Why the Commonwealth should resist meddling in schools

Julie Sonnemann, Grattan Institute and Peter Goss, Grattan Institute

Australia’s education debate is shifting at last, from how much money governments should spend on schools to how best to spend the money for the benefit of students.

After winning parliamentary approval for the Gonski 2.0 schools funding deal (the “how much”), the Turnbull Government has commissioned the “Gonski 2.0 Review” to advise on how to spend the money wisely (the “how best”).

But the extra Commonwealth money going to schools (A$23 billion over the next 10 years compared to previous Coalition policy) is only 3% of all government spending on schools over the decade. It should not be used as an excuse for the Commonwealth to intervene more heavily in school education policy.

The Grattan Institute’s new report, The Commonwealth’s role in improving schools, examines what the Commonwealth should do if it really wants to boost student outcomes.

And the answer is: not very much.

Read more:
The passage of Gonski 2.0 is a victory for children over politics

States are better placed to drive reforms

The states run schools, as well as providing most of the funding. Heavy-handed Commonwealth intervention is likely to be counterproductive, costly and confusing.

Most of the big reforms needed are within the responsibilities of state governments. For example, all the evidence shows effective teaching has the largest impact on student achievement. The biggest advances will be made when teachers know what works in the classroom, and how they can adapt their methods to better target their teaching to the particular needs of their students.

For this to happen, teachers need better support from the “system”: for example, better teacher development and greater standardisation of classroom materials so individual teachers don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

In school education, the states and territories are the “system” managers. Driving reforms such as these from Canberra would be difficult.

Federal funding conditions aren’t the way to go

Australia must learn from its history. Our report shows imposing prescriptive funding conditions on states and territories has been tried before, with little benefit.

Commonwealth interference can destroy policy coherence and simply increase red tape. The Commonwealth has few ways to independently verify if change is actually happening in the classroom, so adding an extra layer of government policies that chop and change only disrupts schools and teachers.

For example, the 2008-2013 National Partnership agreements for school education included a number of prescriptive and input-based conditions. These increased the administrative and compliance burden of states, and created instability in schools when the funding and initiatives stopped abruptly five years later.

Before looking to new reforms, the Commonwealth government should first deliver its existing responsibilities more effectively. These include initial teacher training, the national curriculum and national student testing. All require constant attention, and some require urgent reform.

Read more:
Changes to school funding – your questions answered

Prioritise a few national reforms only

If determined to act, we suggest the Commonwealth focus strategically on a small number of national reforms only. It is far better to focus on a few actions with a high chance of success.

We suggest the Commonwealth only pursue reforms that meet all of three criteria: the evidence shows it’s a good idea, the government can make it happen, and Commonwealth intervention will help. While many Commonwealth ideas are good in theory, many fall down on whether they can be readily implemented by state governments and actually lead to change in practice.

For example, in 2016 the Commonwealth signalled an intention to require all schools to use explicit teaching. While backed by evidence, this type of Commonwealth policy requirement is unlikely to lead to change without a raft of complementary state government policies. These include the right training and school support for teachers to switch to explicit teaching. It would be difficult for the Commonwealth to independently verify, and it also creates confusion by coming in over the top of state policies on effective teaching methods.

Commonwealth intervention must satisfy three criteria

Author provided/Grattan Institute

Four suggestions for new national reforms

We have four suggestions for new national reform areas where there are benefits of scale and coordination. These only to be pursued if state government’s have strong “buy in” and there is close collaboration in design and delivery:

1. Create a new national school education research organisation to investigate what works to drive school improvement and to spread the word across schools, states and sectors. The new body should be charged with lifting the standard of education research in Australia, establishing a long-term research agenda for school education, and promoting key findings across the country. It could link up all research on education for people from birth through to age 18, so policy makers and the community better understand the continuum of learning, from early childhood to school and vocational education.

2. Invest more in measuring new, non-cognitive skills such as teamwork and resilience, in the classroom. At present, Australia focuses much more on old, foundational skills such as literacy and numeracy, which are only one element of what we expect from 21st century schooling.

3. Develop better ways to measure student progress, for national bench-marking and for use in the classroom. NAPLAN seeks to measure students’ learning progress in core literacy and numeracy skills at the national level, but NAPLAN gain scores are not easy to interpret when comparing the progress of different student groups.

4. Invest in high-quality digital assessment tools for the classroom, so teachers know what their students know and how much progress their students have made.

Read more:
Gaps in education data: there are many questions for which we don’t have accurate answers

Resist over-reach

The extra Commonwealth money for schools under Gonski 2.0 is welcome. The shift in the education debate towards how best to use the extra money is still more welcome.

The ConversationBut for Australian students to get the most benefit, the Commonwealth must resist the temptation to over-reach by intervening heavily in school education policy.

Julie Sonnemann, Research Fellow, Grattan Institute and Peter Goss, School Education Program Director, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


What’s ahead for education policy in 2018

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Funding dominated the schooling space in 2017, with both sides of politics debating whose funding package benefited which schools the most, and little attention paid to how the money is best spent.

Megan O’Connell, Victoria University and Charlene Smith, Victoria University

As we see each year, funding is likely to dominate the headlines as major reforms across the early childhood, school, Vocational Education and Training (VET) and higher education sectors will be implemented.

But with the David Gonski-led panel set to deliver their final report and recommendations from the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, we look forward to education policy discussions extending beyond dollar values.

Early education

In 2017, federal early years education policy was dominated by changes to child care subsidies. The primary narrative was around affordability of child care and enabling parents’ workforce participation.

Preschool funding also hit the headlines as the National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education was given a one-year extension, providing access for the 2018 cohort, but without any ongoing assurance to the sector.

Looking ahead for 2018

Funding for preschool should be made an ongoing and permanent commitment, as it is in the school sector. But funding should not be an end point.

Offering a second year of preschool can improve children’s schooling outcomes.

The international evidence base shows offering a second year of universal preschool can have a substantial impact on children’s learning. Unlike many of our peer countries, Australia has yet to embrace this opportunity. But we hope policy-makers progress towards scoping and running pilot programs.

Quality also needs to be a core part of the policy agenda. Since the introduction of the National Quality Framework in 2012, most services have been assessed, and 75% meet the minimum benchmarks for quality. This is not sufficient to lift all children’s educational outcomes.

Read more:
How are we doing on early childhood education and care? Good, but there’s more to do

Recent US research adds to the body of evidence supporting the positive long term impacts quality early learning can have on educational, social and health outcomes. In particular, researchers are starting to demonstrate these effects in state-based universal provision of early learning.

Early childhood educators play a pivotal role in supporting young children’s emerging skills, and are key to lifting quality in early education. Some of the most pressing policy work in early learning is in workforce strategy, ensuring improved conditions, and supporting educators to develop and share the knowledge and skills they need to improve children’s learning experiences.

School education

Funding also dominated the schools space in 2017, with both sides of politics debating whose funding package benefited which schools the most. Little attention was paid to how the money can be best spent.

International testing also loomed large, with Australia’s relative lack of improvement on PISA and TIMSS sparking debate on how to improve education.

A brighter note was students in Australia performed well on the PISA collaborative problem solving test – ranking 10th out of 72 countries. This test is the first in a new suite of assessments PISA is conducting to measure not just what students are learning, but “what they can do with what they know”.

The 2017 NAPLAN Annual Report was released in December and led to extensive media attention on the under-performance of boys in writing. Other analyses focused on the socio-economic factors contributing to variations in performance.

Overall the results indicate little to no changes in performance across the board, and closer analysis shows some worrying trends such as students falling behind as they progress through school.

Read more:
NAPLAN 2017: results have largely flat-lined, and patterns of inequality continue

Female students out-performed male students on NAPLAN tests in writing, and grammar and punctuation across all year levels in 2017.

Schools policy in 2018

Testing will continue to dominate discussions in early 2018, with the Australian government continuing to attempt to persuade state governments to adopt a year one phonics screening. This would be a five to seven minute session one-to-one with a teacher to assess reading. Whether the screening is adopted will be dependant to a degree on the outcome of state elections.

Expect to hear a lot more about the Gonski 2.0 review this year, as the report is delivered to government in March.

The Independent Review into Regional, Rural, and Remote Education is also expected to be published early in the year.

Major reviews are also due out from the newly established Schools Resourcing Board, firstly into calculation of socio-economic status (SES) scores, and then loadings for students with disability.

The SES review is currently underway to assess the extent to which the current approach properly measures the capacity of parents to contribute financially towards the resource requirements of non-government schools. The board is tasked with making recommendations on the changes or alternative approaches needed to ensure confidence in the process. Public submissions on the issues paper are open until 20 February.

Read more:
Changes to school funding – your questions answered

The Melbourne Declaration is primed for a renewed look. In 2008, the Declaration set aspirational goals for education around equity, excellence and ensuring all students are “successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens”.

Yet, in the decade since we have failed to establish effective system-wide strategies for meeting and measuring these aspirations. Measuring all students along a singular ranking, as we do with the ATAR at the end of Year 12, may reflect to some degree who is a successful learner, but isn’t a strong reflection of these broader outcomes.

If these are the goals we continue to aspire to, then measuring students against them is a must. The general capability strands in the Australian curriculum provide a promising path and we hope to see sustained support for schools to cultivate these capabilities in their students.

Beyond school

Late in 2017 the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) revealed funding for Commonwealth supported places in universities would be frozen at 2017 levels over 2018 and 2019.

Meanwhile, vocational education expenditure fell further despite the critical role VET plays as a pathway for young people and in equipping the workforce with essential skills.

What’s ahead for VET and higher education

The changes to university funding will no doubt be a topic of discussion as university offers emerge.

Similarly in the VET sector, the Skilling Australians Fund which was announced in the 2017 budget is scheduled to commence in 2018. The fund is expected to focus on supporting apprentices and trainees, and will be financed through a proposed levy on firms employing skilled migrants.

There is an obvious disjuncture in policy approaches towards VET and higher education which has seen the VET sector go backwards in recent years. Projected employment growth is equally strong for people with vocational qualifications as university degrees.


The ConversationBoth sectors play a critical in training a high calibre workforce. So, policy and funding conversations should consider the two sectors as part of a different but connected system. In 2018, we’d like individual students to be able to see potential pathways for themselves and their aspirations in our tertiary education and training system.

Megan O’Connell, Director, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University and Charlene Smith, Early Childhood Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How should Australia respond to China’s influence in our universities?

Jonathan Benney, Monash University

The federal government is concerned about Chinese influence in Australia, particularly on universities. While we don’t know exactly how deep this influence runs, we do know quite a bit.

Financially, many Australian universities depend on international students from mainland China. It was recently suggested that 16% of the University of Sydney’s revenue comes from these students. Over the past two decades, this rapid change has made universities look and feel different.

From a financial perspective, it didn’t really matter if universities changed; the more enrolments the better. From a social perspective, university administrators suggested that the presence of Chinese students would create mutually beneficial cross-cultural communication and exchange. Academics initially thought that while it might take a while, Chinese students would “adjust” to Australia.

More recently, academics have come to a more pessimistic conclusion: Chinese students in Australia inhabit a “parallel society”, in which they engage with Australian society only rarely.

The combination of these factors — Australia’s financial dependence on China, the increasing Chinese presence in Australia, the disconnection of mainland Chinese students from Australian society and culture, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) increasing global assertiveness — has begun to create conflict.

What are the conflicts?

When university students and teachers discuss contentious issues relating to China, they often face criticism from PRC students. The criticism can be harsh, well-organised, and heavily publicised. Cases at the University of Newcastle, Monash University, and the Australian National University illustrate the scope of the problem.

Nothing about student protest is inherently undesirable. In fact, it is a manifestation of the academic freedom that university students deserve – and would not have in China. But what constitutes a “contentious issue”, and who is orchestrating this criticism? Examining the issues disputed makes two things clear: first, that the issues Chinese students deem “contentious” are exactly the same issues that the Chinese government deems “contentious”, particularly those relating to China’s territorial integrity and history. Second, that the
organisations orchestrating the response to these issues, particularly the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), are funded by and work closely with Chinese state bodies such as consulates.

This runs in parallel with a steady intensification of “ideological education” in the PRC, together with attempts to shape how China is seen by the world through Confucius Institutes, the CSSA, and other “soft power” bodies. At last week’s Party Congress, President Xi Jinping stated China’s priority is to become a globally “stronger” nation.

So, should universities and the Australian government draw the line at some point? Should they ban or restrict contentious organisations? And if these groups cause friction on campus, how should university students and administrators respond?

Read more: Telling Chinese students to conform won’t fix cross-cultural issues

Three main issues in question

Is this really the Chinese government’s fault?

In some ways, yes. The chain of command is clear: from the PRC government to consulates to student organisations to students. On the other hand, students often don’t need to be encouraged to support Chinese interests. Teachers hear spontaneous outbursts of nationalism in class all the time.

Students in the CSSA are being manipulated by the PRC government, but they are individuals too. Universities should set a high standard for suppressing individual views. Supporting one government’s policies does not meet that standard.

Who is really being harmed here?

Broadly speaking, local students and academics are hearing views they don’t want to hear, often inaccurate, and frequently phrased in an inflammatory way. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Student politics is fundamentally confrontational. If local students and academics disagree, we can speak up, as
several students have done.

The more severe harms are to Chinese-background students,
whether or not they are from the PRC. Chinese culture is not the same as PRC culture. It is complex and diverse, and Chinese students have wide-ranging views on many topics. As a teacher of Chinese students, I am not particularly concerned when my students support the PRC. They have many reasons to do so. But I am extremely concerned when students tell me that they are afraid to criticise China, even in essays, because they are worried that their fellow Chinese students will attack them.

When dissenting Chinese students are ostracised by student organisations, this harms the dissenting students, who lose the valuable cultural connections and support that student organisations provide. It also harms the majority of PRC students, who never get the opportunity to debate ideas suppressed in the PRC media, and who accept too frequently that the views of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are correct and normal.

What right do universities have to intervene in student organisations?

As a rule, academic freedom should apply to everyone in the university. While it is reasonable to suggest that it should be restricted in some circumstances (for example, to restrict fascist organisations), the trend towards censoriousness on campus is also concerning. Free speech should be paramount, even when the CSSA says things people don’t like. Banning or restricting the CSSA, for example, would have no effect on the PRC but would irritate and harm many Chinese students.

It should not end there. Universities can actively facilitate diversity in debate. Responsible universities would prioritise funding to the setup of Chinese student groups without political alignment and to facilitating debate about contentious topics relating to China. They would also give prominent dissenters, like Wu Lebao, special support.

What do we need to do?

Australian universities have sometimes been naive about China. Chinese students have been admitted in large numbers without concern for their academic skills, taught without concern for their social and cultural needs, and little has been done to help them adapt to Australia and its culture. Under these circumstances, it’s not surprising that they feel disconnected from universities and turn to student organisations that speak their language and understand their culture.

The ConversationUniversities need to have the courage to do two contrasting things: they should both acknowledge that the opinions of the CSSA are opinions that many Chinese students hold, and provide avenues for alternative points of view. This would allow students to hear debates about China and reflect on China critically — something they cannot do within Chinese borders. This would not create a new band of anti-PRC revolutionaries, but it would do something rather rare at Australian universities — treat Chinese students as humans with the capacity for rational thought.

Jonathan Benney, Lecturer in Chinese Studies, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


NAPLAN results show it isn’t the basics that are missing in Australian education

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AAP/Dan Peled

Misty Adoniou, University of Canberra

The preliminary results of NAPLAN 2017 are out, and the news isn’t good. The annual test of our students’ literacy and numeracy skills shows that not much has changed since 2011, coincidentally – or not – when we began this annual circus of public reporting of NAPLAN results.

In fact, it seems our kids are actually getting dumber – at least as measured by the NAPLAN tests.

Going backwards

The year’s Year 9 students first sat the test back in 2011 when they were in Year 3, so we can now track the cohort’s performance over time.

It is particularly useful to track their performance against the writing assessment task, as all the grade levels are marked against the same ten assessment criteria. Depending upon how they perform against each assessment criterion, they are assigned a Band level – ranging from Band 1, the lowest, to Band 10, the highest.

The minimum benchmark shifts for each year level, because we would expect a different minimum level of writing performance for 16-year-olds than we would of ten-year-olds. So, in Year 3 the minimum benchmark is Band 2, and in Year 9 it is Band 6.

A gifted and talented Year 3 student could easily achieve a Band 6 or above, and it is conceivable a struggling Year 9 student may only reach a Band 2.

This year, a staggering 16.5% of Year 9 students across Australia were below benchmark in writing. Back in 2011, when those students were in Year 3, only 2.8% of them were below benchmark. Somehow we dropped the ball for thousands of those kids as they progressed through school.

The high-performing states of New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT cannot claim immunity from this startling increase in students falling behind as they progress through school. Their results show exactly the same trends. This is a nationwide problem.


It gets worse

Not only are the numbers of low-performing students increasing, but the inverse is occurring for our high-achieving students: their numbers decrease as they move through school.

This year, only 4.8% of Year 9 students across Australia performed far above the minimum benchmark – that is, at a Band 10 level. However, back in 2011, 15.7% of those same students were performing far above the minimum benchmark for Year 3 – that is, at a Band 6 or above.


The trend is strikingly similar across all the jurisdictions. As NSW congratulates itself on improving its Year 9 results, it might want to look a little closer to see what the figures are really saying.

In 2011 an impressive 20% of NSW Year 3 students were far above benchmark in writing. But by the time they had reached Year 9 this year, the number of them who were far above the benchmark had dwindled to a depressing 5.7%.


What is happening?

Why do we start so well, and then lose both high performers and strugglers along the way? Isn’t school supposed to be growing their literacy skills, not diminishing them?

Well, the NAPLAN statistics not only illustrate the problem, they actually provide the explanation.

We don’t have an early years literacy “problem” in Australia. The percentage of students below benchmark in Year 3 converts to very small numbers. In Victoria in 2016, for example, there were around 450 Year 3 students below benchmark.

It should be very easy to locate those children, and provide intensive interventions specifically designed for each student. But apparently we don’t.

By Year 5, those low performers across Australia are simply treading water and our high performers start to slide. Then it all takes a dramatic turn for the worse in Year 7, with a five-fold increase in students below benchmark and a three-fold decrease in those who are far above the benchmark.

So, what is going on?

Well, reading and writing gets harder in Year 4, and every year after that.

The Year 3 test is looking for evidence that the children have learned their basic reading and writing skills. They can decode the words on the page and comprehend their literal meaning. They can retell a simple story that is readable to others.

However, by Year 5, the test begins to assess the children’s ability to infer from and evaluate what they read, and to consider their audience as they write.

In Year 7 it is expected that children are now no longer learning to read and write, but that they are reading and writing to learn. To achieve this they need deep and technical vocabularies, and to be able to manipulate sentence structures in ways we do not and cannot in our spoken language.

And the NAPLAN results suggest that many of them cannot.

Instead, they are stuck with their basic literacy skills, obviously well learned in the early years of school. They can read – but only simple books with simple vocabulary, simple grammatical structures and simple messages. They can write – but they write the way they speak.

What’s the solution?

Raise our expectations of our students. And raise the quality and the challenge of the literacy work we do with them.

There has been a misplaced focus on “back-to-basics” literacy education in recent years. The last ten years of NAPLAN testing shows us we are already exemplary at the basics. It is the complex we are bad at.

It’s time to change tack. Our attention needs to focus on developing the deep comprehension skills of our upper-primary and high school students. And our teachers need – and want – the resources and the professional learning to help them do this.

Teachers must build their own understanding of the ways in which the English language works, so they can teach their students to read rich and complex literature for inference, to use complex language structures to craft eloquent and engaging written pieces, and to build sophisticated and deep vocabularies.

It isn’t the basics that are missing in Australian education; it is challenge and complexity.

The ConversationAnd until we change our educational policy direction to reflect that, we will continue to fail to help our children grow into literate young adults – and that is bad news for us all.

Misty Adoniou, Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


NAPLAN is ten years old – so how is the nation faring?

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About 1.1 million students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 sat the 2017 NAPLAN tests in May.

Glenn C. Savage, University of Western Australia

The NAPLAN 2017 summary results have been released with the usual mix of criticism, high hopes and panic that marks the yearly unveiling of data.

This year’s results will generate particular interest, as 2017 is the tenth time NAPLAN has been conducted since it was first introduced in 2008.

The final report is not due until December, but the summary results provide a useful opportunity to reflect not only on how young Australians have fared over the past year, but also over the past decade.

What does NAPLAN test?

NAPLAN takes place every year and assesses Australian school students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 across four domains: reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, and grammar and punctuation), and numeracy.

NAPLAN is a “census assessment”. This means it tests all young people in all schools (government and non-government) across Australia.

NAPLAN uses an assessment scale divided into ten bands to report student progress through Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Band 1 is the lowest and 10 is the highest.

Each year, NAPLAN data for every school in the nation is published on the publicly accessible My School website.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), which manages NAPLAN and My School, suggests the test and website increase transparency, and allow for fair and meaningful comparisons between schools.

Others, however, argue the website has transformed NAPLAN into a “high-stakes” test with perverse consequences.

How do 2017 data compare to 2016 data?

Compared to 2016 results, 2017 data show:

  • no statistically significant difference in achievement in any domain or year level at the national level;

  • South Australia had the only statistically significant change out of any state or territory, with a decline in Year 3 writing achievement;

  • New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory continue to be the highest-performing jurisdictions, scoring above the national average across the majority of domains and year levels; and

  • the Northern Territory continues to significantly underperform on all measures when compared with other jurisdictions (see, for example, Year 3 reading trends below).

How do 2017 data compare to 2008 data?

Compared to 2008, 2017 data show:

  • no statistically significant difference in achievement across the majority of domains and year levels at the national level;

  • statistically significant improvements at the national level in: spelling (years 3 and 5); reading (years 3 and 5); numeracy (year 5); and grammar and punctuation (year 3);

Year 3 Reading results: 2008-2017.

  • Year 7 writing is the only area to show a statistically significant decline in achievement at the national level (based on data from 2011 to 2017);

  • Queensland and Western Australia stand out positively, showing statistically significant improvements across a number of domains and year levels;

  • despite high mean achievement overall, there has been a plateauing of results in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory; and

  • students have moved from lower to higher bands of achievement across most domains over the past ten years. This is illustrated in the following graph that shows band shifts in Year 3 reading (green) and Year 9 numeracy (blue).

From 2008-2017 there has been a gradual redistribution of students from lower bands of achievement to higher ones in many domains.

How many students meet the National Minimum Standards?

Another important NAPLAN indicator is the percentage of students meeting the National Minimum Standards (NMS).

NMS provide a measure of how many students are performing above or below the minimum expected level for their age across the domains.

The 2017 national portrait remains positive in relation to the NMS, with percentages over 90% for the majority of domains and year levels.

Year 9 numeracy has the highest NMS percentage of 95.8% at the national level.

Year 9 writing has the lowest NMS percentage of 81.5% at the national level.

The Northern Territory continues to lag significantly behind the rest of the nation across all domains and years, with NMS percentages falling distressingly low in some cases. For example, only 50% of Year 9 students in the Northern Territory meet the NMS for writing.

What are the implications moving forward?

It is safe to say the nation is standing still compared to last year and has not made any amazing leaps or bounds since the test was first introduced.

This will be of concern to many, given one of the main justifications for introducing NAPLAN (and committing major investments and resources to it) was to improve student achievement in literacy and numeracy.

The general lack of improvement in NAPLAN is also put into stark relief by steadily declining results by Australian students on the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Those committed to NAPLAN see improving the test as the best way forward, along with improving the ways data are used by system leaders, policymakers, educators, parents and students.

One major change in 2018 is that schools will begin transitioning away from the current pen and paper version to NAPLAN online. ACARA hopes this will produce better assessment, more precise results and a faster turnaround of information.

Schools will initially move to NAPLAN online on an opt-in basis, with the aim of all schools being online by 2019.

The ConversationOnly time will tell as to whether NAPLAN online has the desired effects and whether the current cycle of stagnating results will continue.

Glenn C. Savage, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Sociology of Education, and ARC DECRA Fellow (2016-19), University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Former leader Bob Brown attacks Greens senator Rhiannon’s behaviour on schools

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All nine of Lee Rhiannon’s federal colleagues co-signed a letter of complaint that was sent to the Greens’ national council.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Former Greens leader Bob Brown accused Lee Rhiannon of “perfidious behaviour”, as the defiant Greens senator fought back against united condemnation from her parliamentary colleagues.

The other nine parliamentary Greens, including eight senators and lower house member Adam Bandt, have written to the party’s national council complaining about Rhiannon who, when the Greens were negotiating with the government on the schools bill, authorised a leaflet urging people to lobby senators to block the legislation.

Brown, a long-time critic of Rhiannon, repeated his previous description of her as “the Greens’ version of Tony Abbott”, and his call for the NSW Greens to replace her at the election with someone more popular and constructive.

He said that while he did not disagree with the Greens ultimately voting against the legislation – because Education Minister Simon Birmingham had done a special deal with the Catholics – the Greens in their negotiations had obtained $A5 billion in extra money.

Education was not Rhiannon’s portfolio – and for her to advocate against the Greens leader Richard Di Natale and its education spokesperson, Sarah Hanson-Young, was “untenable”, Brown said.

The Greens letter said: “We were astounded that senator Rhiannon was engaged with [the leaflet] production and distribution without informing party room at a time when we were under enormous pressure from all sides as we considered our position on the bill”.

It said the leaflet had the potential to damage the negotiations that Di Natale and Hanson-Young were having with the government about billions in extra funding for underfunded public schools.

The Greens’ parliamentary partyroom will consider Rhiannon’s action.

Despite prolonged negotiations with the Greens, the government finally concluded a deal with ten of the other crossbench senators to pass the bill. But the Greens had done much of the heavy lifting to obtain a series of amendments. This included the additional money, which takes the planned total extra federal government spending on Australian schools to $23.5 billion over a decade.

In a statement on Sunday Rhiannon said she rejected allegations she had derailed negotiations and breached “faith of the party and partyroom”.

“I am proud the Greens partyroom decided to vote against the Turnbull government’s school funding legislation. It’s clear that public schools would have been better off under the existing Commonweath-state agreements than they will be under the Turnbull package.”

She said that at all times her actions on education had been faithful to the party’s policy and process, and her work had not impacted on the negotiations.

She defended the leaflets she authorised, saying they were “a good initiative of Greens local groups.

“They highlighted the negative impact the Turnbull funding plan would have on their local public schools.

“Producing such materials are a regular feature of Greens campaigns. These leaflets urged people to lobby all senators to oppose the bill.

The Conversation“I was proud to stand with branches of the Australian Education Union, particularly as the Turnbull school funding plan favoured private schools,” she said.


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The passage of Gonski 2.0 is a victory for children over politics

Peter Goss, Grattan Institute and Julie Sonnemann, Grattan Institute

In the early hours of this morning, the Senate did something profound. It voted to improve the way we fund our schools. This is a victory for the children of Australia.

A Senate packed with cross-benchers and minor parties was supposed to make political compromise harder, and good policy all but impossible.

But the cross-benchers have proved the naysayers wrong. Not only did they pass Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s needs-based funding plan – an olive branch summarily dismissed by Labor – but they negotiated amendments to improve the plan.

What will change with the passage of Gonski 2.0?

Birmingham’s original package, the so-called Gonski 2.0, makes key improvements to the existing national school funding framework established by the Gillard government in the 2013 Education Act (explained further in our Senate Inquiry submission).

First, Commonwealth funding of schools increases, and is also more consistent across all states and sectors.

Commonwealth funding to government schools will rise from an average of 17% of their needs in 2017 to 20% by 2023, and funding to non-government schools will rise from an average of 77% to 80%.

Second, Gonski 2.0 removes some of the special deals so that underfunded schools will get the Commonwealth share of their target funding within six years – much sooner than under the 2013 Act. Many overfunded schools will have their funding growth rates slowed, and a small number of the most overfunded schools will have their funding cut over the next ten years. This is an important break from the former Labor government’s promise, embedded in the 2013 Act, that “no school will lose a dollar”.

Third, it makes several changes to the funding formula. One big change is a revised parental “capacity to contribute” measure, which removes the “system weighted average” approach for non-government systemic schools. The Catholics hate this change, because it overturns a generous funding arrangement that enabled them to keep primary school fees low regardless of how wealthy the parents are.

Fourth, Gonski 2.0 reduces the indexation rate for school funding in line with low wages growth. It will remain at 3.56% a year until 2020, but from 2021 a new and lower floating indexation rate will apply, based on wage price index and CPI. (A minimum floor of 3%, added at the urging of stakeholders, is problematic but far from a deal-breaker.)

Lastly, Gonski 2.0 creates a stronger link between Commonwealth funding and agreed national initiatives to improve student performance.

What tweaks were made at the eleventh hour?

A number of last minute “tweaks” were made to secure the required Senate votes.

  • Underfunded schools will get much-needed extra money more quickly – over six years rather than ten. This change means an extra $4.9 billion will be provided on top of the $18.6 billion in the May Budget.

  • A 12-month “transition package” of $50 million will be provided to systemic schools, whether Catholic or independent, and there will be an (overdue) review of the parental “capacity to contribute” measure.

  • State government funding appears to be subject to a “clawback” mechanism, similar to what we proposed in our Senate inquiry submission. This is designed to ensure state governments step up. It is not clear exactly how it will work, but if a state fails to provide at least 75% of the target funding to government schools, or 15% of the target for non-government schools, the federal government will withhold some funding to that state.

  • A new body will be established to conduct independent reviews of the school funding formula and ensure transparency on the distribution of funds.

What this means for schools

Schools will now have more certainty on how they will be funded – at least from the Commonwealth.

The concept of needs-based funding now has across-the-board support, even if there are differences on the details and how much money each party is promising. Importantly, Commonwealth funding to disadvantaged schools will now be delivered a lot faster.

Attention will now turn to the states, given that they provide most of the funding for government schools, which educate the bulk of Australia’s disadvantaged students. Further questions will continue to be raised about the impact on students with disabilities.

Winners and losers

The only way to determine which schools are “winners” and which are “losers” is by looking at what would have happened if the Senate had voted down Gonski 2.0. So,
here’s the “scoreboard” under Gonski 2.0 compared to the 2013 Education Act.

Government schools are (mostly) winners

Government schools in all states, and in the ACT, will get more Commonwealth funding.

Based on the new six-year timeframe for underfunded schools, our latest modelling suggests government schools in NSW will get between $200 million and $300 million more federal funding over the next four years. For Victoria, the boost is between $300 million and $400 million. Both Queensland and South Australia appear to get between $100 and $200 million extra. The boosts for government schools in Tasmania and the ACT are smaller in dollar terms, but still substantial per student.

The biggest winners are state schools in Western Australia, which will get about $500 million more over four years, and at least $2 billion more over a decade.

Government schools in the Northern Territory will lose compared to their current level of Commonwealth funding, which is higher than other jurisdictions – but a transition package has been provided.

Catholic schools will lose

Catholic schools are right to say they will be worse off than under the 2013 Act. Their federal funding is projected to be $3.1 billion lower over the next ten years.

This loss arises mainly from the interaction of two changes to the capacity to pay measure. First, the removal of the generous “system weighted average” in the capacity to pay measure, which treated all Catholic schools as average rather than basing their funding on each school’s parent body. Second, from a change to the curve used to calculate parents’ capacity to contribute in primary schools, because the previous curve had limited how much parents were expected to contribute in even quite advantaged primary schools.

The loss is biggest for ACT Catholic schools, which will see virtually no funding growth for a decade.

A core complaint from the Catholic leadership is that the socioeconomic status (SES) score disadvantages Catholic schools. Accordingly, one of the first jobs of the new National Schools Resourcing Board will be to review the SES scores. The final impact on Catholic schools will depend on the findings of that review.

In the meantime, a one-off transition package of around $50 million over the next year will be delivered to help “vulnerable” Catholic and independent schools adjust to the new arrangements.

Independent schools have mixed outcomes

The impact on independent schools is mixed. Those serving low socioeconomic communities are winners. A handful of (mostly wealthy) private schools will have their overly generous funding arrangements whittled back.

The Senate has done its job today

It is worth celebrating a day where the Australian system of democracy did its job well.

With a better model of school funding approved, policymakers can shift their focus to the harder job of finding ways to lift the performance of Australian students.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham deserves credit for Gonski 2.0: he originated the plan and stared down the scaremongers. The 11th-hour amendments improve the package, and there are no special deals of the type that have infected every previous funding settlement for decades.

In light of the opposition from Labor, the fate of Gonski 2.0 came down to the supportive cross-benchers: The Nick Xenophon Team, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Derryn Hinch, Lucy Gichuhi, and Jacqui Lambie. The Greens, having done good work to secure the key amendments, succumbed at the last to the pressure of the Australian Education Union.

The ConversationPaul Keating once memorably dismissed the Senate as unrepresentative swill. If that epithet was ever fair, it is not fair today. Because early today, the Senate cross-benchers stood up for Australia’s children and passed a package that, while it may not be perfect, might just help us move on from Australia’s oldest, deepest and most poisonous debate – how to fund our schools.

Peter Goss, School Education Program Director, Grattan Institute and Julie Sonnemann, Research Fellow, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


A Labor government would boost schools’ money but how much would it unpick Gonski 2.0?

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Labor has been steadfast in its opposition to the government’s school funding plan.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull is on the brink of a major policy victory after the government mustered ten of the 12 non-Green crossbenchers behind its Gonski 2.0 policy.

The outcome of a week of intense negotiation by Education Minister Simon Birmingham means, barring mishap, the government is set to end this parliamentary sitting on a strong note, at least in policy terms. The Coalition remains in a bad place in the polls.

The new model for schools funding will be much closer to the original needs-based one recommended by the Gonski review, the implementation of which was compromised by a plethora of special deals.

In electoral terms, Turnbull hopes the schools policy will at least partly offset Labor’s usual strong advantage in education. But the fight over schools will still be on, because Labor will be promising a big extra boost to funding.

To get its legislation through, the government has shortened the time frame for delivering funding targets from ten to six years; boosted by $A4.9 billion to $23.5 billion the amount of additional money that will be spent over a decade (including $1.4 billion over the next four years); agreed to establish an independent body to oversee the funding; and endorsed a tight arrangement to prevent states lowering their share of school funding.

In a gesture to a deeply agitated Catholic sector, the government will provide transitional money for it next year, while a review is undertaken of the basis for calculating how much parents should be expected to contribute. Some money will also be available for schools that are part of systems in the independent sector.

This is being couched as transition money so that all systems will come under the new model from the 2018 start. The transition money will amount to $46 million, $38 million for the Catholics.

But the Catholics, who benefited from the previous special arrangements, remain angry. The future political implications of this are yet to be seen.

On Wednesday night National Catholic Education Commission executive director Christian Zahra said that commission representatives had just met with Birmingham who “set out the minor changes” he proposed in response to the Catholics’ “very serious concerns”. But the commission’s position hadn’t changed: the bill “still poses an unacceptable risk to the 1,737 Catholic schools across the country” and should be defeated.

The outcome has left the Greens caught badly short, exposed as under the thumb of the powerful teachers union, the Australian Education Union (AEU).

The government negotiated simultaneously with the Greens and the other crossbenchers. But the Greens were split, unable to finalise a deal even though they did most of the heavy lifting in extracting some major changes and additions to the government’s original $18.6 billion plan.

The result is they’re in the worst of positions. They are unable to claim victory in delivering the more needs-based system. But they have raised the ire of some of their supporters for attempting to reach agreement with the government.

As soon as it knew it had the numbers with the other crossbenchers, the government – unsurprisingly – brought on the second reading vote on the legislation in the Senate.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he was disappointed the government had stitched up the deal with the other crossbenchers. The Greens had still been negotiating when the second reading vote was called. “We thought those talks were progressing really well when out of the blue, the bells rang,” he told reporters.

He said the Greens were proud that what they did through their negotiations “was to raise the bar”. But they could not support the “special deal” for the Catholic sector, and had wanted more money for disabled children.

The government is relying on getting the votes of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team, Jacqui Lambie, Derryn Hinch, and Lucy Gichuhi.

Labor has trenchantly opposed the government’s package, saying the $18.6 billion is $22 billion short of what schools would have received under the ALP’s policy.

The opposition’s schools spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, says a Labor government would keep the parts of the package that “are practical, like an independent schooling resource body”. It would also retain the cuts to elite private schools.

But Labor has not spelled out how a Shorten government would alter the new model it would inherit and fund more generously.

It says Gonski 2.0 is flawed because it entrenches a skew in federal funding towards non-government schools (traditionally funded by the federal government, which is only the minor funder, compared to the states, of government schools). But that doesn’t deal with the issue of how a Labor government would handle the Catholics.

Labor has taken advantage of the Catholic rebellion. The Catholic sector, having lost the old special deals, would be anxious to extract some new ones from an ALP government that had extra dollars to put around.

So, will Labor give the Catholics any undertakings that in power it would rectify the wrongs it alleges the government will do to the Catholic system? If it won’t, what will be the response of the Catholics?

The ConversationIf, after the dust settles from the Turnbull government making the tough changes, Labor broadly accepts the new model as a basis for its own planned funding, it will have a sound policy position but questions to answer about disingenuous claims we have heard from it in this debate.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Pauline Hanson is wrong – we need to include children with disability in regular classrooms

Linda J. Graham, Queensland University of Technology and Kate de Bruin, Monash University

Yesterday, One Nation leader and senator Pauline Hanson suggested it would be better for teachers if students with autism and disability were put in special classrooms.

Hanson used children with autism as an example. She argued that their inclusion in regular classrooms was detrimental to non-disabled students, because “it is taking up the teacher’s time”.

She suggested moving students with disability “into a special class [to be] looked after and given that special attention … to give them those opportunities”.

Do Hanson’s claims stack up?

Hanson claimed that students with disability have a negative impact on their peers. Yet international research shows otherwise. Some research suggests students with disability have no impact on the learning of other students – whether they are present or not.

Other research shows that students appear to benefit from having disabled peers. They develop greater appreciation for human diversity and capacity for positive relationships.

Hanson also claimed that students with disabilities were better served in separate classrooms or schools. Evidence shows the converse is true. Decades of research has concluded that students with disabilities who learn in inclusive classrooms make far greater progress.

For example, students with disabilities in mainstream schools achieve higher grades than their counterparts in segregated schools and classes. They also develop more proficiency in language and mathematics and perform better on standardised tests.

Hanson claimed that students with disabilities take a disproportionate amount of teachers’ time, at the expense of non-disabled students. Yet studies exploring the views of teachers strongly indicate that they perceive inclusion as beneficial and valuable.

Teachers are more likely to feel anxious about their ability to meet their students’ needs and overwhelmingly express a desire for more information and training in order to become better teachers for all their students.

Interestingly, teachers often cite students with autism as a major group with whom they want to improve their skills. Our research shows there are many highly effective strategies that can be used in regular classrooms to achieve this.

In addition, teachers who receive appropriate professional learning about disability and inclusion report feeling more knowledgeable and less stressed.

This points to the importance of providing high-quality education and training for teachers. It also suggests the need for ongoing professional development in the teaching workforce.

Support for students with disability in class

Students with disability are not always well supported in Australian schools, but this does not mean that they are better off in special classes or that “special attention” will lead to opportunity.

In fact, too much individualised support and attention can increase disablement by fostering dependence, reducing the range of learning opportunities, and hampering achievement.

For this reason, it is critical that students with disability are included in the “real world” of school. This is important for them to become socially competent, independent and financially secure adults.

Preparing for life after school

Having desegregated classrooms is also an important step in paving a positive future after school. Inclusive education makes a powerful contribution to creating a more equitable and productive society. This prepares adults with disability for life after school and connects them in the wider community.

Students with disabilities who are educated in inclusive classrooms are far more likely to complete post-secondary education, making them much more capable of engaging in the workforce and obtaining meaningful employment.

Additionally, students with disabilities who attend their local schools are also more socially connected and engaged in their community as adults.

Hanson’s comments were based on anecdotes from conversations with a limited number of teachers. However, there is both established and new evidence that clearly indicates Hanson’s claims are unsubstantiated.

The ConversationMost importantly, when considering the placement of children with disability in the schooling debate, we should focus on both promoting quality education for all kids (regardless of their backgrounds), and providing the tools for a society in which all adults can work, study and interact socially.

Linda J. Graham, Associate Professor in Education, Queensland University of Technology and Kate de Bruin, Researcher in Inclusive Education, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


‘Short-sighted’ budget means universities can’t deliver their full economic benefit

File 20170510 28084 ry3e10
Is it fair to make students pay more?
from shutterstock.com

Claire Shaw, The Conversation

The government’s changes to higher education will put a damaging financial strain on regional universities catering to a different cohort of students, and make it difficult for all universities to deliver to their full economic benefit, vice-chancellors warn. The Conversation

In the 2017 Budget announced yesterday, students will pay up to A$3,600 more for a four year degree, and universities will face cuts of around $2.8 billion over the next five years, starting in 2018. Students will also have to start paying back their loans when they earn $42,000. The current threshold is around $55,000.

Simon Maddocks, vice-chancellor of Charles Darwin University, said his university would be particularly hard hit by the changes:

CDU has a responsibility that few Australian universities carry. Our home base of the Northern Territory covers almost one-sixth of the continent and we service large numbers of low socio-economic, first-in-family and regionally disadvantaged students.

Our largest cohort of students is mature age, studying online throughout Australia. These students invariably carry family, financial and other responsibilities. They take up to ten years to complete a three-year degree and study part-time while working full-time.

Adding to the cost of their education seems counter intuitive when Australia is pursuing an agenda of economic stimulation through improving innovation, and engaging the knowledge economy.

Universities also face funding cuts to teaching of around $384.2 million over two years (2018 and 2019). This will come in the form of a 2.5% “efficacy dividend” to the Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS). This essentially means universities will have to do more with less funding.

According to Maddocks, this means CDU will lose $3 million over two years. He said:

Not only do we need to find ways to continue to deliver high-quality education to our on-campus and large online student populations, we also need to continue to do more to develop the Territory and Northern Australia with even fewer resources. Now that’s a challenge.

The government also plans to introduce “performance” funding. This means universities will have to compete for a pool of funding, which is 7.5% of higher education CGS, and so will no longer be a predictable source of income for universities.

But at present it isn’t clear how the this will be assessed and allocated.

“How do we compare between regional and metro campuses of the same university, or even between different universities? Is that fair when we serve particular communities often in specific ways,” asked Jane den Hollander, vice-chancellor of Deakin University. “Before any comparative or other assessment is done we must be clearer on the attrition data and what it means.”

Education is Australia’s third largest export. A recent Deloitte report showed that universities contributed around $25 billion to the Australian economy in 2013, accounting for over 1.5% of GDP and 160,000 full-time jobs.

The goverment’s decision to cut higher education expenditure was “short-sighted” said Ian Jacobs, vice-chancellor of the University of New South Wales.

The proposed cuts will inevitably impact on the discovery-application pipeline, with negative economic consequences, at a time when investment in research innovation has the potential to diversify and grow the economy.

Our global competitors, notably China, are investing heavily in higher education for just this reason, with millions of students enrolled in subjects like mathematics, sciences, computing and engineering. They understand that education and the major institutions providing it are generational assets, embedded deeply in the social, cultural, and economic machinery of the nation.

The government needs to recognise this, and invest in the economic benefit that outstanding research can deliver, instead of cutting funding to the sector.

Claire Shaw, Education Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.