PM's Press Club Speech
12th September 2012

Here's my response to the PM's National Press Club speech on school funding and school improvement, published in the Australian.

IN her recent Perth speech to the mining industry Julia Gillard told her audience, "I have a 13-year pipeline of investment in minds."

Pipedream would be a more apt description. That's because, as noted in her speech to the National Press Club last Monday, whatever funding model is decided early next year will not be fully implemented until 2020 and the plan to have our students "catching Shanghai's kids" won't happen until 2025.

Add the fact finding an additional $6.5 billion each year for schools is unrealistic and that the federal government does not employ any teachers or manage any schools, and it's clear the Prime Minister's "national crusade" on education is poorly thought-through polemics.

Take Gillard's definition of educational disadvantage. Reflecting the Gonski report's focus on equity and its argument that a student's socioeconomic status determines success or failure, Gillard's press club speech adopts a cultural-left, deficit view of education.

According to this view, demography is destiny and working-class, migrant, indigenous and non-English-speaking background students are doomed to failure. Ignored is that, based on an analysis of the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment test results, students' SES is not the most important influence on achievement. As noted in an Australian Council for Educational Research report analysing Australia's performance in PISA (the international test of 15-year-old students to which Gillard always refers), socioeconomic status is one influence among many.

The report states, "The association between socioeconomic background and performance for Australian students is similar to that found on average over OECD countries. Almost 13 per cent of the explained variance in student performance in Australia was found to be attributable to students' socioeconomic background."

The other 87 per cent relates to factors such as the number of books in the home, whether children enjoy reading, student ability and motivation, and having effective teachers, an academic curriculum and a disciplined classroom environment.

Also ignored in Gillard's press club speech is that one of the groups identified as suffering disadvantage, students from a non-English-speaking background, performs as well as other students in areas such as mathematics.

The ACER report notes, "There are no significant differences found in the average performances of students who spoke English as their main language at home compared to those students whose main language at home was a language other than English."

That Gillard is consumed by a cultural-left, jaundiced view of education is illustrated when, in listing those she identifies as disadvantaged and requiring additional funding, she ignores the plight of high-achieving students. Even though many schools in Australia already perform as well as those in the top five PISA nations, as a nation we do not achieve as well and, worse still, when it comes to literacy we have gone backwards.

The main reason for the decline - a fact ignored when Gillard implores us to join her in her "national crusade" to right the "moral wrong" of disadvantage - is that we now have fewer high-achieving students doing well.

The ACER report concludes: "Australia was the only high-performing country to show a significant decline in reading literacy performance between PISA 2000 and PISA 2009. Of concern is that the decline is primarily among the high-achieving students."

While the Gonski report and its supporters, such as the Australian Education Union's Angelo Gavrielatos and the University of Melbourne's Richard Teese, ignore the plight of high-achieving students, such students are crucial to Australia's future and have every right to be supported. While many expected that Gillard, having received the Gonski report last December, would finally detail the new funding model, due to replace the SES model at the start of 2014, they were disappointed.

InsteadGillard spent a good deal of time detailing her national plan for school improvement.

While the rhetoric and aspirations, like motherhood, are hard to oppose, the reality, such as finding an additional $6.5bn a year and lifting Australia to the top five in PISA results, is that what is being planned is unachievable and counter-productive.

Attempting to lift teacher quality, by mentoring beginning teachers and ensuring trainee teachers have more practical experience, will come to naught unless teacher training institutes are forced to base what they teach on evidence-based research about effective pedagogy and less on postmodern, new-age, politically correct theory. Forcing all of Australia's 290,854 teachers to undertake annual reviews, in addition to duplicating what already occurs in most states and territories, will simply add another layer of red tape and micro management. Ditto with the plan to make schools produce an annual improvement plan that will be publicly available and used to monitor and evaluate performance.

It symbolises the federal government's adoption of a highly centralised, bureaucratic and statist form of educational delivery.

There's no denying that Gillard's speech to the press club was highly emotional and replete with feel-good aspirations to overcome disadvantage, to ensure every child succeeded, that teachers were valued and that Australia performed among the world's best.

Unfortunately, not only are the completion dates set so far in the future that Gillard , in all probability, will never have to face the consequences of failure but, in refusing to embrace the characteristics of stronger performing schools and education systems, such as autonomy, diversity, choice and competition, most Australian students will always under-achieve.



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PM's Press Club Speech
12th September 2012
Here's my response to the PM's National Press Club speech on school funding and school improvement, published in the Australian. IN her recent Perth speech to the mining industry Julia Gillard tol...

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