One of the big talking points in Federal Education policy over the past few years has been needs-based funding as established by the Quality Schools Package. This funding program was a direct result of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools, more commonly known as Gonski 2.0, after David Gonski, prominent businessman and philanthropist, who began in the review in July 2017. But Gonski 2.0 is about more than money - and two years on, there is a lot to revisit in Gonski's review.
Because Gonski's committee was focused on the role funding plays in improving educational outcomes, there is a tendency to think about Gonski 2.0 purely in this sense. Yet Gonski's recommendations have a much wider range, and touch on everything from the personal development of teaching staff to the wellbeing of students. While Gonski 2.0 now seems like a thing of the distant past, it contained some ideas that are worth considering for the future, even if such measures need to be adopted gradually, rather than through a single act of reform
A move to student-centred learning
One aim of the report was to bring about an end to the 'industrial model of schooling': allotted class times for single subjects to a set number of students, delivered by a teacher standing at the front of the classroom, and assessed by exams judging attainment set against a single standard. For Gonski's committee this model of schooling is outdated and does not address the many needs and abilities of a single classroom, let alone the requirements of the modern economy. The report says:
[The industrial model] is focused on trying to ensure that millions of students attain specified learning outcomes for their grade and age before moving them in lock-step to the next year of schooling. It is not designed to differentiate learning or stretch all students to ensure they achieve maximum learning growth every year, nor does it incentivise schools to innovate and continuously improve.
The solution to this is a focus on student growth, down to each individual student - to make teaching and learning student-centred, rather than about students listening to - or in some cases, not - information relayed to them by a teacher.
Gonski notes that many teachers, school leaders and educators have already acknowledged that this is an issue, but a myriad of challenges prevent schools from implementing changes, including "inflexibility in curriculum delivery, reporting and assessment regimes" and the "absence of classroom applications readily available for use by teachers, [and] multiple calls on the time of teachers and school leaders."
The final point is important, because a lack of 'classroom applications readily available' to teaching staff is a driver of 'multiple calls on the time of teachers and school leaders'. Applications that allow teachers to quickly perform the necessary but time-consuming tasks that take up so much time in the classroom frees up time for focusing on developing new methods of student-centred learning.
Increased parent engagement drives student wellbeing
One key recommendation raised by the report is to 'enable parents and carers to be partners in their child’s learning', the report states:
Parents, carers, other family members and guardians have a significant influence on a student’s success at school.Their involvement in the school community can create a caring and supportive environment that has a positive effect on student wellbeing. Lack of involvement represents a lost opportunity, and can be as detrimental to a student’s outcome as taking a more active role in a child’s learning is beneficial.
Innovation is essential at every level
Gonski summarises a number of key areas that define an 'innovative education system':
- Embracing technology not for the sake of doing so, but to "adopt ways of working that are more efficient and effective"
- Utilising data and evidence to drive processes, with evidence informing decisions at all levels
- Using "new mechanisms to understand old problems" including "predictive analytics and big data"
- Building systems that welcome and engage experimentation, rather than relying on or being biased towards the status quo
- Identifying and scaling up initiatives that work, and "quickly ending initiatives that are not delivering their desired outcomes
- Incorporating lessons from other disciplines and sectors
It's clear that technology is central to most, if not all, of these points - with a key focus on using technology as a means to ensure more 'efficient and effective' working practices. As we suggested above, developing such practices is also essential to freeing up time to improve on other areas, including student wellbeing. Innovation and efficiency do not need to be seen as seperate from the traditional concerns of schooling, but a means to ensure that there is the time to focus on these areas.
It's worth reading Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools yourself to see just how comprehensive it is compared to our summary - at 140 pages, there is a huge amount of detail to consider in its proposals. This is key: while we may never ended up adopting Gonski 2.0 wholesale, the report contains a wide variety of ideas that are still worth thinking about, two years on. Good ideas are only one part of the equation though - finding the means to make them work is the next step.