What do we need in Australia to transform schools? A vision for education with the learner at its heart.

This week thousands of Australian school students will sit the NALPLAN tests – National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy. Results of these tests will form the basis of ranking Australian schools on the My School website.

“The US is taking a U-turn away from test-based accountability,” said Professor Darling-Hammond. ”We hope not to meet Australia heading in the other direction in seeking policies we have sought to move away from.”  (SMH: 1 May 2011)

Professor Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford is now heading up Obama’s education policy transition team. This team is seeking to learn lessons from Bush’ No Child Left Behind policy of 10 years ago. She expresses the view that: NAPLAN-style testing and reporting has failed in the United States by narrowing the curriculum and corrupting education standards.

Some of the results that were of the US policy have been:

  • National standardised tests
  • A curriculum focused on reading, maths and multiple choice tests
  • Schools and teachers rewarded or punished based on test scores
  • Student exclusion to get scores up
  • Schools that prevent students from taking tests
  • Scores that went up, but didn’t educate the children hurt the economy

A vision or aspiration that is expressed in the negative will produce policies and actions that are reactive, rather than proactive, that are defensive, rather that forward thinking. No child left behind is such an aspiration. This statement fails as a vision as it highlights what we don’t want to become.

In the lead up to the election last year in Australia, the Gillard Government’s education centrepiece was: Making every school a great school. Again, this does not speak of the learner. If the school, alone, is at the heart of the vision, the focus will be on policies and systems.

Professor Darling-Hammond was particularly critical of Joel Klein’s reforms in New York, the same reform on which the Education Minister, Julia Gillard has based Australia’s My School reporting system. We need the right vision for school reform, one that puts the child, the learner, their potential and aspiration for their future at the very centre.

What do we need in Australia to transform schools?

  1. A bold vision for school education that presents an aspirational goal that excites the nation.
  2. The priority on learning and the learner – recognizing that we are all learners, that we learn differently and a diversity of interests and passions are valued and celebrated.
  3. Recognition that in this globally connected world learning occurs anywhere and anytime
  4. A measure for quality teaching that is desirable and achievable, recognising that the role of the teacher is becoming vastly different
  5. An assessment program that guides practice and serves the needs of the learner, the teacher and the parent

Our vision for school education needs to present an aspirational goal that speaks to the hopes, dreams and potential of every young person.

In Australia we need:

A complementary* school system that recognises and develops the individual talents and strengths of each learner** .

The learning opportunities will prepare each young person with the necessary skills, experience and knowledge that will enable them to

  • find their unique place in the world
  • make a difference to their generation and the generations to come.

* Sectors working together

** We are all learners.


SMH  – (http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/naplanstyle-testing-has-failed-us-schools-20110501-1e395.html)

Making Every School a Great School –  www.alp.org.au

One thought on “What do we need in Australia to transform schools? A vision for education with the learner at its heart.

  1. Sadly governments play the same game called drop down politics. They drop the policies onto those below and then say they have done their job while those below grapple with the reality. There is hope that some within the dinosaur we call government do see the need and are trying to steer the ship onto the right course with the ship aimed strategically at students and their needs.
    Yes, Naplan style testing and trying to just produce quantitative results and testing is what partially is the problem. It is far too short sighted. Years ago the Early Years Literacy program was implemented which would make any army of any country proud of the way it was marched into schools. Much of it with not enough research behind it. Some would argue the research that was done was under done. Since then the results show that literacy outcomes have not improved that much if at all even though much money was spent. The reason I see was that children were viewed as a glass that needed to be filled instead of already powerful, imaginative and creative humans. It viewed them in mechanistic terms and turned many teachers into sausage makers.
    I also believe it had negative emotional effects on children and I saw many new teachers begin to leave the profession and stressed beyond belief.
    We do need to becareful we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater but we do require a fundamental shift in how we view children in education. Once we do this then the action will follow.


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