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The new national school evidence institute – lost in review

By Scott Prasser - posted Thursday, 5 December 2019

The Commonwealth received the Gonski Review to Achieve Education Excellence in Australian Schools in April 2018 and accepted one of its key recommendations to establish an ‘evidence institute’ to “coordinate the strategic development of national research and evidence … to improve student outcomes.”

Eighteen months later, we are still waiting for details.

Despite the ‘evidence institute’ enjoying bipartisan support and being included in the National School Reform Agreement signed by all states and territories and operational since the beginning of this year, nothing has happened.


We still do not know exactly what the institute will do, who will run it, its governance, whether it is a wholly Commonwealth body or one of those bureaucratic federal-state ones. Nor do we have any idea of its budget, who pays what and for how long. Nor how any of its proposals will make it to the classroom.

What has the Commonwealth and its Department of Education been doing?

The sole observable action appears to be what can only be described as a furtive review established in August to “identify options for, and make recommendations on, the most effective and efficient institutional and governance arrangements which will support implementation of the eight national policy initiatives in the National School Reform Agreement.” – one of which as highlighted, includes, “an independent national evidence institute.”

The crucial question is exactly where will the new ‘evidence institute’ fit into existing “national architecture for schooling in Australia” and its functions?.

That architecture currently involves the joint federal-state Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), the wholly-owned Commonwealth Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) and the commercial Education Services Australia (ESA).

There is currently much jockeying between these existing institutional players as to whom might earn the ‘evidence institute’ prize and the resources and potential influence it promises to bring.


Moreover, unlike the many other reviews into education past and present, this review into the national school architecture is plagued by some peculiarities.

First, it is being made under the auspices of the Education Council (a collection of Commonwealth and state and territory education ministers) rather than the Federal Education Minister — which seems odd, given the federal origin of the Gonski Review into Education Excellence, its proposal for an evidence institute and that the Commonwealth will probably end up paying most of its costs.

Second, its establishment was not accompanied by any public statement by the Education Council or ministerial press release concerning its terms of reference or membership. Outside the formal Commonwealth-state education bureaucratic machinery, key parts of the education community knew nothing or little about the review. So much for stakeholder consultation.

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This article was first published in the Canberra Times.

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About the Author

Dr Scott Prasser has worked on senior policy and research roles in federal and state governments. His recent publications include:Royal Commissions and Public Inquiries in Australia (2021); The Whitlam Era with David Clune (2022) and the edited New directions in royal commission and public inquiries: Do we need them?. His forthcoming publication is The Art of Opposition reviewing oppositions across Australia and internationally. .

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