New approach on school reform needed, says expert

New approach on school reform needed, says expert

Australia’s education policymakers must change tack on school reform if they are to deliver meaningful change, says an expert.

Dean Ashenden, an award-winning author and Senior Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne, has advised schools and school systems in every state and territory and at the national level.

In his latest book ‘Unbeaching the Whale: Can Australia’s schooling be reformed?’ Ashenden says today’s “extraordinarily complex” system of governance of schooling is “almost completely ineffectual” and called for a new approach to school reform.

“The National School Reform Agreements and their focus on ‘outcomes’, testing, teacher quality, ‘performance’ and all the rest just haven’t worked,” Ashenden said.

“Reform must start with a big, simple objective: schools can and should deliver 12 safe, happy and worthwhile years for every student. Reform is simply changing anything that gets in the way of schools delivering on that objective.”

He says governance must be shifted to “a broad-reaching, cross-sectoral agency, or agencies, working at arm’s length from governments and ministers, within each state/territory.”

“The sector system is here to stay but must move toward common funding and regulation. The focus must shift from teaching and teacher ‘effectiveness’ toward making students responsible co-producers of learning and growth,” he said.

“Schools must be supported in moving away from rank ordering according to cognitive speed and toward work organised around each student’s intellectual, social, and personal development.”

Ashenden said reform means “step by step change within a 30-year strategy”.

“That is a very big ask – perhaps too big? In which case, what will stop the slide into the indefinite future?”