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The classroom - where teachers and pupils get together

By Phil Cullen - posted Thursday, 8 April 2010

Q. Is Australia really failing to encourage reasonable standards of schooling?

A. Yes. It is; and things will get worse. That’s for sure.

Q. How come?


A. It keeps copying the fix-it, quick-time, packaged culture of its dominant “friends”, the US and UK. It used to copy the better aspects of schooling from parts of these decentralised systems when they were run by schoolies. Then business interests took them over.

Since the time of Governor Phillip, Australians have thought that they are unable to develop an indigenous Aussie system of real learning and achievement - hence the copy-catting. The root problem is that, in all three places, there is a prevailing business belief that someone with a PhD in anything knows everything; and can run anything.

This belief was the forte of business modellers who took over political thinking circa 1990. They believed that the better one was at passing university examinations, the better one was at leading large corporations and government enterprises. “Plumbers started to run garages” in Local Education Authorities (LEAs) in England and School Boards in the US from the early 1990s, so we followed suit. New York provides the classic model of what not to follow, but we did just the same. Finland and high-achieving countries believed in themselves and deliberately ignored the copy-cat routines. The answer is that simple.

Q. Well, what should Australia do then to get kids to learn more and better.

A. It’s a pity that we cannot turn the clock back to 1990. That was the defining year when management theorists and business modellers tossed the baby out, when all they had to do was change the nappy. For instance, those who supervised the standards of all school subjects were made redundant in that year. We called them Inspectors. Instead of placing such people with wide hard-yard experience and proven academic ability in positions of influence, we introduced the Patel system of appointment to positions of higher authority. A practical background did not count. If one impressed job interviewers using some thespian skills and had an academic background of some sort, the job was theirs. Plumbers, well qualified ones of course, took over the garage and this has lasted for 20 years. Is it any wonder that the answer to the original question is “Yes”?

But in answer to the particular question, we could develop an administrative model that starts from the classroom level. That’s where our children and their teachers get together. That’s where the action is. What happens there determines what sort of country Australia becomes. Think about it. It hasn’t been tried anywhere south of Finland yet; but Australia certainly has the knowledge and expertise in its working ranks to design and operate a model that focuses on achievement in ALL the things that our down-under society believes to be important.


Q. That’s airy-fairy wishful thinking, isn’t it?

A. On the contrary. In each room there is a group of pupils (“students” being a silly name to use in a school context) who interact with an adult to develop a learning expertise that will last them forever. That’s what “pupilling” means. Teachers are trained to do “it” better than others. They pupil learnacy. It’s not an age-related thing, being a pupil with a teacher; but young pupils are forced to attend a school for ten years or more so it applies to them in particular. Each day for them is intense, as it should be; and needs to be well planned and well resourced.

Before you ask, yes, fundamental learnings are crucial. They are the building blocks of personal learning/evaluation, which can include appropriate tests, shared with a friendly and helpful adult. Evaluation is an essential part of learning and shared evaluation is a concept yet to be explored on the local front. Evaluation for learning purposes is very personal.

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About the Author

Phil Cullen is a teacher. His website is here: Primary Schooling.

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