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Right wing think tank “experts” with no teaching experience dictate Coalition education policy

It was with absolute horror that I read today of a supposed “expert report” recommending that Year 1 students face standardised testing in numeracy and literacy.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham released a report by an expert advisory panel on Monday, led by Jennifer Buckingham, which recommends a national literacy and numeracy check for year 1 students.

Despite never having been a teacher, Ms Buckingham has some very firm views on education and has, during her years working for the right wing think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies, written many op-eds and articles on topics as wide-ranging as “school funding and performance, school choice, literacy and numeracy testing and reporting, teacher education, teacher employment, class size, and boys’ education.”

In the lead-up to the 2014 budget from hell, Ms Buckingham produced a policy discussion paper School funding on a budget as part of the think tank’s campaign to get the Australian Government to reduce spending. The paper provided a justification for the government’s failure to implement Gonski and helped push an agenda for further privatisation of Australian schooling.

Bob Lingard at The Australian Association for Research in Education wrote a scathing critique of Ms Buckingham’s work and the influence of the CIS on Coalition policy.

SFoB is an exemplar of the think tank report genre. It is written in plain language, by author Jennifer Buckingham, and purports to be a research report. In the footnotes, there is cross-referencing to other CIS reports and those of other think tanks, the work of a conservative free choice US Foundation that promotes the use of school vouchers, and to the reports of consultancy firms such as Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

SFoB is about agenda setting and ideas for policy in the context of a down-sized state and fast policy making. It sought to use a political moment to drive an agenda that would further entrench inequalities in Australian schooling.

The Abbott government appointed Professor Steven Schwartz, currently an academic advisor for the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), to chair the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority ( ACARA) and Dr Jennifer Buckingham, author of the SFoB paper, to the Board of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership ( AITSL).

I won’t be alone in wondering if CIS will be as influential with the Turnbull government as it was with the Abbott government.

Ms Buckingham has advocated for Education Bursaries for low-income students to use at non-government schools and charging high-income families to attend government schools. She is a fan of charter schools – privately managed public schools – and suggests removing mandatory class size maximums and resistance to further class size reductions.

Another of her ideas, seemingly ignorant of, or oblivious to, the difficulties of staffing schools in remote communities and in very disadvantaged urban communities, is to decentralise staffing. Perhaps Ms Buckingham is unaware that the major criticism proffered by the principals in recent times has been that they are now responsible for everything, without systemic support.

But back to her latest thought bubble.

“We found that there is no systematic early assessment of the essential core early reading and numeracy skills identified,” Buckingham said.

As any teacher will tell you, there is an enormous range in ability level in 5-6 year olds and you don’t need to subject them to standardised testing to work that out – you spend every day with them assessing and addressing that in a myriad of ways that encourage individual improvement.

Early childhood development has some link to parental level of education and socio-economic status. These deficits in emergent literacy for lower SES children can be reduced by high quality preschool childcare or education. There is now ample evidence of the benefits of preschool education for children generally and not just the disadvantaged.

I have spoken with many many teachers about this and I am yet to find one who agrees that standardised testing for tiny tots is necessary, desirable, or helpful in any way.

Think tank wannabes have no idea what works in a classroom. Teaching is a profession that requires personal attributes, skills and experience that cannot be matched by bureaucratic ponderings driven by ideological hypothesising and focus on saving money.

Perhaps Ms Buckingham, with her fixation on phonics, could tell me how I teach a child to read “A rough-coated, dough-faced, thoughtful ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough; after falling into a slough, he coughed and hiccoughed.”



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  1. earthflute

    Seeing as teachers are allowing students through the school system without adequate skills it is obvious why they need to be independently assessed. The teachers have failed. The nonsense of whole of word learning was a disaster brought on by teachers.. another abject failure from them. So much evidence such basic testing is required.

  2. Joseph Carli

    When I heard that report, I thought they were talking about 1st year high school students..but year 1..!!??..what sort of nonsense is this..any parent could tell them that a child of such tender years is still in fairy-dairy land at that age..and to “test” them for anything and then to judge their future capacity on that test is stupid..utterly stupid!

  3. Mark Needham

    “I have spoken with many many teachers about this and I am yet to find one who agrees that standardised testing for tiny tots is necessary, desirable, or helpful in any way.”

    How does a teacher evaluate a childs education progress, if not by making a comparison to “Some sort of Standard”.

    My youngest, dyslexic, I fought tooth and nail, with schools, to accept the fact. I tried to provide “catch up” with tutors, but that was not the problem. He should have been “caught and corrected” in Grade 2. He is now 44, smart as a whip, but reads very slowly and is a bugger at spelling.

    Mark Needham.

  4. helvityni

    Talking about testing:

    “There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town. The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers union.

    Read more:

  5. totaram

    helvityni: There are many people who prefer to believe that Finland does not exist, except in the imagination of “leftie, luvvy, tree-huggers” who are forever ruining everything by trying to make everyone equal, which as we know was not God’s desire.

    earthflute: since students are regularly “independently assessed” in their later years, how come this has not improved the skills of school leavers? Do you believe so much damage is done in the 1st year that it cannot be fixed later on?And what about Finland? Does it not exist?

  6. Rhonda

    Aaargh. Here in Qld we have already buggered up the Prep year by moving from an evidence-based play- based program as originally introduced towards tests and effing report cards! Leave Ed policy to the pros. NAPLAN has already been proved problematic and useless. I can’t understand why they cannot get this right. So sad and senseless

  7. ace Jones

    rather someone tested the people running for parliament for common sense

  8. guest

    Oh yes, the old “particle” approach. Teach them all the little bits and then try to get them to put all the little bits together. There are hundreds of rules about hundred of particles – it will keep the little kiddies busy for years. I believe that in the UK they are getting the children to learn words such as onomatopoeia, simile, metaphor so that when they come to write about poetry they will be “well-prepared”.

    We can see the results of drilling apostrophes, for example. There are apostrophes everywhere there is an s at the end of the word. Drill and test. Drill and test.

    There is the old saying: Weighing the pig does not fatten the pig.

    As a person said today, teachers are now full of data about students, what they can do and what they cannot do. What is needed is the support to help students who need support – and that means money, believe it or not. Only the Coalition thinks it can be done for nothing.

    I saw NAPLAN results from one school: 1% in the top quarter of the cohort, 70% in the lower quarter. Other schools, 85% in the top quarter. Something wrong!

    All this talk about money. No problem with Government spending billions on armaments, but money on children…?

    So much of Coalition talk and right-wing education opinionistas is about being in control. They talk about freedom of speech of course, and freedom from criticism. But teachers are not to be trusted – we need to keep the kiddies from Marxism and fluid gender and being too creative. The curriculum must be strictly on Judeo-Christian lines with a good dose of guided history facts, not so much about issues such as the environment.

    Reading the Reports of past examination bodies going back through the 1950s to the C19th, one can see reports of the failures of these drill and test regimes. But there are enough survivors of those “Hard Times” who believe it was good for them and it is good enough for the C21st. Something about “tradition”.

  9. Keith

    Having a non-partisan group research in Education, or any other area will bring greater confidence if those doing research have expertise in the area being investigated; and there is no suspicion of ideology being a factor in any conclusions derived.

  10. Kaye Lee

    Perhaps if they used results of testing to inform their funding it might be useful but they don’t. For example, all you heard about PISA results was how badly Australia is doing compared to Singapore and how our comparative ranking is slipping.

    What would have been more useful to know was some of the following…

    The difference in test results between advantaged and disadvantaged students [with regard to economic, social and cultural status (ESCS)] was 88 score points, on average, across the OECD and 92 score points in Australia. This is equal to around three years of schooling or one full proficiency level.

    The ACT, Western Australia, Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Queensland performed at a significantly higher level than the OECD average , while the Northern Territory performed not significantly different to the OECD average and Tasmania performed significantly lower than the OECD average.

    Tasmanian schools had a larger proportion of disadvantaged students (those in the lowest quartile of ESCS) than any other jurisdiction, closely followed by Queensland. The Australian Capital Territory had a much greater proportion of high socioeconomic background students
    than any other jurisdiction.

    Indigenous students achieved significantly lower scores than non-Indigenous students in the scientific, reading and mathematical literacy domains.

    Students in metropolitan schools performed significantly higher than students from provincial schools or remote schools

    The proportion of high performers increased and the proportion of low performers decreased with each increase in socioeconomic background quartile.

    Australian-born students performed at a level significantly lower than first-generation students and statistically similar to foreign-born students across all assessment domains. Foreign-born students performed at a level significantly lower than first-generation students in scientific literacy and reading literacy and not significantly different in mathematical literacy.

    The proportion of low-performing Australian-born and foreign-born students was higher than the proportion of low-performing first-generation students. The proportion of high-performing Australian-born students was lower than for first-generation students or foreign-born students.

    Independent schools had a proportionally greater number of high socioeconomic background students than Catholic schools, who in turn had a far greater proportion than government schools. Conversely, government schools had a far greater proportion of low socioeconomic background students than either Catholic schools or independent schools.

    Students in independent schools have a performance advantage over students in Catholic schools that is not attributable to student- or school-level socioeconomic background.

  11. Miriam English

    Anyone with the barest knowledge of psychology knows that there are many kinds of intelligence and many different ways of learning. Some learn best through reading, some learn best through hearing, some learn best through doing, some have great spatial understanding, some are great at empathy and understanding others’ thoughts and feelings, some have terrific numerical skills, some are best at planning, some have little sense of time, some have superb physical coordination, some naturally adapt to multiple languages, some understand mechanical systems… and on and on. The best way to handle and advance all these different kids, encouraging their special talents while improving their weaknesses is to have talented teachers.

    Standardised testing of just 2 things and forcing everybody into that tiny box sucks the life out of education.

    Leave teaching to the teachers. Reward them commensurate with the job they are doing: creating the next Australia.

    Maybe we should insist that twits like Buckingham get a proper education on what it takes to be an educator before they open their stupid traps. If she thinks that she is perfectly well qualified to preach to teachers, without having the required education herself then her nose should be rubbed in the irony.
    Standardised tests

  12. Rhonda

    Buckingham is spruiking her report on the Drum. Sheesh!

  13. helvityni

    Yes Rhonda, just saw her on the Drum, I think if the parents are book lovers, keen readers, the kids will also be eager to learn to read early; when my older brother was learning to read in the his first year at the primary, I hung around him when he was proudly showing off his first efforts of reading, that was enough for , I was even keener, and therefore learnt to read well before school; thank you big brother…

    Rhonda, you say you are from Queensland; did you used to write on the early ABC Unleashed Drum? ( there was a Rhonda from Queensland over there, whose posts I always enjoyed reading) 🙂

  14. diannaart

    @ earthflute

    On your comments (paraphrased) regarding the “fault of teachers” and the need for ” independent assessment” of 1 year children.

    Even the clowns who thought up this proposal realised children unaccustomed to the testing and retesting that becomes routine for older students, will need to be assessed by their actual teacher – someone the children trust!

    Things that would help teachers to do their jobs to be better teachers:

    security of tenure,
    more teachers and teachers aids
    or at least administrative assistants to cope with all the paperwork generated by the autocratic systems dreamed up by think tanks who only ever engage with other think tanks.

    Heaven forbid these “thinkers” go out and liaise at real schools with real teachers in the very real public system.

  15. Kaye Lee

    Today on ABC24 some woman from La Trobe University was speaking in favour of the testing and stressing the need for phonics. She said educators are resistant to research from people outside the education field. Well go figure. I doubt a surgeon would appreciate being told how to operate by a barber. This woman “is a registered psychologist, having qualified originally in speech pathology.” How on earth does that qualify her to advise on how to teach 6 year olds.

    If the teacher of my 6 year old’s class got to term three and couldn’t tell me where my kid was up to and what they were doing, and what I could do, to help them improve I would be changing schools. These teachers spend all day with the kids. They KNOW how they are going and SHOULD know how to help each individual improve THEIR level. My daughter is an early childhood teacher (4-5 year olds) and she has individual programs for every child and reports regularly to the parents on which developmental milestones their child has mastered and what needs to be worked on.

  16. helvityni

    Yes, Kaye, good teachers know, who is who and who needs extra help, and act accordingly…

  17. Harquebus

    This is your area of expertise Kaye Lee so, I’ll take your word for it however, while reading your submission, I wuz jus’ wunderin, whatever happened to Nip and Fluff?

  18. Michael Taylor

    Harquebus, you’ll have to ask Dick and Dora. (Gawd, we’re showing our age now ☹️).


    Think we are witnessing further sympton of education in Australia becoming hollowed out (like other sectors) to allow both ideological and business product inputs;
    testing is a huge business now, as is promotion of conservative ideology under various guises (especially to access and influence young people via what we know in education as the ‘hidden curriculum’ e.g. soft skills, ethics, beliefs etc.) and education is more a state issue vs. national?

    Further, the teaching profession and state education departments seemed to have become prone to being manipulated or managed by these external inputs via non practitioners and/or administrators? (PS I have never worked in mainstream primary or secondary education; when I ask about this no one in teaching remembers and/or cares and/or reacts emotionally?)

    For example, phonics is useful for other language groups who have had no exposure to European languages and roman alphabet to commence beginners language, such as Chinese speakers. In Australia almost all kids of any background will have had exposure even if English is not used at home, precluding the need for phonics (ditto university level IELTS for citizenship, testing system owned by Oz universities and British Council, I think).

    My ongoing and yet undeveloped concern is trying to know and understand what happened in the ’80s, in Victoria, when the old HSC curriculum was phased out in favour of new two year VCE, while teacher training moved to universities becoming more ‘academic’, education faculty adopted (too) many US ideas and the odd junket, while in the background the IPA was becoming weaponised by local and global subsidiaries of fossil fuels, auto, mining etc. pushing policy solutions to the Libs who were also hollowed out by Howard in Victoria through attacking and removing the ‘wets’.

    After becoming familiar with Jane Mayer’s work on the Kochs, Freedom Works etc. and how they target education policies and especially curricula content (university too), no surprises.

    All those years ago the what looks like now to have formerly been a progressive and environmental Victorian curriculum (under old Liberals regimes) lost the following: explicit teaching in English of critical thinking and media analysis, dumbing down of maths/science and/or discouragement (too difficult to achieve high scores), removing environmental science based study (General Studies) round ozone layer, smog, fossil fuels, urban/house design, need for less auto etc., then re-introduction of religion (Howard) and ideas such as Kevin Andrews, students should rote learn key facts and forget analysis (meaning pegged in by tests, learn how to follow instructions and become like robots or ‘wage slaves’).

    These changes to education curriculum in the ’80s were apparently done under Labor’s watch? My issue with much of Labor still is that there is too much cultural resonance with old US type WASPish conservatism promoted by the LNP versus embracing and empowering diversity. Meanwhile ageing Labor baby boomers fill their boots heading industry bodies which do not have the wider interests of Australians at heart; bought off or what?

  20. Harquebus

    Michael Taylor
    If I may be permitted to digress. When first learning to write, grade 1 and 2, we used ink and nib. Part of daily chores was to clean ink wells. In grade 3, we were totally amazed when given our first biros. I could not believe that humans could create such things. Just prior to this, we had relocated to our brand new school where I was introduced to the latest technology; a single speaker mounted above the blackboard from which we listened to ABC’s schools programs.
    25 years later, my fingers first tapped at a keyboard. In a generation, I had moved from inkwell to keyboard. Something that still amazes me to this day.

    “Well I remember when I was young, well I remember when I was young, I surely do.” — Matt Taylor

    Any relation?

  21. Michael Taylor

    I swear black and blue, there is no link in the Taylor chain.

  22. paul walter

    Interesting, this about the rubbish on the Drum tonight? The show has become unwatchable.

  23. paul walter

    Nicely done Miriam, 5.42

  24. paul walter

    Which reminds me of one of their gods, Locke and Tabula Rasa, the blank sheet that is just filled in by rote.

  25. Harquebus

    Michael Taylor
    Very witty. lol.
    You had to be there, eh?

    I also think that the dumbing down of our nation was no accident. I recently read of a plan that describes this process. If I find the link, I’ll post it.

  26. Glenn Barry

    It worked in America – the dumbing down that is, they elected George W. Bush and Donald Trump – Obama stands out as an anomaly

  27. Kaye Lee

    Buckingham is proposing we adopt the UK phonics test.

    “Research in England has found that the test was no more accurate than the teacher’s judgement in identifying children with reading difficulties. Teachers already know which children struggle. As researchers, teachers and principals have all said — teachers need more support in knowing how to support those struggling children.

    A thorough analysis of the test’s components found it fails to test some of the most common sound/letter matches in English, and indeed screens for a very limited number of the hundreds of sound/letter matches in English. They found that children can achieve the pass grade of 32 from 40 with only limited phonic knowledge.

    Other research found the test fails to give any information about what the specific phonic struggles of a child might be , or whether the struggles are indeed with phonics.

    These limitations mean the check has negligible diagnostic or instructional use for classroom teachers.

    Year 1 children in England are certainly getting better at passing the phonics test. Over the past six years, pass rates have increased by 23 per cent. This means around 90 per cent of Year 1 children in England can now successfully read nonsense words like “yune” and “thrand”.

    However research has found that the ability to read nonsense words is an unreliable predictor of later reading success.

    And so far, the phonics test in England has not improved reading comprehension scores.

    As the test only tests single syllable words with regular phonic patterns, it is not possible to know how many English children can read words like “one”, “was”, “two”, “love”, “what”, “who”, or “because”, as such words are not included in the test.

    This is unfortunate because these are amongst the 100 most common words in the English language, which in turn make up 50 per cent of the words we read everyday — whether in a novel, a newspaper article or a government form.

    “Yune”, “thrand” and “poth”, on the other hand, make 0 per cent of the words we read.

    The lesson is clear. The test is unable to deliver what was hoped.”

  28. Kaye Lee

    UK government evaluation of the phonics screening program:

    “the evidence suggests that the introduction of the check has had an impact on pupils’ attainment in phonics, but not on their attainment in literacy”

    But it’s cheaper than having smaller classes or hiring teachers’ aides or paying salaries that would attract and retain talented staff.

  29. Brenda Thomson

    I am the parent of a child with dyslexia and I spent ten years researching early reading difficulties and teaching children with dyslexia. There is a massive amount of international evidence to show that schools and countries with phonics programs get better early literacy results than those without them. Yes the teachers do need to attend to the needs of individual children but including a phonics program is a key part of that. “‘The evidence is clear that direct systematic instruction in phonics during the early years of schooling is an essential foundation for teaching children to read. Findings from the research evidence indicate that all students learn best when teachers adopt an integrated approach to reading that explicitly teaches phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension.’

  30. jim

    “It worked in America – the dumbing down that is, they elected George W. Bush and Donald Trump – Obama stands out as an anomaly” no obama has increased the war on “terror” there are now more drones USA killing drones around our world, 7000 or more.
    American elections are won or lose at the beheist of the “religious” nutters indocronating kids who have known nothing else about life the sickos do this by using a religious system that psychologically punishes any dissent with isolation. at age 2 they are praying for their preferred president IMOO this is at the root of most America’s problems they have a populace of god fearing sheeples

  31. Rossleigh

    Shorlee, fonnix werks!

  32. Kronomex

    Eye got lerrnt guud ing lish at skul sew eye kan doo ennything az guud az orl thu rezt ov thu littell peepell thu ELENPEE wontz 2 keepe dumm. Beecawz theyy r hour bet-ters und no thet hav bin bornn 2 rool uz.

  33. totaram

    Kaye Lee: With all this evidence to hand, why was the esteemed Dr. Buckingham not confronted with it when she appeared on the Drum?
    I am just aghast and amazed.

  34. Kaye Lee


    I ask myself that same question on just about a daily basis. I don’t even have to get out of my jammies to find these things out.

    This was a prime example of hire the person who will give you the report saying what you want to hear. Buckingham has been on her phonics push for quite a while so she can’t really pass on the real outcomes because she has too much invested in pushing the failed experiment. Right wing think tanks aren’t really interested in the evidence against their proposals.

  35. Terry2

    I heard Birmingham on this and Buckingham on The Drum.

    I missed where they said how teachers could do these one-on-one tests in what is a very crowded daily schedule already and how much more would be provided in funding for remedial education once the problem has been detected.

    Watch out for Birmingham, he’s a snake oil salesman : on university funding cuts he said these were not cuts at all but a slowing of growth : a slowing of growth is also known as stunting growth and development.

  36. Kronomex

    She, like a lot of the other “experts”, has a piece of fancy paper that says “I am an expert so I know better than everybody else.” Having practical experience is somehow beneath this type of person because the fancy paper says it all.

  37. Kaye Lee

    Amazingly, Dr Buckingham wrote a report last year that is remarkably similar to the one we have just paid her to produce.

    It also just so happens that, serendipitously, Dr Buckingham and the Centre for Independent Studies has a phonics program called “Five from Five” ready to go but they “need our financial support”.

    I guess that’s where the government steps in with our taxpayer dollars.

  38. Rhonda

    Not this Rhonda, helvityni – but I too really enjoyed that forum before it was quashed 🙁 the dear old Drum used to be pretty good value, and I agree with Paul Walter (above)re it’s shocking decline – although I still tune in on occasion to see what they deem “newsworthy”. The Drum was one of the first to fall to the Con’s newly-named “fair & balanced” mantra. Damn shame

  39. Kaye Lee

    The Drum has become the place for IPA political hopefuls to strut their stuff or for people who are promoting their new book. Some presenters are better than others but, in the main, they are incapable of reacting to things that are said – they just move very quickly through their very superficial preprepared (and possibly preapproved?) notes. Discussions aren’t allowed to develop, statements aren’t questioned, and there is an alarming lack of research done in preparation – they read one article and ask for comment about it without having sufficiently looked into it themselves to allow them to ask anything important.

  40. helvityni

    Yes, we get Downer’s Daughters and the like, Nick Cater and his missus regularly, one day it’s reasonable, next day we get the IPA folk again…Fridays are special; a lot of fun and giggles over nothing.

    Rhonda, so there are more Rhondas than one in Queensland… 🙂

  41. paul walter

    I don’t blame the presenters, on the whole, I can take Fanning for example, but think the production and topic selection execs have presenters and panel thoroughly skewed.

    I have been following the Guardian, which has run an informal series on the government media legislation enabled by the Judas Xenophon, including the “Guardian Stiffed” op piece by Lenore Taylor, also to do with the enforcing of yet more “fairness” (eg the right’s viewpoints and propaganda exclusively) and an immanent confected attack on social media, which does the job of collating much material otherwise left out of context and in isolation, to allow for a more constructive analysis and conclusion-drawing for those with access to the info msm denies us.

    This seems something that continues to antagonise old media and press, presumable because a proper evaluation of information usually leads in the diametrical opposite direction on a given issue to the media or press spin, but that ‘s just hard luck for the vested interests, isn’t it.

    Just before arriving here I was listening to a story on radio about the politician Ed Husic grumbling about Twitter, enrapturing one of the Tory politicians keen to let loose the hounds on social media. They just cant take questioning or contradiction, can they?

  42. Kyran

    The bit that I don’t get is, when did education become so dangerous?
    That different kids learn differently is well known. That book, “Neill! Neill! Orange Peel!”, back in the 70’s, was not the epitome of education. It was the epitome of the need for education to accommodate the different needs and learning abilities of students.
    All these decades later, we have another fool trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
    That Gonski is gone, is a given. That education is now defined by innumerable tests, devoid of meaningful outcomes, is a given. That education will never accommodate learning, at all of the different rates that all of the different kids will learn at, is a given.
    That education will ever accommodate comprehension is a bridge too far. It’s dangerous.
    Fancy our kids would ever learn how to think, rather than what to think. It’s dangerous.
    Ms English’s post at 5.42 yesterday sort of sums it up.
    Thank you Ms Lee and commenters. Take care

  43. Andrew Smith

    Harquebus Would be interested to see anything related to dumbing down, hollowing out and managing education processes over past generation.

    Coincidentally, Turkey in the ’90s there was and still is a Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with significant Sunni Islamic influence and liking for alcohol, nowadays supporting Erdogan’s AKP; not unlike a malign NP or simply ON conservative constituency based in regions.

    The joke in the ’90s was when they managed to become part of any ruling coalition they would ask to be responsible for ministries such as defence, security/home affairs and education; they were never allowed anywhere near such portfolios.

    They understood the importance of accessing education which in turn allows manipulation of curriculum (one standard for all levels primary, secondary etc.), to include what we now see e.g. less evolution with more (Sunni) religion, less analysis and more getting answers right, more individual competition and testing with no group or team work, and of course more obedience to the state and authority, with less freedom and empowerment.

    It’s quite disturbing watching conservative machinations in UK, US and Australia making us appear more like Turkey or Hungary or Russia each passing day; kleptocracy, quiet right wing coups or party takeovers and corruption for oligarchs and the top people, that is accepted passively by mainstream society?

  44. Miriam English

    It’s disturbing that in an era when we have unprecedented amounts of information at our fingertips every hour of the day, 365 days of the year, that there is this authoritarian pressure for simplistic rote learning, instead of teaching children how to think.

    Now is the very worst time for those in power to be pushing to fill children’s heads with redundant data, especially when their lives will soon be turned upside down by introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) which will have easier access to facts than we humans currently do.

    When we’re facing a future in which the machines are becoming more human, the very worst response is to make people into unthinking, obedient robots.

    An education that improves people’s ability to become fully rounded human beings, that helps them greet a rapidly changing future, is an education that prepares them for reality. On the other hand, an education that looks backward, striving to impose narrow thinking and a belief that predictable testing will yield obedient workers is creating a society of half-people unprepared for the future.

    Since the times of the earliest humans, our technology has grown exponentially. For thousands of years that growth was barely perceptible, but in recent centuries the upwards curve has become clear. In recent decades that curve has become more pronounced, getting ever steeper. Technological progress is becoming so rapid that soon every day we will wake up to major advances and dramatic transformations. This is alarming to conservatives, who dislike and fear change, but such a future will be exhilarating to those prepared to meet it.

    There’s absolutely no sense in preparing children for a simplistic, predictable, changeless future. It’s even worse to send them forth with an erroneous understanding of the world, such as that which religion engenders (evolution isn’t real, the Earth is younger than the Aboriginal people’s history in Australia, being born homosexual is somehow wrong, a book written by superstitious savages at the dawn of civilisation has the keys to our future, and that obeying a god of the early iron age will deliver life after death). Reality doesn’t bend itself to wishful thinking. Children “educated” that way will be completely lost and frightened in a rapidly shifting world, drowning in information they’re unable to comprehend.

    We could instead be genuinely preparing the next generations for that future, teaching them how to surf that wave of knowledge, letting it lift them to take them wherever the facts lead. We could train them to be adept at thinking, to enjoy being human, and to look forward to what the changing world opens up for them. We could help them revel in their own peculiar abilities, instead of suppressing them. We could help children welcome and enjoy a rapidly changing future, instead of ensuring that they will fear it. We should free them to thrill to its potential, instead of leaving them with the feeling that they have no place there.

    We may create a generation of broken human beings, alienated from the world they inhabit, and unable to function in a world that has left them behind. However, China, Norway, and some other countries are embracing the future.

  45. Harquebus

    Andrew Smith
    Found it.

    “For example, in seeking to destroy the social security system, they would claim to be saving it, arguing that it would fail without a series of radical “reforms”.”
    “The bonfire of regulations highlighted by the Grenfell Tower disaster, the destruction of state architecture through austerity, the budgeting rules, the dismantling of public services, tuition fees and the control of schools: all these measures follow Buchanan’s programme to the letter.”
    “Complete freedom for billionaires means poverty, insecurity, pollution and collapsing public services for everyone else. Because we will not vote for this, it can be delivered only through deception and authoritarian control. The choice we face is between unfettered capitalism and democracy. You cannot have both.”

    And another one.

    “For more than two years now, it’s been obvious that Donald Trump is a disaster on almost every level except one – he’s great for the media business.”
    “Who did we think would rise to prominence in our rage-filled, hyper-stimulated media environment? Sensitive geniuses?
    We spent years selling the lowest common denominator. Now the lowest common denominator is president. How can it be anything but self-deception to pretend this is an innocent coincidence?”

  46. Miriam English

    H, thanks for the link to the article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone. He makes a very important point.

    And the article by George Monbiot in the Guardian is fascinating. It gives another bit of background to what I’ve read about the Koch brothers dangerous activities. Jane Mayer’s book “Dark Money” lays much more out in painstaking detail.

  47. Andrew Smith

    Harquebus Cheers, much like what Jane Mayer has inferred from past generation or two in her book ‘Dark Money’, as Miriam has cited above. It’s very much an attack on secularism, state education, society, human development, checks and balances on big business and other powers; sounds like the ‘science of eugenics and racial hygiene’ of and for the top 1%.

    Related to the Rolling Stone article, have read similar and hope that mainstream media who allowed Trump to rise may be more aware in future and start challenging more versus becoming PR astro turfers for dodgy products, policies and politicians.

  48. Harquebus

    Miriam English and Andrew Smith
    Both welcome.

  49. Emma Lewis

    Kaye Lee, thank you for this.

    I was so happy to hear that Queensland has already said a big fat NO to this, and is doing more useful things like giving all Prep teachers a TA. Phonemic awareness and systematically taught phonics is a mandatory part of the revised Australian Curriculum and no-one is disputing that it is an important element – but just one. There are five others, so I have no idea why she called her venture Five From Five as the kids need SIX elements, for reading, and they can develop alongside learning to talk when really young.

    Reading for meaning and pleasure must be the focus, with ‘phonics’ playing a big role for some kids, to get them there, and less so for others. Different kids learning in different ways, and different times – imagine that. She is heavily linked to an organisation getting rich off a commercial phonics program (MUltiLit) that I find boring as heck. A huge number of Aussie kids will not relate to the resources, or be inspired to read. I know of countless teachers who find it boring to teach – and there are groans when the kids are taken out of class as forced to use it. I’m not sure they think all that matters. But that is what she believes teachers need?
    I, on the other hand, create music videos, we incorporate things like minecraft, have ‘Speech Sound Monsters’ and write poems and stories about challenging (naughty) boys and fierce girls.

    I oppose the test for slightly different reasons. I wrote about them here on one of my pages.

    I have been in Australia for the past 10 years, but am and British (am a former OFSTED Inspector) and so also know the UK system well. It’s why I would prefer that we learn from the mistakes, and not bring them over to the UK. The greatest mistake it undermining and disrespecting teachers, and mandating what they should or should not do. Especially when those telling us what to do couldn’t actually go into a classroom and teach. Before delivering training I go into classrooms and am filmed teaching the class- I’ve never met them before, I don’t ask to know anything. I show them what I am going to talk to them about later. It gives me credibility, shows I am not just ‘all talk’, and this also gives me an insight into the current teaching strategies while teaching the kids. The way they respond and learn teaches me a lot. So it’s a win-win as I also go into training more aware of the starting point of the school in general. Buckingham does not go into a classroom and leave them wanting more, and teachers need someone who understands the whole job.

    I am fairly quietly (I do have the odd rant every now and again ) being a part of bringing about change by supporting teachers, who then support other teachers- it has a ripple effect. I happen to have been born with a gift (teaching) and have figured out how to teach any student, any age, to read and spell quickly and easily. In order to use this knowledge I have to forge real relationships with the kids. I learnt most of what I do now from wonderful teenage boys, who were all delinquent, disengage and illiterate- some were violent, and some had learning differences, but most had just never been taught in the way they learn, or had any idea that learning to read and spell could be so much FUN. It’s like trying to play a PS4 game on an XBox console; nothing wrong with either, but not compatible. But when you get the right game and console? Game on ! They reminded me that this is not just about teaching reading, it is about getting them excited about learning.

    So when teachers talk about using my strategies the top of their list of ‘pros’ is not outstanding outcomes (which the education depts love) it is that their kids are confident, independent, articulate THINKERS. Buckingham etc love ‘direct instruction’ and the rise of scripted teaching is mind boggling. It has to stop, and we have to focus on what our education system can evolve into, bearing in mind how f^cked up the world is becoming. How did someone like Trump win? We don’t have enough THINKERS, and kindness and compassion have become dirty words. We need to educate hearts and minds, and value learning differences.

    Because I am ‘just a teacher’ (regardless of Post Grad quals in dyslexia etc) I have been SLAMMED by Buckingham followers as I am DOING what they claim to want- and teachers are loving it. Teachers are getting their best outcomes, for all learners, and are feeling empowered. You have no idea of the crap I have had to put up with though- complaints to education departments (how dare teachers do what Miss Emma says, and drop the commercial phonics programs they recommend !) and they try to sabotage just about everything I do. I have stories that would curl your hair.

    So I’m glad to hear that others are as incensed as I am, that non teachers are trying to dictate education policy- and especially as there are such conflicts of interest. How can someone push for phonics testing, with such links to a commercial phonics program? You asked what teachers would be ‘advised’ to use if they were ‘failing’? Hmmm… I wonder.

    My objections are not about the test itself- which we don’t need- or the validity of it. It’s who is behind it, and why. If they really wanted to raise literacy levels they would look at the schools already doing this. It’s really exciting, but they are behind closed doors, and with no desire for media attention or applause… they just want to TEACH to the best of their ability. I am humbled whenever I visit. Other teachers are far more likely to change their own practices by visiting those classrooms quietly, and collaborating. Then they, too, pay it forward. Does that not just make sense? Empowered teachers are incredible. They are the ‘experts’ Simon Birmingham should be talking to. And their numbers are growing. I am there to support them in any way I can, every step of the way.

    So thank you for your honest, no nonsense post. It was like a breath of fresh air.

    ‘Miss Emma’

  50. diannaart

    Thank you so much for your incisive post which encapsulates the points Kaye Lee has made.

    Our government has been infiltrated by the extreme right and Buckingham is just another example.

    There is no single magic bullet, as the IPA and their drones would have us believe, teaching is one of the most important professions and has been sadly devalued for decades.

    Welcome to Australia, Miss Emma, we need you.

  51. Kaye Lee


    Thanks so much for your insightful contribution. I agree wholeheartedly. The most important thing a teacher can do is instil a love of learning and the skills to explore, the courage to try and the resilience to try again. Self-esteem is such an important factor. I always used to tell my maths students that, if they didn’t understand, it was my explanation that was at fault – I needed their feedback to improve my presentation. I encouraged them to share how they got to an answer so they would see there were many different ways to approach the same problem. After we had “seen to the housework” we would explore the wonders of maths and its connection to pretty much everything.

    Learning should be a rewarding experience that expands our world. Teachers are best placed to know the children with whom they are working and what their individual needs are. Children react to different stimuli – it is a teacher’s job to offer variety of learning experiences. Children will achieve far more if they are encouraged and focused on personal improvement rather than being constricted by standardised tests that care nothing for creativity or initiative or teamwork, leadership and communication skills or individual learning.

    We are not producing robots. Why treat them like they are on an assembly line, all put together the same way?

  52. Miriam English

    Wow, Emma. Wonderful comment. Thank you for what you’re doing. More power to you.

  53. Michael Taylor

    Just saw your fantastic comment, Emma. I can only repeat what Miriam said above. It says it all for me.

  54. Kaye Lee

    I have been looking into Emma’s stuff and it is very interesting.

    I really smiled when I saw the new website, Wiring Brains….”If a child can’t learn in the way you teach, change the way you teach”

    They talk about teacher quality and that is certainly important, but, as Emma stresses, so is teacher support. Teachers teach each other when given the time, support and opportunity to do so.

    So many clever people out there doing great stuff while our politicians listen to those with the loudest voice. Empty vessels make the most noise.

  55. Andrew J. Smith

    Just recalled another similar example, a new Australian teacher (from Mexico) working in Melbourne, took a job teaching a young Aboriginal community in remote WA, I assume to do his bit for his new country.

    The curriculum was imported from Texas! One would guess a curriculum designed for youth prison program.

    Weird that many culturally specific conservatives or both LNP and Labor, through their inner ‘WASP’, seem to identify more with the US or UK than a diverse Australia?

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