Education Matters - News impacting schools, teachers and students
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Ever-lowering ATAR scores for new student teachers

Latest figures show more students with ATARs under 50 are being admitted to teaching degrees, raising questions about minimum entry standards from the Australian Education Union (AEU).

The rate of entrants with ATARs under 50 has nearly doubled since 2013, rising from 7.2 per cent to 14.3 per cent, which the AEU says indicates a failure by the Coalition to introduce means of addressing falling standards or an oversupply of graduates.

Ms. Correna Haythorpe, Federal President of the AEU, said the Government must impose minimum entry standards in order to maintain the future quality of Australia’s teaching body.

“Entry scores for teaching degrees have dropped steadily over the last decade, and are now significantly lower than for other courses.

“This is a far cry from successful school systems like Singapore which recruit teachers from the top 30 per cent of high school graduates,” she says.

Figures released by the Federal Education Department shows that 1062 students were admitted to teaching courses with ATARs under 50, up from 894 in 2015 and in 2016 over half of all teaching students admitted with an ATAR in 2016 had one of less than 70.

Ms. Haythorpe highlights the Government’s stated intention to put teacher quality ahead of funding, but as thus far failed to take meaningful steps in this direction.

“The Coalition wants to cut needs-based Gonski funding after 2017, and says they will focus on teacher quality ahead of resources. Yet they have failed to do anything to address this issue or limit the number of students entering teaching degrees.”

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PM increases P-TECH funds for STEM performance

12 more schools around Australia will be included in a trial program known as Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), following an announcement of a futher $4.6 million in funds from the Coalition Government.

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Mount Bundy's bull

Trip report: 2015 Top End tour

Teachers from around the country shared an experience combining the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the Northern Territory, including visits to a cattle station, a cultural cruise in Kakadu, as well as participating in an immersion program in Katherine.

Among those educators to join in on the experience was Megan Webster, from Galen Catholic College in Victoria. Megan explained that the trip offered “lots of educational benefits that would complement a range of subject areas”, and would “also assist with student personal development”.

“As an Indonesian and Humanities teacher, I have been able to discuss what I’ve learned about the live cattle trade with my students, following the visit to Mount Bundy Station near Darwin,” Megan said.

“Since returning from the trip, I taught my students how the Northern Territory (in particular Arnhem Land) has been linked to Indonesia for many, many years before white settlement – the students loved hearing about the similarities in language and culture.”

Coby Beames from the Torrens Valley Christian School found all of the experiences offered were amazing, saying “what a beautiful place the NT is”.

“The things that I liked most would be the Indigenous interactions we had with the various tour groups, cooking, site seeing, sharing stories, listening to culture and learning about a different way of life; such a precious gift,” she said.

It is this cultural element that is particularly expansive for both educators and students who experience the tour. At the centre of this experience lies the wisdom and stewardship of traditional owners, who play an integral role in preserving the integrity of the Territory’s National Parks such as Kakadu and Nitmiluk.

On top of the National Parks experience, educators also had the chance to get ‘up close and personal’ with the local wildlife at Crocodylus Park and Territory Wildlife Park.

In fact, Coby found that there were myriad opportunities to “link curriculum with the tours”.

“From History, Geography, Science, Language, Indigenous Culture, Civics and Citizenship, Religion to Home Economics, there was something for every class,” she said. “If I were to take a Middle School class on such a tour, I wouldn’t go past the Nitmiluk tour’s Footstep program. This is an all-inclusive Indigenous experience which would see the students immersed in culture in a meaningful way.”

Those who have attended say they continue to draw benefit from having developed new contacts in the Northern Territory and indicate they look forward to drawing on the expertise and experience of NT Learning Adventures for future educational trips.

“When my school is ready to organise a trip to the Northern Territory, I have a great understanding of what programs are on offer, suitable accommodation options and transport for students and staff,” Megan said. “Tourism NT’s ‘NT Learning Adventures program’ offers a variety of suitable education programs and can point you in the right direction of how it can be arranged”

“The 2015 NT famil tour was an amazing trip,” echoed Coby. “Tourism NT organised such a great itinerary and we experienced so many diverse activities in the five days. This is a trip not to be missed, I would go again in a heartbeat!”

Learn more about NT Learning Adventures.

Australian flag

Election Week One: Turnbull's $73.6bn promise

our update of two weeks ago, the Federal Budget announced an increase of $1.2 billion over three years for school funding, but it comes with a number of caveats. The amount was announced as part of an overall budgetary commitment of $73.6 billion – the total amount the Commonwealth is planning to provide schools over the next four years. The majority of this money was already budgeted for. The additional $1.2 billion promised by the Coalition will be delivered using state and territory assessments of the neediest schools, as was recommended by the Gonski review, along with a number of other conditions (such as a standardised Year 1 assessment of literacy, phonics and numeracy against national standards, as well as a minimum standard of literacy and numeracy skills for Year 12 students). While the additional funding has been welcomed, it has also been noted that it only partially restores the funding cuts introduced by the Coalition in 2014. By comparison, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor have promised an additional $4.5 billion over two years, which is slated to include $1.8 billion for regional and country classrooms. While more money sounds like it will produce a greater windfall for Australian schools, the priority in which they receive these funds is still determined by the individual states and territories, not by the Commonwealth, thereby producing markedly varied results across the country. The argument being made by the Coalition and a host of pundits is simply that increasing funding does not necessarily increase the performance of schools and, in turn, the academic performance of students themselves. However, this is exactly what the Gonski review was supposed to achieve and it is this element of the academic system that needs to discussed in detail by the major parties. For yet another election campaign, we can all expect to hear the term ‘Gonski’ much more in the weeks to come.]]>

Australian flag

Election Week One: Turnbull’s $73.6bn promise

The marathon campaign in the lead up to July’s Federal election has already yielded some indication of what to expect from the major parties with regard to education spend and policy.

As mentioned in our update of two weeks ago, the Federal Budget announced an increase of $1.2 billion over three years for school funding, but it comes with a number of caveats.

The amount was announced as part of an overall budgetary commitment of $73.6 billion – the total amount the Commonwealth is planning to provide schools over the next four years. The majority of this money was already budgeted for.

The additional $1.2 billion promised by the Coalition will be delivered using state and territory assessments of the neediest schools, as was recommended by the Gonski review, along with a number of other conditions (such as a standardised Year 1 assessment of literacy, phonics and numeracy against national standards, as well as a minimum standard of literacy and numeracy skills for Year 12 students).

While the additional funding has been welcomed, it has also been noted that it only partially restores the funding cuts introduced by the Coalition in 2014.

By comparison, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Labor have promised an additional $4.5 billion over two years, which is slated to include $1.8 billion for regional and country classrooms.

While more money sounds like it will produce a greater windfall for Australian schools, the priority in which they receive these funds is still determined by the individual states and territories, not by the Commonwealth, thereby producing markedly varied results across the country.

The argument being made by the Coalition and a host of pundits is simply that increasing funding does not necessarily increase the performance of schools and, in turn, the academic performance of students themselves. However, this is exactly what the Gonski review was supposed to achieve and it is this element of the academic system that needs to discussed in detail by the major parties.

For yet another election campaign, we can all expect to hear the term ‘Gonski’ much more in the weeks to come.

Child and blackboard

Study: Pattern learning underlies language development

New research shows how a child’s grasp of language is learned, while also being ‘inextricably’ linked to his or her ability to recognise patterns.

The study, produced by researchers from the University of Sydney and from Australian National University (ANU), found children who were better at identifying non-verbal patterns also tended to have a batter knowledge of grammar.

The researchers also used controls in order to take intelligence and memory into account, and still pattern recognition was strongly associated with language development.

This is of interest as the question of how some children learn faster than others has been hotly debated for centuries.

Evan Kidd is Associate Professor at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. He says the findings counter traditional theories of that aptitude for grammar in language is innate, not learnt.

“For a long time people thought of grammar as some sort of special cognitive system, like a box in our brain that we are born with, but our study shows that language proficiency is associated with learning – which helps to explain why some people pick it up faster than others,” said Professor Kidd.

“These findings are exciting because in the long-term they could help us develop strategies to assist children who may not be typically developing for their age.”

The study included a sample of 68 children aged six to eight years, assessing them with two separate tests. One test evaluated grammatical knowledge while the other was a visual pattern learning task.

“The study tells us that we have a whole lot of little statisticians running around,” said Associate Professor Joanne Arciuli, co-author of the study and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow.

“Unbeknownst to children themselves their brains are constantly computing these patterns or statistics – for example which words co-occur regularly, which words follow others, and different contexts in which words are used.”

As a result of the study, the Australian Research Council has provided funding for a further three-year study to be undertaken in order to investigate the underlying cognitive mechanisms of language development in children.

The findings are published in the journal, Child Development.