Gonski 2.0: there is evidence inclusive schooling will help those left behind



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The benefits of mixed-ability classes are shared by all.
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Linda J. Graham, Queensland University of Technology; Ilektra Spandagou, University of Sydney, and Kate de Bruin, Monash University

The recently released Gonski 2.0 Review aimed to examine how school funding should be used to improve school performance and student outcomes. A particular area of focus was to improve outcomes across all student cohorts including disadvantaged and vulnerable students, and academically advanced (“gifted”) students.

The report sets out a radically different vision of Australian school education but does not fully explain how this vision can be achieved.




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This omission has been rightly criticised. But there has been little acknowledgement of the positives in the report or the problems it seeks to address. These problems are real and are important to confront as they affect us all and will increase in the future.

By far the biggest problem is more than one quarter of Australian school students are “missing out” from their school education. This affects their ability to participate in an increasingly high skills economy, setting them up for a lifetime of precarious work or welfare dependency.

The presumption has always been that these students just aren’t “smart enough” to “keep up” and seldom is the need to do so questioned. Gonski 2.0 changes that by recognising and challenging deep fault lines in our education system that have extremely negative equity effects.

What’s the problem?

The report notes our current age/grade system leaves too many students behind. It acknowledges the huge range in the learning readiness of students the same age, stating the:

most advanced students in a year group can be five to six years ahead of the least advanced.

The presence of this gap does not mean students at the lower end are destined to remain there. These students can and do succeed, but it takes the right supports from expert teachers and the time to provide them.

Yet, our system is currently structured in such a way that those who fall behind get left behind. This is because the Australian curriculum is content heavy and the pressure to cover this content over the course of a year leaves teachers with little time to provide the individualised support needed by almost one in five Australian students.

“Summative assessment”, or benchmarking, is used as a blunt tool to determine what students have or have not learned. They are then graded A-E against the achievement standards. In some schools they’re also ranked against their peers.

By the end of their schooling, some 26% have still not achieved a Year 12 Certificate or its equivalent.


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What is Gonski’s solution?

The report proposes a “radical” new approach based on:

  • all students being educated in mixed-ability classrooms

  • greater use of formative assessment to determine where students are in their learning

  • differentiated teaching to meet students at their respective point of need

  • a redirection in focus from comparative achievement against an age/grade standard to individual growth in achievement against a defined learning progression.



The Conversation/Federal government, CC BY-ND

Some commentators have criticised the lack of supporting evidence and it’s true the report relies heavily on a select range of sources and does not make the grade in terms of academic rigour. This does not mean the ideas proposed or practices described are fanciful or have no evidence to support them.

Take, for example, the concept of teaching students in mixed-ability classrooms, the use of formative assessment, and differentiated teaching. While these might sound radical when combined into a new vision for school education, each has evidence to support them. They’re all elements of inclusive practice.

The evidence for inclusive education

The benefits of mixed-ability classes are shared by all. There are a range of important academic and social benefits for students with disabilities (including improved memory and stronger language and literacy and mathematics skills), as well as students without disability (such as social and emotional development).

Ability “streaming”, which involves assigning students of the same grade into ranked classes based on prior achievement or perceived ability levels, has a neglible effect on achievement and profoundly negative consequences for lower ranked students. Despite strong evidence against streaming, many schools still stream classes by ability and some education systems stream entire schools.




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Formative assessment is feedback given to students during the course of their learning, and can help students understand what progress they have made and what the next steps are. It has been highlighted as one of the most effective practices a school can adopt to individualise learning for all students with long-standing and consistent evidence to support its use. Teachers can also use the information to differentiate their teaching to ensure that they are truly teaching each student based on their needs.

Teachers differentiate when they provide appropriately challenging work for all students, using a variety of means to help them engage with the content and demonstrate their learning. There is evidence whole-school models of differentiation can improve academic outcomes and close achievement gaps including in high stakes tests. Teachers who have the opportunity to practice differentiated instruction and receive ongoing professional development develop competency and stronger belief in their own capability.

Inclusion is better for everyone

In offering a bold vision for the future, the Gonski 2.0 report has encouraged Australia to help more of our young people successfully navigate a precarious future.

The ConversationMore flesh is needed to make this vision a reality but the individual components that make up the vision are not radical and, if done well, can enhance students’ learning experiences and outcomes. And that is better for everyone.

Linda J. Graham, Professor in the School of Early Childhood & Inclusive Education, Queensland University of Technology; Ilektra Spandagou, Senior lecturer, University of Sydney, and Kate de Bruin, Researcher in Inclusive Education, Monash University

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

Gonski 2.0: teaching creativity and critical thinking through the curriculum is already happening


Bill Louden, University of Western Australia

David Gonski’s report on Australia’s schooling system identifies three key weaknesses and proposes a set of pathways towards improvement.

These weaknesses include decline in student achievement over time, age-based rather than developmental approaches to differentiation in learning goals, and failure to prepare students for a complex and rapidly changing world.

On the third of these issues, the report argues more attention to general capabilities such as problem-solving, social skills and critical thinking is essential in preparing students for an uncertain future.

A zero-sum game?

Early critiques of the report have asserted critical thinking has taken over from knowledge in the latest Gonski review. And also that an increased focus on general capabilities means a decreased focus on knowledge and skills in school subjects such as history and science.

This approach treats the school curriculum as a zero-sum game. More of one thing must mean less of another. What the report actually recommends is a positive-sum. A more structured approach to general capabilities within the established learning areas would better prepare students to succeed in a changing world:

Recommendation 7

Strengthen the development of the general capabilities, and raise their status within curriculum delivery, by using learning progressions to support clear and structured approaches to their teaching, assessment, reporting and integration with learning areas.

The detail of the report argues general capabilities “cannot be taught in isolation”. It argues there should be a structured and consistent approach to teaching, assessing and reporting on the general capabilities. Without this, teachers cannot be expected to integrate them into subject-based learning.

Gonski 2.0 argues the development of general capabilities should underpin subject-based learning.
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The curriculum wars

The role of general capabilities in a subject-based curriculum has been a recurring theme in Australian curriculum history.

The 1990 Finn Report identified six key areas of competence essential for all young people in preparation for employment:

  • language and communication

  • maths

  • scientific and technological understanding

  • cultural understanding

  • problem solving

  • personal and interpersonal characteristics.

The 1992 Mayer Report identified seven similar key competencies and proposed a set of nationally consistent principles for assessing and reporting on them.

This theme was taken up in the 1999 Adelaide Declaration of National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century, which identified eight general competencies in addition to the knowledge and skills in key learning areas such as literacy and numeracy.

It was reiterated in the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. It characterised successful learners as creative users of technology, logical thinkers, creative and resourceful problem-solvers, and able to collaborate, work in teams and communicate ideas.

The 2010 Australian Curriculum organised the school curriculum across three related dimensions:

  1. learning areas

  2. cross-curriculum priorities

  3. general capabilities.

The general capabilities were expected to be addressed through the learning areas. The detailed syllabus materials identify opportunities for each of the general capabilities in context. For example, in year eight curriculum content descriptions, critical and creative thinking are a part of the requirements for Historical Knowledge and Understanding:

Renaissance Italy (c.1400 – c.1600)

The way of life in Renaissance Italy (social, cultural, economic and political features) and the roles and relationships of different groups in society

Critical and Creative Thinking

  • Inquiring – identifying, exploring and organising information and ideas
  • Organise and process information
  • Identify and clarify information and ideas

The Review of the Australian Curriculum in 2014 acknowledged widespread support for the inclusion of general capabilities, but took issue with their ability to be developed outside the context of specific subject areas. The review recommended literacy, numeracy and ICT competencies be maintained in the curriculum. The other four general capabilities were to be taught only where they are relevant in academic subjects.

The Australian government’s response to the review did not take up this recommendation. The general capabilities remain within the revised Australian curriculum.

Preparing students for a complex and rapidly changing world is an important feature of the Gonski 2.0 report.
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Read more:
Gonski review reveals another grand plan to overhaul education: but do we really need it?


What’s different about the Gonski 2.0 proposal?

The place of general capabilities in the school curriculum is one of the never-ending stories of Australian education. The old curriculum warriors such as Kevin Donnelly continue to protest that capabilities are subject specific, not general, but there is widespread agreement about their importance.

What’s different about the Gonski 2.0 proposal is the recommendation that fine-grained learning progressions be developed for the general capabilities. Students will now be expected to demonstrate progress from year to year.




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It proposes, to begin with, two general capabilities – critical and creative thinking, and personal and social capability. In each case, progressions are expected to underpin subject-based teaching and learning and provide for feedback, measurement and reporting.

The ConversationDeveloping the new progressions is not without risk. Existing progressions in literacy and numeracy build on a century of research on reading and mathematics learning. The new progressions in creativity and social skills will need to be underpinned by new scientific work. Without that detailed work, we can expect another 30 years of reviews and critiques on the role of general capabilities in schooling.

Bill Louden, Emeritus professor, University of Western Australia

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.