The Review of BOSTES (Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW) commissioned by the NSW Minister for Education in March 2016 has been released. Mr Piccoli has accepted all of the recommendations. This will result in a name change with BOSTES becoming the NSW Education Standards Authority or, as the report details, “the Authority“.
An article in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday sensationalised aspects of the final report and the Minister acknowledged on Twitter that his choice of words were poor. I have read the detail now and think most of it, in the context of what we currently have in NSW, completely logical. There is much more to analyse and discuss than what can be explore in this blog post but many of the findings, especially when read in isolation or without other contextual knowledge about education in NSW, make a good deal of sense.
When one reads the report with teachers in mind there are a number of important acknowledgements of current issues. I will highlight a couple that are particularly significant for classroom practitioners. Recommendation 9 will interest teachers who have sought accreditation NSW schools since late 2003:
Many teachers have been frustrated with these formal processes and last week I personally endeavoured to have a course, that didn’t fit neatly in a box, formally registered. The managerialism of it all defeated me, at least temporarily. Assessment for Learning in STEM Teaching, with Dylan Wiliam, looks brilliant and of course, one can clock-up the non-registered hours but without regaling you with the detail, “simplifying existing processes” would be highly appreciated.
Recommendation 11 is also worth looking at closely:
The ARC (Assessment Resource Centre) website is a really good example of how we are neglecting students (and their teachers) by not providing better support materials. Reinvesting in curriculum support will be welcomed. In the rest of this post it will become abundantly clear to see where the educational reform dollar is being spent.
The educational landscape in NSW and Australia has changed in many ways over the last decade or so, although much remains the same. Children still arrive at schools and mostly move from class to class when the bell rings, study the same subjects that their parents/grandparents experienced and sit pen and paper exams. Most have a limited experience of technology or control over what they study for most of their school careers.
What has changed is that bureaucrats and administrators are very busy making plans, creating regulatory bodies and evaluating them. Educators have many acronyms to navigate. Most of it appears to make sense when viewed in isolation but as a whole it gives one pause for reflection. There is a constant quest for alignment of standards and processes which stubbornly refuse to work, even when there is the best of intentions, in the real world of students and schools.
Here’s a brief, incomplete overview and timeline of some of the more expensive, important or structural changes in the last few years:
- 1989 – NSW Department of School Education (first-ever name change from NSW Department of Education post-1880 Education Act)
- 1990 – Education Reform Act requires the NSW Board of Studies (established in the same year) to specify outcomes in syllabuses
- 1991-1993 – NSW syllabus advisory committees developed new outcomes-based syllabuses
- 1997 – NSW Department of Education and Training (name change)
- 2000 – NSW HSC (Higher School Certificate) reforms introduced in NSW for Stage 6
- 2004 – NSW Institute of Teachers established
- 2006 – LMBR (Learning Management Business Reform)
- 2008 – NAPLAN established
- 2008 – Digital Education Revolution
- 2009 – ACARA established
- 2010 – AITSL established
- 2010 – New school leaving age of 17 established
- 2010 – My School website lauched
- 2011 – NSW Department of Education and Communities (name change)
- 2011 – NSW School Certificate abolished
- 2011 – Review of Funding for Schooling (“Gonski”)
- 2011 – CEO of Pearson Australia placed on Expert Advisory Group for Digital Education
- 2012 – Great Teaching, Inspired Learning is the NSW Government’s plan to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the state’s schools
- 2012 – RoSA (Record of School Achievement) introduced
- 2012 – $1.7 billion education funding cut (see below)
- 2012 – Functional realignment – NSW school regions reduced from 10 to 4 with major staff cuts
- 2012 – Local Schools, Local Decisions (229 pilot schools)
- 2012 – Budget error acknowledged after major restructure leads to loss of literacy, numeracy and subject specialist consultants that supported schools
- 2013 – Pearson Australia contracted to deliver NAPLAN tests (previously this was done by the non-profit organisation, ACER)
- 2014 – BOSTES (Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW) established (name change and merger with the NSW Institute of Teachers)
- 2014 – Review of the National Curriculum commissioned by Federal Education Minister Pyne
- 2015 – NSW Department of Education (name change)
- 2015 – Performance and Development Framework implemented with teachers setting professional goals
- 2015 – Bridge Street Education State HQ sold off to become a luxury hotel rather than a hih school
- 2016 – Stronger HSC Standards reforms announced
- 2017 – NSW Education Standards Authority established (name change from BOSTES)
- 2017 – The first Year 9 where NAPLAN may establish their eligibility for a HSC by meeting the minimum literacy and numeracy standard (Band 8)
This is, by any measure, a great deal of reform, especially in the last five years. If we talk about measuring there has been, according to PISA and NAPLAN, no educational progress to show for the money or effort in Australia during this time. In fact, we are going backwards at a rate of knots. This is clearly politically and educationally unacceptable.
How could all this reform not be working? André Spicer, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Cass Business School, City University London and Mats Alvesson, Professor of Business Administration at Lund University have a few ideas that you may find interesting. The most damning commentary in their entire book suggests that “instead of focusing on the actual work process, schools spend most of their time on ceremonial activities. They develop plans, set up meetings, write reports, develop policy statements, prepare presentations and all the other things a ‘proper’ school is supposed to do”. The years roll by without any logical reconsideration of how all this actually helps educate children or improve the society it serves. Closer to home, highly respected educationalists like Professor Stephen Dinham, have made the point that:
“Australia has on average had one review of teacher education every year for the past 30 years…Each inquiry reaches much the same conclusions and makes much the same recommendations, yet little changes.”
Looking at the timeline above one certainly senses a concerted effort by senior educationalists and politicians to “do something” and one suspects there is a little desperation in it all. The events of 2012 are worth studying in some detail as major policy initiatives were introduced with unexpected funding cuts that led to major organisational disruption. There is a sense of inevitability about the loop where major initiatives are announced with no or reduced funding then a new report, several years down the track, recommends returning to what was previously in place but with significant tweaks in the language (ie literacy and numeracy ‘inspectors’ rather than ‘consultants’).
Teaching children and improving their educational outcomes requires a steady, consistent, collaborative approach. There are no silver bullets. There is a need for reform that is aligned with our societal values. I recommend re-reading the preamble to The Melbourne Declaration which stated these values (2008).
How do we measure educational attainment and improvement?
It is very clear from the Premier’s Priorities that improvement in literacy and numeracy will be measured by NAPLAN and 8% more students need to be moved into the “proficient” bands by 2019. In fact, if you consider now that Year 9 students may establish their eligibility for gaining a HSC by meeting the minimum literacy and numeracy standard (Band 8) from 2017 (see last point on the timeline above) and that very many schools have been listed for the “bump-it-up-strategy” would suggest a very determined approach to focus attention on achieving this goal. One hopes literacy and numeracy improves too.
ACARA, at the Senate References Committee on Education, Employment & Workplace Relations investigation of 2010 noted that “the main purpose of NAPLAN testing is: to identify whether all students have the literacy and numeracy skills and knowledge that provide the critical foundation for other learning and for their productive and rewarding participation in the community”.
Since then the FAQ has changed and now one can see:
NAPLAN is the measure through which governments, education authorities, schools, teachers and parents can determine whether or not young Australians have the literacy and numeracy skills that provide the critical foundation for other learning and for their productive and rewarding participation in the community.
The tests provide parents and schools with an understanding of how individual students are performing at the time of the tests. They also provide schools, states and territories with information about how education programs are working and which areas need to be prioritised for improvement.
In the SMH article from yesterday it is all made pretty clear:
Mr Alegounarias, who will become the part-time chair with a chief executive beneath him in the new structure, cited the highest achieving education jurisdictions globally as a target for NSW.
“It’s about setting our targets against international standards. How do we get to Shanghai, how do we get to Finland?”
Proof the reform has worked would be “a big bump” in the state’s NAPLAN results in the next few years, he said.
I know of no research or data that suggests this is how “Finland” got to where it is (in fact they took the opposite approach to Great Britain and the USA that NSW is following) but suspect that these targets will be met, the system aligned and our society in danger of being left a little educationally poorer in the effort.
Feature image: cover of BOSTES Review