‘Urgent’ national action plan needed for schools

A national action plan is urgently needed to stop declining performances in schools, says the head of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

In a statement today, ACER chief executive, professor Geoff Masters, called for “a new level of cooperation” between governments to address worrying trends – such as declining reading, mathematics and science outcomes – in Australian schools.

Masters’ calls follow a report, titled: Five challenges in Australian school education, which aims to prompt cooperation by identifying the kinds of interconnected strategies schools need to address their “deepening problems”.

“Australia’s productivity and our national ability to innovate and compete globally in the next 50 years will be largely in the hands of students currently in our schools,” Masters said.

“But as recent public commentary has made clear, on a number of fronts our educational performance is in decline.”

He said that while the challenges we face are “beyond the control of individual schools or classroom teachers”, governments had the resources and influence to make change.

“They require changes in policy. We cannot keep doing what we have been doing and expect performances to improve,” he said.

The warning signs
  • A long-term decline in the reading, mathematics and science levels of Australian 15 year olds.
  • Growing disparities between Australia’s schools linked to differences in socioeconomic background.
  • A continuing decline in the attractiveness of teaching as a career among more able school leavers.

Masters said the problem was not that Australia was standing still relative to other countries, but “actually going backwards”.

“We ignore these warning signs at our peril,” he said, adding that while adequate school funding was essential for improving outcomes, money alone was not the answer.

“Australia has increased spending on schools and seen standards decline. The answer is to target resources on effective strategies for arresting the drift in Australia’s schools,” he said.

“This is a national challenge and it requires a national response. The challenges we face in school education transcend state borders, school sectors and political parties.

“They require a national conversation that includes parents and the business community about what we now want from our schools, followed by a sustained commitment over decades.”