If we want to improve outcomes for children in education, throwing more money to the same will not change anything.
At the recent NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Measurement and outcome-based funding in NSW schools, I was asked how we might achieve change and improvement. The answer I offered, is that we need to stop ‘tinkering’ with a system that needs a radical overall.
Schools cannot fix the aspects of society that are broken, but we can support those who suffer system disadvantage whether through ethnicity, disability, gender, or a multitude of backgrounds. To do so however will require a fundamental change to our systems, our workforce and our expectations; as well as accountability.
The NSW Department of Education is a behemoth of an education system. Being so large, it is hard to implement change and be flexible, yet Local School/local decisions allows some fundamental aspects of learning to be too parochial, potentially allowing individuals to apply their bias without accountability.
I would suggest we need regional education departments. Allow regions to control employment and implementation. Allow local councils to work together to be provide local education to their local needs and constituents and have both shared resources and accountability. Allow competition to thrive. Decentralise so our rural communities have equity of access to resources.
Teachers are underpaid and over worked. They may have a contract for 36 hours per week, but most excellent teachers will work up to 60 hours a week if evenings and weekends are included. Instead, give staff 20 hours of teaching workload, and 15 hours of preparation/marking/PD per week. Share classes. Work 9-5 hours only, and significantly increase wages.
Create a wage ladder structure that continues for those who wish to remain teaching rather than management. Let those promoted ‘teachers’ mentor others and share best practice.
Reinstate an independent Inspectorate, separate for the Department of Education, and ensure that any investigative body for misconduct is also separate from the Department. Organisations should not self-investigate or self-monitor for approval. Shut down EPAC. In many countries (not England) an Inspectorate is a collegial experience, looking to support schools, not condemn.
We also need funded, meaningful professional development and it should mandatory, for all staff. We need to celebrate the good teachers, we need to remove the poor, falling and abusive minority.
All children need to be supported. Let’s have an actual definition of Inclusion, rather than the equivocations too often presented by education executives. Let’s remove the term ‘reasonable adjustment’ and indeed the labels attached to children. Instead we should provide support for learning needs. All students have learning needs, why label some and not others?
Fund schools fully but also make all funding accountable and transparent. Measure outcomes and use best practice (pooling on the experience of teachers and academic researchers). We should be supporting an Independent Institute of Educational Research.
Separate the Ministry (of Education) from the Department so that all education systems are treated equally and are equally accountable. Use the best practices from every system and work collegially.
Resource the accreditation bodies to actually have the resources to monitor and support all teachers and schools.
Stop relying on budget Estimate questions of freedom of information requests and instead have the, now separated, Ministry collate and publish all data, in detail. If we want to improve student outcomes, we need honest data.
Fundamentally we should have buildings fit for purpose, children that are fed, and children that are safe from abuse, both inside and outside the school. If we get those primary human needs correct, there is no limit to the opportunity education, our children and our country can have.