Call Off The Bunfight

This was a standoff that was guaranteed to have no winners. Thank goodness a solution was found today, one that was engineered so that both parties had minimum egg on their respective faces.

I'm a union member but in this case I wasn't comfortable with the stance of refusing to administer the NAPLAN tests. I know that the mySchool website is narrow, flawed and open to all sorts of misuse abuse. But I still couldn't see how boycotting the tests which have been with us for a while now would actually bring a stubborn Education Minister to the table. But come she has, so I suppose the threat was effective. All I know it gave the vitriolic letter writers, article commenters  and soapbox editors a chance to once again chastise teachers for refusing to bow to the greater political wisdom, to show how out of touch with the "real world" they are and how terrified they are of being accountable.

For me, this article takes the cake for pomposity and probably illustrates the problem so many educators have with the over-valuation of once a year tests.

It is no accident NSW schools dominate the list. The history premier, Bob Carr, ensured there was a substantial reformation of the NSW years 7 to 10 curriculum. The result was a content and skills-based curriculum rather than a process-based one. It is also no accident that NSW private schools are the high-flyers.

Well, if you ignore process altogether, then it is no surprise that schools taking this path might do well on tests that can only measure content and skills. But if this new working party can look at ways to stop this league table garbage, maybe we can ensure that an education that values process, content, skills and understanding is the end result. That this article was written by a teacher makes me shake my head in wonderment. I'd have hoped for a more enlightened viewpoint that can take in a broader perspective of Australian education.

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8 thoughts on “Call Off The Bunfight

  1. Bill Kerr

    hi graham,

    Well, the role of the union is to look after teachers and the reforms required for real improvement would rock that boat too much, so I can see why the union decided not to follow through. The role of the government is to improve education (well not really, their chosen role is to wedge teachers against public so as to be re-elected) and their failure here might be more to do with incompetence than anything else. Harder to say. A good starting point for a real discussion could be Brian Caldwell’s articles on how Rudd-Gillard are performing on ten strategies which he sees are required to improve things. Some of his strategies would never be contemplated by the union, hence my first sentence above. A couple of Caldwell links:
    Education revolution fails grade
    Strategic commentary on policy in education (pdf but only 2pp)

  2. Graham Wegner

    Hi Bill, I understand why you made that statement about the role of unions. I suppose it reveals my inner conservatism when I stay as a member just in case I need some form of protection at some stage in my career. It is definitely true that the AEU isn’t all that interested in education reform – that could severely erode their membership base – as can be seen by their positions in the past towards things like the provision of laptops to South Australian teachers. Something about increasing teacher workload…
    I do think that the politicians have a pretty narrow view of where education is heading and like many of the letter writers to the Advertiser and commenters on AdelaideNow are extremely influenced by their own experiences within the schooling system. They struggle to imagine things much differently from how they are now. With the union, their survival as an institution relies on keeping things that way too.
    In this case of NAPLAN and MySchool, I personally feel a bit powerless at the moment and the post was meant to reflect that. Thanks for the links as well – some informative reading for later tonight.

  3. Bill Kerr

    hi graham,
    I posted the Caldwell links because he does have a coherent plan to improve things, unlike the government or union. Caldwell’s plan can be argued about for sure. I’m not saying I agree with every point he makes or the emphasis, although I think a lot of it is good. The point I’m making is that you need to start with something like his plan and then ask what is it that makes the government and union such duds? You’re not the only one who feels powerless but some clarity of what is happening below the surface might help.

    Noel Pearson has an article in The Australian today which throws some light on why Labour is weak on education policy (ironically misnamed “education revolution”). He points out that Howard had a conscious policy of encouraging drift over from government to private schools, well yes, we remember that. When Julia Gillard brought in the BER (Building the Education Revolution, that phony word again) the money was distributed evenly between public and private schools. You have to ask why. A real revolution would directly aid the disadvantaged, right? Pearson answers that if Labour did that then it would leave itself open to a charge from the Coalition that Labour is anti-Private school. And Rudd’s Labour is not prepared to risk that. There we go, it’s all about positioning to win the next election and has very little to do with improving education where it really needs improvement, at all. Pearson’s article:
    Education reform lies buried under the morass

  4. Graham Wegner

    Having gone to read your article links, I do recall remembering reading the Caldwell article before (maybe you linked to it from your blog recently?) but Noel Pearson’s was a good summary of how the BER is another example of poorly focussed government planning. What would make for interesting reading (and it shouldn’t be too hard to find on the web somewhere) is an insider’s description of the Finnish education system.

  5. rob

    the author of that Australian article, teaches, according to google, at Trinity Grammar in Melbourne.

    ie teaches the most privileged kids in the country

    and wants to make out that ‘The top schools in The Weekend Australian’s did not get there by accident or some kind of statistical lottery.’

    no – background had a lot to do with it

    he’s also the author of such gems as

    “We don’t need to wait until next year’s World Teachers Day to celebrate professional teachers who put children first. Nor to expose the freeloaders, phonies, self-centred strikers and white-collar wannabes with blue-collar values who are not fit to be in a classroom.”

    some sort of class warfare going on there?

    (you can google the quotes etc if you want the references – more polemic about how good teachers are just good, and ignore the context etc)

  6. Bill Kerr

    hi rob,

    Noel Pearson is director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, he is a well known leader of the most disadvantaged people in Australia. If you are really interested in his views have a read of some of his articles, speeches and position papers at CYI institute. A good place to start would be his Charles Perkins Memorial oration on the human right to misery, mass incarceration and early death delivered by Noel Pearson to The University of Sydney, McLaurin Hall, 2001 ( and scroll down for download, it’s long but worth the effort)

  7. Graham Wegner

    Just to be clear here, in his comment, rob is referring to the author of the linked and quoted article in the post – a Christopher Bantick, who “is a Melbourne writer and a senior English teacher.” The article which he invites us to Google interestingly has this same author selectively quoting Noel Pearson to make his point…


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