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Report highlights subdued educational attainment

A new report has highlighted the lack of improvement in regards to the percentage of Australian students successfully completing Year 12.

Tom Bentley, principal adviser to the vice-chancellor, RMIT University and Glenn C. Savage, senior lecturer in education policy at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, recently released the paper, titled Educating Australia: challenges for the decade ahead.

In the report, the pair point out that NAPLAN and My School have not led to improvements in literacy and numeracy, with 2016 data showing either stagnation or decline.

“The national reforms since the mid-2000s were designed to address many of these persistent issues,” they write in a recent article published in The Conversation.

“Yet somehow, despite hard-fought political battles and reforms, and the daily efforts of system leaders, teachers, parents and students across the nation, we continue to replicate a system in which key indicators of impact and equity are stagnating or going backwards,” they said.

“The school funding impasse exemplifies this problem. The policy area is continuously bedevilled by the difficulties of achieving effective collaboration between governments and school sectors in our federal system.”

In the paper, Bentley and Savage argue for a more productive interaction between ideas, evidence, policy and practice in education.

They argue that far greater attention and skill are needed to craft and build the institutional capabilities that render goals achievable, ensure fairness, and foster innovation and systemic learning in the public interest.

“Practical lessons arising from recent innovations in teacher education, professional learning, curriculum alignment and inter-school collaboration can help here,” they said.

“We also need to move beyond a fascination with divisions between governments in Australia’s federal system. We must focus instead on harnessing the potential of networks and collaborations across systems.”

“Ultimately, the future success of Australian school-age education hinges on whether powerful ideas can be realised in practice, across tens of thousands of classrooms and communities,” they said.

“If we want reforms to be effective, their design must be grounded in wide-ranging dialogue about the nature of the problems and evidence about what will help to solve them.”

Maths and pencil

Federal Government review to target rural education

The barriers and challenges hampering regional, rural and remote students from improving educational outcomes will be looked at in an independent review.

Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce and Education Minister Simon Birmingham on Thursday announced a review of regional education to ensure those students go on to further study, training and employment.

The Australian reported about one-third of regional and remote students do not complete Year 12, and the number rises to almost two-thirds for very remote students.

University participation rates have remained low over many years at around 18 per cent, despite increased participation in cities under the demand-driven system.

“The Coalition Government’s independent comprehensive review into equity of education access for rural and regional students will seek fresh ideas and fresh thinking to bridge the divide,” Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said.

“There’s a clear disparity between education in the bush and the city — this seeks to address the gap of achievement, aspiration and access to higher education faced by regional students.”

Senator Birmingham said the independent review would be led by Emeritus Professor John Halsey of Flinders University and regional education needed to be looked at as a “complete puzzle” and not as separate school, higher education and training sectors.

“This review will look at education from school entry to job success and how we can improve results for rural and regional people,” he said.

“We must drive and better set policy to encourage ambition among our country students. Regional and remote students made up just 18.8 per cent of domestic undergraduate students at universities, compared to making up 26.4 per cent of the population in 2016.’’

John Dewar, vice-chancellor of La Trobe University told The Australian it was important to lift higher education participation rates.

“We are doing our bit already — such as partnerships with TAFE for dual enrolments — but there is still much more work required,” he said.

“We are fully committed to our regional campuses and want to build on their important contribution, not wind it back.”

Corenna Haythorpe, federal president of the Australian Education Union described the review as cynical and illustrated “shambolic their schools funding policy is”.

“Minister Birmingham is saying on one hand they will negotiate a new funding model with the states and territories in the next months, and with the other he is announcing a review that won’t report until the end of this year,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“Gaps in achievement between regional schools and city schools reflect gaps in resourcing.

“The most recent PISA report showed that secondary students in rural and remote schools are up to three years behind students of the same age from high-SES backgrounds in major cities.”

The final report and recommendations is expected to be delivered to the federal government by the end of the year.

Diversity issues in computer science classes.

Smart teaching can eliminate homework, says US expert

Homework can be reduced or even eliminated by innovative and efficient teaching, US teacher, blogger and author Matt Miller says in his new book, Ditch That Homework.

The Indiana-based educator will discuss his book and give a keynote address at the second annual TeachTechPlay conference at Melbourne’s Ivanhoe Grammar School on April 3-4.

Matt’s earlier book, Ditch That Textbook, argued that innovative teaching could positively harness technology. Ditch That Homework says efficient, technology-rich teaching can also minimise the need for homework and maybe eliminate it, even up to Year 12.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if you and your students needed homework less and less until you didn’t need it at all?” Mr Miller said. “If we can be more efficient and effective, we can lessen our reliance on homework — maybe completely.

“This isn’t a homework-bashing session. It’s a practical one with strategies you can use in your classroom immediately. Use brain-friendly activities, creative approaches to assignments, student-centred practices and more.”

Started by Melbourne teachers Eleni Kyritsis, Steve Brophy and Corey Aylen, TeachTechPlay is independently run by teachers for teachers.

The professional learning community inspires learning through empowerment and connection. It hosts online discussion, a monthly web show and an annual conference.

This year’s conference topics include coding, children’s entrepreneurship, 3D modelling, building empathy, using Minecraft in teaching, robotics and carbon-free classrooms.

Ivanhoe Grammar School hosts the event, but does not necessarily endorse the speakers’ views. TeachTechPlay will be held on Monday-Tuesday April 3-4 at the school’s Ivanhoe Campus, The Ridgeway, Ivanhoe. It costs just $395 for two days.

“Every teacher knows his/her situation best, but if they’re like me, they’d like to become more efficient and effective to the point where they relied so little on homework that it was unnecessary.

“There are so many concerns about assigning homework that should cause teachers to worry about assigning it. It gets copied in the hallway before class. Students struggle with it at home – especially those whose parents have less education. It’s not an effective use of students’ time, and it kills relationships with parents and with teachers.”

The business of being Principal is the business of people

Toorak College is located on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It offers a co-educational environment from ELC to Year 4, with a girls-only approach from Year 5 onwards. It has a proud 142-year history, creating a unique blend of upholding the traditions of the past while looking towards the future of education. Education Matters spoke with Principal Kristy Kendall about her views on current trends, as well as her own brand of leadership and support.

Can you share with us some insights into your own career as an educator?

I started my career at Haileybury 15 years ago as a graduate teacher. In my first year I was given the psychology department to run, as well as coaching aerobics – these were big responsibilities for a teacher in her first year out of university.
Over time, Haileybury began to consider the possibility of introducing girls to the school, and so I eventually came to be Head of the girls’ senior school. That was an exciting opportunity; to establish a girls school within what was traditionally a boys-only institution.
I went on to have my own children and this made me consider early years teaching, so I moved on to lead Haileybury’s Berwick campus, which is an ELC-8 school. But after 15 years in the same role you naturally begin to wonder if there’s a better fit elsewhere. With Haileybury being so large I looked at Toorak College with its 750-odd students as an opportunity to really get to know every one of my students.
My first priority is always to get to know people, and at a smaller school like Toorak College I’ve had the opportunity to not only become familiar with all the students and teachers, but after just a year or so I’ve managed to get to know many of the parents and wider community associated with the school as well.

Could you tell us a bit about Toorak College?

Toorak College is located on the Mornington Peninsula. It is a thriving co-educational environment from ELC to Year 4, with a girls’ only approach from Year 5 onwards. It has a proud 142 year history and has a perfect blend of upholding the traditions of our past while looking towards the future of education.

How is the primary section of the school incorporated into the school as a whole? Is it a separate campus?

Toorak College’s Junior School, Wardle House, caters for students from 3 year old kindergarten to Year 6. The ELC and Junior School share the 11.5 hectare grounds with the Senior School. This means the Junior students can utilise the facilities of the Senior School such as the science labs, state-of-the-art music centre, aquatic centre and gymnasium. They also access specialty staff in science and technology, languages, sport and the arts.

How do you provide support and leadership to your primary school staff?
I encourage all of my staff to consider themselves as experts in their fields. Teaching is a profession that it seems everyone has an opinion on. I encourage my staff to remember that they are brilliant at reading and regulating children’s emotions, building their confidence, guiding their thinking, inspiring their questions and doing this in 20 different ways at once! Teaching is one of the most difficult professions there is and it is important for teachers themselves to regard it as such.

What role do you play in the day-to-day activities of the primary students?
A firm belief I hold in running an ELC – Yr 12 school is that no year level is more important than any other. The early primary years are vital in not just building the fundamental building blocks of learning but also in developing a child’s own perception of self. I enjoy spending as much time as I can reading to the students, involving myself in whatever extra curricula pursuits they chose and observing their successes and struggles in the classroom. I even enjoy morning duty at that crowded drop off zone!

What has been your most memorable moment, either as a teacher or specifically in the role of Principal?
As a new Principal at Toorak College I know my first year will be a memorable one. It is the community that have made this year with their support and encouragement. The students at Toorak College have the most beautiful spirit; they laugh at themselves, they truly support one another and they love to give anything a try. This spirit is one I wholeheartedly embrace, and represent, and the community has put a smile on my face each and every day.

What traits make for an effective and successful leader in education today?
I am in the business of people. That was the business I entered as a graduate teacher over 15 years ago and it is that same business I am in as Principal. Remembering to keep students at the centre of all of your decisions is key. I believe successful leadership involves constantly changing, inventing and reinventing yourself and always learning. Educators have an enormous moral obligation and responsibility to be the absolute best they can be. As a leader my job is to continually inspire those educators to do this each and every day.

What are some of the critical issues you notice that often appear in the media?
I get exhausted at the blame game that goes on with schools. The view that the education of children is quite heavily or solely the responsibility of the school seems to be the standard line in current reportage. Of course, I’m relentless when it comes to ensuring my teachers are the best they can be, but the development of the child’s mental, social any physical development is a three-way partnership between parents, teachers and, yes, the students. It’s part of a young person’s journey to make mistakes, but it’s then the responsibility of the parents to work with the teachers to help direct them. Ultimately it’s the student that has to decide on the path they take, but that will only be successful if it’s arrived at through that partnership approach.

What are your feelings about NAPLAN and its effectiveness?
I absolutely believe NAPLAN is an important tool for teachers for benchmarking, both internally and against the broader trend. Such a system can act as a trigger for reflection within a school and it’s based around core skills that every school has a responsibility to ensure it’s delivering on.

Can you discuss any obvious examples of digital disruption you’ve encountered in education?
I’ve actually been very involved with a company called Edrolo, having been invited to teach the entire Year 12 psychology course online. The idea is to level the playing field for students across the state, providing access to an expert teacher to help them perform at the highest level. The early years working with Edrolo saw us question many things regarding the role of digital technology in the classroom. For example, why do we need a textbook? Perhaps we can replace that antiquated notion with online resources. What makes for great teaching? Maybe we could inspire teachers to teach in a different way if they had access to the best technology can offer them. I’ve been very active in the space for looking at how we can make teachers act less as simply deliverers of content. If we can supply the content then we can allow teachers the time to make connections, organise their thinking and push or extend the boundaries of what’s possible.
I sometimes think back to those days when I was in school. If you really wanted to buy the latest hit single, you’d have to go to Brashs to by the CD. Now, all students have to do is press a button and the song downloads. I feel like in many ways the education system is still caught in the Brashs era and we need to shift that. I’ve been very lucky to get to work with Edrolo in a bid to begin changing the paradigm.

How is Toorak College placed regarding the new focus on STEM learning?
This is one area that Toorak College is an absolute leader in a number of ways. Students as young as ELC and receive STEM-inspired material and we teach prep students to code. It’s not a standalone thing, either. We’ve incorporated elements of STEM into every subject we teach, encouraging students to consider how they solve problems or invent solutions. We’ve a number of staff members that have led various conferences, even internationally, on the subject of STEM teaching. It’s something that’s not only important for students in general, but something that’s doubly important to teach young girls.
In furthering our commitment to STEM learning, Toorak College is embarking on a new project to create a whole new building designed around the concepts of imagination, creation and implementation, and so it ties together ideas of strategic thinking, with marketing and even entrepreneurship. This is not just about STEM knowledge but also about incorporated STEM thinking into everything we do.

Great leaders support teacher wellbeing

Teaching is a rewarding and positive career choice; it can be one of the most rewarding professions in the community. The influence a teacher has on helping to shape the future of so many young people is often profound. But at times, teaching can also be extremely challenging.

Read more