Academics weigh in on improving education

by Sarah Bachman13 Apr 2017

In a recently-released paper, two Victorian academics have sought to address what they believe constitute the most pressing issues in Australian education.

The paper entitled ‘Educating Australia: challenges for the decade ahead’, was authored by Tom Bentley, principal adviser to the vice chancellor at RMIT University, and Glenn C. Savage, senior lecturer in education policy at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education.

It highlights the lack of improvement when it comes to the volume of students successfully completing Year 12, as well as state and federal funding policies that, they say, ‘entrench sectoral division and elitism’.

Bentley and Savage discuss NAPLAN and My School as having not led to improvements in literacy and numeracy, with 2016 data showing either stagnation or decline.

Reports show the performance of Australian students in international assessments of maths, science and literacy skills have also steadily declined.

So, what’s going on?

“The national reforms since the mid-2000s were designed to address many of these persistent issues,” Bentley and Savage wrote in an article recently published in The Conversation.

“Yet somehow, despite hard-fought political battles and reforms, and the daily efforts of system leaders, teachers, parents and students across the nation, we continue to replicate a system in which key indicators of impact and equity are stagnating or going backwards.”

They continued: “The school funding impasse exemplifies this problem. The policy area is continuously bedevilled by the difficulties of achieving effective collaboration between governments and school sectors in our federal system.”

The pair said “highly inequitable funding settlements”, established over many decades, “continue to entrench privilege in elite schools, while consistently failing to provide ‘needs-based’ funding to schools and young people who need the most support”.
Consequent to that, they said, is that educational opportunities and outcomes are becoming further polarised.

The pair argued far greater attention and skill are necessary to craft and build the institutional capabilities that render goals achievable, ensure fairness, and foster innovation and systemic learning in the public interest.

They support “a coherent reform narrative”, genuinely reflecting evidence about the nature of effective learning and teaching.

“Ultimately, the future success of Australian school-age education hinges on whether powerful ideas can be realised in practice, across tens of thousands of classrooms and communities,” they said.

“If we want reforms to be effective, their design must be grounded in wide-ranging dialogue about the nature of the problems and evidence about what will help to solve them.”


  • by Mel 13/04/2017 1:37:06 PM

    In my 19 years of teaching, money is poured into the bottom 25 percent of the student population. Those students, after receiving 7 years of individualised support in the primary school setting through programs like reading recovery, minilit and mulitilit, plus support from Learning Support Teachers, still remain in the bottom 25 percent of students. If we are to remain competitive in our global community, money should also be spent building the capacity of the middle 50 percent. Often these students have a greater ability to achieve a higher standard but require extra attention through varied teacher instruction, repeated instruction and small group learning which is not offered to this cohort. The top 25 percent will always perform provided they maintain motivation, perhaps through GATS style classes, STEM and higher order thinking projects. I have to say that parenting plays as big a part too. Parents need to support learning, support teaching and education and stop making excuses for their children. By undermining the value of education, teachers and the system, they are setting their children and our society up for failure. I know this is very generalised but imagine if we spent some money on the more capable kids? What harm could it do? That's harm just competitiveness, higher achievement, personal success, Australian advancement in our global economy and a much happier society.

  • by numbadda 19/04/2017 4:18:04 PM

    Part of the problem is the bell curve. With the measurement being the top 25%, the middle 50% and then the failing bottom 25% there are always going to be 25% 'failing' no matter how well they do. With the goal post constantly shifting through tests designed to catch kids out and sort the wheat from the chaff (and let's call that 'Problem Solving' to give it legitimacy) or unfair as schools who feel under pressure preparing for tests years in advance.
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't we start sensibly with a BST (Basic Skills Test). We set a benchmark of educational entitlement for all kids. The benchmark didn't move as (some) kids got better at the tests. We then threw resources at the kids below it. Schools could then design learning that ensured deep learning with high intellectual quality and a focus on developing important social capital for all kids. Better still, why not return to the highly efficient and effective system developed in South Aust where quantitative data sets of teacher judgement data (A-E) were peer reviewed by the system, quality assured and worked like a self-cleaning oven - the process improved teachers accountability and the quality of assessment and learning design. Or, the NZ system where children's progress is tracked in real time (as they learn things) and responded to (assessment FOR learning) - identifies coasters along with strugglers. Basically, depoliticise our work and use educators knowledge and skill to improve outcomes. Dare I say ... like Finland and other high performing systems.