Education Matters - News impacting schools, teachers and students

New AEU President weighs in on education sector


The Australian Education Union’s new federal president, Correna Haythorpe, speaks exclusively with Education Matters magazine.

What plans does the Australian Education Union (AEU) have to educate wider public on Gonski reforms and the benefit of their implementation in lead up to the 2016 election?

The issue of school funding is an issue that parents and the community understand, particularly with respect to making sure that their schools have the resources that they need in place. Because we’ve been campaigning now for some years to get Gonski school funding reform in place, we have developed a very broad network of people and have over 130,000 who are a part of our subscriber community and are supporters of our campaign. So in the lead up to the next federal election we plan to engage those people to engage their networks, friends, and family to make sure we can re-ignite the awareness around the importance of needs-based funding being in place to make sure that all children across Australia have the resource that they need to achieve a high educational outcome.

New South Wales and South Australia in particular have made a full implementation of Gonski. We have five states that signed up to the National Education Reform agreement and just after the previous federal election the Abbot Government made a deal with the other states which really was a deal that meant that those states did not have the same level of accountability and transparency around the funding. So it really is very different in terms of what happening around Australia with the Gonski implementation.

In states that have put the money into schools and state governments that have made that full commitment in terms of the funding, we’re seeing the very real benefit now of programs put in place in those schools. Support programs or support staff that have been employed, and children receiving that one-on-one help that they need to make sure they can achieve the best education outcomes possible. So parents in some schools communities are seeing the benefit and they can tell the story in the lead up to the election about what’s possible when we have needs-based funding in place in our schools – and it’s going to be a very positive story. Our big challenge of course is getting those states that have not yet implemented the full Gonski principles to actually commit to doing so and that the Abbott Government commits to making sure that they fund Years 5 and 6.

Looking at the Federal Government’s recent focus on improving graduate teachers, how important do you think this focus is? Is it the right direction for improving student outcomes?

We stand for quality in terms of initial teacher education and we believe it’s vitally important that students have access to high-quality teaching courses and that those courses provide them with the particular expertise they need to be classroom ready at the end of that study. Reforms of the sector are vitally important, however, the recent Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report didn’t go far enough.

The report identified that there were many teaching courses that were not meeting the national standard and that for us is a huge concern because if students are participating in those courses how can they be reassured that they are going to be classroom ready at the end of that process? The report made a recommendation that there should be a national regulator in place to ensure that these courses meet national standards but that was rejected by [Federal Education] Minister Pyne and we think that’s very disappointing because we do believe there is cause for a national regulator to lift the quality of those courses. It’s also very, very important for people to have ongoing support whilst they’re studying and I know there was a headline issue around literacy and numeracy tests for student teachers at the end of their course. We think it’s very important not to focus on a single test but that students actually have access to ongoing support during their course and ongoing assessment. They need to have access to that so they can work out what changes they need to put in place and what skills and expertise they need to develop to become classroom ready.

How do you feel about one of the main recommendations being a specialisation for primary school teachers with a focus on STEM and languages?

The reality is in many primary schools across the country there are already specialist teaching programs in place. We think it’s important for teachers to have access to broad curriculum expertise, that’s 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.

One of the things that we would like to see is a two-year post-graduate degree and we think that that will provide additional time for student teachers to take up a specialist teaching course, but also it would provide time to make sure that student teachers spend a greater amount of time in classrooms.

It’s not about an education degree being purely post-graduate but we think there needs to be a compensation right across the nation with the education sector about post-graduate study. If you have a look in South Australia the government there has announced that new teachers there will do a Master’s degree by 2020. Now that’s one way forward and there may be other avenues for universities to consider and be very open to be a part of the conversation about what post-graduate study can look like.

The Federal Government has also put support for school principals back to the agenda recently. What way do you think is best to add greater support to principals in schools conducting their daily work?

We have many principals that are members of our union and we work very closely with them particularly around issues of workload and education leadership. Principals want to be educational leaders in their schools, they want to be driving curriculum change and supporting their teachers, their support staff and their school communities to achieve the best outcomes possible. There is no doubt, and there are many studies that have been run recently, which have demonstrated that the workload of principals is escalating. We support high-standards for leadership but we think there needs to be some recognition of the additional resources that principals need, the ongoing professional development that they need and also the mentoring and support that they need to be fantastic educational leaders.

Going back to late last year and looking at the Federal Government’ Review of the Australian Curriculum and its key recommendations – how confident are you of its implementation?

Let’s not forget that the Review of the Australian Curriculum was implemented at a time when full curriculum rollout had not been completed. In the first instance we had significant concerns about reviewing a curriculum that had yet to be fully implemented, and around the country in many states and territories there was a timeline in terms of curriculum implementation, and in particular the secondary sector had some curriculum areas that were being implemented this year and in 2016. So that in itself was an issue, reviewing something that’s not been fully-established.

There were a number of recommendations of the review. I think the one that is interesting refers to the over-crowding of the curriculum. Whilst particularly in the primary sector many educators would say that there is an issue with respect to over-crowding of the curriculum, we would be concerned about some of the discussion around removing things such as sustainability and climate change and environmental issues from the curriculum. We believe very strongly in educating the whole child. Numeracy and literacy skills are vitally important but we also want school students to be active participants in society and have a broad understand of issues such as climate change and other things that could affect their life after school.

The states are already well on their way in terms of implementing the Australian Curriculum, so that is happening. There has already been an intense process between the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and education professionals working in the field to road test the curriculum and to get things in place. Our concern is that reviewing something that had not been fully implemented has not actually allowed people to have the capacity to participate in a review in a reflective way because really you’ve got to see how the curriculum is implemented, what sort of issues might arise at a classroom level, and if it’s not implemented then I would question how you can do that.

How do you feel about the recommended restructure of ACARA so it is “at arm’s length” from education ministers and the education department?

I think ACARA has had a key role to play in terms of not only the curriculum development but the implementation of that and it is an organisations that is respected in the field and we think there is still a strong future for ACARA to lead the work around curriculum development.

Latest figures from the Productivity Commission confirm that at least 100,000 students with disability are not getting support in schools. Are we likely to see an increase in this support from the Federal Government?

The issue around students with a disability is absolutely critical. We’ve been through a national disability data collection process to work out how many additional students actually require funding. That was a commitment that was made by the Federal Government through the implementation of Gonski school funding reform. What the Abbott Government has done has put that funding on hold and said the disability loading will not be implemented until 2016. So we know that we’ve got an additional 100,000 children in the sector who are currently not receiving the resources that they need in our schools. We are very concerned about this and we believe it’s a vital issue that must be addressed in the May budget by the Abbott Government because we want to see the commitment to the disability loading in place so that those children and their families can be reassured that the resources are in place for them in school.

Govt focus on teacher education a step in the right direction


Two leading academics have hailed the Federal Government’s response to teacher education reform as a step in the right direction.

A Federal Government report into teacher education in Australia has called for an overhaul of the system amid concerns some teaching graduates are not ‘classroom ready’ and have poor literacy and numeracy skills.

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne released the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers earlier this month as 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.

Glenn Finger, Professor of Education and Dean (Learning and Teaching) of the Arts, Education and Law Group at Queensland’s Griffith University said the report highlights the need for an evidence-informed approach which focuses on teacher education students learning and demonstrating approaches which improve student learning.

“To enable improvements in both public confidence of teaching graduates and the quality of initial teacher education programs, the report has adopted a commendable approach by focusing on more rigour which ensures that all programs meet high expectations,” Finger said.

The report recommends improvement in both the content and delivery of programmes by universities through stronger partnerships with education systems and schools, and the government has accepted most of the recommendations in the report, instructing the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) to act immediately.

Key recommendations of the report include:
• A test to assess the literacy and numeracy skills of all teaching graduates;
• A requirement for universities to demonstrate that their graduates are classroom ready before gaining full course accreditation;
• An overhaul of the in class practical element of teaching degrees;
• A specialisation for primary school teachers with a focus on STEM and languages; and,
• Universities publish all information about how they select students into teacher education programs.

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, said to improve student outcomes you’ve got to start with teacher education.

“It’s most important for a whole range of reasons, including the individual students and society as a whole, that we get teacher education right, so that every young person has got the opportunity to have a quality education,” he said.

Dinham also highlighted the need to improve the accreditation of teacher education courses.

“In my view, the standard is too low, it’s a very low bar, and we need to do more,” he said. “The report emphasises this, we need to do more to ensure that these courses are of the right quality, that they are informed by evidence, that the right people are teaching them, that the in school experience is appropriate, and that at the end of the day, these courses can demonstrate that they are having a positive impact on teaching and learning.”

While Finger agreed that the expectations of national standards needed to be lifted, he expressed some concern over how this could be achieved through Australia’s system of federalism.

“Minister Pyne’s approach is to leave this to the existing State and Territory bodies charged with [delivering better quality assurance], but they need to improve the national accreditation standard,” he said. “There’s a mixed message here, particularly for those providers – such as Professor Craven’s ACU, which has programs in various jurisdictions – that is, agreement that we need national standards and higher expectations, but there might be more than marginal differences between expectations of those different accrediting authorities.

“There are currently some significant differences already and it will be interesting to see if this diverge or converge. My preference is that of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group – a reconstituted role of AITSL to enable a national, integrated approach with cooperative federalism guiding collaboration between Commonwealth and State governments.”

AEU to bring Gonski funding to forefront of 2016 election


Newly-appointed Federal President of the Australian Education Union (AEU) Correna Haythorpe addressed its annual conference over the weekend highlighting her commitment to make The Gonski Review and needs-based funding one of the key issues in the 2016 election.

Haythorpe wants to ensure Australian children receive an education that values their potential and individuality, and that makes sure their needs are met.

“Well-resourced public schools, and the staff that make them work, are a resource that benefits the community,” she said. “Our public schools are unique because they are the only ones which are required to educate every child that arrives at the front gate – regardless of who that child is or where they come from.

“Real ‘choice’ in schooling must include a decent, well-funded public school in every community in Australia that can meet the needs of every student.”

Marking three years since the review into school funding was released Haythorpe said that needs-based funding for schools is the most important issue in the education sector and the Gonski reforms are the best chance it has had in a generation of getting real change and equity.

Haythorpe highlighted how schools in New South Wales and South Australia that have seen Gonski funding flow through to their budgets have had great results.

“Cowandilla Primary School in Adelaide received just $10,500 in its first year of Gonski funding – and yet was able to deliver a numeracy intervention program for Years 1-3,” she said. “This program delivered improvement to every single child that was involved, and will be expanded in 2015 with the second round of Gonski funding.

“Needs-based funding for schools touches on every difficulty that teachers face – whether it is class sizes, lack of support staff, or the need for literacy and numeracy programs, Gonski is our chance – we can’t have a successful society if one in seven kids are leaving school without basic skills that they need to participate in the community.

“We cannot be a successful society if children are effectively denied a quality education due to their postcode.”

Haythorpe launched a scathing attack on the Federal Government’s attitude towards public education and pointed it out as the biggest barrier Australia faces to being able to implement the full recommendations of The Gonski Review.

“This is a Government that has used the idea of a ‘budget emergency’ to abandon agreements with the States for the fifth and sixth years of the Gonski agreements,” she said. “In effect they have walked away from equity.

“They have also done nothing to ensure that State Governments actually deliver Gonski funding to schools, rather than divert it into other programs.”

The AEU has called on members for their support to ensure the continued success of its I Give a Gonski campaign while revealing its plan to bring it to the 2016 Federal Election.

“We’ve had a few wins and a few losses in the last three years, but the final result is still in play and colleagues, we will campaign for the full six years of Gonski funding and if we work hard enough we will win,” Haythorpe said.

“That’s why we’ve set up a campaign team, involving leaders from all of your branches, and are developing a marginal seat strategy. We will put people on the ground in marginal seats across the country dedicated to doing one thing: campaigning for the full six years of Gonski funding our kids deserve.

“Politicians from all parties need to hear that funding matters: to us, to parents and to students. They need to hear this as loudly and as often as possible.”

Call to nurture principal wellbeing


As school principals across Australia have been granted greater autonomy and responsibility over decisions and directions at their school, the call to nurture their health and wellbeing has been thrust into the spotlight.

With recent research showing that school principals experience a higher prevalence of offensive behaviour at work, burnout, stress and sleeping troubles, the Principals Australia Institute has called on Australians to respect and support school principals and requested that parents, carers and communities actively and positively engage with their school principals and school leaders.

The Institute’s CEO Jim Davies recommended that school communities create space for principals to get to the core business – leading quality teaching and learning in their schools – and find ways the principal can put effort into the things that account for students in classrooms.

“Principals are not shying away from [autonomy] at all,” Davies told Education Matters. “In fact, principals are welcoming the sense of more autonomy, but what comes with more autonomy is authority, responsibility and accountability, so giving school principals more autonomy actually provides them with more authority and that brings with it more responsibility associated with the decisions and directions that have been taken at a local level and, indeed, the accountability that goes with that.

“One thing that needs to be said about this is that the context of every school and every school community is in many ways is unique. School leadership is contextualised by school location, what sector it belongs to, the nature of its community, socioeconomic background of its students and so on, and leadership is very much embedded in those local contexts. One of the big demands on principals is adapting their leadership to local context of the school.”

The PAI has launched a national workshop series aimed at supporting the wellbeing of principals and teachers. Its recently-released kit and training program – workON Health and Wellbeing – is designed to assist school leaders to strengthen staff health and wellbeing strategies in their school.

“It is a highly complex professional job and the demands of the job impact variously on people as they engage with the profession,” Davies said. “It’s not a reason for people to shy away from the profession, the direct opposite, it’s about understanding that those pressures are there and what we’re endeavouring to do with the workON program is to find ways and means that these professionals that engage with this activity are supported and are equipped to deal with the daily pressures that comes with the job.”

The Institute is also calling on parents, carers and communities to actively and positively engage with their school principals and school leaders.

Davies recommends that parents talk positively with their children about the sense of school leadership and their support to the school leader, and deal with any issues that arise directly with the school leader rather than involving their children.

“If I can get a message to parents in all of this it’s always talk positively and confidently about what the school and the school’s leadership and teachers can do for and with your child,” he said. “If there are circumstances where things aren’t going right in the parent’s eyes, go and talk to the school principal, go and talk to the teachers and resolve those issues adult to adult – it’s about engaging with each other for the benefit of the child and then we leave the child in a space of confidence and positive attention to what they’re trying to do at school.”

The workON Health and Wellbeing workshops are touring the country throughout March.

For more information about the workshops visit

PC report outlines where govt education spend is going


Total Federal Government funding per student for Australian public schools rose by 115.2 per cent over the past decade, compared with 15.8 per cent for private schools although the total Federal Government expenditure per student is still higher for private school students at $6434 compared with $1915 for public school students.

Meanwhile total State and Territory funding to Australian public schools per student grew from $9112 in 2003-04 to $13788 in 2012-13. State and Territory funding for the nation’s private schools rose from $2124 to $2378 per student over the same period.

The School Education chapter (chapter 4) of the Productivity Commission’s annual Report on Government Services (RoGS) reports on government funded primary and secondary school education. Some performance indicators are reported for government schools, non-government schools and school education as a whole.

Australian, State and Territory government recurrent expenditure on school education was $47.9 billion in 2012-13. Expenditure on government schools was $36.9 billion, or 76.9 per cent of total government recurrent expenditure on school education. Government schools account for most of the expenditure by State and Territory governments, although these governments also contribute to the funding of nongovernment schools and provide services used by both government and non-government schools.

Nationally, State and Territory governments provided 87.8 per cent of total government recurrent expenditure on government schools in 2012-13, and the Australian Government provided 12.2 per cent. In contrast, government expenditure on non-government schools in that year was mainly provided by the Australian Government (73.0 per cent), with State and Territory governments providing 27.0 per cent.

Nationally, in 2012-13, in-school government expenditure per student in government primary schools was $13763 and in government secondary schools was $16852. Out-of-school government expenditure per student in all government schools was $757 in 2012-13.

Nationally, in 2012-13, government expenditure per student in all government schools was $15703. It increased in average annual real terms between 2008-09 and 2012-13 by 1.0 per cent per year.

Nationally, in 2012-13, government expenditure per student in all non-government schools was $8812. It increased in average annual real terms between 2008-09 and 2012-13 by 3.7 per cent per year.

Nationally, in 2012-13, government recurrent expenditure per student in all schools (government plus non-government) was $13 298. It increased in average annual real terms between 2008-09 and 2012-13 by 1.5 per cent per year.

Government recurrent expenditure on staff in government schools accounted for $23.4 billion (63.6 per cent) of total recurrent expenditure in 2012-13. Nationally, expenditure on staff per student was $8870 for in-school primary, $10 594 for in-school secondary and $457 for out-of-school.