While needs-based schools funding according to the principles set out in the first Gonski report remains a hot topic, as we’ve seen recently in the Super Saturday by-elections, there has been much less public discussion about its successor.
Gonski 2.0 or to use its full title, Through Growth to Achievement, was released in May this year, and it’s a report that looks at where we need to focus our efforts and investment in education.
Targeted teaching (which is tailored to individual students’ needs rather than directed to the whole class), diagnostic assessment (where students are assessed to determine what stage of learning they are at, and what they are ready to learn next), and learning progressions (where students’ individual progress is measured, rather than their attainment against ‘set’ objectives), all feature in the report.
New South Wales, the largest employer of teachers in Australia, was first out of the blocks in responding to the document favourably and has embarked on a complete review of its Kindergarten – Year 12 curriculum.
Others, including many within the profession itself, seem underwhelmed and say Gonski 2.0 merely re-states much of what is already known.
Mark Scott, Director General of the NSW Education Department, welcomes the report but says education systems may struggle to help teachers deliver on personalised learning.
For Professor Jim Watterston, Dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne, Gonski 2.0 is a missed opportunity.
Their debate is the subject of the current Talking Teaching podcast. An edited extract follows.
How useful do you find the Gonski 2.0 report?
Jim Watterston: Gonski 2.0 is the greatest missed opportunity that I’ve experienced in my career. It’s very big on admiring the problem but there’s not enough evidence they’ve hit on the right problems. Nor is there a focus on current practice that does work.
Four thousand of our 10,000 schools are outside the metropolitan area and we know that the performance drops the further you move away from the city centres. The report also doesn’t talk about the gap in Indigenous education, nor does it offer anything in terms of early childhood. These are some of the things we need to focus on if we are going to move the dial on Australia’s performance.
Mark Scott: I think Jim’s assessment is a little harsh. Overall, I think (Gonski 2.0) is a very helpful document. At the heart of it is how we teach to a classroom of individuals and develop a personalised learning approach.
The challenge that Gonski identified is a systemic one. Teachers may be wanting to do this but as a system are we set up to support them? What assessment tools are on offer to help teachers track students’ progress over time? What’s the professional development required to really help teachers teach a class of individuals, rather than teach en masse to a generic group? Many schools are on the road to delivering this, but I’m not sure our supporting infrastructure is in place to help all schools deliver.
Jim Watterston: I’m not doubting anything you say Mark, but I do think there are some bigger foundational problems that have been ignored, or left out of Gonski. I’m confident that we know how to teach children from school age but I’m not confident that we adequately prepare children for school from birth.
James Heckman won the Nobel Prize for Economics for determining that there is a significant return on investment for every dollar that you put into early childhood. Yet we still don’t have a strategic funding parcel that will enable this kind of focus. The answer to every problem of practice in a school is to invest in early childhood. It’s a no-brainer. What we need is an early childhood Gonski.
Mark Scott: It’s a key issue and the evidence is clear that investment in early childhood reaps enormous dividends. We’ve just put extra money into this area in NSW where we provide a pathway for three-year old’s to do two days a week for two years before they start school. We know the gaps that exist on day one of kindergarten only increase as a child moves through the system. But I do think a fundamental thesis of Gonski is to lay the foundations, in a very assertive way, in the early years of schooling and to be determined that knowledge gaps don’t emerge. It’s a clear priority.
What about the Gonski recommendation for a national teaching workforce strategy?
Mark Scott: This is absolutely critical. We have a massive increase in students. We are spending a lot of money on new buildings. But who is going to be teaching? I’m not sure about a national approach but we (the states) have to be much more ambitious in this area. Fundamentally we have to muscle up as employers. The NSW Education department is the biggest employer of teachers in the country. We need to be saying to teacher education institutions, ‘this is what we need’ and I think you will see more of this. We also need to be reaching out to bright capable energetic graduates in a range of disciplines and create alternative pathways for them into teaching.
Jim Watterston: I come back to the 4000 schools that sit outside the metropolitan area and it is tough to attract high quality leaders for those schools. We need to find ways to attract more experienced people into rural areas and that’s where the investment comes in. You’ll only make the profession attractive if people feel they’re well remunerated and that by taking on service outside the cities, they have ways of growing in their career.
This is an edited extract from a complete discussion on Gonski 2.0 on the Talking Teaching podcast, hosted by Maxine McKew, now live on iTunes and Whooshka.