More money is being pumped into Australian schools than ever before but the country is going backwards in the international academic rankings.
“Our goal should be to be heading in the precisely the opposite direction,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Sydney today.
“There’s a lot riding on this.”
The report, commissioned by the Federal Government and prepared by a panel headed by businessman David Gonski, said student outcomes must go beyond meeting age or year-based expectations, focusing instead on progressive hurdles in each subject.
It calls for a greater focus on literacy and numeracy in early education and an urgent inquiry into the teaching and assessment of year 11 and 12 students.
There’s also a raft of recommendations to support teachers, including the development of an online tool to track student progress and suggest individualised supports.
“If we get it wrong, presumably we stay where we are, which is not good enough,” Gonski told reporters.
“If we can get these tools to the teachers – our teachers who are talented and by the way equipped, and we want to equip them better both with time and obviously backing – we’ll be able to shoot for the stars.”
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said not only were more students performing at a lower level, but fewer were performing at a very advanced level.
Teachers needed the tools and the time to ensure students reached their maximum abilities, rather than “bowling down the middle” in managing their classrooms, he said.
“We have far too many cruising or coasting students at schools in Australia where kids go along and aren’t necessarily extended as much as they could be during the course of the year,” Birmingham said.
“So it’s about how do we actually not just lift our tail of performance but also get more high achievers and turn more B grade students into A grade students.”
Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said there was nothing particularly objectionable or new in the panel’s recommendations.
“The most depressing thing about the report is that so many of these things were underway until Christopher Pyne became education minister and dumped the reforms, saying that they were just red tape,” Plibersek told reporters.
Federal, state and territory education ministers will meet on Friday to be briefed by Gonski.
The Federal Government has given in-principle support to his 23 recommendations.
Birmingham is hopeful an agreement can be negotiated this year, allowing changes to be implemented from 2019.
The Australian Education Union believes the report does not go far enough in addressing resource shortages facing public schools.
“If the Turnbull government thinks that this report and its recommendations will be a distraction from the critical issue of funding, then they are wrong,” AEU president Correna Haythorpe said.
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