If Australia genuinely wants to continually enhance the nature and standard of its schooling and move to the fore internationally it is imperative it advocate the appointment at schools small and large of principals who can successfully lead ever-evolving digital schools operating increasingly in the networked mode.

Mal Lee posted The Principal and the Digital School at his blog today. I read it – via Reeder – on the train home from working with my English Method students at the University of Wollongong but suspect that Mal’s target audience, ‘the dead hands’, will miss it completely. It would be difficult to argue with the quote, extracted from his post, above.

I would argue that Mal’s focus should fall on some other key players in education, not just principals, who are ‘operating in an Industrial Age mindset’. Yes, he does mention ‘bureaucratic micro management’ while speaking fondly of ‘mavericks – rebelling against the system to do what is best’ but there is a complete lack of acknowledgment that school principals (in NSW) are being judged by how well their students play the game that is the pen and paper based regurgitation in HSC exams and very public data generated by NAPLAN testing. If the system establishes certain rules of engagement it is hardly surprising that ‘industrial mindsets’ continue. I do wish more principals would speak out like a retiring Regional Director several years ago who said the biggest educational problem in this state was the HSC.

Unfortunately Mr Lee currently has commenting disabled which is one of the reasons I have written this post. I emailed Mal about this previously but unfortunately he has not enabled the conversation at his blog (which I hope he fixes soon as it is symbolically and practically not good). I do hope his post is read widely though, it makes some important and provocative points. *UPDATE: Mal has now enabled comments.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by datruss

In a period of constant political and media babble about educational reform very little is effectively happening in systems to truly address the gargantuan social changes our societies have experienced. The reality is that 16 year olds commence their senior studies in Year 11 doing what their parents and grandparents did, preparing to write fast in exams. The truth is that technology may be used to assist students prepare for these tests or even, if they’re lucky, be used for school-based assessment tasks but is not needed at all (except to get your results by SMS at the end of the process). The Australian Curriculum will make no difference to this HSC system that rules education in our state.


To continue on our this educational trajectory of faux reform is quite clearly dangerous for our society in an era of global competition. I’ll say it again, students, regardless of how educrats re-organise systems, will still be completing pen and paper exams a the end of this year with no plan to update our education systems with any sense of reality about the world we all live in. Where is the genuine reform, educational and political leadership?

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by THEMACGIRL*

Regular readers of this blog will have read many posts on similar themes, the need for savvy educators and educrats – who can lead change in the classroom, school and system(s) – over the last six years. ‘The Clay Layer’ from 2009 is one of my personal favourites. My point at that time was that:

Systems seem to have some inbuilt, organic way of slowing change – preserving the status quo – and even when the paradigm shift is acknowledged, key players seem unable to generate the enthusiasm or traction to make it happen.

and in the era of faux reform, the same still applies. All is not lost though. Marshall McLuhan, the most quotable of thinkers, gives us some cause for hope.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by ransomtech

Featured Image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by shawnzrossi: http://flickr.com/photos/shawnzlea/1677870719/



    • Paul

    • 11 years ago

    Interesting! I liked both the original post and your response but there’s something in it that doesn’t click for me. Lee’s post might be seen by some as provocative but it’s only really stating what has been said for years. Likewise we have had reforms (globally, not just in NSW) for decades and there seems to be so little change. Given the vast quantities of time and money thrown at them I would hesitate to call them “faux” but misguided, deliberately or by accident would be reasonable.

    If we’re taking this seriously then the key question has to be not why are some principals below par but why is this system so resistant to change? You’ve touched on this but change will only come when the system is aligned for it. Why is the education system so conservative? Speaking closer to home, why does Australia have some of the best ideas and poorest implementations in education (not my words, a prof of Ed in Tasmania around 1990!). I’m going to venture that our issues stem not from reform but a failure to understand how reform works. So few of the recent change texts venture into the realm of micropolitics. The only quality researcher I know in this field is Stephen Ball whose analyses of UK reform are spot on IMHO.

    That, of course, may be another post!

      • Darcy Moore

      • 11 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Paul.

      It is definitely faux reform and the post is intentionally provocative imho. I challenge you to find (m)any similar pieces about principals from the last 12 months of articles in the mainstream media.

      Can you post some links or other detail about Stephen Ball’s work?

    • Andrew CS

    • 11 years ago

    Many teachers are resitatnt to change – they see no need to change something that is working ‘well’. Only two months ago my colleague told me the current system was excellent for producing quality students. This person still feels that calculators are pandering to the lazy student.
    Many current teachers learnt -successfully- in the current pen and paper system. They forget how many did not learn in that system and bemoan the current generation.
    21st century tech gives those that think an equal footing with those who are good at rote learning.

  1. You’ve identified an important constraint “judging students in the “pen and paper based regurgitation” expected in HSC exams and the growing preoccupation with NAPLAN testing. While these processes remain it’s difficult to innovate in a sustained and enduring manner. The requirements of the HSC in particular trickles down into middle school. Too many colleagues seem to feel that unless there’s a pen and paper assessment at the end of the year then students are being ill prepared. On a day to day basis this finds expression in simplistic worksheets and the use of digital technology as a way of keeping an electronic notebook rather than a powerful tool for research, creativity, communication, collaboration and originality. There’s often little effective cultivation of digital information literacy or project based learning, In my own field there is often an over dependence on text books and a tendency to eschew constructivist and connectivist pedagogy. The overall impact is a tendency for “school knowledge” to stand in the place of contemporary global knowledge

      • Darcy Moore

      • 11 years ago

      The “…tendency for “school knowledge” to stand in the place of contemporary global knowledge…” is what concerns me too. It just seems so obvious and we lack the will to change our safe, dangerous systems. Sugata Mitra’s most recent TED talk has a good analysis of the reasons why: http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html

  2. The sooner the HSC is dumped the better. It has changed little since 1976. It does not meet the needs of that ever increasing cohort of students that once departed school at the conclusion of Year 10. They struggle with the gargantuan and almost prehistoric carcass that is the HSC. The HSC is an artefact of a bygone era. Time to kill it off.

    If parents and/or principals want an examination at the end of Year 12 then offer the IB as an option.

    I wonder how the current crop of Year 11 students will manage when they attempt the HSC in 2014? They are the first cohort not to undertake the School Certificate. The HSC will be their first and probably last major external examination.

    Dumping the School Certificate has liberated teaching in Years 9 and 10. Dumping the HSC can have a similar impact in Years 11 and 12 in NSW.

    Russell is right. The rules and assessment regulations of the HSC have trickled down to Years 7 to 10 with assessment schedules, penalties, submission receipts, complicated policies, meaningless outcomes, concrete deadlines, and other bureaucratic idiocies.

    On a pragmatic level dumping the HSC will also save the NSW Stage Government millions of dollars each year. Spend the money on something more useful in education.

      • Carlaleeb

      • 11 years ago

      You have hit the nail on the head for me John and Russell .

      Back in the classroom after 14 months out -I have a Year 11 English class who did not have SC last year . My lesson prep has not only changed but become a constant challenge in terms of meeting the skill and content demands for HSC success and facilitating engaging relevant lessons . The students are strangers, with a disconnect, to the type of assessment we are preparing them for in the HSC . We need to rectify this disconnect ASAP .

      If differentiation has become the new but obviously recycled buzzword of the NSW Syllabus for the NC , then we have some work to do …..

      Fantastic post Darcy .

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