Reflecting on the school policy in Australia in 2018

The year 2018 was a mixed bag for schooling policy in Australia.

We had new ministers, new organisations and some auspicious anniversaries. As Christmas approaches, it’s worth reflecting on the year that’s been, not only only at the federal level, but also across our states and territories.

Read more of my ‘year in review piece’ on The Conversation, here.

Does Australia have a policy laboratory? Insights from education policy.

Today, at the World Congress of Political Science, I'll be sharing findings from my five-year study examining how federalism directly and indirectly influences policy making in the schooling portfolio.

I’ll be focusing in particular the extent to which governments could innovate in this policy area, which in Australia is characterised by extensive, complex and growing overlap in state and federal roles.

I’ll show that, yes, evidence from this study does suggest the presence of a policy laboratory.

I’ll also point out how this has changed over time, and identify some of the enabling and constraining factors. I’ll conclude with insights on how we can enhance policy experimentation, learning, and “smart” practice to improve policy outcomes.

Here are the slides, and here is my speech.

Some thoughts on the Gonski "2.0" report

The second Gonski Review was publicly released this week to a storm of controversy and diversity of opinions among educators, policy wonks and researchers. 

The panel had a hard task. It was asked to focus on the school and classroom factors that can make the biggest, sustained difference to educational achievement, while ignoring the many, meaty structural issues such as funding allocations, residualisation, federalism and system coherence, which influence schooling outcomes. These had been explored in the earlier review chaired by David Gonski (and in my own work).   Despite these limitations, the panel did a pretty good job, outlining a vision of where Australian schooling should be heading (spoiler: a student-centred school system which values and supports educators) and some of the tools and changes needed to get there.

I was pleased to read the priority reforms put forward in the Mitchell Institute submission were endorsed as recommendations in Gonski2.0. And I was particularly enthused to see learning growth over time, personalised learning, and student agency plus additional time and evidence-based tools to support teachers and principals in their vital work as educators and instructional leaders at the centre of the report.

Of course, many of the key recommendations put forward are already happening in schools around Australia, including schools I've had the pleasure of working with over the years. (Check out Templestowe College, Rooty Hill High School and Marlborough Primary). But such approaches are not systematically supported or encouraged by current policy, accountability and regulatory frameworks, nor are they made easy for already over-stretched schools or teachers.

One of the biggest obstacles - recognised in this report - is the absence of timely, fine-grain and useable data at classroom level on teaching impact, and of tools to put such insights into practice in a way that is tailored to individuals and their different contexts.  Such data is in many ways the missing link, connecting teaching with learning in real time.  

Pivot, the organisation I've just joined, works with schools and systems to gain these vital insights into teaching effectiveness using student perception data and peer feedback, and uses this to provide confidential reports and curated resource packs to teachers, and aggregated reports to school leaders, on their greatest strengths and development areas.  These insights and tools are keys to unlock greater effectiveness and learning growth.

Student and peer feedback data can rightly take emphasis away from NAPLAN, which has been misused and conflated in both purpose and importance, with perverse effects at the individual, school and system levels. NAPLAN should be put back into perspective - a nationally-comparable point-in-time assessment of a few essential learning areas, to be used alongside other data sets and most importantly, formative assessments, to guide decisions on programs and resource allocation.

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Submission to the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australia's schools

Achieving excellence for all students in Australia’s education system is a complex challenge in which schools play a key but not exclusive role. Mitchell Institute has focussed this submission on priority actions to transform Australia’s education system to secure educational success for all students. These priority actions are:

1. Improve the quality of early education and care services, and expand access to preschool so that all children can participate in quality preschool programs for two years before starting school. All children benefit from high quality early education, but it is particularly beneficial for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and for the one in four children who are developmentally vulnerable.

2. Build the evidence base, teaching support, and understanding around capabilities, engagement and learning growth. This includes tools for teachers and families to better identify the progress children are making and where additional support is needed.

3. Support the creation of a national education evidence and data institute to generate, evaluate and disseminate research on established and emerging education programs and practices with transformative potential. This includes developing a unique student identifier (USI) to track students as they progress through early education, schooling and further study or training, and link this with other data sets to ensure we can understand the impacts interventions have on a variety of student cohorts.

This was just the executive summary of Mitchell Institute's submission to the "Gonski 2.0" Review. Read the full submission here.