How your school should use its Gonski money

How your school should use its Gonski money
New research outlining how Gonski 2.0 funding should be spent says schools should invest in evidence-based, cost-effective policies to improve literacy and numeracy results.

Giving teachers fewer classes, early literacy and numeracy, and classroom management training are three worthwhile investments. In contrast, more education technology and reducing class sizes are not supported by the evidence.

In Getting the most out of Gonski 2.0: The evidence base for school investments, Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) education policy analyst, Blaise Joseph, outlined the importance of school investments being evidence-based and cost-effective, and proposes three key investments with the potential to significantly improve Australia's lagging student literacy and numeracy results:

Early literacy and numeracy
Intervention to help students who are underachieving in literacy and numeracy is more effective in early primary years than in later schooling. In particular, primary schools should invest in training for teachers to improve teaching of reading and phonics instruction, which they do not receive from teacher education degrees.

Give teachers fewer classes and more time outside the classroom
Australian teachers spend more time each day teaching in class, relative to the OECD and the top-performing countries. Teachers should be given fewer classes each day so they can have more time outside the classroom to develop and improve their teaching.

Classroom management training for teachers
Australia has high levels of classroom misbehaviour, compared to the OECD and top-performing countries, which has negative effects on student achievement. Teachers could benefit from undergoing training to learn and foster evidence-based classroom management techniques, to make up for gaps in knowledge offered by teacher education degrees.

“These three approaches wouldn’t necessarily cost much more money, if for example school professional development budgets were prioritised towards more important training like phonics instruction and classroom management, and if class sizes were increased to offset the cost of fewer classes per teacher.” Joseph said.

“One important caveat is that only NSW and the ACT have accreditation standards for teacher professional development providers, which means much of the compulsory training teachers attend isn’t necessarily evidence-based.”

He added that the States and territories should have “more rigorous and transparent standards” for professional development providers.

The report also critiques two common school investments, arguing they are not adequately evidence-based or cost-effective:

Smaller class sizes
Reducing class sizes would be expensive, have the potential to reduce teacher quality, and have only minor positive effects on student achievement. Furthermore, relative to the OECD average and high-achieving countries, Australian class sizes are not especially large.

The extent of any positive effects for education technology is uncertain. Australia already invests in and uses significantly more school technology relative to the rest of the world, but this by itself has not helped to improve literacy and numeracy.

Joseph also said the additional Gonski 2.0 money – $23.5bn from the federal government over the next 10 years – would be ineffectual in boosting Australia’s academic performance unless the money is spent on evidence-based policies.

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