Friday, 27 April 2018

Beware the return of GONSKI

The landmark second Gonski report will recommend new structures to measure the performance of education programs but is “philosophical” in tone and does not attempt to dictate specific reforms to schools, Guardian Australia understands.

Based on conversations on background with four sources who saw drafts or were briefed on its contents, the Guardian understands the review of education excellence in Australian schools calls for measurement of students’ annual growth relative to students with their characteristics.

The report will also echo calls from within the sector for an increased focus on “evidence-based” policy to evaluate the effectiveness of different teaching practices.

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The revelations come ahead of a meeting with state education ministers, scheduled for Friday, in which the review’s chairman, David Gonski, will brief states on the report. The Guardian understands state ministers are yet to see the report.

The report – which was commissioned by the federal education minister, Simon Birmingham, with the goal of dictating the way funding in schools should be directed – will on the whole avoid advocating for specific teaching policies and does not endorse one-size-fits-all educational reforms such as greater phonics teaching in schools or class sizes.

“It’s a vision statement, not a blueprint,” one person with knowledge of the report’s contents said. Another said it was fair to describe the report as “philosophical” in tone.

A third source said the review was “more high level and general” and proposes “structures to determine if particular educational reforms are useful” rather than prescribing particular reforms.

The report will make recommendations around assessment and reporting regimes, and will lean on education researcher John Hattie’s calls for a “year’s growth for a year’s input” in learning.

Hattie has called for assessment measures in education to shift from a focus on “high achievement”.

Instead, children should receive a year’s learning no matter what developmental level they are at. The idea has implications for Australia’s model of school assessment because it places less emphasis on the idea that students should be achieving a certain year-level average.

Sources in the education sector expect the review to recommend improving the evidence base for educational methods to spread the best teaching practices and programs between schools, states and systems.

The Productivity Commission identified the need for a national education evidence base in a 2017 report that concluded it would “turn best practice into common practice”.

It said more evidence on successful methods would “drive better value for money and improve the outcomes achievable from any given level of expenditure”, one of the key aims of the Gonski review which will not weigh into the debate on the levels of schools funding.

Developing the evidence base was favoured by a number of parties who submitted including the Grattan Institute’s school education program director, Peter Goss, and Social Ventures Australia and its Evidence for Learning not-for-profit.

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Goss told Guardian Australia that Grattan’s submissions were released in a report in February that suggested the commonwealth should only get involved in schools where there was evidence the intervention was working.

He said the report calls for better information at the macro and micro level, with a “national measure of learning progress” as well as providing teachers with better information about the improvements of individual students to determine what helped them learn.

Suggested models for an evidence base vary. The Productivity Commission recommends the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (Acara) should perform the function, the Grattan Institute favours a new independent body and Evidence for Learning wants an independent body decided by tender.

In anticipation of such a recommendation, Labor proposed a $280m evidence institute for schools in February.

Labor’s proposed body would commission research, assess programs promoted and sold into schools and provide educators with guides summarising the evidence of best teaching practice.

Labor’s education spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, said the institute “will help improve schools by ensuring teachers and parents have high-quality research at their fingertips”.

“Armed with the best and latest evidence in digestible, easily applicable formats, teachers will be able to exercise their professional judgment about how to best help their students,” she said.

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