Gonski 2.0: voice of teachers must underpin any educational reform
The recently released Gonski Through Growth to Achievement Report reflects the aspirations of every member of the IEUA to ensure the development of well-rounded, academically capable, resilient and society-ready students.
Yet, the fulfillment of the Report’s recommendations can only be founded on the adequate resourcing of the education sector combined with genuine and real collaboration of governments and employers with teachers, school support staff and their unions.
The voice of the profession must guide every step of any reform to ensure every Australian student is provided with the quality education they deserve.
The changes recommended in the report highlight the need for the federal government and employers to rethink approaches to education.
The Report, comprising of 23 recommendations, addressed three key priorities:
- A focus on individual learning;
- Equipping students for a changing world; and
- Developing an adaptive education system.
Individualised teaching requires more resources
The Report recommended an overhaul to the curriculum, suggesting a move away from a school system that groups students based on year level, to an approach to teaching based on learning growth stages independent of age.
IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said a curriculum based on learning progression was not a new idea, but the structural barriers that currently exist would make the move difficult.
“The idea of a curriculum structure that is independent of year of age is, in theory, positive in that it recognises the diverse needs of students.
“But for this to be effective in a practical sense teachers need to be supported to be able to make judgements of each individual child’s learning growth stage.”
The Report suggests supporting teachers to assess their students individual needs through the creation of an online formative assessment tool — which would help to diagnose a student’s contemporary level of knowledge, skill and understanding, to identify the next steps in learning to achieve the next stage in growth, and to track student progress over time against a typical development trajectory.
It further notes that these reforms are dependent on creating conditions that will enable teachers and schools to successfully adopt practices that support tailored teaching for growth.
Mr Burke said if the diagnostic tool were to allow teachers access to accurate and contemporary data, without adding to their workload burden, then it could be helpful.
“Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are not new to education — teachers have been developing tailored plans for students with additional needs for quite some time.
“But teachers are struggling — with the resources they are given, and with the time that they are given — to develop IEPs for the growing number of students who require them.
“If teachers are going to be expected to essentially develop IEPs for every student, then serious consideration needs to be given to time and resourcing.
“We know many schools are already failing to provide teachers with this support.” He noted, however, that an online tool should not replace the value of teachers’ insights and knowledge of their students.
“The professional judgements of teachers should be respected, and a diagnostic tool should not undermine this,” Mr Burke said.
Will the federal government be ready to adapt?
With the proposal for the Year One Phonics and Numeracy check still one the table — it is yet to be seen how another standardised test will fit in with the suggested individualised approach.
“It is abundantly clear that standardised tests are limited in helping schools and teachers address the needs of students on an individual level.
“If the federal government is serious about improving student outcomes, with a focus on individualised learning, then it would not be imposing any further standardised tests,” Mr Burke said.
It is well known that standardised tests do little for educational outcomes – the Gonski report itself attests to this: The available assessments do not provide teachers with real-time or detailed data on a student’s growth, nor do they provide teachers with information or resources about suggested next steps to improve student outcomes. Tests such as the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) provide a useful ‘big picture’ view of student learning trends across Australia and the world, but have limitations at the classroom level: they report achievement rather than growth and, in the case of NAPLAN at present, the results are six months old by the time they are released and the test is only administered at Years 3, 5, 7 and 9.
“If the federal government chooses to go ahead with implementing a standardised test for six-year olds, it’s inevitable that it will distract from the desirable — and preferable — individualised approach to teaching and learning.”
Mr Burke said the federal government’s approach to education continues to miss an integral factor — engagement with those in the profession.
“The Year One Phonics and Numeracy check is a prime example of this — with not a single currently practising language teacher sitting on the federal government–appointed panel.”
Respect is needed to attract to the profession
The report noted that strengthening the attractiveness of the teaching and school leadership professions by creating clearer pathways, better recognition of expertise and strengthening workforce planning and development was essential to maintaining quality in schools in a climate of change.
Mr Burke said the best way to attract more teachers to the profession was to ensure those who are already in the profession are given the respect they deserve, and are remunerated at a level that reflects their work and professional contribution.
“The report makes many accurate acknowledgements in this sense; however, what matters is how the government and employers will act in ensuring the structures that exist in schools, and the wages and conditions afforded to teachers, are conducive to best practice.
“Above all, the federal government must acknowledge the needs of teachers and their students to support meaningful learning in classrooms, and respect teachers’ professionalism.
“Our union looks forward to working with education employers and governments to make these changes a reality in our schools and for our students,” Mr Burke said.
While the recommendations contained in the Report are multifaceted, many reflect key changes needed to ensure the evolution and sustainability of Australia’s education sector into the future:
- The workload implications of differentiated learning opportunities, advocated for and already practised by members in their classrooms, must be properly recognised and resourced including through the provision of adequate additional school support staffing.
- The recognition of teachers and principals as professionals through attractive salaries and quality professional learning opportunities must be resourced to move beyond the current ‘industrial model’ that limits resources available to schools.
- The provision and use of tools which assist and enhance the professional judgments of teachers in the classroom as opposed to the current “big data” agenda of national and international testing. The latter has provided little assistance to student learning needs, instead focusing on result driven outcomes which have distracted and divided the profession, schools and the wider community.
- Recognition of the critical need to support and develop our beginning teachers and their mentors must now be fully embraced by education employers who need only look to the exemplar induction resources evident in many other countries.
- The federal government must finally commit the permanent resources needed to support early childhood education as the foundation of development and learning. This includes the adequate remuneration of early childhood education teachers.
- The establishment of a genuinely independent research institute to provide insight into current research and best practice while respecting and acknowledging the professional judgments made by teachers in their classrooms.