Working together we can change our children's future
'More money isn't the whole answer, but it's certainly a key part.' Photo: Virginia Star
IF THERE is one thing we can take from the latest international school testing results (''Australia's disaster in education'', The Age, 12/12), it's that we need to work together and rise to the challenge of improving our performance.
In the wake of these sobering stats, education writers and experts have been quick to point out what they think makes the difference: it's parents, it's the teachers, it's the universities, it's not teaching phonics, it's not learning science or it's a broken funding model.
There is some truth in all these points. We know that children walk through the school gate brimming with the influences of their home life, and that parents taking an interest in their education is a key element of future success.
And we know that to get a quality education in school there are some essential ingredients: high expectations for every child, excellent teaching, a high-quality curriculum, strong and focused school leadership and 21st-century facilities, supported by a funding model that directs resources where they are needed most.
We should remember that the testing reported this week took place in 2010 and that since then the Gillard government has focused on implementing quality reforms in these areas.
For example, the tests were conducted before the rigorous national curriculum was introduced, with the inclusion of phonics and science in the primary years.
They took place before we finalised the first National Professional Standards for Teachers and National Professional Standards for Principals, and agreed on the national certification process for Highly Accomplished and Lead teachers.
Since 2010 our Smarter Schools investment of $2.5 billion has started turning around results in poorer communities, targeting teacher quality and funding programs in literacy and numeracy. In the same year we established the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership to help teachers improve their skills. And since this testing, we've begun the biggest reform to our education system with the Gonski Review, the National Plan for School Improvement and further investment in national partnerships. Our National Plan for School Improvement will introduce measures nationally that evidence shows will deliver better results.
Under the National Plan there will be higher entry requirements for the teaching profession to ensure students are being taught by our best and brightest, and student teachers will have more practical classroom experience before they graduate.
New teachers will have extra time to plan their lessons, and receive mentoring by more experienced teachers during their first two years in the job.
Teachers will get extra training in managing disruptive behaviour and bullying, so bad behaviour is dealt with and every child in the classroom has a chance to learn.
Teachers will have an annual performance review and will be trained to meet the national professional teaching standards.
Principals and school leaders will have more say over decisions such as selecting the best staffing mix or deciding on budget priorities.
Every school will have its own improvement plan, developed in consultation with parents and setting out what steps they will take to lift results.
And importantly we will target investment where we know it works through a new funding model based on key recommendations of the Gonski report.
One thing we learned from the international test results is that schools that reported problems with resourcing did worse than schools that had no resource issues.
Of course, more money isn't the whole answer, but it's certainly a key part of the solution. We have to make sure that every school in the country is getting the funding it needs to support every child.
We're prepared to invest what's needed, but other governments have to pay their fair share as well. This is a national problem and will need a national solution. The truth is that there are performance problems in every state and in every school sector. For too long now we have discussed and debated what works - now we need to act.
Premier Ted Baillieu and his Education Minister, Martin Dixon, can't ignore these results and they can't continue to accept the status quo. They need to put schools ahead of politics and work constructively with us on this.
Our children deserve nothing less.
Peter Garrett is the federal Minister for School Education.