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.”