Election 2013 Western Australia March 9

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Education Policy

Labor Education Policy

Public Education –why you should care?

Whether you’re a Billionaire or a Boilermaker, you should care about public education. It doesn’t matter if your kids attend an independent or Catholic school or even if you don’t have children. Every single person in Western Australia will reap the benefits or suffer the failures of the public education system.

Because our public system educates most children, the better it is, the better we become.

There’s loads of evidence showing better educated citizens are more likely to be civically engaged. That means they will be the sports coaches, lifesavers, fire-­‐fighters and meals on wheels volunteers of the future. They’re also more likely to get better paying jobs and have fewer health problems.

One Swedish study even found an additional year of schooling meant middle-­‐aged men werefar more likely to have a Body Mass Index in the healthy range. A glance at possible outcomes in the field of community safety should clinch the deal.

A North American study in 2007, found that every new high school graduate from a disadvantaged background saved $256,700 in
public health and crime costs. This effectively yielded two to four dollars in public benefits for every dollar spent.

Last year, British researcher Dr Carol Hayden, writing in Crime Anti-­‐Social Behaviour and Schools, was just as emphatic about the community safety benefits of education. She said, ‘Simply, feeling connected to school, achieving and having aspirations tends to protect young people from involvement in anti-­‐social and criminal behaviour’.

So if our public schools, teaching the majority of our children perform well, we all benefit. Unfortunately, there’s a snag to the Australian education story that is particularly relevant here in the West. The latest OECD assessment results show four of the world’s five top performing school systems are Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Shanghai.

In the course of asking why, the Grattan Institute made one particularly disturbing conclusion. After eliminating cultural differences as the cause, they found every one of these Asian school systems has more equity than we have here in the land of the Fair Go.

In recent years, all four systems have increased performance whilst maintaining or improving equity. Compared to Australia, a child from a poorer background in the top four Asian systems is less likely to drop out or fall behind. Consider that in the context of what dropping out means.

For every one of those benefits of a good education mentioned earlier, there will be a corresponding decline in outcomes when a child misses out. Instead of a better, healthier and safer community, we can brace for more disengaged and angry individuals who will cost us all in more ways than one.

The Australian education system has developed a two tier profile that is every bit as disturbing as the much maligned two speed economy. In recent decades, the children of more well off parents have gravitated away from the governmentsystem

The consequence is a gradual residualisation. Increasingly, the public school system is confronted with higher proportions of the most disadvantagedand often most challenging students.

The Gonski Review of funding for schooling lists a string of  indicators that measure the challenge. In 2010, 85 per cent of Indigenous students and 78 per cent of students with a funded disability attended government schools.

Throw in 83 per cent of students enrolled in remote and very remote areas, plus 68 per cent of children from a language background other than English and the picture is clear.

When it comes to educating our most disadvantaged students, public schools are doing the heavy lifting. I worry our government-driven efforts to help may have magnified the challenge these schools face. At federal and state level there has been a move to force
schools to gather information so that it can be used as a stick to drive better outcomes.

Governments demand that schools collate reams of information which is then increasingly placed in the public domain. Schools which cater for higher proportions of disadvantaged students are likely to fare poorly when things that look like league tables are published.

In our own state, we send in the Expert Review Group who produce a detailed report of where a school is going wrong – then we publish it on a website. District Offices which in the past offered some support to these schools have been closed. Under this approach it’s likely that hard to staff\ schools will become even harder to staff. Clusters of disadvantage students may become evermore concentrated.

Schools doing it tough will find things even tougher. We didn’t invent this stance on education management. It’s modelled on education reforms in the United Kingdom and United States during the 1980s and 1990s. Writing in a paper published by Harvard Education Press in 2008, respected Canadian Educator Ben Levin said of this approach, ‘education reform was driven in many places by the idea that improvement could be created through changes in governance, or through increased testing and accountability, or by threats and punishments for failure’.

A lot of other nations have moved on. The Grattan Institute cites a body of international research pointing to common characteristics
of high-­‐performing education systems. Essentially these systems do three things. They pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. They value teachers in their system and acknowledge the profession is complex.

Above all, they focus on learning and building teacher capacity to provide learning.

Maybe it’s time we moved on too. A renewed emphasis on government agencies being a service provider to schools may benefit everyone. Instead of identifying flaws and then leaving Principals and schools to sink or swim, we could bring additional resources to bear on the most disadvantaged schools.

A whole of government response to tackle disengagement, bullying and classroom disruption could capture students slipping through the cracks and make all schools safer and better learning environments. A similar approach with early childhood services linked to disadvantaged schools, could identify problems early and enable more effective intervention.

Instead of increasing demands on Principal’s who will already be struggling with big changes like the national curriculum and year sevens moving to high school, we could create mobile teacher coaching teams that help build teacher and school capacity rather than just grading performance.

We are at a challenging time in the history of Western Australian education. Our public education system is probably being tested like never before. Whether it endures and is strengthened by the experience or not, matters to us all.

(via walabor.org.au January 10 2013)

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