“The extent of the decline is widespread and equivalent to a generation of Australian school children falling short of their full learning potential.” (March 2018, ‘Educational Excellence Review’, Review Panel Chair David Gonski AC)

HOW good is the education our kids are receiving?

Well, the report card is in and we got a D-.

According to the ‘Education Excellence’ report released by David Gonski AC and his review panel in March this year, were going backwards at a rate of knots relative to other similar countries.

And as part of Education Week 2018, we should at least be talking about what can be done.

Here are some excerpts from the report:

“Since 2000, academic performance has declined when compared to other OECD countries, suggesting that Australian students and schools are not improving at the same rate and are falling short of achieving the full learning potential of which they are capable.”

Improving education outcomes, says the report, is critical to future economic and social opportunity and Australia can and should aspire to provide every school student with a world-leading education.

“This is an ambitious but achievable goal, given Australia’s prosperity and our educational heritage. It is also a critical goal as work becomes more highly skilled, and education increasingly determines lifetime opportunity.

“In 2000, only a few countries materially ranked higher than us; in 2015 Australia’s ranking dropped to the middle of the pack. Moreover, Australian student achievement has stagnated in the last decade, measured by the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), and has declined relative to its past performance in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment).

“Academic achievement is only one dimension of education and not the sole measure of success. Proficiency across the curriculum, however, and especially in areas such as literacy and numeracy, which PISA and NAPLAN assess, matters deeply to economic and social opportunity. That is why turning around the slippage in student outcomes, and regaining Australia’s standing as a world-leader in schooling, must be a priority for Australia and all its educators.

In a world where education defines opportunity, schooling must support every one of Australia’s 3.8 million school students to realise their full learning potential and achieve educational excellence. Australian students should receive a world-class school education, tailored to individual learning needs, and relevant to a fast-changing world.

They should be challenged and supported to progress and excel in learning in every year of school, appropriate to each student’s starting point and capabilities.”

But according to the latest Gonski review, they are not being appropriately and individually supported.

“There are a number of challenges that require a sustained national response if Australian students and schools are to reach the goal of achieving educational excellence. Declining academic performance is jeopardising the attainment of Australia’s aspiration for excellence and equity in school education. Since 2000, Australian student outcomes have declined in key subjects such as reading, science and mathematics.

“This has occurred in every socio-economic quartile and in all school sectors (government, Catholic and Independent). The extent of the decline is widespread and equivalent to a generation of Australian school children falling short of their full learning potential.

“There is also a wide range of educational outcomes in the same classroom or school, with the most advanced students in a year typically five to six years ahead of the least advanced students. Such disparity in learning outcomes is at odds with the goal of equity in education for all students. School education must also prepare students for a complex and rapidly changing world. As routine manual and administrative activities are increasingly automated, more jobs will require a higher level of skill, and more school leavers will need skills that are not easily replicated by machines, such as problem-solving, interactive and social skills, and critical and creative thinking. Australia anticipated this shift 10 years ago in the Melbourne Declaration, which called on schools to help young Australians ‘become confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens’ as well as ‘successful learners’.

“The Australian Curriculum, Foundation to Year 10 (F-10), which combines both general capabilities, such as critical and creative thinking, and learning areas, such as science and history, is designed to achieve the Melbourne Declaration vision. However, the presentation, implementation and focus of the curriculum and senior secondary schooling models could be improved to ensure they prepare students for life beyond school.

“Finally, Australia needs to review and change its model for school education. Like many countries, Australia still has an industrial model of school education that reflects a 20th century aspiration to deliver mass education to all children. This model is focused on trying to ensure that millions of students attain specified learning outcomes for their grade and age before moving them in lock-step to the next year of schooling.

“It is not designed to differentiate learning or stretch all students to ensure they achieve maximum learning growth every year, nor does it incentivise schools to innovate and continuously improve. Although this problem is widely recognised by teachers and educators, schools’ attempts to address the issue are hampered by curriculum delivery, assessment, work practices and the structural environments in which they operate.

“The constraints include inflexibility in curriculum delivery, reporting and assessment regimes, and tools focussed on periodic judgements of performance, rather than continuous diagnosis of a student’s learning needs and progress. This is compounded by a lack of research-based evidence on what works best in education, the absence of classroom applications readily available for use by teachers, multiple calls on the time of teachers and school leaders, and a lack of support for school principals to develop their professional autonomy and prioritise instructional leadership.”

To be brutally frank, it’s a damning report and one that every parent should read. Full copy attached: https://www.appa.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/20180430-Through-Growth-to-Achievement_Text.pdf.

So what should we do?

First off, we should use the occasion of Education Week – May 20-26 – to at least talk about what improvements are needed.