Serious rethink on student learning needed, says education director

by Brett Henebery29 Jul 2015

A report released this week by public policy think-tank, the Grattan Institute, recommended that schools put more focus on targeted teaching to close a widening gap in student achievement levels.

While NSW has long been a leader in this area, other states are experiencing a widening gap in student achievement, suggesting a rethink of the programs they have in place to improve student learning might be in order.

The Educator asked the Institute’s school education program director, Peter Goss, what was holding the other states back from implementing this successful strategy in their schools.

“Embedding targeted teaching at a system level requires an integrated approach: clear guidance as to what ‘good’ looks like in the classroom, along with the right tools, training and time for teachers,” Goss told The Educator, adding the NSW Government had adequately addressed each of these factors.

“For example, the NSW literacy and numeracy continuums make it easier for teachers to identify student learning and track their progress.

“There is also the Early Action for Success strategy, which has made a significant investment in school-based instructional leaders who can support and develop teachers’ skills in teachers’ own classrooms and with their own students,” Goss said.

Since its roll-out in May 2012, the NSW Department of Education’s Early Action for Success strategy has been widely successful, boosting the literacy and numeracy standards at 300 of the state's most disadvantaged public schools.

Goss said that while NSW continued to lead the way when it came to targeted teaching, other states, such as Victoria, were also doing a good job of providing support to teaching and learning initiatives in their schools.

“There are good things happening in other States too – for example, the Victorian Department of Education and Training has supported the new Australian Teaching and Learning Toolkit that will help make up-to-date research readily available to teachers,” Goss explained.

However, Goss said other education departments must reflect on whether their different programs and initiatives really focus on student learning.

“All governments and education system leaders need to think about how the different programs and initiatives they support fit together – and whether they really focus on student learning.

“System leaders should also ask themselves whether they currently provide enough support and guidance. Finally, systems with a high degree of local autonomy and limited support from regional offices run the risk that each school reinvents its own wheel.”

The Institute’s report also suggested targeting teaching could improve Australia’s standing in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, elevating our place in the OECD’s global education ranking.  

Goss said the expected cost to roll the Institute’s recommendations out nation-wide would be $300m, but added it would be a worthwhile investment for the Federal Government to make.

“School education should be funded and managed in a way that sees all students reach their potential. Unfortunately, Australia’s PISA results suggest we could do better – both to support children that are currently falling short of basic proficiency levels as well as stretch children that are stronger academically,” Goss said.

“States have the most direct relationship with schools, but there are things that the Federal Government can do in addition to its funding responsibilities.”

Goss said the Federal Government has an important role to play in terms of setting high expectations that every school, regardless of their jurisdiction or sector, should focus on maximising the learning progress of its students. 

“The Federal Government is well placed to support the development and evaluation of assessment tools that can measure student learning and progress with enough precision that teachers can target teaching effectively,” Goss said.

“With the implementation of the National Curriculum, in particular, there are good reasons — including cost effectiveness — to develop more of these assessment tools at the national level and make them readily available to all states and school sectors.

“The Federal Government could also play a useful role in supporting the evaluation of different programs at the State or local levels that are trying to roll out targeted teaching, to add to the evidence base of the best way to do implementation.”

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