions.

The proposed online assessment and teaching tool is intended to make the clinical approach more manageable for teachers. First, teachers will benefit from online availability of a bank of low-key assessments in areas such as grammar and number, revealing quickly the level a child has reached on a progression. This is already well within our grasp through online resources such as the ACER Progressive Achievement Tests, which are heavily used by teachers. Second, teachers will be able to draw on a choice of teaching activities to enable students to achieve the next step in learning. The development of a bank of such activities is also well within reach.

In implementing these and other reforms, the key strategic issue for the next five years is the professional development of teachers and the development of the teaching profession. High quality teaching is, always has been, and will remain the essential foundation of high quality education.


Three people, including a former Education Department deputy secretary and an ASX-listed company chief executive, have been charged over their involvement in a botched school IT project, which cost taxpayers up to $240 million.

After a lengthy investigation, the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission has charged former department deputy secretary Darrell Fraser with five counts of obtaining property by deception and one count of misconduct in public office.

IBAC also charged Denis Mackenzie and Julie-Ann Kerin, the former and current chief executives of CSG, the company awarded the Ultranet project. They have each been hit with five counts of obtaining property by deception.

The Ultranet project promised to deliver an online platform that connected Victorian teachers, parents and students but was plagued by technical issues and rarely used after its rollout by the former state Labor government in 2010.

It was scrapped in 2014, wasting between $127 million and $240 million of taxpayers' money, according to a statement released by the commission on Monday.

IBAC's Operation Dunham investigated the corrupt tender process for the IT project, and concluded in a 2017 report that department officials bought shares in CSG, influenced the tender process and accepted inappropriate gifts from suppliers, including flights and expensive meals.

Education Minister James Merlino said the investigation exposed appalling behaviour and Victorian's deserved better.

“I am glad to see the matter will now progress to the courts and I expect justice will be served.”

An Education Department spokesman said sweeping reforms had been rolled out to prevent the corrupt behaviour uncovered by IBAC from ever happening again. This includes the establishment of an integirty and assurance division.

“As charges have been laid and this matter is now before the courts, it would be inappropriate to provide comment," he said.

In a statement to the ASX on Monday, CSG denied that it had acted inappropriately.

"After reviewing the IBAC report, CSG denied that it and its officers have done anything wrong," it said.

It said the charges related to a consulting project, titled the Learning Technologies and Quality Assurance Project.

According to CSG, the charges allege that the Education Department was deceived about the "true nature and purpose" of the project, and into believing that Alliance Recruitment would complete all the work on that project.

IBAC's report found that Mr Fraser, the former principal of Glen Waverley College who spearheaded the IT project, used $1 million of department money to "corruptly inject funds into CSG to ensure it had sufficient cash flow to properly deliver the Ultranet project".

It also found that he tried to influence the evaluation of the tender by "stacking" an assessment with like-minded colleagues and spent thousand of dollars of taxpayers' money on lavish dinners and alcohol.

In 2011, Mr Fraser resigned as deputy secretary and took up a senior job with CSG.

The investigation followed revelations by Fairfax Media in 2014 that four senior education department officials bought shares or took jobs with CSG. Only one of these officials, Mr Fraser, has been charged in relation to Operation Dunham.

Those charged over the Ultranet scandal have been summoned to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 3 July.

A separate investigation by IBAC titled Operation Ord revealed that senior Education Department officers misappropriated taxpayer funds through false and inflated invoices.

As a result of that investigation, disgraced former Education Department big wig Nino Napoli was among six people charged over their alleged involvement in a corrupt ring that swindled more than $6 million from Victorian state schools.

Monday, 14 May 2018

More drivel from Howard

The federal government should cut all funding for any school that won't let parents pull their children out of sex- or gender-related classes, former prime minister John Howard has urged.

The Coalition elder has told the review into religious freedom - run by his long-time cabinet minister Philip Ruddock - federal funding should be used to coerce public and private schools into respecting parental preferences. 

"Speaking practically, the preferable approach would be for the Commonwealth government to make it a condition of funding for both government and non-government schools that parental rights of this kind be respected," Mr Howard wrote.

He said it would be difficult for the federal government to pass a law of this kind "without invoking some international covenant" - though that should not be ruled out.

During the postal survey campaign, opponents of same-sex marriage argued it would lead to the proliferation of "radical" gay and transgender sex education at schools. Some conservative MPs unsuccessfully tried to amend the same-sex marriage bill to guarantee the right of parents to withdraw their children from classes or programs involving material contrary to their values.

This could include programs similar to the controversial Safe Schools initiative, or sex education in the curriculum that acknowledges the existence of homosexual sex or transgender people.

In his submission, Mr Howard noted the states control school curricula and said the issue of parental rights remained a "genuine concern". He described his approach as "bare bones" and expressed support for stronger moves to protect religious freedom, but conceded the numbers in Parliament made that difficult.

A number of religious organisations also called for parents' rights to be bolstered. Associated Christian Schools told the Ruddock review parents feared changes to the curriculum would "expose their children to views on marriage and sexuality that are contrary to the traditional views held by the family".

Britain has moved to make sex education compulsory in secondary schools, but with flexibility for faith-based schools to teach in line with their beliefs. Parents can also withdraw their children from such lessons.

Mr Ruddock is due to hand the review to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull by the end of this week, having received about 16,500 submissions and published 3000. Mr Howard's contribution was among a number accepted by the panel after the closing date.

The panel, which also includes Australian Human Rights Commission boss Rosalind Croucher and Jesuit priest Frank Brennan, met on Monday to finalise the report. It is understood the panel will make at least 20 recommendations, including reforms that would require co-operation from the states and territories.

Mr Ruddock said he "greatly valued" Mr Howard's submission and it was given due consideration. Mr Howard was contacted for comment.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham said: “I welcome all contributions to the review and I look forward to its report.”

What a bunch of wankers!!!!


Sunday, 13 May 2018

Queensland teachers give NAPLAN the thumbs down

14 May 2018 : The QTU has today released the results of a member survey regarding NAPLAN and MySchool. As at 30 April, the survey had 4491 responses from QTU members including classroom teachers, specialist teachers, principals, deputy principals, associate administrators and guidance officers. Responses to the survey are detailed in the Report of Survey Results however, some key findings are:

  • 46% of QTU members responding to this survey never or rarely use the NAPLAN student data. Over half (57.4%) find the data from NAPLAN either useless or barely useful in their teaching practice. 
  • 85% of respondents have practice tests conducted at their school in preparation for NAPLAN. Teachers feel the time used on this could be better spent elsewhere.
  • Teachers do not think that students’ experience of school is enhanced by NAPLAN testing. In fact 2/3 (66.6%) think that if NAPLAN testing ceased to exist tomorrow, their students' experience of school would be better.
  •  65% of teachers and principals feel that if NAPLAN testing ceased to exist tomorrow, their job satisfaction would be higher. 
  • Almost all respondents (94%) think that NAPLAN testing is not low stakes or light touch. 
  • 80% of teachers and principals said that the protections put in place to prevent league tables being published have been unsuccessful.
  • Teachers and principals are not supportive of NAPLAN in its current form with 78% stating that they think student outcomes have not improved over the past 10 years. Two thirds think that NAPLAN has in fact been harmful.
  • Respondents overwhelmingly agree that it is time for the government to have a rethink on NAPLAN with 93% wanting a comprehensive review into NAPLAN or national standardised testing to be conducted in this country.

Jane Caro on how this government is fucking up Gonski

From the Saturday Paper

Those of us who believe in the primacy of the only education system open to all – namely public education – got our hopes up a few years ago. We allowed ourselves to believe that the recommendations of the 2010 Gonski review panel might mean good sense would prevail over political expediency, partisanship, ideology, tribalism and just plain snobbery when it came to the equitable funding of education for our children. Thanks to the Turnbull version of Gonski, those hopes have now been well and truly dashed.

We didn’t fall into the same trap before this week’s budget, of course. Public education advocates have learnt their lesson. And our lack of expectations was vindicated. Once again public schools were used for purely political purposes via a sop to the troublesome religious right who so bedevil our current PM. The religious chaplaincy program got any available extra funding and was made permanent in a move that underlines how little the LNP understand of the basic principles of secular universal public education open to children from families of all faiths and none.

The Turnbull version of Gonski borrowed the brand and the packaging but ripped the guts out of the product. The public school system and the student majority that it serves were pushed into the background while both major parties tripped over themselves to satisfy the demands of their own favourite segments of the private-school sector – a sector that, as a whole, serves about one third of the school population, disproportionately drawn from better-off families.

The LNP have been brazen about their commitment to what they call “independent” schools, including those that charge high and ever-mounting fees.

They have claimed their partiality towards these palaces of privilege is “part of their DNA”. Under Turnbull’s mutated (and mutilated) Gonski, 87 per cent of public schools will still not be funded to the agreed minimum school resource standard by 2023. Sixty-five per cent of fee-charging schools, however, will be funded above it.

In the run-up to the Batman byelection, the ALP stepped forward as the patron saint of Catholic schools, pledging to reinstate their former “no losers” deal so that the proceeds of the past “special deals” for these schools by both major parties will be enshrined in their future funding.

At the same time, simmering hostilities have broken into open warfare between sections of the Catholic and the independent schools, and even within the former. The fight is over how best to assess parents’ capacity to pay towards their children’s private schooling. The Turnbull government is awaiting the advice of the National School Resourcing Board. They must decide how to assess how much parents can pay towards achieving their school’s agreed Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) as a basis for determining the school’s need for public funding.

But surely what makes a mockery of this exercise to achieve “needs-based” and “sector-blind” funding is that our governments will continue, regardless, to fund even those private schools whose fees alone are more than double this standard.

The underlying reasons for the current melee lie in the history of schools funding. It was the then Country Party that forced the Whitlam government to extend public funding to private schools operating well above the Karmel target standards in order to get its Schools Commission established in 1973. This contaminated what was conceived as a needs-based scheme by building in a tension between needs and entitlement as a rationale for public funding.

In its drive to use public funding to fuel parental choice and competition among schools and parents, the Howard government forced on to the majority of schools a funding model more suited to the minority – the independent private school. School systems, with their capacity to achieve internal reciprocities and economies of scale in the interest of efficiency and fairness, didn’t quite fit.

All of which begs the question – what kind of democracy have we become? One where governments send the equivalent of a thousand or more teacher salaries to schools whose private fees alone bring in twice the level of the Commonwealth’s own resource standard instead of to those schools that really need these teachers.

This is a policy for which no educational justification has ever been mounted by either the donors of this public largesse or the recipients. And it is difficult to find any other form of justification for this farcical practice, unique to this country.

If these high-fee schools took on the most challenging and costly kids to teach, perhaps then there might be some justification for their public subsidy. But they have long given preference to lavish facilities over providing for students with high support needs.

Nor are these high-fee schools role models or “lighthouse” schools for those less well endowed. High-fee schools compete on the basis of their superior, and publicly inflated, resources, not their educational excellence. If we looked at simple return on investment, they’d be left choking in the dust by their much cheaper and more efficiently run government selective schools.

Neither is there any economic justification for adding public dollars to the high fees. If they can’t provide a decent education with the huge fees they already charge, then giving them more from the public purse won’t help. All that money does is further fund the resources arms race these schools have locked themselves into to attract well-heeled parents. Wellness centres, onsite baristas, Scottish castles in the air, anyone?

What about the arguments commonly put by private school advocates? How do they stack up?

They use the argument that parents pay taxes. But every working adult pays taxes, including those with no children. Taxes are not a down payment on the services you personally use. You pay taxes to meet your tax obligations, not to gain personal privileges over other taxpayers (or their kids).

Without public funding, fees would go up, they say, and parents would move their kids into the public system that then couldn’t cope. There is no evidence public subsidies have had any effect on fees in these high-fee schools. Indeed, these schools provide a prime example of what economists call inelastic demand.

Private school parents make sacrifices, they lament. Buying something for your own child is not a sacrifice, it’s a decision, and like all such decisions has opportunity costs. After all, you have to have the $35,000 before you can “sacrifice” it. Moreover the quality of a child’s education should not be dependent on whether they have parents who are either willing or able to make “sacrifices”.

They go on to claim that removing funding from high-fee schools is the politics of envy. What about the politics of avarice and greed? And let’s not go into the kind of hubris and unconscious privilege that sees itself – self-pityingly – as the focus of others’ envy.

But there are even more fundamental reasons why our unique system of funding schools is so irrational and destructive. Indeed, it sometimes feels as if Australia is as blind to the lack of logic behind, and damage caused by, our funding of schools as many Americans are to their country’s lack of sensible gun control.

When governments provide public funding for high-fee schools they are not only endorsing the level of fees these schools charge as being educationally justifiable but are actually saying they are not adequate and that further funding is necessary from government. If governments want to argue that the likes of Riverview and The King’s School have a level of resources barely adequate for the highly selected group of students they serve, then they are guilty of grossly underfunding all other Australian schools. The only way in which governments could morally justify the public funding of these schools is by adopting their resource levels as the basic minimum standard for all; and by providing the public funding needed to raise all schools to at least that level (with significantly more funding for schools serving students from the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum).

Why won’t they do that? Because it would be both a gross waste of money and completely unaffordable. As a result, the message being sent to our children is chillingly Orwellian. Namely that some kids are more important and worthwhile than others. No wonder kids in some of our public schools commonly refer to themselves as attending the “povo” schools. It’s short for poverty and devastatingly accurate.

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. Schools funding that has the integrity to inspire public confidence and give us a better return on our considerable investment.

It is hard to maintain hope when we have political parties that are unwilling to peel away even this fine layer of absurdity from our schools funding arrangements, or to end the hypocrisy of including these monuments to private privilege in their so-called “needs-based” funding schemes.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 12, 2018 as "Fairness now Gonski". Subscribe here.