The much anticipated Gonski 2.0 report has finally dropped and criticism has come in thick and fast. The report comes on the back of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools established by the Federal Government in July 2017 to provide advice on how to improve student achievement and school performance. It’s a big report sure to create waves in all education sectors in Australia and, just to be clear, I am not impressed with its recommendations. Here are the need-to-knows and my take on some of the report’s recommendations.
GONSKI 2.0 – Key Priorities
Commissioned to inform the government on future policy and funding arrangements, the report highlights 3 priority areas and 23 recommendations split into 5 areas of recommendation to support the achievement of the 3 priorities. The 3 priorities are:
Priority 1 is Hattie’s punch line, which has been part of his push for a more evidence-informed teaching profession for a number of years. For what it is worth, I have no problems with the priority as much as the methods recommended for achieving the priority. What’s more, it strikes me as a rather obvious priority, at least from my perspective as a teacher, anyway.
My impression of priorities 2 and 3 is that they are nothing new, rather vague and definitely of a more progressive educational bent. Creative, connected, engaged, adaptive, innovative – these are all well-known progressive education buzzwords that provide very little direction for hardworking teachers who wish to increase the life-chances of their students. Further, the push to fundamentally change the education system and the education students receive has been a big political talking point amongst those of a more progressive inclination for a number of years now. These priorities seem to favour this view.
GONSKI 2.0 – Recommendations
The 23 recommendations to support achievement of the priorities are organised into 5 fairly predictable recommendation areas:
The recommendation areas are predictable because they are already well-known areas of importance in discussions around raising student achievement. For example, educationalists have reached a consensus on the importance of recommendation area 3, and the New South Wales Ed Dept has already taken steps towards strengthening recommendation area 1. This is also true of the Australian Government with their push for Year 1 literacy and numeracy checks.
Recommendations related to better access and provision during the preschool years (recommendation 1) and better induction for preservice teachers (recommendation 14) are steps in the right direction. Many students come to school with poor language skills and are overcome by an irreversibly massive language gap. Providing better access and provision in the early years will help ensure kids are ready to access the school curriculum.
I’ve long been critical of preservice education and its disconnect with reality in the classroom. A structured program for transition into the classroom can only help, so long as teachers are involved. Many teachers will be very keen to involve themselves in helping new teachers become the best they can be. Schools that do this well will find success.
The Bad and The Ugly
Overall, the recommendations sorted into these 5 areas aren’t very informative and favour a progressive shift that is not based on any solid evidence. Most of the recommendations are obvious recommendations and do not include any clear, evidence-based directions systems, schools and teachers should take to enhance the quality of the education they provide. Furthermore, the recommendations are progressive in nature and make very bold, unsubstantiated claims about growth mindset, student choice, the need for extreme forms of differentiation, and personalised learning.
Recommendations 2, 3 and 8 emphasise the need for parent/carer, student and community engagement respectively, but do not provide any clear, evidence-based guidelines on how to improve on what schools are already doing to engage stakeholders in student learning. Bafflingly, the report seems to attribute differences in school-readiness and initial achievement to the work of a parent in instilling a growth mindset in the child, this being written while a very large study on growth mindset highlighted the very small positive effects of growth mindset interventions. The report also recommends the very vague idea of giving students a ‘voice’ and hints at more choice; however, a discussion on some of the evidence in this area is missing, which makes it hard for me to take the recommendation seriously. Teachers have been experimenting with student choice for a long time, and there are solid arguments against this practice. Why weren’t they included?
A renewed focus on general capabilities, including critical and creative thinking, is also recommended, this despite there being zero evidence that critical and creative thinking are at all general. They are, in fact, highly constrained to the domain in which a person must think critically or creatively. Just because you can think critically about the best way to attack the enemy in Call of Duty does not mean you can think critically about the reasons for the French Revolution. It is not a general skill, but the report does not acknowledge that.
Recommendations 9-15 for recommendation area 3 are particularly concerning for me as they relate directly to classroom practice. The report acknowledges the key role teachers play in student achievement, yet fails to realise that the fastest way to ensure a dip in student achievement and/or a mass exodus of teachers out of the profession is to move teachers away from their expertise. That’s what the report recommends here, calling for a shift away from “a 20th-century model” of education to a renewed focus on personalised learning for the 21st century:
“Shifting to an education model focused on attainment through maximising the learning growth of every student every year requires teachers to embrace changes to their planning, teaching and assessment practice. For example, they need to understand individual students’ starting points; create multi-streamed, differentiated lesson plans for each class; adjust their pedagogy to the different needs of individual students based on evidence about the most effective interventions; seek and act upon feedback from students and provide more nuanced reporting on assessments of students’ performance and the next steps in their learning; ensure their growth in learning is appropriate given the student’s potential; and identify ‘flight paths’ for where the student needs to be to maximise learning growth each year.” (my emphasis)
This is not the same as calling for teachers to get better year-on-year. There is a distinct difference between developing expertise and changing expertise altogether. It’s not a good idea to move teachers away from their expertise. How can we expect teachers to get better if we expect them to do that?
Perhaps what is most awful about this report is what is not included. No mention of direct instruction; no mention of the need for better phonics provision; no mention of the fundamental role knowledge plays in reading development and academic success. These are all key areas of debate that have been completely left out of the report in favour of vague, utopian progressive ideas.
Teachers better brace themselves for a rocky few years, it’s about to get weird.