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Teaching is so much more than ticks and crosses

The Coalition has made it very clear that their sole focus in government is to give investors, both foreign and domestic, more disposable income. In the absence of any evidence, we are asked to believe that foregoing this revenue will provide jobs and growth which will fund schools, hospitals and welfare.

Sounds easy. Make rich people richer and prosperity for all will follow. “It’s a good investment” insist Malcolm and Scott.

Cut red tape, cut regulations, fast track approvals, limit court appeals, open up free trade, import temporary labour, and allow corporations to sue us if future legislation affects their profits.

Except, with interest rates so low and wages and demand stagnant, the tax concessions for property investment and superannuation make them far more attractive, skewing investment away from business and infrastructure.

It is the elderly who are getting wealthier as young people go backwards.

We all know that regardless of the spin from the business mouthpieces.

But what is particularly galling is, as they throw money at big business, the Coalition has jumped on the NAPLAN results to justify cuts to education funding.

It is indisputable that investing in education brings very high economic and social rewards. It is also important to spend the money wisely. Which is why listening to Coalition thoughts on education is so excruciating.

Firstly they say Gonski hasn’t worked because just giving them more money with no goals is wasteful. Which is somewhat surprising because it was Abbott and Pyne in December 2013 who cut the requirement that states meet benchmarks to receive their funding.

In announcing the new agreements on Monday, Mr Abbott said the Government would “dismantle” the regulations and red tape associated with Labor’s deal as it does not want to “run public schools out of Canberra”.

“I suspect that New South Wales and Victoria will be happy to lose the Canberra command and control elements of those deals but certainly the financial arrangements for the next four years will be absolutely adhered to,” he said.

It will shelve Labor’s ideas of imposing management plans for states’ schools systems, setting up Canberra-based inspectors and gathering extra data in Canberra.

The Coalition wants states to employ specific pedagogical techniques like explicit instruction, regardless of its appropriateness for individual students and despite the very recent and expensive experiment by Noel Pearson in Aurukun showing it doesn’t work.

“Instead of spending $30 million on a US-based product like direct instruction, in Aurukun we could spend just $150,000 on a curriculum writer specialist teacher who could sit down with the people of Aurukun and write a high expectation kind of curriculum program for every year level,” said Indigenous educator Dr Chris Sarra.

“[A program] that’s accepted and embraced and gets the people of Aurukun excited, gets the children excited and engaged, and enables them to have a very strong and positive sense of cultural identity, while at the same time nurtures a sense of excellence so they can thrive in a modern society.”

Over the last three years, every time a Coalition MP or hired hand speaks about education, they say ‘phonics’. It’s become their go to word. Sure phonics is important but it is just one aspect of learning to read as explained by the English Teachers Association of NSW.

The “reading war” is, in reality, one between those who advocate a “phonics only” approach and those who advocate phonics as part of a larger, more inclusive system. Classroom teachers, on the whole, tend to be represented in the more inclusive system, while “phonics only” advocates tend to be academics in the field of psychometrics who are most comfortable with systems that appear neatly sequenced and measurable.

The most important aspect of reading is understanding. Without understanding, reading is, literally, useless.

Another term we hear bandied about is STEM. The Coalition has ‘targets’ for numbers of STEM teachers though if it is like their ‘targets’ for female representation they are unlikely to be met. Labor’s policy provides 25,000 scholarships to encourage STEM graduates into teaching but that would cost money so it is doubtful the Coalition would agree.

More parental involvement is another favourite, completely neglecting the fact that, in many disadvantaged homes, the parents do not have the time, resources or skills to offer help.

A dear friend of mine is the principal of a tough high school in the western suburbs of Sydney. She is ropable.

After years developing a National Curriculum, the Coalition chooses to change it before it is even implemented. Perhaps they don’t understand the work that went into developing it and the programs and resources to implement it.

She is being asked to become a business manager, spending all her time on financial management rather than teacher development and student outcomes.

Head office is employing bureaucrats rather than educators who are interfering in school management in areas they do not understand.

A teacher has many responsibilities to those entrusted to their care. First and foremost is for the child to feel safe and valued. Self-esteem and confidence to try are crucial to learning. A teacher should encourage curiosity and a love for learning. They should allow creativity and reward initiative. They should facilitate group co-operation and problem solving. They should foster an environment of respect. They should cater the learning experience to individual needs and teach the skills required for children to learn more.

Teaching is so much more than ticks and crosses.


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  1. David

    Trickle down doesn’t work! We have just witnessed the biggest transfer of wealth and assets in human history to less than 1% of the world population!
    Did you say “Firstly they say Government hasn’t worked because just giving them more money with no goals is wasteful”?.
    Abbort had a Plan, but no idea about implementation. The LNP parliamentary wing were obviously not INVOLVED in the planning process which produced their PLAN.
    My worry is that former Goldman Sachs employee, PM TurnBS will do to Australia what his colleagues did to Greece! Now we have the iMF wringing their hands and admitting they got it wrong about European austerity and the Greek debacle.
    Our money system is irreparably broken, our Government is up to its armpits in a quagmire of secret deals, TPP, MH17, MH370, for example, and we are expected to believe our LNP government are really the “Adults” in charge? What utter BS!
    Are the LNP and TPP corporations getting ready to rape and pillage in Australia?

  2. Steve Laing -

    I recently enquired about become a science teacher, only to be told that despite a degree in an applied biological science, and a PhD in Microbiology, that for most universities I’m not qualified enough. Apparently I have to have undertaken enough university coursework in a completely separate discipline (e.g. maths, english, humanities etc – other sciences are not allowed) to be able to get approval from the teaching board!

    And they wonder why they can’t find enough quality STEM teachers.

    But you are right. Education, like health, is being made to become increasingly like a business. For our best educators to be converted into administrators seems a ridiculous waste of their talents. The problem is that this government believes that people are only motivated financially. If they can’t get paid more, or pay less taxes, then they won’t push themselves. Unfortunately this often simply attracts people to those positions who are thus motivated, and the results are as we see them.

  3. Freethinker

    Steve, the bottom line is that they do not want to educate people, they need more ignorant to be part of the future electorate so they can be manipulated to suit their agenda.

    I just wonder if the main political parties would like to have more ” Barry Jones” politicians in the parliament……..
    I am getting bitter and depressed in the last couple of month in the way that things are going.

  4. jimhaz

    Here is a little bit about Direct and Explicit instruction. Just the first site I found.

    Direct Instruction is not a solution for Australian schools

    Direct Instruction sounds horrible

    “Teachers follow a step-by-step, lesson- by-lesson approach to teaching that has already been written for them. What the teachers say and do is prescribed and scripted, and accompanied by a pre-specified system of rewards. Following strict program of teaching as operant conditioning – teachers teach uniform content in scripted and monitored patterns”

    but if Uni’s keep enrolling folks with low entrance requirements (not just in teaching) – perhaps we have to resort to uniform instruction….for those new teachers.

  5. Matters Not

    jimhaz. the type of ‘education’ offered is often related to a nation’s stage of development. Identified by C E Beeby many years ago but still offers insights.

    Noel’s ‘method’ applies to times gone by.

  6. Kaye Lee

    They say they want evidence based policy making…that they want to fund what works….and then completely ignore the evidence.

    The Coalition has said it will give $1.2 billion for needs-based school funding between 2018-2020….

    The Coalition has said it will ensure spending is “tied to evidence-based initiatives” that improve student performance, suggesting conditions will be placed on the funding, such as introducing standardised literacy and numeracy testing for students in year 1, and linking the salaries of teachers to the national teaching standards.

    On teacher training….

    The 2016 budget contains cuts of $152.2 million over four years to the Higher Education Participation Program, which funds universities to bring in students from the lowest socio-economic levels and $20.9 million over the next four years to the Promotion of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Program.

  7. Marilyn

    Thank God for your article! As a retired Primary School Teacher I am fed up with education being vulnerable to the whim of politics. As your article states, teaching is indeed so much more than a Naplan test. When will these dinosaurs learn that children have different styles of learning. Some are visual, some auditory and some learn by doing. A good teacher develops a programme that suits the children in the class and is adaptable. Each year the composition of the class is different and has to be considered.

    In 40 years of teaching I have found that phonics alone does not work. It must be taught but it should be integrated with a whole teaching method. Understanding is critical.

    To increase literacy and numeracy here are my simple steps:

    Start at the beginning. After six months in Kindergarten a teacher can identify the children at risk. Fund a teachers Aide to enable the teacher to provide more precise instruction to this group.

    Stop dumping on schools. It has been too easy for schools to be made responsible for what should be social education. Every addition to the curriculum has to be timetabled and this detracts from the time available for literacy and numeracy. Strip the curriculum in Early Stage One and Stage to the essentials and allow more time for literacy and numeracy.

    Early Intervention. Put resources into the early stages to sort problems quickly before children develop issues with self esteem. Use educational psychologists to assess and recommend initiatives for children at risk. Develop special classes for ESL children within the school.

    Allocate the best teachers to these stages. Too many consider Kindergarten as a doesn’t matter or baby sitting year. It isn’t! Here is where children develop their attitudes towards learning and towards themselves as learners. They learn to integrate and work both as individuals and as a group.

    Stop using a test as a benchmark. There are too many variables to testing and you cannot test emotional performance or self esteem.

    One area in which Public Schools fail is in the development of the more advanced students. Everything is focused on bringing the bottom up to the average and teaching to the average. Advanced students must be able to work at an advanced level. Many coast along without being challenged to perform at their best.

    Obviously, I am passionate about education and children. Most of all I want to say that education MUST be funded adequately and it should be free from political interference. Education is not and cannot ever be treated as a business.

  8. Ginny Lowndes

    Correction: It is old men, mainly old white men, with a lifetime access to superannuation schemes who are getting wealthier. Elderly women, who could only start superannuation for themselves from 1992 onward, are increasingly making up the numbers in the army of the homeless.

  9. Kaye Lee

    I also think teacher mentoring and group teaching can be helpful in some situations. Having a larger group and two teachers means they can plan together, learn from each other, utilise their particular talents, have two sets of eyes etc. Not all the time and not for all kids, but what teachers need is the flexibility to do what is best for that particular group of kids and the individuals in it. Combining classes for maths can also allow for both extension and remedial work.

    The idea of standardised tests for year one students is laughable. The range is enormous and the change can be so rapid when they are ready. If teachers pay is going to be dependent on the kids test results then they will be forced to teach to the test instead of individual programs. They really don’t have a clue.

  10. jimhaz

    [She is being asked to become a business manager, spending all her time on financial management rather than teacher development and student outcomes. Head office is employing bureaucrats rather than educators who are interfering in school management in areas they do not understand]

    In my view the Executive Contract system creates a scenario where executives are chosen for their political ideologies and levels of obedience to ministers desires more than their abilities to bring about improvements in the core functions of their departments. Merit based on expertise in core functions becomes far less important than doing whatever the current minister or governments whims are.
    These contract systems also allows jobs for the boys.

    Most administrators are in love with changes that look progressive but are not as the changes are copies from those required for profit making industries and stem from what neoconservatives want (such as privatisation and outsourcing). They destroy existing organisational cultures and knowledge bases for no end gain in many cases. Department heads change with every new government and bingo the next thing is a dud restructure with layoffs, when staff are still acclimatising to the previous restructure.

    A lack of organisational cultural understanding does things like forcing Principals to sit at a computer approving X,Y and Z, when many things could be delegated down to a lower level. Over-governance is a big problem with gov agencies – being on contract the executives all want to feel safe so they will implement policies and systems that protect them or make them look like a successful innovator, but create more work at the coalface.

    It is a bit like my arguments against high levels of immigration. Like immigration, a continual supply of new blood from private industry via contracts is an advantage, but when there is too much, then we function less efficiently, we lose interest in doing things as best we can, morale declines.

  11. michael lacey

    Valuable classroom teaching essential to a democracy; it is grounded in a critical pedagogy that values an open-ended, dialogical, approach to education. The classroom in this vision of educational praxis is viewed as a potentially transgressive space wherein students and teacher mutually explore knowledge formations in a playful albeit critically engaged manner. Neoliberal approaches to educational practice shun innovation because these teaching practices attempt to foster autonomous, critically engaged citizens, rather than non-autonomous, fundamentally structured state subjects. Standardized testing, the centerpiece of neoliberal educational practice, is the enemy of educational innovation! Cheap labour conservatives believe in a social hierarchy of “haves” and “have nots”. They have taken this corrosive social vision and dressed it up with a “respectable” sounding ideology which all boils down to the cheap labour they depend on to make their fortunes. The downgrading, defunding of public education along with other social structures is a deliberate strategy employed by them. All they do is promote fear which is a good weapon to keep people from questioning. Public education must be funded so as to reflect both a society’s commitment to equal educational opportunities and its commitment to the deepening and expansion of a formative educational culture that creates the critical individual and social agents capable of governing a democratic society. This means investing less in war and more in education; it means making education free, especially to those who are marginalized by poverty. It means putting in place legislation and policies that tackle inequality and free societies from the casino capitalism that increasingly corrupts politics and privileges a small percentage of the population.

  12. Matters Not

    One area in which Public Schools fail is in the development of the more advanced students.

    Apparently, the evidence suggests otherwise.

    Nine of the top 10 schools re academic attainments were from the public sector.

    And before one refers to ‘selective schools’, consider whether many private schools are also selective.

  13. jimhaz

    If the comments below are correct, then one would think that in light of the LNP “plan” to foster entrepreneurship that they should not be promoting rote learning in schools.

    “These are two sides of the same coin: Chinese schools are very good at preparing their students for standardized tests,” Jiang Xueqin, a deputy principal at Peking University High School in Beijing, wrote in an opinion article published in The Wall Street Journal shortly after the test results were announced. “For that reason, they fail to prepare them for higher education and the knowledge economy.”

    In an interview, Mr. Jiang said Chinese schools emphasized testing too much, and produced students who lacked curiosity and the ability to think critically or independently.

    “It creates very narrow-minded students,” he said. “But what China needs now is entrepreneurs and innovators.”

    This is a common complaint in China. Educators say an emphasis on standardized tests is partly to blame for the shortage of innovative start-ups in China. And executives at global companies operating here say they have difficulty finding middle managers who can think creatively and solve problems.

  14. guest

    jimhaz, one of the schools highly praised by the conservative press is a school in Shanghai. It rates highly in PISA tests. It has teachers plus mentors teaching the one class. Teachers teach about half time overall. They do not use computers. They teach by direct instruction. They are preparing high-flying students to sit for entrance exams to US universities. Somehow conservative newspapers think that such an approach is suitable for teaching all students at any age for any purpose.

    That such an idea is demonstrably false is obvious. The logical extension is the large class of up to 1000 students in a large hall lectured and instructed by teachers like Mr Gradgrind or Mr Chokemchild and drilled by monitors like a catechism in Dickens’ “Hard Times” where he satirises Lancasterian schools of C19th Britain. Joseph Lancaster, a Quaker, claimed that he had “invented, under the blessing of Divine Providence, a new and mechanical system of education.”

    There are some conservative educators today who claim to have such a ‘new and mechanical’ system. They claim connections with the Judaeo-Christian tradition and the Western Canon and the Enlightenment. Such ‘educators’ have been lecturing the public and seeking to infiltrate education for a very long time.

    As pointed out here, they love the idea of pure phonics as the panacea for all ills. Let them show how the word ‘yacht’ (and any number of other words) can be taught phonically. When adults come across a difficult word they can look at the context to see how it might fit; otherwise they look in a dictionary. The idea that a student can only learn through direct instruction is ridiculous.

    That politics enters the debate is obvious. Along with the desire to create controversy to sell news. Take the idea of a National Curriculum. It was suggested years ago and was also supported by conservatives. Teachers need a detailed ‘road map’, they said. Commonality across the states, they said. Howard even began putting the NC together. Gillard continued it. Oh no, they said. Not that National Curriculum, they said. Not a top-down curriculum from Canberra! So then states devised Curriculum Statements using guidelines for developing their own curricula. Not enough details, cried the conservative pundits. Then, strangely, they asked that schools develop their own curricula. They said Principals should manage the school independently; no bureaucracies. You know, like private schools, with volunteer parents guiding…as if most schools did not already have an involved parent body. What is it with these people?

    And testing? Yes, yes, yes. Test, test, test. You know, like “No Child Left Behind” in the USA. Which caused all kinds of controversy: accusations of false numbers of students, accusations of cheating…Sound familiar? Not to be used as a “Leagues Table” – only used for internal targeting of student need – but the conservative press publishes one anyway. And then the conservative press tries to tell us that “throwing money at education achieves nothing”. Well, un-targeted, they might be right. But the conservatives use their scatter-brain argument to implement a dumbed-down scatter-brain approach to education funding.

    Scatter-brained like their education philosophy..

  15. Matters Not

    Lots of articles that delve/explain the so called ‘Asian education miracle’. Here’s but two:

    Somewhat angry that Rudd/Gillard really didn’t have any deep understanding and yet are lauded (in some circles at least) for their contribution(s). Their ignorance was simply breath taking. And ‘experts’ let them get away with it, using the rationale, that it was an improvement of sorts.

    Guest above is ‘on the money’.

  16. Kaye Lee


    Interesting comment about Rudd and Gillard. In so many things, I thank them for getting things started but feel they did not do them particularly well. But big plans require fine tuning as they go – and they did get a lot underway (only to be ripped to pieces by the Abbott government).

    I see that climate science is important again, as of yesterday. We are rehiring. That won’t go over well with One Nation.

  17. silkworm

    The Turncoat/Ghunt direction to CSIRO to research climate science again is mind-boggling at first, but there may be method in their madness. They may have had the One Nation senators in mind, thinking they could use their new position as a bargaining chip, saying to One Nation, we’ll go back to climate science denial if you’ll bend to our will on union-bashing, or any other neoliberal scheme.

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