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Leading transformational change in schools
In today’s Age, Shaun Carney wrote:
For those Webdiarists who may be interested, Ms Gillard’s speech appears below.
Leading Transformational Change in Schools
Let me start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of this land the Wurundjeri people.
Today we take another big step along the path to better Australian schools.
We have some leading Australian educators here who are going to give us the benefit of their experience.
And of course, our special guest is the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, Joel Klein.
I first met Joel in
You have to admire the dedication of someone who deliberately located a school in his education department building so that every bureaucrat every day heard the sound of kid’s voices. And you have to admire the relentless reform dedication of someone who is prepared to say that putting a bright light on a problem is the best way to get it fixed.
In this country, this isn’t the first time in recent years that a Federal government has said it wants to promote change in our schools.
We’ve had a lot of tinkering; a few vague ideas have been run up the flagpole and we’ve put up a lot of flag poles.
But today we’re leaving the piecemeal approach of the past behind and going further.
As Education Minister, I want nothing short of transformational change in
Let’s be honest. Current achievement levels are simply not good enough in too many schools.
Too many students from disadvantaged backgrounds are clustered in a small number of schools, with low expectations and low rates of achievement.
Our participation and attainment rates at Year 12 have plateaued for the last decade or more at around 75 per cent.
And as a result, a child from a working class family is only half as likely as a child from a high income family to go on to tertiary study.
This level of failure is not acceptable,
It leaves too many of our children entering adulthood ill-equipped for the needs of the contemporary workforce and society.
This makes it a huge economic and moral failure on our part.
Turning this around won’t be easy.
But abandoning a situation as hopeless does nothing but reinforce a culture of despair and underperformance.
Joel Klein’s efforts in
He has demonstrated that change has to be systematic, that it has to focus unrelentingly on quality improvement and that we must demand high standards of achievement from every student no matter how disadvantaged.
This is our challenge.
We need to work together and we should share three goals:
IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF TEACHING
First, let’s start with teaching because better teaching is the absolute precondition for improving our schools.
I have nothing but the most profound respect for the many talented and hardworking teachers in our schools.
Respect for teachers is not in doubt. It’s because of our profound respect for teachers that we want to give them greater support.
So I want to say to all of the teachers in
RAISING STANDARDS IN DISADVANTAGED SCHOOLS
Second, we have to raise standards in disadvantaged school communities.
Over the last decade we have seen too little change for the better and too much change for the worse in our most disadvantaged school communities.
We have some schools that succeed against the odds.
But these schools are still too rare.
We now need to work together to move beyond the days of the wonderful exception and create a new norm of high achievement even in the most disadvantaged schools.
This will demand more from all of us. More from teachers, more from principals, more from education departments and I acknowledge more resources from government.
GREATER TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Third, we need a commitment to transparency and accountability.
It’s my strong view that lack of transparency both hides failure and helps us ignore it. It feeds a culture where all the adults involved – the teachers, the principals, the community leaders and the members of parliament – avoid accountability. And lack of transparency prevents us from identifying where greater effort and investment are needed.
Importantly, transparency and accountability are overwhelmingly supported by parents.
Last month my department, with input from the Australian Council of State School Organisations, conducted a major survey of parents’ attitudes about the information they want from schools.
The results are startling.
96.9 per cent of parents in all school systems agreed that important information relating to school activities and performance should be made available to parents.
This included information about:
83.2 per cent of respondents thought that such information should be made publicly available with the highest proportion of positive respondents being from government schools.
What this shows is that parents are hungry for information about how they can help their own children to learn better, both at home and at school. And that they understand the importance of information for producing systematic school improvement.
Much information is already produced by schools and by different school systems.
But after a year as the national Education Minister, I absolutely know that the full range of information we need to be at our fingertips and at the fingertips of parents and teachers is not there.
I know that national testing is controversial. And I know that publishing information about student test performance out of context can be misleading.
But there is a basic principle which, for many different reasons, we have not grasped in Australian schooling up to now.
The principle is that, where information exists about the nature of students’ learning, it is not appropriate that it should be held by some – professionals and administrators – and not available to the wider community.
We need a revolution in transparency.
I absolutely reject the proposition that somehow I am smart enough to understand information and parents and community members are somehow too dumb.
I therefore absolutely reject the idea that rich performance information about schools should be confidential to government and denied to the parents of children in schools and the taxpayers who fund schools.
Our revolution in transparency must extend to understanding the resources put in to education and the difference those resources make.
Right now a fear campaign is being run about transparency on funding, a fear campaign stoking the old fires of the public/private divide.
This fear campaign should be viewed for what it is – the last gasp of those who think education policy in this country is a sterile debate between school systems about who wins and who loses.
Transparency about resources isn’t about the politics of envy. Rather, transparency about resources is the tool which will better able us to understand what difference resources make to educational outcomes.
A NATIONAL AGENDA FOR REFORM
The next step of our Education Revolution begins now.
The Council of Australian Government meets on Saturday to finalise the new National Education Agreement together with new National Partnerships on teacher quality, improving disadvantaged school and literacy and numeracy.
And the Schools Assistance Bill, which stands as a companion to the new National Education Agreement and will provide $28 billion to non-government schools over the next four years, must also pass the Australian Parliament by the end of the fortnight.
Together the new agreements and the Bill will mean every jurisdiction will sign up to transparency and accountability for the same measures of achievement, from the readiness to learn of our youngest children to attainment at year 12 and its equivalent. A comprehensive framework of this kind is unprecedented in
Every school, government or non-government, wherever it is located, whatever its ethos, will provide information about its performance in national tests and other crucial areas of schooling as part of a national system that will help to put the information in its proper context.
Every school, regardless of its sector or location, will make transparent the amounts and types of income it receives, in order that the whole community can gain a better understanding of the relationship between resourcing and performance through the operation of genuine public accountability.
In this new era of transparency, parents and community members will be able to compare schools in the local community and their own school with schools with similar student populations around the country.
If schools with similar populations are showing vastly different results then that isn’t about the kids. Rather it is explained by the teaching, school leadership or resourcing. That means it is about factors we, the adults, can fix so the children in the under-achieving school get a better education.
To those who oppose transparency the message is clear. The Rudd Government is absolutely determined to achieve this reform for
And the Rudd Government will work through COAG to agree and implement ambitious reforms through National Partnerships on teacher quality, improving disadvantaged school and literacy and numeracy.
The Rudd Government is prepared to invest half a billion dollars facilitating and rewarding reform at every stage of a teaching career.
Reform to attract the best by creating new ways of entering teaching.
Reform to offer new support for the development and leadership of our teachers.
Reform to establish new national professional standards for teachers which allow them to progress through their careers towards ‘highly accomplished’ status.
For disadvantaged school communities, we will go to the Council of Australian Governments offering new resources for a new partnership to execute targeted improvement strategies in specific disadvantaged schools and communities.
What needs to be done will vary from place to place.
It may mean rewarding accomplished teachers to work in the most difficult schools.
It may mean developing an extended or full service school offer, where breakfast clubs and after-school activities combine to offer children from chaotic homes or homes without a focus on achievement, extra learning opportunities and encouragement to pursue their studies in a structured and supportive environment.
It may mean bringing partnerships with other services – health, careers, policing – to address issues which can disrupt learning and prevent young people from fulfilling their potential.
In literacy and numeracy, we will work with school systems and school leaders to invest $557 million in a national action plan which targets resources at proven methods to boost literacy and numeracy across the board and especially among those students who are currently slipping furthest behind.
Let me conclude by saying we have an opportunity to build a new national effort and permanently change the expectations we have for Australian schooling.
Like Chris Sarra, Brett New and Michael O’Brien from
And Joel Klein has shown what can be achieved in
Drawing on that spirit we have to say what is good for the best of schools is good for the whole nation.
As a nation we have to say we will no longer tolerate an education system that under-achieves.
We will no longer turn a blind eye to results that say in our nation if you are a poor kid you are likely to fail at school.
Instead we must resolve to transform our schools. We will demand change that delivers results, that sustains the effort to raise achievement for every student, that recognises disadvantage as a reason for underperformance but refuses to accept it as an excuse for failure.
Together, I am confident that we can succeed and deliver