I congratulate the Sydney
Morning Herald on its thoughtful,
rigorous and visionary research article
on a BluePrint for Education for Australia.
Clearly, a number of the suggested ways
forward are long term, and extremely costly
for our nation. They need to be considered
clearly and thoughtfully but soon, if
we are to make any changes which will
impact on society and our teachers.
I would particularly like to pick up
two issues raised in the article. The
first one was the issue of quality of
teaching. The second is the issue of school
reports and reporting to parents and the
community about the performance of a school
and its teachers. Clearly, these two issues
While increased salaries and conditions
for teachers, reduced class sizes and
changed structures within the teaching
profession are important considerations
when thinking of increasing the quality
of teaching, other issues are just as
important. The majority of teachers I
see are committed, dedicated and enthusiastic
people, passionate about teaching and
What they need, as well as a decent salary,
is relief from administrative tasks so
that they can concentrate on their teaching.
They also need time to plan and develop
relevant, meaningful and authentic resources
and programs. Thirdly, it is vital that
a strong constructive appraisal program
be put in place to celebrate their strengths
and help them to continue to grow and
develop as professionals.
What they don't need is homogenised school
reports listing doubtful statistics and
media produced leagues tables of school
results which are supposed to help members
of the community make judgements of the
relative educational worth of individual
schools. These are often meaningless,
and at times, dubious and misleading.
Leagues tables are much better understood
in England where they have been in place
for a number of years. It is said that
it is not unusual for schools there not
to enter weaker students for subjects
at all, or to encourage certain students
to be sick on the days of the tests, for
obvious reasons. At least one Grammar
School (ie not a private school in the
UK) near the top of the Leagues Tables
in England employs a full time statistician
to advise the Head on strategies to maximize
its ranking. Interestingly this school
did not do so well in the tables in earlier
years of operation of the tables. "Later,
when we understood how best to approach
them", in the words of the school
Head, "the school's ranking improved."
While the Leagues Tables were intended
to make visible under-performing teachers
and schools, the outcome has put schools
under pressure to "weed out"
weaker students, and sometimes to encourage
students to opt for less challenging subjects
to improve the school's ranking. This
will of course happen here if the system
makes such steps desirable.
The comparison of the performance of
schools is fiendishly difficult. For example,
some selective schools take only students
in the top 1 per cent of the population,
academically. Other comprehensive schools
take anyone (due to location, some are
even negatively selective, that is, they
don't get many bright ones at all). So
ranking schools without consideration
of the ability of the students entering
Year 7 is unfair and unreasonable. Compare
a school which takes a student in Year
7 who is performing at an average level,
say ranking at a 50 or 60, and help and
encourage them to get 80 with the school
of a student ranked in the top 1 per cent
of the population, who should presumably
get 99, but who manages to get say 91.
Which school deserves the most credit?
At SCEGGS, we worry about all our girls,
those at the very top of the academic
scale and those who are below it. We care
about what will be the best for each of
them - for their education now and for
their careers in the future. We plan their
education based on their needs, not on
what will look good for us in the press.
Excellent schools have always done this
and always will. We need all political
parties and indeed all the society to
support every school committed to that
goal, to do the best possible for the
full range of their students. We need
our political leaders to argue on the
basis of just measures, and to help the
media to report properly, not with dubious,
The question which should be asked of
any School, selective or comprehensive,
is: "Have its students done as well
or better/worse than the individuals'
potential six or even 13 years ago would
have led one to expect?"
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