The Tragedy of Australian Education

In April, the Australian government finally published its airy and platitudinous report and review of the country’s schools. Popularly known as ‘Gonski 2.0’ after David Gonski, the businessman who chaired the review panel and who had chaired a previous review of school funding, it provided little evidence to support its proposals, despite evidence being a key requirement in the terms of reference. The report states that Australia must ditch…

Continues at Quillette

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4 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Australian Education

  1. In terms of England’s success in bucking international trends in education, you are quite right to single out Gove and Gibb–but prior to 2010, key roles were also played by think-tanks such as the Centre for Policy Studies, Civitas and Policy Exchange and by the press. The Daily Telegraph’s education editor John Clare ensured that us education wonks got full coverage, and even the BBC provided us with a forum (and no small amount of covert support). Whole language had proved a spectacular own-goal for the progressives–far too many of the victims of the ‘real books’ mania had influential parents.

    Blogs have only recently begun to have an impact; for a long time, Old Andrew (as he then was) was a lonely voice. However, the lure of the international lecture circuit is strong, and ResearchEd is just about the only forum for folk like us. Were it not for Gove and Gibb, our success with synthetic phonics might well have proved a flash in the pan; once Blair was gone, the term disappeared from DCSF press releases. And the Gilbert Review provided a chilling reminder that the forces of reaction were about to mount a powerful counter-offensive. However, I like to think that we’re reaching a critical mass; once teachers discover how much better life is in schools where they can actually teach, they never want to go back into the madhouse.

      1. Absolutely no question about Blair. Ruth Miskin taught one of his boys to read, he was a fan of Chris Woodhead as well (Chris was Ruth’s partner when I first met them). Blair also knew John McIntosh, the head of London Oratory, and Euan studied there. John was more or less one of the team at the Centre for Policy Studies, and he is definitely one of us. I don’t think Blair really knew all that much about education–I never met him, so I really can’t say much. However, there’s no doubt that synthetic phonics would never have gone anywhere had he not elevated Adonis and made him a junior education minister. Gove had a lot of time for both Blair and Adonis. Brown, whose main virtue was saving us from the Euro, moved Adonis to Transport and appointed Balls as Education Secretary. I don’t think Balls had any serious interest in education other than expanding the payroll vote as rapidly as possible. He was certainly keen on Reading Recovery, but that was just another beanfeast for failed teachers.

        Perhaps the most interesting figure in the synthetic phonics drama was Jim Rose. I have a letter from him dated 13 March 1990 stating that “…I am firm in urging an eclectic methodology…” which indicates that the subsequent evidence he saw changed his mind. When I met with him on 15 November 2005, there was no question as to his total commitment to synthetic phonics, and his only concern was how this approach could best be implemented in a less than sympathetic environment. Yet subsequently, he led the study that recommended the abolition of academic subjects in favour of ‘areas of learning’. The QCA, which was charged with implementing this, consulted the representatives of various think tanks, and along with Sam Freedman (then head of education at Policy Exchange) I gave the whole project a thorough roasting. That’s another story, but after that I had no trouble convincing the Coalition to abolish the QCA and scrap the whole sorry project.

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