School Education: A both/and solution? Standards & accountability AND joy & creativity

I’m a big picture, solutions-focused kind of person. I love solving problems and making things better. As a result, my biggest stressor is when I can’t see a way through. I’ve just listened to a podcast: Why school teacher Gabbie Stroud loved and left her career. Then I read her piece in the Griffith Review, Fixing the system. And then I wanted to sit down and have a good cry.

My husband and I listened to the 50 minute podcast on a 40 minute journey home from visiting my father on a Sunday afternoon, at one point I said, “take the long way, we need to hear this to the end.” Gabbie painted a picture of a loving teacher, investing deeply into her students, but she finally left the profession due to the pressures of testing, data-gathering and standards. She writes,

How did I get here?

I was burnt out because successive Australian governments – both left and right – have locked Australian education into the original model of schooling first established during the industrial revolution. Each decision made keeps us stuck in an archaic learn-to-work model, now complete with ongoing mandatory assessment of our student’s likely productivity and economic potential.

Fundamental to this model is the idea of standardising.

Standards, standardising and standardisation.

Making every kid the same.

Making every teacher the same.

If I was successful in my job, that’s what would happen.

Based on that, I don’t want the job any more. (Griffith Review 51)

As Gabbie spoke of the excitement of pre-service teachers desperate to start with their own class, I remembered the feeling. As she talked of small children competing for your attention and hanging off every word, I also recalled the joy of investing into these young lives.

But I left the coal-face before standardised testing became the behemoth, along with its associated pressures. So when I read that “the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest 53 per cent of people who hold a teaching degree do not currently work in education” (Here), I despaired. When the NSW Education linked student progression to the HSC (final Year 12 exams) to their achievement in the Year 9 NAPLAN (national standarised tests) I despaired again. (Here)

I understand accountability. I understand benchmarking. I understand that governments have fiscal responsibilities to ensure that funds are spent in such a way that our nation will progress and measurement mechanisms are the pragmatic response to this.

But is this at the cost of sucking the joy out of teaching and learning? Great teachers teach, not ‘facilitate’ – they know their students, they have knowledge, they can adapt their pedagogy to bring out the gold, and they enjoy what they do. On Australian 60 Minutes last weekend disruptive principal, Peter Hutton, from Templestowe HS in Melbourne was asked by the reporter about the kinds of students they produce at his school, Peter replied, “We’re not a factory, we don’t ‘produce’ students.”

I would love to find a both/and solution. Pendulum swings and bandwagons have dominated the sector for too long. Standards, effective teaching measures and achieving outcomes matter, but not at the cost of relationships, creativity and joy. Will the current students have the memory of that amazing teacher that sparked something, who instilled the lifelong joy of learning?

Hope so.





4 thoughts on “School Education: A both/and solution? Standards & accountability AND joy & creativity

  1. ‘Standards, effective teaching measures and achieving outcomes matter, but not at the cost of relationships, creativity and joy.’ That’s your most important sentence, Anne. Also, if all the ‘testing, data-gathering and standards’ actually resulted in improved student outcomes, it mightn’t be so bad. But there’s no time to analyse results, look at ‘where to from here’ with individual students or implement change at a school level based on what we discover from all that testing. So ask me why I retired early. Ask me why I’m loving tutoring.

    This is an enormous issue which needs to be addressed if Australia is not to fall further behind internationally. It needs educators like you.


  2. One very experienced teacher I spoke with last year chatting about these issues & ways they might deal with the ever increasing reality of accountability simply said, crestfallen, “teaching is no fun anymore.”

    We can be professional & human at the same time. It’s why the medical professions are pushing so hard on empathy & communication. It seems like we’re being pushed the other way.


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