Influencing Australian Education

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Despite being based in Australia, this blog has tended to attract more readers from the U.K. This is perhaps not surprising. I am from the U.K. originally and it is England that has made the greatest efforts to move away from the worldwide educational consensus typified by the views of Andreas Scheicher (21st century skills, critical thinking and so on). It is no coincidence that it was the British minister, Nick Gibb and the London-based education writer and thinker, Daisy Christodoulou who took on Schleicher in a recent debate.

The trend of gaining the most hits from the U.K. continues. However, I have just pushed past my previous record for the number of views in a month. This record is from way back in November 2015 and a comparison between the two months is instructive.

In November 2015, I had 13,317 hits from the U.K., 3,258 from the U.S. and only 2,282 from Australia. So far this month, I have had 11,461 hits from the U.K., 5,136 from Australia and 2,756 from the U.S. So it is Australia that has increased its share and I would like to thank all my Australian readers, as well as my readers more generally, for taking the time to engage with what I have to say.

This trend is important to me. I am an Australian citizen and, more than anything, I would like to have some small influence over education policy in my home country. It is great to be quoted in a speech by a minister from overseas but I would also like to have some impact at home.

I’ve noticed an additional trend. Australians used to rebut my posts a lot more than they do now. Some of this was a little clumsy but it was often present either in blog posts or on Twitter. These days there is not so much rebuttal. Perhaps people have decided to ignore me in an effort to deny me oxygen or perhaps they have run out of arguments.

It is important to note that it is much harder to influence Australian education policy than U.K. policy because of our federal system. I have heard proponents of federalism make the case that having different education systems in different states provides useful variation: States can innovate and we can all learn from the successes and failures. Yet it just doesn’t seem to work like that. It tends to lead to a system where the only real policy discussion is an argument between the states and the federal government about funding. The actual details of what is enacted seems to be left to state level bureaucrats with the result that the same tropes about creativity and critical thinking get replicated in almost identical ways.

I don’t think this is just an Australian issue. I was surprised to find that Wales is embarking on replicating all the aspects of Scotland’s curriculum that seem to have led Scotland into its recent decline.

I think this is because state-level or country-level variation is the wrong level of variation. It incentivises states to copy each other and play it safe. This is why we need more school-level variation. A starting point for Australia would be to allow some schools to opt out of the flabby Australian curriculum with its ‘expanding horizons’ humanities stream, its inquiry orientated science stream and its woolly ‘general capabilities’ in order to focus on teaching academic subjects properly. We could then see whether the students from these schools fared better or worse and whether these schools were more or less popular with parents.

Despite my growing readership, I have become less optimistic about using facts and evidence to convince whole education systems to stop doing silly things. People are just too invested in the status quo and far too few of them think critically about it. It is only through a diversity of provision that we can break the death-grip of bureaucracy and address the problems with Australian education that are so obvious when you look at NAPLAN, PISA or TIMSS data.

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4 Comments on “Influencing Australian Education”

  1. Alex says:

    When bureaucracy is only accountable up the chain to mostly unelected paymasters, we can’t hope for much more. Until we are accountable to parents and students within communities, we won’t see much change.

    I think the Free Schools model is the best. Evidence = truth. Objective facts protect us from wild emotional or ideological positions.

    The evidence of standardised testing is clear – something is wrong in Australia.

  2. “I have become less optimistic about using facts and evidence to convince whole education systems to stop doing silly things. People are just too invested in the status quo and far too few of them think critically about it”

    I agree, but please don’t stop putting the facts and evidence out there, there are always more teachers coming across them. At a talk last week in Auckland John Hattie said that Australia and New Zealand were the “losers” at the moment in the educational rankings. Trouble is those in leadership positions haven’t a clue what has caused it or how to fix it. Ignored is the immense power of the curriculum, probably the most significant effect on student achievement at all levels.

  3. sdigg01 says:

    Interestingly though, I have always felt more empowered and influential in my teaching in Australia than I feel my peers have done in the UK. I feel less governed by Govt policies and new approaches and much more able to make my own professional judgements about what and how to teach.
    I taught for about 8 years in U.K. And 10 years here.


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