True impact remains to be seen - Education Matters Magazine
Expert Contributors, Opinion

True impact remains to be seen

Will the National School Reform Agreement Expert Panel’s recommendations be implemented in the spirit they were intended? asks Dr Naomi Barnes from QUT’s School of Teacher Education and Leadership.

On 19 December 2023, the National School Reform Agreement Expert Panel released a report outlining how the Australian schooling system could be strengthened with the utmost ‘moral and economic urgency’.

The National School Reform Agreement Expert Panel released their report in December 2023. Image: Australian Government Department of Education

The Expert Panel recommended seven reform directions to ‘reduce teacher workloads and empower teachers to lift student outcomes’. In other words, a government can’t demand the latter without addressing the former. 

The seven recommendations were: 

  • lift student outcomes
  • improve equity
  • improve student wellbeing
  • attract and retain teachers
  • reduce data gaps and limitations 
  • enhance funding transparency and accountability
  • support innovation and achieve reform.

Within the explanations were some remarkable priority statements showing understanding of the current issues within the teaching profession and schools. 

For example, the Panel stipulated that ‘all schools have access to 100 per cent of Schooling Resource Standard funding as soon as possible.’ It is outrageous that there is currently only one jurisdiction (ACT) meeting their school funding obligations. 

Some of the other recommendations include the linking of allied health to schools, increasing professional support and learning for teachers to manage complex school settings, and a demand for national transparency and accountability in terms of school funding and inclusion. 

The Panel also recommends that data collection obligations be reduced, and teacher professional judgement be supported.

Across the seven reform recommendations there is a consistent theme to achieve the reform goals: the development of more national bodies. If all the recommendations are implemented by government, the three organisations that currently oversee the nationalisation of the curriculum (the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, or ACARA), pedagogy (the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, or AITSL) and education evidence (the Australian Education Research Organisation, or AERO) would be joined (or extended) by the following: 

  1. Curriculum resourcing and earlier screening for learning difficulties associated with literacy and numeracy (Recommendation 1).
  2. A national wellbeing register that would collect data on wellbeing measures that are within a school’s control (R3). This would be supported by an investment in specialist staff.
  3. A national teacher registration authority (R4).
  4. A data custodian body that will take responsibility for education data analysis (R5). This will be supported by a Universal Student Identifier (USI) which will allow data scientists to disaggregate student data and draw on other government data sources to get a better idea of where to target support.
  5. The managing of school transparency data (R6), through ‘an interactive public reporting tool’ which would need similar infrastructure or an expansion of MySchool.
  6. A body to manage ‘a structured innovation fund’ (R7). 

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of national regulatory bodies as they move the authority over teacher practice from the school to the federal governing infrastructure. 

The more jurisdictions a body must govern, the less granular they can be in their policy. At the same time, when teacher reform is situated within the State and Federal Ministries, schools can be used as pawns within political games. 

The existence of such bodies should, in theory, reduce the hyperactivity of a school system currently subjected to the slings and arrows of the election cycle. 

The Panel argues, quite convincingly, that disadvantage needs to be addressed before outcomes can improve. As such, the Panel also recommends that the next National School Reform Agreement ‘should be developed in partnership with key First Nations education representatives’ and ‘also require governments, school systems and approved authorities to build their schools’ capacity to undertake shared decision-making with First Nations parents and community leaders’ (R7). 

While Ms Dyonne Anderson, a proud Githabal woman, was one of the sitting experts, the bitter pill of this conceivably urgent recommendation is that the Panel also recommends that there not be another Agreement for 10 years. 

The reasoning behind this is to allow time for the other reforms to take effect; but it is difficult not to be cynical about the urgent needs of First Nations students in Australia having to wait a decade before nationally representative First Nations experts get a chance to sit at the school reform governance table.

All in all, the National School Reform Agreement Expert Panel report is a hopeful document for implementing reform. But the true impact of this significant document remains to be seen because even the Panel concede that historically recommendations are rarely implemented in the spirit they were intended.

About the Author

Image: Dr Naomi Barnes

Dr Naomi Barnes is a Senior Lecturer interested in how crisis influences education politics. With a specific focus on moral panics, she has demonstrated how online communication has influenced education politics in Australia, the US and the UK. She has analysed and developed network models to show the effect of moral panics on the Australian curriculum and how it is taught.

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