Experts differ on looming school reforms

Experts differ on looming school reforms

In May last year, when federal parliament passed the Coalition government’s $23bn injection into the school system, many hailed it as a historic turning point for Australian education.

After all, it was about much more than funding. The Turnbull Government’s ‘Gonski 2.0’ reforms took aim at everything from student disadvantage and teacher quality to greater support for school leaders and support staff.

However, some experts are unconvinced that the reforms will make a meaningful difference.

Dr Kevin Donnelly, a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University (ACU), says the Federal Government’s endorsement of the Gonski 2.0 recommendations will
“guarantee Australian students continue to underperform in international tests”.

“One reason why educational standards have failed to improve, especially in literacy, numeracy and science, and why so many students leave school culturally illiterate is because of failed education fads like personalised learning, formative assessment based on a developmental continuum and emphasising general capabilities,” Donnelly told The Educator.

“All were adopted in Australia during the early 90s best illustrated by Outcomes-Based Education [OBE] and despite the additional billions invested nothing improved.  Instead of basing policy on evidence-based research Gonski 2.0 simply repeats the mistakes of the past.”

Dr Jane Hunter, a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) says she feels “very conflicted” about the Gonski 2.0 reforms and its comments about pedagogy, curriculum, assessment and reporting.

Dr Hunter says she more aligned with the first Gonski report on “the equitable redistribution of needs-based sector-agnostic funding”.

“This latest report places emphasis on personalization of learning, increasing measurement and the dreaded ‘it can be fixed agenda’ for ‘increasing impact’,” Dr Hunter told The Educator.

“The irony that does not escape me in all of this is that when measurement in schools was scaled up – Australia’s education standing or at least as far as various ‘tables’ told us fell. Most principals and teachers in our schools are already doing much of what Gonski 2.0 proposes.”

However, Wendy Johnson, a Gonski 2.0 panel member and the principal of Glenunga International High School, says that if every student demonstrated 12 months’ worth of learning every year, educational standards would “lift dramatically”.

“This is the heart of Gonski 2.0 recommendations,” Johnson told The Educator.

“To achieve this goal, every teacher needs a consistent means of continuously tracking each student’s learning against the national curriculum. Teachers could then design learning more precisely.”

Johnson says this “technology-enabled targeted approach”, coupled with every student mapping their knowledge and skills development, will engage significantly more students in the process of learning and taking responsibility for their future.

“Families could see their children’s learning progressions mapped against key goals and they would better understand their learning achievements,” Johnson said.