The Commonwealth’s Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools (Gonski 2.0 Review) is a serious opportunity for a new nation-wide conversation on school education.
It comes at a critical time. Australia’s educational performance is declining internationally, we face new challenges in preparing students for their future lives and jobs, and equity gaps are too wide.
But this does not mean that the Commonwealth should have a much bigger role in schooling than it does today.
Dr Peter Goss, Grattan Institute School Education Program Director, hosts a panel of leading policy thinkers to explore:
What is needed to lift educational outcomes?
What are the benefits, challenges and risks of Commonwealth interventions?
Where should the Commonwealth focus its efforts, and why?
The Hon Adrian Piccoli, Director, UNSW Gonski Institute for Education
David de Carvalho, CEO, NSW Educational Standards Authority
Lisa Rodgers, CEO of AITSL
Dr Peter Goss, School Education Program Director, Grattan Institute
Speakers: Stuart Baines (S), Peter Goss (P), Adrian Piccoli (A), Lisa Rogers (L), David de Carvalho (D)
Location: National Library of Ausralia
Date: 20th February 2018
S: Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the National Library of Australia. I’m Stuart Baines, Assistant Director of Community Outreach at the Library. As we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call our home.
Tonight is our third event with the Grattan Institute. Since its launch in 2008 the Grattan Institute has established a profile as a leader of independent analysis of Australian domestic public policy, aiming to influence both public discussion and senior decision-makers. Tonight the Grattan Institute turns its attention to the issue of national schools policy. The Commonwealth Government’s Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, more commonly known as the Gonski 2.0 Review has been commissioned to examine evidence and make recommendations on how school funding should be used to improve school performance and student outcomes. The final review will be released in March.
Our expert panel tonight will look at how Australia’s education performance is declining internationally, what needs to be done to lift educational outcomes and what are the benefits and challenges of Commonwealth interventions. Our speakers tonight, the Honourable Adrian Piccoli, Director of the University of New South Wales Gonski Institute for Education, David de Carvalho, CEO of the New South Wales Education Standards Authority, and Lisa Rogers, CEO of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. This panel will be moderated by Peter Goss, School Education Program Director of the Grattan Institute. Please join me in welcoming our panel.
P: Thank you, Stuart. So I’m Peter Goss and welcome to all of you for joining us on this beautiful Canberra evening to hear this fabulous panel who I will describe what roles they might play shortly talk about what the Commonwealth should or should not do to improvement in school education. Thank you for the Library for partnering with us on this event, it’s great to be able to bring these ideas to an audience and also thank you to Grattan’s affiliates who allow us to keep doing the work that we do, genuinely independent research that is rigorous and we trust practical.
I’d also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today. The Ngunnawal people – I hope I understand – and pay my respects to their elders past and present. Teachers and teaching have a central role in indigenous culture is what I’m told by an elder named Willie Gordon who works just outside Cooktown and he’s the traditional story keeper of the Nugal Warra people near Cooktown so I always think of him saying that indigenous language at least of his mob don’t have a word for prince or king but do have a word for teacher.
Now the way that the event will run - thank you for bearing with us while we got miked up – I’ll provide a brief introduction, we’ll have a moderated panel discussion and then I’ll save about 25 minutes for audience questions, there are always lots of them so start thinking early. And then I will get you out of here by 7:15.
In terms of setting the context, 2018 is a pivotal year for school education and – in Australia. While 2017 was dominated by the debate about the dollars, how much and where they should go, we now have the space to switch our focus to students and learning. We need to have a new national conversation, we think, about school education, one where the arguments about funding don’t suck the political air out of the room. And if we get this discussion right we’ll look back on 2018 as a very positive year, maybe even a new beginning. If we get it wrong 2018 will be relegated to the long list of missed opportunities.
So why am I painting this picture so starkly? So black and white, as it were. And it’s because there are some big forces at play and some genuine conundrums over how to move forward. None are bigger than the Commonwealth’s desire, and a very legitimate desire as well as a political reality, to want more bang from the extra bucks that it’s putting into school education. But meanwhile the states and territories want to retain control of their own education strategies and education commentators and others like the Grattan Institute have cautioned about the risk of federal government overreach, particularly if it imposes new conditions on how the states spend their money.
So our report, which is available on the Grattan website, focuses on some of those issues. I won’t talk about that but in the interests of helping me meet my key performance metrics please download early and often. We all have those performance metrics, that’s one of mine. The goal of that report, and of this discussion tonight, is to try to nudge the national conversation in that positive direction that I mentioned earlier. By adding some colour and nuance to that stark black and white picture of what the Commonwealth should do, should it stay hands-off or should it dive in?
Without further ado then let me talk about my three panel members, painters even, who will help bring this picture to life. Immediately on my left, to your right, we have Adrian Piccoli. You’ve heard and read about his background but as an ex-education Minister he sat in the hot seat at the discussions but he’s now released from those duties, to talk more freely, is what I'm hoping, about – hoping but he’s been a strong champion of needs-based funding and what does it take to support the most disadvantaged amongst our students? And I’ve seen personally in visits to remote schools with Adrian that after seeing the song and dance he would have been the first person to say that’s all very lovely but what did the students learn?
Next we have Lisa Rogers who runs one of the federal agencies, the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership. She has worked in different places under different types of settings in New Zealand, in Australia, can bring a fresh perspective to the role of the federation and how the different parts play together as well as working day-to-day to say how do you influence teachers and teaching from a central role? That’s a job that requires persistence. I learnt just before that Lisa is also a marathon runner so in terms of her non-cognitive skills and capabilities that we might get to, persistence is high among them.
And then the third on our panel, David de Carvalho, has seen both sides of this debate. He currently runs the New South Wales Education Standards Authority which is a very important body in New South Wales, it has a more prominent role there possibly than some of its counterparts in other states for aiming to keep the standards high, school and teacher registration and increasingly the improvement focus. But he’s also uniquely well placed to talk about this topic because the federation white paper process which happened a few years ago was led by Prime Minister and Cabinet and indeed by David when he was at Prime Minister and Cabinet and I hope all of you will have got your prereading. We were joking before that the rest of us just get to speak, David has the collateral that we can call.
Throughout the debate please feel free to text – well not to text, to Tweet. It’s nlagovau@grattaninst and #capitalideas. So we will make it interactive. Thank you for letting me set the scene.
We propose that there would be three – there are three reasons the Commonwealth should get involved, three tests. First, it has to be a good idea, secondly, it has to be something that governments at any level can do and thirdly, Commonwealth intervention specifically should help, not hurt. We’ll work through those roughly in that order so I’m going to toss over to the panel on the first of them, what are the good ideas? What is needed to lift education outcomes at scale? Adrian.
A: Lots of specific things but I’d say two general things and – but – and those two general things are – and this applies to anything, not just in education but trust and good systems and again you know if you look at the evidence around the world where systems have improved in terms of student outcomes and other measures it’s been where policymakers and the profession have worked in a trusting relationship, a noncombative, cooperative and trusting relationship. And I think that’s really important and I used to say it in my previous role that we could and government departments and systems could put out all kinds of press releases and glossy brochures but if the profession don’t trust you, if the people doing the doing in the classroom don’t trust you and don’t think what you’re doing is right then nothing is going to change. I could change everything I liked and wouldn’t change a single thing that would happen in the classroom. You need to bring the profession with you so I think that trust aspect is really important.
So anything the Commonwealth might do, it’s got to be you know we would hope it’s going to be backed by the profession. I’ve got great confidence that what the Gonski report comes out with will indeed be the kinds of things the profession’s been talking about for quite some time. Now how the Commonwealth respond to that is then a question for them.
But the second thing is around good system and good systems of implementation and again systems that people trust. So you know the role of AITSL for example around teacher standards and principal standards. If there are good systems and effective systems and the people who are subject to some of these standards requirements have confidence that it’s actually building their capacity and building their professionalism then it will be effective in actually improving outcomes. You know I saw it again in my previous role, it’s about making sure that we’ve got good systems, good systems of accountability, getting that right balance between you know that right balance of accountabilities. And again where you get that right then people trust you and that’s when you see systemic improvements across entire education systems. So I would think it’s those two things. There are specific things indeed that I would hope are going to be part of the recommendations out of the Gonski report but you know maybe we’ll get into those a little bit later.
P: Indeed. Thank you. Lisa.
L: I couldn’t agree more so when I first came to Australia people said to me that federation politics will drive me completely up the wall. And it has its moments and you do have to be persistent but the benefits of it actually are the fact that it isn’t particularly agile and so what that means is you just actually have to work really, really hard in terms of negotiation, negotiation, negotiation. And so in that builds trust and also credibility. And there’s something about that. I’m not the kind of person normally that would say we don’t need agility, we do but there are some things that this country has done so well, we need to continue to do that to realise the benefits.
And one of those things has been to build the trust with the profession so again if you look at AITSL we’ve got 30,000 teachers looking at the illustrations of practice every single month. 1.6 million teachers have used our website in the last 16 months so teachers are continue – are accessing Commonwealth-supported resources that have been signed off at Education Council in order to help them in their practice. And I just think that’s phenomenal so we’ve got to retain that.
Regardless of the politics, though, to be perfectly honest, the politics doesn’t matter a jot, the thing that really makes a difference are the things that teachers are doing in classrooms so it’s those moment by moment decisions and actions that actually will change student achievement. And I think we need to get you know very, very real about that. It needs to go from the Cabinet right to the teacher’s desk and what teachers do matters.
In that though we have to look at the profession so I’m a firm believer that we’ve got to get the right people in the profession. We need great teachers in the profession, they need to be inducted well and we need to be able to support those teachers to command and practise in an excellent way. And again the Commonwealth has been able to support a kind of shared network of practice and they’ve been able to you know through the AITSL resources identify great practice, whether it be in the NT or the ACT and deliver that and share that across the nation.
So I think in terms of policy reform we have to make sure we’ve got the right teachers in the classroom, support them through career pathways and actually enable them to access excellent resources.
D: Thanks Peter. Thanks Adrian. I should point out that Adrian appointed me as the CEO of the New South Wales Education Standards Authority so I'm also a bit freer to speak than I would have been a little while ago and of course I’ve had lots of interactions with Lisa and we’ve been comparing notes about the fact that a national body is being run by a person who came from New Zealand and before that England and the experience with federated governance is – well we’re doing our best, aren’t we? To try you know bring you up to speed on how things happen here. But look, one of the questions that Peter asked – that this – the way he initially framed the question was what needs to be done to lift educational outcomes at scale? There’s an assumption built into that that we know what educational outcomes we should be lifting and when you look at our public debate around this we zero in on NAPLAN and we zero in on PISA and so we focus on a very narrow range of educational outcomes are informing the debate.
Now they’re very important outcomes, literacy and numeracy are basic and fundamental but the whole of the education debate seems to be around they are the outcomes that we need to lift. When you look at PISA it’s also literacy and numeracy but they have a wider – a more interesting approach around how they assess literacy and numeracy and it’s going into different things like critical thinking skills and problem-solving. And our NAPLAN results across the country are genuinely not changing, they’re pretty much flatlining on the whole, there’s been some recent upticks in certain areas but our PISA results are diving and that’s a really question because arguably PISA is the assessment that’s testing what we are referring to as the 21st century skills around critical thinking and problem-solving that we need.
So my sort of first sort of challenge to the question is – are the assumptions underpinning the question the right ones? Are we actually looking at the right educational outcomes? I would argue that in addition to literacy and numeracy or mathematics and English we should be looking at ways well how do we get a read on how we’re going in terms of science and how we’re going in terms of history? Mostly we tend to think about educational outcomes in a fairly utilitarian fashion, that we need to give kids the skills that they need and so we think about well what do you need in order to get the next level of understanding? But there are also some things, particularly in the space of history and social studies etc, which we as a community should be saying these are the things we want our kids to know and understand. So part one of my response is to say let’s broaden the understanding of what are the educational outcomes that we think we should be assessing and measuring?
But to come more pointedly to your question, Peter, what can be done to lift educational outcomes at scale? I would go back to both Adrian and Lisa and pick up a theme there, I think professional learning is crucial. We have a lot of teachers come into the system, a lot have been there for a long time and we have new teachers coming through all the time but once they graduate often their access to high quality professional learning after that, once they’re in the school, is not as great as it should be and we don’t have a culture of persistent, ongoing, deep and sustainable professional learning and development across the country. It’s quite patchy.
But I would suggest that we should be looking at models of really effective professional learning, I think we should be looking at models that have master teachers or highly accomplished or lead teachers delivering high quality, evidence-based training in – evidence-based pedagogy in the school, not taking the teachers out of the school for an afternoon to another venue but you know for half a day but actually having sustained professional leaders working with small groups of teachers over long periods of time. And I think if we can systemise that approach, to use Adrian’s term, that is something which I think will make a difference.
A: Can I just add one –
A: Can I just add one thing? It’s what happens outside the school gate. You know we always talk about what happens inside the school but you know having seen the data over the last six years about PISA performance and NAPLAN it’s – the performance, whether it’s going up or down it’s pretty consistent across sectors and in between states which to me says there’s something going on outside the school gate. Whether it’s a cultural thing you know I was talking earlier to somebody about whether 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth has made Australia culturally a bit complacent you know you can just go to school and you can you know you’re more likely to get a job. It’s not that pull factor from you know I need to do well at school because I want to get a good job.
You know some of the – I was talking to the Chief Scientist about universities not requiring prerequisites you know quite a big percentage of students get into a university, get accepted into a university before they’ve even done their exams at the end of Year 12 at least in New South Wales. Now some of these other pull factors are having an influence but you know we do – I think we have a cultural issue in Australia, maybe on the basis of how lucky we are as a country because again I think – and I don’t have the data to hand but the performance of students from a non-English-speaking background outperform I think students from an English-speaking background. Now I don’t have the evidence in front of me to say that’s exactly what it is but it seems to be a pointer of you know perhaps some broader cultural things.
P: And one of the things that we do know, there’s very strong evidence behind is that having high expectations that your students can learn is vital. It’s actually a bit untestable, can every student learn? That’s an untestable thing but we do know that when teachers have high expectations of their students their students tend to learn more than they would do otherwise so it’s kind of a Pascal’s Wager, you might as well believe it because it works. It’s also encouraging.
To your point, Adrian, I think that in some schools we’ve kind of – seem to have lost what those high expectations look like. I was talking to a colleague from Western Australia who’s in the audience here who was saying that even students who did relatively well in NAPLAN, got to band 8 which is for those who aren’t as familiar with NAPLAN, is a pretty solid standard that should be setting you up to complete Year 12. In more disadvantaged schools, those students, even though they had the foundations, only a few of them were doing well enough in Year 12 to go on to university whereas the kids who were getting the same level in NAPLAN in a school where the expectations were higher, nearly all of them were. So there is something going on here – and this is partly why it’s so hard to change at school and my – the reason I started here is there aren’t easy answers. We know many of the things that need to be done. I think the point about systems is very much right there. Lisa?
L: Can I just make a point about that? So when you look at the PISA data the thing that you often hear from the PISA data are the key variable that makes the biggest difference are effective teaching and teachers teaching the whole curriculum so one of the problems that we find in the PISA data is often students haven’t been exposed to particular items and basically they just haven’t been taught the concepts to be able to do well on the PISA test. And that’s one of the major variables that determines achievement on a PISA test.
The other major variable which has the same size of impact is attendance so it basically says students have to turn up every single day, stay in education for as long as they possibly can and be on time every day. And those – that attendance variable is as impactful in terms of achievement as the teaching variable but we don’t often talk about it. And the achievement - the attendance variable is all about expectations, just keeping going at school and [often] 22:57 being there and so that’s you know it’s quite an important point that people miss.
And the thing around the you know particular you know achievement at a particular score point in NAPLAN, again one of the things that I think we’re missing in the system is this notion of compound disadvantage so we get lots of kids that come in, they start school in different places in terms of their achievement trajectory and you know and the kids that are successful, continue to experience success but actually the kids that are struggling, by the time they get to about Year 4 you start to see them slip off the achievement curve in terms of curriculum. And all that’s happening there is compound disadvantage so we basically see them kind of getting poorer in terms of what they know and at which point they start to disengage. And so I think the system also needs to think and understand students’ trajectories longitudinally rather than cross-sectionally but the data don’t allow us to understand students’ trajectory longitudinally ‘cause it’s all cut cross-sectionally.
P: And Lisa should know this because in New Zealand she – they did put that data together and I understand that you were very involved in that. So very much agree.
So through that introduction you will have heard themes about some things that need to be done at scale, other things that are very, very local, what does it take to drive attendance in a remote community? So that brings us to the next part, the benefits, the challenges and the risks of the Commonwealth getting involved. Some of the things that need to happen are not obviously Commonwealth-led but they have an interest in making sure that the extra money going into schooling makes a difference.
So David, I'm going to start with you this time, thinking back to that federation white paper process, what did you learn about the benefits, challenges and risks and how to mitigate them?
D: Sure, I guess it’s not surprising that when I was first asked to do this job and I was speaking to my friends and colleagues in the Commonwealth public service and I said oh I’ve got this job of running the white paper taskforce on reform in the federation. Nine times out of 10 the not altogether joking response was that’s easy, just abolish the states and you know I'm sure there are plenty of you in the audience who still harbour that sort of totalitarian mentality ‘cause that’s the sort of town Canberra is, we sort of live in our sort of – our nationalist bubble as opposed to a federalist arrangement.
But I think what I learnt through the process itself was we were able to get out six discussion papers which were negotiated over very many months by senior people across all nine jurisdictions with very word by – in those papers agreed and I’ve provided to you some of the flavour of that in the handout. And you’ll see almost in every paragraph if not in every sentence there’s a kind of a on the one hand, on the other hand kind of sort of flavour, that there is a sense in which we had to strike a balance between things like the very important principle of subsidiarity on the one hand which is that in terms of governance, that functions should be carried out by that level of society which is most capable of doing it at the lowest level, most capable rather than simply start with everything at the top and then delegate down according to the will of the body at the top. Functions should be sort of delegated up by the bodies that are – feel – at the lower levels of organisation – feel that they need support or someone else needs to do them.
But negotiation developed a great deal of trust across the board so – and obviously I left the role in mid-2015 just as I felt it was in a good shape. Some colleagues from other jurisdictions unfortunately decided to leak the draft green paper so the trust went out the window at that point in time but nevertheless it was up ‘til that point in time a really productive process. And around that there was increasing recognition of the importance of the jurisdictions, the importance of the principle of subsidiary and of trust and the dangers of Commonwealth overreach, the dangers of tying conditions to funding because inevitably that has a backlash. Even if the idea is a good one, if the Commonwealth comes out for political reasons to say we’re going to make the states do this, we’re going to make the funding conditional to do this, they completely underestimate the ability of state bureaucracies and governments to appear to be meeting the conditions while going along their merry way. And it just doesn’t engender sort of trust and goodwill.
So I would say that there is a risk of Commonwealth overreach here, not just on the politician side but also on the bureaucratic. I think it’s a great pity that the spirit of the intergovernmental agreement on federal financial relations which was introduced in 2008 was not followed through. It was honoured much more in the [breach than the observance] 28:42. The idea was that we would get rid of over 140 or thereabouts – I don’t know the exact numbers – national partnership agreements and reduce them to half a dozen you know special purpose agreements or national agreements and only have a very, very small number of you know targeted funding agreements for special initiatives. But you know within a couple of years those implementation plans, those national partnership agreements, it’s like you know they say watching grass grow is boring, well it wasn’t because the IGAFFR tried to come and cut down that forest of NPPs and then they sprung up again within a couple of years.
And that was a habit of mind to a large extent that exists in Canberra about we can’t trust the states, we’ve got to write down in detail in these implementation plans before we hand the money over. And I think there’s a real unlearning here that needs to be undertaken. So I would urge that the Commonwealth exercise restraint. That is not to say of course that the Commonwealth hasn’t got a very important role, it does and I think its most important role is bringing the states together to try and get a shared vision and a shared set of flexible targets, a shared aspiration that everybody can sign up to but it’s got to be flexible enough to allow state differences and also there’s a very important role for the Commonwealth in data collection and dissemination.
And getting national consistent – nationally consistent data and that way I think there is real strength in the publication of performance data so that the publication of performance data by how states are going allows the people of those jurisdictions, the people of those polities to hold those parliaments accountable. So - so much of the accountability talk in federal financial relations is the Commonwealth holding the states to account for how they use our money. It’s all the people’s money so there’s got to be a change of language, a change of mindset that says how does the Commonwealth help the people hold state parliaments accountable?
P: So thank you for foreshadowing my next report which is going to be how do we use the data that we have available, limited as it is, to compare how well states are doing once you control for some of the other factors because I don’t think we do enough of that. That fine balance I think that you talk about, having a broader vision, being able to bring things together but not being so prescriptive that it ticks – triggers a kneejerk response. Lisa, that seems to be something that you live with on a day-to-day basis so –
P: - keen to learn how you use that role and what you found works and then where you have to be very cautious about saying that the shared view doesn’t automatically – that it flows easily to where it might be most valuable.
L: Yeah so I think there’s a very privileged position in terms of having federation politics and that is that you get bipartisan agreement on some things so I’ve never worked in a system before actually where there tends to be bipartisan agreement on a lot of aspects of teaching and school leadership. So – and I think in part – and you’ll be able to advise me, David, I think it’s because you know in previous systems I’ve worked in the UK and New Zealand, there is only one government and if the government happens to say something then everybody just rallies against it whereas things are so – and that’s just the way it is, you know, regardless of whether it’s a good idea whereas things here are so complex that actually a lot of the work gets done and a lot of the work is a shared value and vision across multiple governments.
Now that takes a lot of work to do and some of the downside is it takes a long time and you need to be really persistent and there are moments where you know you kind of struggle to get up in the morning sometimes, you think really? Can we just get on with this? But actually the endurance of that and the bipartisan support for many things in terms of teaching and learning is an incredible asset in terms of the politics. And we can’t lose that. I think it’s so important.
P: So just let me tease that out. Is the counterfactual let’s say in the UK where if you have a conservative government that says we are going to go down to focusing on phonics back to basics, in a sense they can shift that much quicker?
L: That’s right.
P: And then trigger the response against that as well as you know that has value but any big move like that and you're saying that this is protected –
L: Very much so.
P: - actually against that.
L: It is, yeah.
P: Not how I thought about it before but –
L: Yeah. And you know when [AIPSA] 34:09 walks out of Education Council and it has its instruction it’s instructed across all of those governments and so that’s what we do. The other thing that struck me was the voice of the profession in the politics and so again because of the way things run actually you are able to amplify the voice of the profession and the profession’s voice is able to be enduring because somebody somewhere, regardless of the politics, will be holding onto that voice. And that voice will be right in the middle of Education Council and that’s critically important.
The other thing is I see it benefits the less well-off states you know and so the NTs of the world, actually there’s a benefit for them in terms of the Commonwealth but also a less seen benefit is the fact that we’re able to understand what great practice looks like across the nation, share it and exemplify it. And so it’s not just the big states that can hold the flag in terms of we’ve got great standards, we’ve got great practice, actually we can see it nationally in terms of where we stand from the Commonwealth’s perspective and that’s critically important.
Again we’ve got the opportunity to share that practice across the nation and share professional collaboration across the nation and so you get this sense of kind of an honest broker. I agree with David, I really do think that there’s a role in terms of exemplifying the standard, whatever that might be or exemplifying the principle or agreeing on the principle and then actually letting the jurisdictions get on and implement it or think about what it looks like in their particular state or territory because there is absolutely no way the Commonwealth can possibly have a view from you know the Cabinet to the kitchen table in terms of particular states and what it looks like at a local level. So there is a reach - there is a risk of overreach but there are also incredible benefits.
P: But with that presumably you also do have to close the loop. If you set an overarching approach and then each state and territory chooses to do it slightly differently we’re not going to learn from each other if that work then just happens in isolation and doesn’t get brought back together so one way to make sure it gets brought back together is to put some conditions on it. There are other ways potentially to say how do we learn from that and that – is that where some of the fine nuance is? So it’s coming together, going apart, coming together again a little bit.
L: I think you're absolutely right. I mean a good example would be say you know as your phonics example, so if you take the professional standards, for example, so I don’t necessarily believe that professional practice looks particularly different across states and territories. I think that you could have eight different ways of teaching handwriting, I think you can have 50 different ways of teaching handwriting and quite frankly we shouldn’t get involved in that you know that’s the business of the classroom teacher but actually in terms of setting what the professional standards looks like, whether that be for teachers, for principals, for initial teacher education, I think we can agree as a nation, as a country as to what that looks like and then how that is enacted at a local level really should be left at the local level.
P: So that’s a very positive nuanced and a – optimistic view, I think and a realistic one from comparing across different systems. Adrian, you’re the one who sat at the top table, been involved in some of these discussions and then had to go back to New South Wales and find a way to implement it. I’m interested in hearing a bit about that perspective and also when you have something that seems like a pretty good idea what makes the difference between that good idea paying off or going haywire?
A: Some of the – my most memorable moments as a Minister were in those Ministerial Council meetings, usually dealing with federal colleagues and other state colleagues. It was always interesting but there’s always this tension about centralised, decentralised and you know where we’ve kind of got to in Australia and it’s a work in progress, some things are best done nationally, teaching standards, national curriculum. I mean I think an additional one is entry standards into university, who we take in. There are other things we can do at a national level but there is value in competitive federalism, there is value in saying you know each state should have the ability to do things slightly differently so that we do learn from each other. We in New South Wales have copied successes from other states and then of course you know at a school level we allow schools to do different things.
So I think that kind of you know where the Commonwealth gets in trouble when they seek to intervene too closely into the ways that schools operate because the Commonwealth doesn’t operate any schools, doesn’t employ any staff and when they start getting into that operational thing is where they start getting into trouble so an example would be – in my state was the independent public schools. Now you know that was a Commonwealth policy and again you know Commonwealth Government get themselves into –
P: Adrian, just a second for those that wouldn’t be so sure, I’m sure most of you would know but that would be government schools but saying you get much more freedom to run with autonomy or as in New South Wales as you would call it, authority.
P: So they stay within the government system but get treated as though they were not in some respects.
A: Yeah. And some of the things that the Commonwealth seeks to you know impose or make a condition for states are not necessarily bad ideas and certainly in the time I was Minister under four federal Ministers, they just weren’t particularly well managed because you take an example like that, not even Western Australia signed up to it and they have independent public schools so you know they just weren’t particularly well managed. And I’ve got to say you know we’ll talk about a Year 1 phonics check test thing, that’s just not being particularly well managed, being driven by – I’m not saying it’s a good or a bad idea, I just don’t think they’re on the right path to getting all the states to agree if that’s what they want because I just don’t think it’s being particularly well managed.
D: No, I absolutely agree with that, Adrian you know New South Wales has already a sort of a phonics check of a kind already so rather than sort of coming in and saying we’re going to make the states do a Year 1 phonics check – I'm not saying that that’s what they are saying but they might be tempted to say that like say let’s have a look at what the states are already doing well in this space and try and spread that good practice, encourage that good practice nationally. And you used the example before of the Australian professional standards in teaching, what the Commonwealth did there is they basically took you know I had nothing to do with it but I can say they were the New South Wales professional standards for teaching that were basically the prototype for the Australian standards. And so you can take good practice that is emerging from the states and elevate it to a national level and if you do it sensibly you will get the buy-in.
P: And how much is this driven do you think by in a sense that political need to say if we put in a phonics check, running with that example, then we will be able to ensure that every child learns to read properly and that way we will know we’re getting the value that we want or is it some other reason? Why does that play out more than once?
A: You know I go back to the thing I said right at the very beginning, it’s trust you know I don’t think that’s a reform driven by the profession, and I could be wrong here but you know I haven’t come across many teachers who necessarily think that that’s a great idea to have a Year 1 test, a phonics test beyond what we already do with you know five-weekly assessments of phonics and phonemic awareness as part of the progressions that we use, certainly in New South Wales. So you know I think you’re going to have trouble getting things like that up when it’s not supported by the profession. And what I used to do as Minister, and Geoff Newcombe’s here from the AIS, before we had Ministerial Council meetings, before we met with AITSL and ACARA and all the other Commonwealth entities and the other states, I got together with the stakeholders in New South Wales and say what do you think about this? What do you think about the history? Are you okay with the history curriculum, ticking it off? Are you happy with whatever AITSL was putting up?
And I would make sure that it was actually supported by the profession and it was always the most empowering thing you could do, is to know you had the profession behind you because no-one can argue against it then. And I just don’t know that sometimes you know I didn’t manage things always particularly well, I just think sometimes the Commonwealth manages some of these things poorly so you know you’re talking about the risks of Commonwealth intervention, it’s sometimes not that they’re bad ideas but I don’t know they’re particularly well you know well articulated or that they’ve you know got the support of the profession. And can I say I think one of the worst things that a Minister’s ever done is said that 10% of teachers should be sacked because if you want to ruin trust right from the get-go you could you know –
P: You could work hard to beat that.
A: You could cure a major disease and people won’t remember you for that, you will have completely ruined the trust so you know managing issues and managing from the Commonwealth ‘cause everybody’s sceptical, all the states are sceptical about Commonwealth intervention, it better be a good idea managed very well.
D: And I do think the phonics check is a great example because when you actually look at the proposal it’s not about a Year 1 test, it is about a phonics check, diagnostic and yet the way it’s been managed in the public domain has elicited this response from the profession and the states which didn’t have to be the case.
P: I’m going to wrap up this piece of [ed] 44:57 and then throw to audience questions very shortly. A brief response – when I talk to some of the education bureaucrats and to some of the political staff at the state level about what might happen this year and the extra conditions that might come with the funding agreements that will need to happen by the end of this year I’ve detected anger. That doesn’t necessarily surprise me, funding is always a complex thing that elicits strong responses but I’ve also detected a degree of fear that choices that get made could really send things off badly so I’m just interested in a response about is there fear as to what might happen through this process? Even let’s assume with good intentions but that it may go wrong. Who wants to jump in?
A: I’ll go first so the debate about funding, additional funding you know is at the margins. I mean I’ll take a state like New South Wales, we spend $13b a year in school funding and every year – well let’s say you know even the Gonski increases are marginal compared to the 13 billion that we already spend and I hope that the Commonwealth review focuses on how you can get better value for the 13 billion rather than all our attention being focused on the extra $200m a year that’s going to be spent which is where all the debate ends up being, what are you going to spend the extra money on?
P: Which is about 3% -
A: What about the 13 billion? You know you get 5% more effectiveness out of your teaching profession for which you – for which taxpayers spend you know 10 billion in the public system, add another couple of billion for the non-government. You get a 5% improvement there, that swamps whatever additionality we might get in a particular year. So you know if we’re looking at measures like that you know how do you give teachers more time to do some of the you know in-school professional development that we know is the most effective things that schools can do? How do we know that you know we can do more of that you know the team teaching and all of those things that teachers want to do and have the time to do? I hope that the recommendations go towards those kinds of things you know the sharpening the saw things that teachers want to do rather than us become you know entranced by this extra little slither of cash and what are the extra things we’re going to do with it and ignore the you know if it’s 12 billion in New South Wales and we’re a third of the country, it’s $36b. How do we get more effectiveness out of that $36b?
L: I’m totally with you so one of the things that you know I’m continually frustrated by is the conversation about dollars, right? Actually I want a conversation about the return on that investment so actually where are you going to put your dollar in order to maximise that return you know whatever the return is in terms of our measure? But we need to get much smarter about how we are spending our money. I’m probably going to say something that’s slightly controversial but this country is incredibly wealthy, incredibly wealthy and there is so much expertise in this country and I don’t think this country has experienced the shock it needs in order to think very, very seriously about the investment it’s making and actually what we’re getting from that investment. And so – and you see countries you know countries that saw – countries that are flying have had some form of shock and they’ve had to think very deeply about their investment. And so things like you know Adrian you were saying around collaboration. We need to be able to buy teachers’ time in order to collaborate. The most powerful form of professional learning is moderation and so you know I’m struggling to count –
P: Moderation being -
L: Oh so moderation so basically teachers talking together on the basis of the data that they have in terms of name students in regard to the curriculum and how they might affect change. Now I’m struggling to count the number of dollars that are spent in PL. I got to 500 million and you know and it’s still a wobbly figure so in Australia if we’re spending $500m on professional learning a year why on earth is it not going into moderation ‘cause that’s the kind of stuff actually that will enable teachers to understand classroom practice better, they’ll be able to share practice, they’ll be able to understand the curriculum better and actually they need the data to be able to moderate on. So the thing around Year 1 phonics you know it’s a check. What frustrates me is the fact we have thousands and thousands of assessment items in this country and there is no reason why we can’t pull those assessment items so teachers can access them nationally? Similarly with curriculum objects you know we’ve got curriculum resources, we’ve got no sense actually of how effective they are, what their relative weighting is. Again why can’t all teachers access all curriculum resources and actually know how effective they are? You know it is inexcusable and this is something that nationally we can do.
P: And that is a scale gain.
P: I’m going to wrap up the panel discussion there and throw over to audience questions to make sure we get enough so if I can see a few hands and I'm going to keep looking and go to the lady in the white in the middle and pass it down and then I’ll go to the gentleman over there. The reason that I’m going with a lady first is because the evidence shows that when a woman asks the first question then the gender balance of questions is roughly equal. When a man asks the first questions it’s 90% men so we are listening to the evidence. Madam.
Au: I thought you were going to make a comment about the quality of the question and I thought the question might actually <inaudible> 50:50.
P: Taken as a given.
Au: You talk about trust and perhaps I’m the only teacher in this room that may not be feeling the trust. It’s been 20 years, two decades, funding has increased but performance has declined and from my experience and what I’m seeing in schools, the decline will continue regardless of your talk about funding so I envisage that in 10 years’ time there’ll be another expert panel sitting talking about funding so why should I trust you? And the other reason I lack the trust is that you do not recognise my profession and that is my feeling. You provide funding to doctors, scientists, engineers but not teachers, teachers are not encouraged to do study, to do research to improve the system.
And when you talk about the difference in Commonwealth and state that divide would disappear because if you had teachers researching, finding best practice – teachers come from different states. The doctors are not divided by states nor are the scientists, you divide us by states and I think if you look at the best education systems they are driven by the teacher profession, the teachers do the research, the – how many experts have spent time in the classroom? You talk about retention and how that is a good thing –
P: Can I ask you to get to a question? These are powerful comments.
Au: Okay. Sorry. So I would like to see the government consider more support of teacher research, to put money there ‘cause I think that could lead to better practice in schools.
P: Thank you for the question. I’m not from the government so I don’t have that $40b to direct. I would often start my conversations with Ministers talking. It’s not about that teachers should trust the experts in the profession – sorry, the experts in – the bureaucrats and the politicians, the trust should go the other way I think was the point, that teachers should be trusted but also teachers, when they take on professional responsibility where they know where their students are at and are building the teaching from that then the teachers are in by far the best position to actually take control of that work. I think that some of the work that Lisa was talking about would reflect in there. I think the current situation is a long way from what you’re describing it needs to be in terms of that dynamic so a brief reflection from me. Other questions on how we change what is obviously a long-felt tide flowing the wrong way if I might summarise very simply.
A: Well look you know everybody has responsibility to improve the system. Not every teacher is a fantastic teacher, you know? There is a lot of resistance to change in schools and in classrooms and we still have teachers – I mean I heard a teacher say they weren’t going to do something – one of the new requirements of the Board of Studies and I mean an accountant would never say I’m not going to use the latest accountant standards, I'm going to use the 1974 ones that I was trained on you know it would never happen. So you know I sense some of that preamble was directed to me. You know my job as an education Minister was, and now in my new role, is to – is – but particularly in that previous role – is a facilitator you know yes, to provide funds you know you need funds to do things but then we did put in things in place, I think substantial things, to enhance the status of the teaching profession and allow them to do those kinds of things that you're talking about in your schools.
Yes, allowing teachers to be – to do more research, I certainly agree but that goes to the point again that you know nothing happens unless you have the trust and the support of the teaching profession and you know people in the teaching profession know what you know generally know what works in the classroom. So I agree with you that – your sentiment at the end but you know everybody has a role to play here, from Ministers to Secretaries to schoolteachers to the admin staff at the front and parents you know the parents are often the ones we leave out of this equation.
P: And I think the – from wherever it is as a profession and a professional there should be I think always an expectation of how do we each improve? And improvement can’t be done to the profession, it needs to be driven from within and that is a complex process. Sir and then who’s next? I think over there.
Au: Thanks very much. My – I'm asking this question in the interest of trying to get your – to follow up on the maximisation of the return on the money that we’re spending already and the question that – previous question raised about non-improving standards and it goes to the – a topic that hasn’t been touched on at all tonight and that’s the different interests of the Commonwealth and the states in funding education where the Commonwealth is making sure and historically and over recent decades increasingly so, made sure that the non-government sector is at least fully resourced in terms of the school’s resource standard. Many of the state governments have been falling behind and I think Mr Piccolini’s term of office was a shining example to the contrary. Many of the states have been falling behind in their responsibilities in ensuring that funding goes to that part of the population, the school population who would benefit most from increased funding and that is the kids suffering the compound disadvantage that was identified before. So is there, do any of the members of the panel see any solution to this imbalance in funding where one – those kids who need it most are least – appear or in the recent years have been least likely to get increased funding? Thanks.
A: Well I’m not going to talk about the funding debate ‘cause I’ve got no remit at all to speak of it so –
L: I – oh go on –
P: No, Lisa, go for it.
L: You know how tricky is this issue? When I looked at the data for the ACT when I came in today what I found out was there’s about 70,000 kids in the system and there’s about I think 1,160 odd kids in any one year – oh no, sorry, it’s about 6,000 kids in any one year, 1,160 kids that are classed as vulnerable so 1,161 kids in any one year across 80 odd primary schools and I worked that out to be around 14 kids per primary school. Now I imagine many of you probably dropped your children off at school today or many of you are teachers and many of you would have walked into the school gate and I bet now you can personally see in your mind and name those – one of those 14 children. Now I think in part the discussion around funding has lost the sense of the names of the kids and actually the specificity of the kids that we know from the moment they walk into school are destined for failure. And it doesn’t take necessarily more money for those kids, what it takes is a system to wrap around those kids to identify them very, very early and to continue to intervene.
This again was my point around the compound risks so you know those 14 kids go from you know Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, they’re handed from teacher to teacher to teacher. Often the only people that experience their trajectory in schooling are their parents and them themselves. And teachers year on year are playing catch-up in terms of actually what does this child know? And so I’m less convinced about more money and the dollar value which will deliver outcomes, I actually think we need to think differently about the dollars that we’re spending. And I know that probably hasn’t quite – it’s not answered your question but I think we need to think differently about it. The Commonwealth doesn’t need to name those kids, right? But my point is you know at new entrance we know the names of those kids, target them then. And don’t leave them alone until you know that they have got past Year 9, Year 10, crunch point and they’re on a good trajectory.
P: I think that’s a really important point and one of the reasons why I’ve argued very publicly Australia needs to end the funding war so that we can move the discussion on. But I’ve also argued that the only way that we can do that is if the funding system is good enough, right? We can’t say it is what it is, let’s just leave it there. And there are schools that do have deep disadvantage, the international research from PISA gets misquoted. Kevin Donnolly talks about it and says Australia is the most generous in the OECD to our most disadvantaged students. He’s misreading a sentence. We are the least generous in the OECD to our most disadvantaged students. More money makes a difference when it’s to the most disadvantaged schools. We don’t know if schools in Australia have too little but David Gonski when he did the panel said he saw some that were so still the biggest thing is going to be how can we raise the expectations across the board and how can we change things? In the end in terms of spending money there are two parts to that debate and we say it’s about – as a nation we say it’s about how you spend the money and of course it is, it’s how you spend the money in anything in life but step one in that is send it to the places where it’s going to make the most difference in a needs-based fashion, step two is that those places need to spend it as well as they can.
So your – Lisa’s point was to point two, yours was to step one. There is this big divide, the Commonwealth has – the previous system was allowing buck-passing, the Commonwealth has put its marker down and said we are going to fund in an 80/20 fashion, 80% of the funding that is needed – that varies by school - to non-gov schools and 20% for gov schools. One of the proudest things I’ve done in my professional career was to help encourage passage of the legislation that said that states would also need to come to the party. I proposed a way that might make that more affordable because given that we have a mixed system we’re not going to be able to move past into this richer debate of how does the money get spent within every school unless schools are funded broadly on their best estimate of need. It’s been a messy bloody process over many, many years but we do have the opportunity to settle in and say we do – we have a model that could be stable but we can only get there if there are a number of other things that happen to flow that model through and that does include more money from the states. And Adrian has been leading that charge in New South Wales for a long time and they’re much closer. I’m from Victoria and if there are any Victorians in the room then Victorian Treasury is probably not sending me a Christmas card because it needs to happen.
L: Well I think they might because if education succeeds then you will reduce the long-term forward fiscal liability for you know the rest of the government so they might send you a Christmas card in the end.
A: It has to succeed in Victoria ‘cause it says it on the number plate.
P: We’re the education state, thank you for that. I think - sorry, over here, I said next. And quick questions and quick answers and then we’ll wrap up.
Au: Thank you to the full panel. I’ve heard quite a lot that makes me ask the question, and I’ll ask for anyone to address it, what can you tell us tonight about partnerships between universities and bureaucrats? David referred to it in a general way when he spoke about people coming in to the schools to work out what’s best practice and working with the teachers themselves. Lisa spoke about it when she talked about supporting practice.
P: Can I get you to just wrap up the question?
Au: Well the question is please talk about your thoughts on bureaucratic and university partnerships because what John Hatty’s doing is exactly what you’re talking about, how are the universities being brought into this to share the research?
P: How can we tap into that expertise as well?
A: So I think that’s a good question and I think I should give credit to Peter for obviously what's been a very effective piece of advocacy by Grattan around – which is extracted from one of the major parties at the federal level, a sizeable commitment around a research institute that is I imagine in its incarnation if it ever comes about will bring together university academics and researchers and practitioners to deliver findings and insights into what is best practice. I do think that that is a really important initiative. I think we do need the equivalent of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare who puts out every couple of years Australia’s health, Australia’s welfare.
We need something like the Australian Institute of Education which puts out every couple of years a report, Australia’s education which doesn’t just deal with schools, it looks at early childhood education in particular, I think is an under sort of - doesn’t get its fair share of attention as well as schooling but also school to work pathways, whether that be through the vocational education and training sector and universities. I think that would be – if we could get something like that out promoting it would be great, it would bring together academics and practitioners in a really unique way and I think it would also be a good way of holding state jurisdictions accountable in the public domain for their performance which I think is a key role that the Commonwealth should play.
P: So it’s not about you lose the money, it’s – you have to stand up and explain.
A: Yeah, you got to stand up and explain.
P: Okay. I’m going to give the last question and sorry, Dale, this is going to go to Allan. We started six minutes late, I will finish less than that late.
Au: I’ll keep it short, I’ll give you the short version of the question. It’s based on a comment from Lisa but all of you might want to think about and answer. Lisa, you were talking about under our federation system or our federated system that there’s an advantage that you end up with bipartisan results because you negotiate and you have to negotiate to some conclusion across the states and Commonwealth and you start with a mix of state governments from both sides of government. My concern is, and I think I see the evidence of it, that that might lead to a drive towards the lowest common denominator rather than best practice, that it lowers our aspirations.
And you might see that in terms of the testing patterns we do, the way we’ve let ATAR slip or the fact that yes, AITSL has recommendations for professional learning but they’re not compulsory and they’re left to the states and they’re not you know they’re not at the level that you would expect in other professions. Teachers are professionals. Engineers don’t have a choice, if they’re a professional engineer, about the kinds of qualification standards they have to meet, neither do doctors, neither do vets, neither do pharmacists and yet we don’t have those higher aspirations across the system.
P: Does it lead to the lowest common denominator?
L: Can I say sometimes yes? But the – so the eight national frameworks that you’re talking about, they have been unevenly implemented so you know across states and territories we’ve got excellent examples actually of where those particular frameworks have been fully adopted, fully implemented and benefits are being realised. That is not happening across – not happening nationally and so with that what we also need to ensure is that there are some things we leave the benefits to realise their potential. Implement those frameworks and actually enable the benefits to come to fruition so don’t turn it around really quickly but I agree, there are some instances where it is a race to the bottom.
A: And I’ll give you an example, was the minimum entry standards to get into university. There was agreement at the Ministerial Council that there should be one but that’s it. When the question was – I don’t know if you’d started by then, Lisa –
L: Yeah, just. I think it was my first meeting.
A: You know when we’d set one you know bit of a blunt instrument in New South Wales we were trying to get some consensus on what it should be, what the agreement ended up being is that there should be one. Everyone agreed there should be one but what is it? And still waiting for an answer to that.
D: But I think there’s also – at the other end there is merging consensus about minimum standards for exit which is arguably more important. Lisa and I have been doing some you know work on that as well and we now have as a result of a Commonwealth-sponsored advisory group going back a few years an exit standard for students in terms of literacy and numeracy. You have to pass a literacy and numeracy test at a certain level to be able to practise as a teacher.
A: Yeah but I’m going to – I'm just going to pick up a point there. I found as a Minister it was very hard to get a good idea of how difficult that test was. Out of ACR, I think ‘round that ‘cause it’s proprietary whatever, you know? As a member of that Ministerial Council I found it very difficult, I don’t even think we could get actually a simple test to have a look at to see whether it actually met a sufficiently high standard. So you know even in its application some things tend to get watered down. So yes –
D: And sometimes you got to start at a certain point before you ratchet it up.
A: No –
P: Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been very patient. We’re here in Canberra saying – I’m going to hold for one quick thought – we’re here in Canberra saying what should the Commonwealth do? We’ve been aiming to be constructive. One thought on how do we make 2018 the best year it can be? Lisa.
L: Implement those national frameworks, actually. Implement those national frameworks, make sure there’s an honest broker in the system and hold people to account.
D: I’ve already swung in behind you on the national researcher or the institute but I would counsel the Commonwealth, be brave in terms of setting overall vision and strategy but leave it to the states to how to implement it. And hold them to account for their outcomes.
A: And I would say to the politicians, is to set the standards high and defend them and you can’t be beaten you know if universities want to go to war with you because you’re setting the standards too high you will have every single parent behind you.
P: And I will leave with my last bit which is that we’ve talked quite a bit about the national data because that’s something that we can do analysis on but what helps teaching is having the information in your classroom about your own students, making – having that be robust across different teachers. Doing that is not an easy job, that requires time, tools, training and teamwork and I think that we should have a national investment to provide support and tools for – to help teachers do that day-to-day job of understanding where each student is at so that they can help them take the next step because if we’re going to lift at scale in the end it’s going to be one student at a time across all four million of them. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your time, thank you to the panel and thank you to the Library.
A: Thanks Peter.
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