As a number of recent reports have shown, the learning outcomes of Australia’s students are in long-term decline – a finding that has sparked finger pointing across the nation’s education system.
Last week, the PISA 2019 report found that Australia’s 15-year-olds have fallen to meet the OECD average in mathematics skills – for the first time in the assessment’s history.
Maths performance was down in all states and territories, with significant declines observed in South Australia, NSW, Tasmania, Western Australia and the ACT in particular. The smallest decline was recorded in Victoria.
However, one principal believes he knows how to turn the tables on this worrying trend.
‘The results are exceptional’
While it’s one thing to propose a solution to a problem as big as Australian students’ declining learning outcomes, Haileybury CEO and principal Derek Scott says he can back it up with evidence – using his own school as an example of what works.
Scott – who is also Australian School Principal of the Year – argues that Australia’s dramatic fall in international rankings is due to education systems losing sight of what’s important and has called on education leaders to “return to the basics”.
Haileybury – one of the strongest performers in the country in literacy and numeracy testing – follows an explicit teaching model in five of its campuses and schools in Australia.
Scott said that when teachers join the school, most will need extensive in-house professional development to quickly come up to standard with the pedagogy required.
“The results from following this approach are exceptional,” he told The Educator.
“We also know that when students join us in Melbourne or at Haileybury Rendall School in Darwin with low literacy achievement the approach can lift them two to three years in one”.
Scott said the Haileybury Institute has also worked with hundreds of schools around Australia who wished to implement an explicit teaching approach, adding that the results in most of them have been “outstanding”.
“We are also developing online training materials for schools to use for training in explicit teaching which will be available to schools through our Haileybury X platform next year”.
Principals must follow the evidence
Scott says school principals and educators, as well as policymakers, need to focus on what works in driving strong literacy and numeracy outcomes.
“The PISA 2018 report is clear that Australian education systems are not delivering at the level of high performing systems,” Scott said.
“In the primary school years, we need a strong focus on an explicit teaching approach for mathematics and literacy and a phonics approach to teaching literacy”.
Scott said the evidence is “very clear” that this approach works for all students, adding that when implemented across all year levels in a primary school setting, students “do not fall through the net”.
“Because of decades of a failed whole language approach and the inability of our multitude of teacher education courses to provide a unified pedagogical approach to teaching literacy and numeracy the burden must fall on principals to drive this within their own schools”.