In a powerful critique of institutional schooling, Pink Floyd once sang the lyric “we don’t need no education”. As an educator, I cannot endorse the sentiments of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In the Wall, but I do share the conviction that schooling needs to change.
This can’t be done one brick at a time; in fact, there’s a need to tear down the wall, Berlin-style. It’s up to all of us, including education professionals, to rebuild our education system to better serve the needs of each and every school community.
There are currently several major reports that look at the architecture of our national education policy. These include Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools (better known as the Gonski 2.0 Report); Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education; Lifting Our Game: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools through Early Childhood Interventions and Optimising STEM Industry-School Partnerships: Inspiring Australia’s Next Generation. The Australian Curriculum, the COAG Agreement that must be signed by the end of this year and the Melbourne Declaration provide further food for thought for reformers.
It’s disappointing to see some poorly-informed pundits pooh-poohing these contributions to the debate on the grounds of “political correctness”. Yet I want to acknowledge upfront the level of skepticism among teachers about bureaucratic blueprints for reform.
Education leaders, myself included, must recognise that real-world change in schools will never come from the top down. That’s why I’m passionate about reshaping schooling from the bottom up.
I genuinely commend the collective commitment to excellence and equity in education evidenced in this literature. However, as politicians and pen-pushers busy themselves trying to get across the detail of these documents, school leaders and students are wearing the consequences of systemic failure.
In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago coins a cracking phrase that is powerfully dismissive of the views of non-practitioners, labelling another character a “bookish theoric”.
My secondary English teacher training leads me to be far more hesitant in disregarding those whose views are somewhat academic. However, I believe that we need to engage deeply with the purpose and practicality of implementation of these reports.
Amid the sound and fury of the current conversation about school that is raging in the national media, I encourage every educator to get to know the Gonski 2.0 Report. I mean really get to know it, not in a CliffsNotes kind of a way. Read beyond the estimable executive summary, absorb the spirit of the thing and the research that informs it. Go beyond the 23 key recommendations and 17 findings. And most importantly, don’t just look for the bits that support your current practice, but seek the sections that provide a challenge.
As the leader of a system of 80 schools in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, the challenge of Gonski 2.0 calls me to reflect on the scaffolds that administrators provide to support change.
For starters, we’ve got to support teachers through meaningful professional development, by rethinking resourcing, making sure that teachers’ daily responsibilities are focused on learning and wellbeing as well as shifting the compliance and governance burden at a school level. I’d be the first to admit that there’s much more to be done on these fronts, including to support staff across our system.
I think there’s another challenge for all of us in how we hear student voices in the national discussion about education. Schooling is something we should be doing with young people, not at them or to them.
Although the concern for the education and wellbeing of Australian children and young people figures strongly in each of the reports listed in this article, students themselves are rarely engaged in the debate and even less often consulted in a formal sense. Students and their families should always be seen as stakeholders in schooling; we’re all in this together!
Though governments create the regulatory and funding frameworks that support change, and school authorities scale these conditions, it’s those who people schools who have the power to make it real for their communities.
There used to be an old school prayer that said “many hands build a house but many hearts make a school”. The real challenge in the implementation of Gonski 2.0 and other education reforms is to win the hearts that make up school communities across Australia.