Australia/January 20, 2023/By national education and parenting reporter Gabriella Marchant and the Specialist Reporting Team’s Penny Timms/Source: https://www.abc.net.au/
The Productivity Commission has issued a scathing assessment of Australia’s national education strategies, saying they have done “little” to improve student outcomes during the past five years.
- The report says teachers and school leaders should get more support
- The commission also wants a bigger focus on student wellbeing in schools
- Unions say it is “disappointing” the review does not address funding
The report, released today, examined the National School Reform Agreement — a strategy agreed upon in 2018 by federal, state and territory governments to improve student outcomes.
It found national reading and numeracy results had generally declined since 2018, and inequalities in educational achievement had not been addressed.
In a statement, Education Minister Jason Clare described the report as “damning” and said it “made it clear that serious reform is needed”.
The commission suggested the new five-year educational strategy across the Commonwealth, states and territories should focus on better supporting teachers and school leaders to do their jobs, and help schools to implement evidence-based teaching strategies.
It also wants student wellbeing to be made a national priority to help address entrenched inequality and improve overall achievement.
That is something recent graduate Catie Owens would support.
She said she was a “pretty happy kid” until grade 9 when she started struggling with school.
“I just didn’t get up in the mornings, so that was really hard for my parents, and they were looking for other options,” she said.
“I think it was a mix of pressure from mostly myself and then just like others around me at school.”
That was until she started at Launceston Big Picture School, a not-for-profit, fee-free school which prioritises student wellbeing through a student-led curriculum.
Ms Owens said she would not have finished year 12 without the support she received at her new school.
It is the kind of approach the Productivity Commission wants to see more of.
Goals set, but accountability lacking
While the previous National School Reform Agreement, which expired at the end of 2022, did set goals of improving equality for some of the most vulnerable students, the commission said a lack of data, regular reporting and clear measures meant there was little accountability.
That, it said, needed to change.
“The commission recommends that each state and territory should set a target to reduce the share of students who are falling behind,” commissioner Natalie Siegel-Brown said.
“Targets do not guarantee success but they create a clear direction for reform and make governments accountable.”
She also worried that while teachers in Australia tended to work longer hours than those in many other countries, they had less time for activities that could make meaningful change. The commissioner believed the teacher shortage was partly to blame.
Correna Haythorpe, the president of the Australian Education Union (AEU), said the report failed to address the elephant in the room.
“You cannot separate improving educational outcomes for students from school funding because school funding delivers the additional teachers, support staff and learning programs that these children need,” she said.
“We are disappointed that, once again, funding has been excluded from a major report.”
System ‘letting our students down’
It is a sentiment Sydney science teacher and NSW Teachers Federation member Alice Leung agrees with.
“The way that the system is structured, it is letting our students down because teachers actually can’t cater for the students’ needs as much as they need to because we are so overworked,” she said.
Adding to the workload were large class sizes which made it more difficult for teachers to dedicate time to students who might need more attention, she said.
“When you’ve got class sizes that are 30 [pupils] and you’ve got … a mixture of students with very complex needs, a lot of students with additional needs, and you don’t always get that classroom support, it’s very difficult,” she said.
Mr Clare said the report would play a key role in the development of a new national school reform agreement, adding that funding needed to be tied to reforms that would make a practical difference to student outcomes.
While education unions have criticised a decision to extend the current funding agreement for 12 months to allow time for a new funding review, the minister says it is crucial to find policies that work.