Having now spent 3 weeks working with Australian Principals, teacher trainers, teachers and student, and talking to press and media people, I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on the issues currently at play. The debates around education, for a Brit, are similar to almost all aspects of Aussie life: familiar and yet, unfamiliar, at the same time.
I wrote earlier about the Australian take on the ‘accountability framework’ – it seemed like publishing student/teacher results on a national website was bound to lead to league performance tables by any other means. A week later – and I’m sure my post had nothing to do with it – state Education Ministers were in Canberra, meeting to discuss ‘school performance’. I happened to be in Parliament House at the time they were discussing it, and joked with colleagues that, if they’d let me in, I’d tell them to avoid league tables at all costs. Lo and behold, they seem to have reached that conclusion anyway, according to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. The problem was familiar, the solution, unfamiliar – prevent the aggregation of individual school reporting into a national blunt instrument. Minister Gove, please take note.
And then there’s the development of the National Curriculum. With the best of intentions, the Federal government had aspired to create a Finnish ‘pared-down’ curriculum, which would encourage flexibility. The consultation process, however, has spawned too much elaboration leading to criticisms of the draft curriculum as ‘overcrowded and incoherent’ . Amazingly enough, the government seems to be listening, and the intention is now to scale back in future drafts.
So, from a UK viewpoint, a familiar set of issues. But an unfamiliar response, in that people seem to be listening to school principals, teachers and – as in the event I attended last week in Melbourne, courtesy of Musical Futures school, Trafalgar Primary – listening to learners themselves. We (including our popular press) could learn a lot from the way schooling is publicly discussed in Australia.