The Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) has released a report foreshadowing the “Gonksi 2.0” review of how school may best spend any additional money available through new funding arrangements.
As you might imagine, the author, Blaise Joseph, recommends that there be greater support for systematic synthetic phonics. He notes that teachers don’t seem to be properly prepared for teaching phonics by their training institutions and makes the well-known point that phonics in general – and systematic synthetic phonics in particular – is backed by a wealth of evidence spanning English speaking countries across the world.
However, Joseph has two more suggestions. He points to the high level of classrooms disruption in Australian schools and suggests that we need to invest in better training. The educational establishment in Australia certainly have a fingers-in-ears approach to this subject, preferring to focus on the plight of students excluded from schools rather than on making schools safer environments in which to learn, something that might actually reduce exclusions in the long term. Behaviour is a topic that brings out the ideologues, as I was reminded by the U.K. reaction to a recent blog post by Old Andrew where teachers shared stories of some of the worst behaviour they had encountered. These testimonies made a few people ‘angry‘, such is the strength of feeling against anyone who suggests we might have a bit of a problem. We have the same constituency in Australia and so it is going to be hard to move things forward. Insistence on engage-them-into-behaving is probably why we have such an issue with discipline in the first place.
Joseph’s other suggestion is that teachers should spend less time teaching. We have a lot of contact time compared to other countries and this means that we have less time for planning and collaboration. If there is money available then I would suggest that this would be a great use of it, particularly for teachers who are working in a tough context. However, as Joseph cautions, “It is important teachers are not burdened with extra administrative work in lieu of more teaching hours. For example, expecting teachers to prepare lesson plans using templates that are not evidence-based would be time consuming and ineffective.” It would all be for nought if it becomes a box-filling exercise.
Finally, Joseph mentions that investing in ed-tech and smaller class sizes are not supported by the evidence at present.
You might notice that I am credited with reviewing Joseph’s report. I am keen to work collaboratively with anyone who wishes to see a more evidence-informed approach to education. No doubt this will lead some to feverishly conclude something about ‘neoliberal imaginaries’ and all that malarkey. So be it.