A glimmer of hope?

Mark Northam
Assistant Secretary

The Productivity Commission released the draft report of the National Education Evidence Base on 6 September 2016. In its report the Productivity Commission has made five draft findings, 13 draft recommendations and five requests for information.

With the Productivity Commission conducting this inquiry the report is written from a monetary perspective and the “overarching policy objective (of the national education evidence base) is to improve education outcomes in a cost effective manner”.

The report is also written from a view that Australian schools are not performing well – “without improving and applying evidence to policy making and teaching in schools and classrooms, there is a substantial risk that increased resourcing of schools will continue to deliver disappointing outcomes”.

Despite these underlying tones the draft report acknowledges that in attempting to achieve excellence and equity in its national education system, Australia’s governments have increased investment in education and concentrated on implementing “reforms focused on monitoring, performance benchmarking and reporting against national standards”. And like other countries that have used similar reforms the results have been disappointing and there is now “a growing consensus that increased resourcing and an accountability focus, alone, are insufficient to achieve gains in education outcomes”.

The Productivity Commission found to improve outcomes these ‘topdown’ monitoring reforms need to be complemented with ‘bottom-up’ evaluation of what works best in education policies, programs and teaching practices. There is a realisation that “measuring and monitoring performance does not automatically lead to insights as to what policy and practice can do to help students to learn better, teachers to teach better, and schools to operate more effectively”.

The Productivity Commission also agreed with the IEU submission that considerable effort and resources are already allocated to collect data about the early childhood education and care (ECEC) and school sectors. It found that the potential of these collections is not being fully realised with many challenges including privacy, prior consent, unique student identifiers, data quality and costs still to be resolved.

New company

The Productivity Commission report may seek to create a new independent statutory authority or company (that could be located inside an existing institution) to be responsible and accountable for the education evidence base.

In terms of implications for members vigilance will be required. Further submissions were being accepted in early October with public hearings occurring in Sydney and Melbourne later in October, especially in relation to privacy matters – if certain data is determined to be in the public interest for research purposes.

In terms of the IEU’s upcoming Catholic systemic campaign the collection, analysis and recording of data will be an issue. Members consistently report that data in all its manifestations links to work intensification. The Union will be calling for an audit of data to determine its efficacy. The protection of teaching and learning in an era of data driven educational change is paramount.

Formative assessment strategies devised and interpreted via teacher professional judgement can largely displace an over reliance on formal ongoing testing and consequent generation of data.

The debate concerning an over reliance on data driven education is captured in the most recent Griffith Review. GJ Stroud explains that: “I’m rarely required to ‘teach’ anymore. Apparently I’m more valuable as an assessor, an examiner, a data collector. I have had to dull my once engaging lesson sequences. Now I must begin by planning the assessment, consider how students will show what they’ve learnt and predetermine what they are going to learn. Nothing can be left to chance. It is mechanical and rigid and driven. Brightly coloured spontaneity fortified with professional judgement has been replaced with black and white standardisation and a judicious critique of every child’s work”.

The Productivity Commission report does provide a glimmer of hope for valuing teacher professional judgement when it stipulates that “monitoring, performance benchmarking and reporting against national standards” of themselves has not resulted in enhanced outcomes. Supporting teachers in the classroom and needs based funding will.