Education Matters - News impacting schools, teachers and students

Victoria leads the way in sustainability support for schools

Victorian schools are among the most sustainable in Australia due to the government’s investment in the ResourceSmart Schools program. Last year Victorian school involved with the program saved $3.8 million by reducing their energy and water consumption, and by generating less waste.

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Tourism NT breaking barriers for school groups

Tourism NT breaking barriers for school groups

NT Learning Adventures, a collection of over 40+ tourism operators in the Northern Territory, have been working towards breaking down the barriers of school group travel to the NT, and are now offering grants to schools that participate in an NT Learning Adventure.



Not many people realise, but the Northern Territory holds some of the most important historical events and artefacts, immersive living cultural experiences, impressive sustainability programs and much more. NT Learning Adventures have worked on creating links with NT destinations and touring products with the Australian Curriculum. Tour operators have been revising their current educational product, and improving their offerings by providing risk assessment; safety and security standards; and establishing direct educational links with the curriculum just to mention a few.

This year Tourism NT is promoting a $1000 grant offering to interstate schools that participate in the grant program. The grant is run by Tourism NT and aims to provide the opportunity to travel to the NT and experience all we have to offer at a more affordable price. By providing a grant direct to the school, allows the savings to be directed back to the student and their family, and in return experience an intellectual and unforgettable school excursion to be remembered for years to come.

To apply for the grant download the application pack here or for further information, schools are encouraged to go to the website or email

Grants are available until 26March 2016 for travel up until 30 June 2016.

Tourism NT breaking barriers for school groups


Mineclass – How to set up an Interschool Minecraft project

Guest Post by Matt Richards – Microsoft Expert Educator


Minecraft is an engaging platform for creativity, computational thinking, collaboration and learning. Crafting learning opportunities in Minecraft between schools is a wonderful opportunity to develop student collaboration and ICT for learning skills. Mineclass, started by a bunch of Australian Microsoft Expert Educators, was conceived to make interschool Minecraft projects a reality. See how you can can set up your own interschool projects, or just join the Mineclass group below.




Students from geographically remote schools collaborate and construct technical creations in Minecraft as a learning platform. Mineclass gives teachers and students to how-to and a place to make all of this happen.


•Students plan, design and collaboratively create structures and functioning machines in Minecraft.

•Students learn how communicate and collaborate effectively in web based projects.

•Students have real global audiences for their creations.

•Students run virtual excursions for other schools in their Minecraft world creations.


1. Student Minecraft accounts – It is better if the students use their own Minecraft accounts to facilitate learning anytime/anywhere. You can acquire accounts at this link.

2. Server– If you have a fast internet connection (min. 50Mbps) at your school you can host the server yourself. Recommended server details at this link. If you don’t have a fast connection you can buy online Realms at this link.

3. Devices – Minecraft works on most devices (great if you are a diverse BYOD school). Students usually prefer laptops.

4. System Requirements – you can catch up on the technical system requirements at this link.

5. Preparation – Ensure your students all have Minecraft accounts. Initial setup is easier if you utilise the Minecraft Jedi in your class. Liaise with your IT Department to ensure Minecraft will be accessible on your school network. Request that they open needed ports if needed.

Ideas to ensure success

•Set some basic rules- students to be polite in all communications.

•No griefing (griefing is a Minecraft term for being destructive or rude in-world).

•Create and share with students a collaborative OneNote detailing the project, rules and ideas.

•Students can go in-world at any time BUT there needs to be balance with time management.

•Set a 30-60 min time each week where students from each school meet in-world and have a live skype video conference at the same time so students can converse face-to-face.


Make your Mineclass project launch exciting and fun. Let your students meet in Skype and introduce themselves face-to-face. Give them time to talk and discuss project ideas. Let them form sub-teams if required. Then let students go in-world for the first time. It is important to let them just play and muck around the first time they meet in-world. They may show off their Minecraft skills. There may be some griefing. Use this as an opportunity to reiterate the rules. (embed video)

Project design

The spectrum of projects in Minecraft is almost limitless. For some ideas check out the video above. Students can create working calculators, toilets, computers, organic cells, sports stadiums with working scoreboards etc.

Computational Thinking

To create really cool working machines in Minecraft coding and computational thinking is required. Redstone and command block commands are the magic ingredient. Info on how to use redstone can be found at this link.


Student directed learning

At this point in the project most teachers begin freaking out at their lack of Minecraft skills. DON’T PANIC! The students can teach you the basics! 🙂 When the project gets to the level of sophistication where it needs special requirements from the system you need to employ some of your students as admins.

Student Admins

Admins are the moderators in Minecraft. They can change variables, teleport players around, basically be omniscient. They are a much needed resource if your project gets out of hand or students begin griefing. Chose your admins carefully. You don’t want students to misuse their position of authority. This can be a great learning experience also.


You can use Mineclass as an assessment project. Or not. If you want to link it to curriculum outcomes use screencasts, screenshots and conversation records as evidence. I recommend Microsoft Screenshots or Snipping Tool for this.


Once your students have created their amazing structures they can facilitate virtual excursions for students from other schools. These excursions can also be workshops where students teach other Minecraft skills.

I hope you choose to explore Minecraft as a collaborative learning platform for your students. The learning evidenced through my project has been phenomenal. Have fun! 🙂


My School website won’t lift outcomes for all schools

This article written by Peter Goss – School Education Program Director at Grattan Institute – and Jordana Hunter – Fellow, School Education Program at Grattan Institute – was originally published on The Conversation


Recently the federal government released a review of the My School website, which was launched in 2010. My School provides information about every school in Australia, including its financial resources, the background of its student cohort and NAPLAN results since 2008.

In his response to the review, Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced a number of proposed improvements to the My School website. The proposed changes are designed to make the site easier to use, with more options to compare schools, new data on school outcomes and, importantly, an increased focus on student progress.

Minister Pyne’s proposals are sound, but they are unlikely to make much difference to the quality of Australian schools.

Parents have a right to accurate information about schools. More transparency is good, provided the information is meaningful and takes into account non-school factors such as family background that we know influence student outcomes.

But if we look at achievement data, we may learn more about what students knew when they entered the school than what their school has taught them. A focus on student progress – how much an individual student has learnt over a given period – is a better indication of a school’s performance.

It’s heartening that reporting of the 2014 NAPLAN results focused more on schools with strong student gains than simply on schools with top marks. The review of My School has argued for strengthening this focus on student progress.

But the philosophy underpinning My School extends well beyond the desire to put accurate information in parents’ hands. The government, as its response to the review noted,

believes that transparency and accountability are essential to support parents and community participation in schools and to drive improved school and student outcomes.

How could information on My School improve outcomes?

Parents armed with data about school performance will in theory choose the best school for their children. Faced with competitive pressure on enrolments, schools will find ways to improve learning. The invisible hand of the market, mediated through parental choice, will lift outcomes across the education system. This approach has informed much of the government’s school education policy over the last decade.

Unfortunately, choice and competition are in practice much less effective at improving schools than we might wish. As the Grattan Institute’s report The myth of markets in school education shows, most schools face limited competition, and more information about them does little to increase it. For many reasons, most parents either can’t or won’t move their children from schools that perform poorly on NAPLAN to schools that perform well.

Most parents don’t shop around schools based on NAPLAN results
Most parents don’t shop around schools based on NAPLAN results

Recent research from the OECD supports these findings. Across countries and economies, educational performance is unrelated to whether or not schools have to compete for students.

This is not to say that information is not essential to school improvement. It is, provided it is put in the right hands.

Teachers need more information on their students’ progress

A wealth of evidence shows that teaching is more powerful when teachers have accurate, precise and timely information about what their students know, understand and can do. Good information guides teachers about what each student is ready to learn next and how to teach it.

These obvious statements are surprisingly hard to achieve in practice. Most schools in Australia fall short. Most systems provide too little support to schools and teachers to collect and harness deep knowledge about student learning.

It is hard to develop accurate student assessments that give teachers the reliable, diagnostic information they need. It is hard to develop materials and methods that tailor teaching to what each student is ready to learn next.

NAPLAN, designed to provide consistent and comparable national information, is not suitable for these highly targeted purposes. The Australian curriculum provides high-level guidance, but it is not enough either. It is hard to know whether each student is learning enough each year. And it is hard to identify and kick-start learning for those students whose progress has stalled.

Classroom teachers must do most of this hard work. But they should be equipped with better skills and better tools.

Governments should invest in teaching teachers how to gather and use accurate information on student learning. The recent Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report made a good start. It recommended higher education providers equip pre-service teachers with data collection and analysis skills to assess the learning needs of all students.

Governments should also invest more in high-quality materials and tools designed to help teachers in the classroom. Most schools, irrespective of their degree of autonomy or level of resources, lack the capacity to develop rigorous teaching materials and assessment tools.

Enhancing My School is valuable, but we should not kid ourselves that additional information on a website will significantly improve school outcomes. Instead, we should focus our energy on finding ways to provide teachers with better knowledge about their students’ learning and how to use it.

Do religion and belief systems have a place in the school curriculum?


The place of religions and belief systems, especially Christianity, in the school curriculum is a sensitive issue provoking much discussion and debate in Australia.

The issue came to head in Britain last year with what has been titled the “Trojan Horse affair”. A small number of Islamic schools were investigated about the types of values being taught. The investigations led to Prime Minister David Cameron arguing that all schools must teach what it means to be British.

Cameron has argued that Britain is essentially a Christian nation, and students should be taught values such as “freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions”.

As a result of the review of the Australian national curriculum I took part in last year, the place of religions and beliefs systems, especially Australia’s Judeo-Christian heritage and traditions, also became a topic of discussion and debate.

Education researcher Tony Taylor criticised the review as an example of what he termed the “culture wars” and implied that the review’s recommendations would unfairly privilege a Judeo-Christian version of religion.

In its submission to the curriculum review, the Australian Education Union warned about the danger of including the Bible in the curriculum on the basis that the establishment of state education in the late 19th century was premised on “freedom from religion in teaching programs”.

This article was originally published online in The Conversation.

Read the original article in full here.

Calls mount for primary school teacher STEM focus


There has been wide support throughout the education sector for future primary school teachers to have a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and languages to strengthen teaching in those curriculum areas.

While there are still concerns on the growing demands placed on primary schools teachers across Australia and the lack of resources available, the move to recommend a specialisation for primary school teachers has garnered support.

The Federal Government’s Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers released last month has been hailed a blueprint for “critical and lasting reform” of teacher education. Led by Professor Greg Craven, the Advisory Group was asked to make practical recommendations on improving teacher education programs to better prepare teachers with the skills they need for the classroom, with one of the main recommendations being a specialisation for primary school teachers with a focus on STEM and languages.

Stephen Dinham, National President of the Australian College of Educators and Chair of Teacher Education and Director of Learning and Teaching at the University of Melbourne, told Education Matters that there are two main reasons why the demands on the average primary school teacher had become untenable.

“One is the fact that the social demands on schools have become more and more and more and every time there’s a social problem, it gets given to schools to solve,” he said. “Also, there’s been great pressure on schools to list their results in the light of things like NAPLAN and so forth.

“Now, for primary teachers in particular, trying to be an expert in every area of the curriculum is quite problematic and we know, for example, two areas that people struggle with are maths and science, in some cases.

“At the moment, there are some teachers who go into primary teaching, and they haven’t done the higher levels of maths and science in high school,” he added. “They admit themselves they lack confidence and in some cases competence in teaching maths and science, so those are two areas where I think we can certainly do a degree of specialisation.”

Dinham also highlighted languages as another key area of specialisation for primary teachers that’s worth investing in, but stressed extra resources will be needed to make it a reality.

“Everybody talks about the need for students to learn another language but the trouble with this is we haven’t got a sufficient supply of language teachers,” he said.

“That’s another area where you can’t expect the average primary teacher to suddenly pick up another language and there’s some other areas too where we need some specialist support in schools.

“If there is a whole range of these social expectations that are being placed on schools, which gives you an overcrowded curriculum as a result, then we need paraprofessionals in there to work alongside teachers – we need more psychologists, we need more social workers, and we need more health experts – because you can’t expect teachers to do all of that.”

Glenn Finger, Professor of Education and Dean (Learning and Teaching) of the Arts, Education and Law Group at Queensland’s Griffith University echoed similar thoughts.

“In my view, the requirement for primary teachers to have a specialisation in mathematics, science and languages is a much needed approach,” he said. “This will certainly strengthen teaching in those curriculum areas and has been welcomed.

“I can see that these can be designed into four-year undergraduate primary teacher education programs, but will be challenging for two-year equivalent postgraduate initial teacher education programs, where there is less volume of learning available to develop both the breadth of curriculum and the depth. For example, some postgraduate students might not have completed undergraduate programs in mathematics, science or languages, so this will be challenging.”

Australian Education Union Federal President Correna Haythorpe said it’s important for teachers to have access to broad curriculum expertise, which is very important for a child’s development as a whole, but you can’t implement provisions around having specialist teachers in place without looking at the resources that will need to be in place to support that.