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PISA, NAPLAN reports add to worry over Australian education

Released in the first week of December, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report has highlighted issues in education outcomes for Australian students (tested at Year 9), adding to the weight of other benchmarking reports released recently. Read more

Screenshot from The Conversation.

Gender imbalance: Recruiting more male teachers

This week, Dr Kevin McGrath from Macquarie University’s Department of Educational Studies, published a treatise on the issues and challenges related to hiring more male primary teachers.

His article, titled ‘We need to rethink recruitment for men in primary schools’ and published in The Conversation, summarises the status quo (just 19 per cent of full-time primary educators are male), and goes on to make a case for the kind of positive discrimination that is becoming apparent in other sectors and industries.

Dr McGrath uses two examples of Australian universities advertising for women-only positions within STEM disciplines, which historically have very low rates of female participation.

While these job advertisements have drawn some criticism, it seems they are lawful. As the education academic states:

‘It appears that these universities are using the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act – state legislation – to bypass national sex discrimination legislation and target employment opportunities to women,’ he writes, while admitting this approach is unlikely to be taken up by schools anytime soon. (The reason he gives, interestingly, is that schools should continue to hire based on merit, rather than gender.)

The reasons Dr McGrath provides for why more men should be encouraged to become teachers hinges upon research that he describes as ‘social, not academic’, as well as an appeal to the principles of diversity in society being reflected in the workplace.

‘Education is not “women’s work”, but it sure seems that way if you’re seven years old,’ Dr McGrath writes.

The article concludes with three suggestions for improving male participation in primary schools, which are: setting realistic goals, providing worthwhile incentives and improving the status of the profession overall.

Bronwyn Johnstone, Principal of Capalaba State College in Queensland, told Education Matters that the article reinforces the fact that schools must reflect broader society, and that a healthy balance of genders of teachers has been shown to benefit students.

Ultimately, Ms. Johnstone says, a balanced workforce should not be prioritised above the quality of teachers overall.

“I believe that a balanced work force is highly desirable however, what is most important is that each class has an excellent teacher,” she said. “A teacher who cares about all children in the class and believes every child can learn.”

Overall, Dr McGrath’s thesis is initially compelling, yet with so much work yet to be done in promoting gender equality for female participation in traditionally male-dominated job categories, it’s hard to see whether there exists much appetite for also promoting the opposite.

What do you think about this topic? Education Matters would like to invite primary teachers and principles to have their say on the matter. Email the Editor at campbell.phillips@primecreative.com.au.

Respect Our Staff

Queensland Minister calls for respect for teachers

During an estimates hearing at Parliament House this week, Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones denied she had not done enough to try and protect teachers from violent parents and students.

In 2015, 150 parents were banned from schools in Queensland as a result of violence or threats against teachers, while 174 teachers received compensation as a result of being assaulted by students.

While ABC News reports these figures are ‘down on previous years’, LNP education spokesperson Tracy Davis raised the issue with Ms Jones in parliament this week, saying: “It’s almost like fight club”.

Ms Jones responded that everything she had done since achieving her office was “all about empowering teachers and supporting teachers in our classrooms and schools”.

The hearing coincided with Ms Jones’ launch of a new campaign for Queensland’s state schools, dubbed ‘Respect Our Staff’, which is designed to encourage the entire community to prevent the abuse and violence that is regularly directed towards teachers.

“We need to work together to set positive examples for our children, and demonstrate respect for staff and for our schools,” she said.

“This campaign reminds everyone in the school community that we can all play our part in making working and learning environments safe for all students and educators.”

The campaign will consist of social media advertising and print posters that will be displayed at schools to serve as a reminder to parents, students and staff to treat each other with respect.

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.