Focus on learners: education experts to Government

Australia’s current education policies will not address its slipping international rankings, a new paper from the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education argues.

The paper argues that Australia is unlikely to reach its goal of becoming a top 5 nation in education by 2025 without a major change in education policies.

It outlines policies currently on the agenda that will not improve Australian student outcomes, including school autonomy, test-based accountability and promotion of school choice.

Among the paper’s recommendations is the suggestion that Commonwealth Supported Places in teacher education are matched to national supply and demand data, as in professions like medicine. The paper argues this would free funds to invest in higher quality teacher education at no extra cost.

The paper identifies three key challenges facing Australia’s education system:

  • Children entering school below the expected level of capability.
  • Top students’ underperformance.
  • The gap between the highest and lowest performers, which is among the OECD’s highest.

Education Dean Professor Field Rickards said these challenges must be addressed by focusing on what happens in the classroom and empowering teachers.

“Too many education policies address matters outside the classroom,” he said. “We need to channel our resources to where they will make the biggest impact on learning outcomes – into teachers and teaching.”

Professor Rickards said the paper was underpinned by two important concepts: ‘clinical teaching’ and ‘student growth’.

“Clinical teaching is the process by which educators address the individual needs of every learner – from gifted students to those that need extra help,” he said. “Currently, lower ability students are receiving more attention than our more able students, which cannot continue”

Professor Rickards explained ‘student growth’ refers to learning growth.

“It is really important we measure schooling impact in terms of student growth, and consider standards in a broader context,” he said. “A student may meet the base standard as measured in NAPLAN without their learning having grown in the previous year. But every student should receive a year of learning growth in return for a year of schooling input – we need to focus on standards and growth.”