EduResearch Matters

EduResearch Matters is a blog for educational researchers in Australia to get their work and opinions out to the general public. Please join us here. We would love to get your comments and feedback about our work.

Teacher readiness in hard-to-staff schools – here’s what we know now

In current policy debates about graduate teacher readiness in Australian schools, one central question is often overlooked: how does the diversity of school contexts impact the specific needs and expectations placed on graduate teachers? 

Recognising this diversity is crucial for tailoring teacher education programs and support systems to better equip new teachers for the realities of schools, especially those that struggle with hiring and retaining teachers. These schools, broadly described as hard-to-staff, serve diverse communities with distinct socio-economic, cultural, and geographic characteristics that can profoundly impact teaching and learning dynamics.

In our study, we wanted to know what teacher readiness means from the vantage point of these schools. To answer this question, we conducted interviews with 17 principals from a range of hard-to-staff schools across Victoria. Their voices echoed concerns often overshadowed by broad-strokes policy discussions about ‘classroom-ready teachers’. 

One-Size-Doesn’t-Fit-All

The rhetoric surrounding ‘classroom readiness’ often hinges on a logic of uniformity and standardisation. It is based on the assumption that a teacher who has met defined standards and possesses knowledge of specific content is ready to work in any setting.

This approach obscures a reality that is far more complex than is readily acknowledged. Teaching requires exercising professional judgement about what works in response to student needs and community context. 

As one principal from a regional hard-to-staff school in our study remarked: 

“I feel that some students want to walk in feeling curriculum competent, that they know the curriculum and they can talk ‘the learning outcomes’ and use that departmental speak, and that makes them feel or believe or behave more like teachers? Perhaps that’s their perception. But the reality is that when you get into a community, and you’ve got 20 students to manage, that curriculum knowledge, it’s so secondary to the skills that has to be in place so that these children have someone that can look to, that co-regulates them, supports them, makes them feel safe, and then once they’re ready to learn, meets them at their need. 

And it’s that idea that if you’ve got the curriculum knowledge, sometimes I feel that the student teachers come in thinking that one size fits all this approach that I’ve seen, or has been modelled through me, or that has been unpacked with me will translate to every school and not into my setting.” 

An appreciation of diversity

The principal’s comment highlights a crucial point: A one-size-fits-all approach fails to acknowledge that readiness to teach involves more than merely adhering to a set of standardised practices. It requires an appreciation of diversity, an awareness of the distinct dynamics within each classroom, and the ability to address the particular needs of students and the broader community.

This is not to dismiss the value of specific forms of knowledge for teachers. In fact, such knowledge is vital in defining and distinguishing teaching as a professional field. The argument here is for practising professional judgement and leveraging contextual insights to determine what works best, for whom, under what conditions and why. Such a capacity is the hallmark of readiness for a profession that prioritises responsiveness to the unique needs of students in each classroom. 

Recognising complexity and diversity in teacher readiness

Drawing on insights shared by principals in our research, we revisited the debate on classroom readiness with a focus on questions about ‘context’. From low socioeconomic outer-metropolitan areas to regional centres to small rural communities, each school in our study presented unique opportunities and challenges to the workforce. 

Paying attention to context creates valuable opportunities for ‘learning to teach’ as a situated process that involves continuous learning, reflective practice, and adaptable strategies, all of which must be tailored to the specific challenges and strengths of each school environment. In the words of another principal:

“You’ve got to come in with confidence and humility and the ability to say ‘I’m at the start of my journey, and I’m looking forward to being mentored in your school. I want to grow in your school.”

An approach that begins with the actual conditions of schools reveals the limitations of standardised approaches in teacher preparation. It highlights the need to embrace complexity, value connection to the community and understand context as the foundation for any discussions about  what readiness for the profession ought to look like. 

Crafting a new narrative

A decade on from the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG) review, we are back to square one, blaming teacher education as both the cause and the solution for ‘mixed’ educational outcomes for Australian students in international comparisons

If the lesson of the past is anything to go by, one thing should be clear: teacher education reform must account for and integrate the complexities of the real world. At their core, reform models of teacher education  must reflect the diverse socioeconomic, cultural, and institutional factors that impact teaching and learning. 

The Teacher Education Expert Panel Discussion Paper acknowledged the importance of ensuring teachers are prepared for their communities. Disappointingly this essential aspect was largely disregarded in the final Strong Beginnings Report

Narrow focus

A narrow focus on ‘classroom readiness’ limits teacher activity and discourages engagement with broader context. Therefore, we echo the calls for a more comprehensive approach that expands discussions on readiness beyond the classroom to encompass context. This approach derives its direction for policy reform of teacher education from the specific needs of schools and their communities.

As our research findings help demonstrate, such an approach emphasises open-mindedness, flexibility, cultural responsiveness, and genuine collaboration between schools and universities to create a more sustainable and effective pathway for preparing teachers to meet the diverse needs of their students and the community.

From left to right:

Babak Dadvand is as a senior lecturer in pedagogy, professional practice, and teacher education at La Trobe University with expertise on social justice education. His work extends to staffing challenges in the hardest-to-staff schools and effective practices in school-university partnership in Initial Teacher Education.

Juliana Ryan teaches professional ethics in the School of Education at La Trobe University. She uses participatory, narrative and discursive approaches to research professional and academic identities, post-secondary transitions, professional learning and social learning systems.

Miriam Tanti is professor and associate dean, partnership and executive director of the Nexus Program at La Trobe University’s School of Education. Her research focuses on university-school partnerships, with a particular focus on communities of practice. Her other area of interest is in the meaningful integration of technologies in education.

Steve Murphy is director of Rural and Regional Education Engagement at La Trobe University’s School of Education. His research focuses on strengths approaches to rural education, with particular interest in teacher preparation, school leadership and STEM education.

Promising news: how young men think about Andrew Tate and what he sells

Recent media and public discourse in Australia and globally are replete with concerns about young men’s online behaviours, from Andrew Tate to schoolboys circulating AI deep fake pornography of their female classmates and teachers, revenge porn and the sending of unsolicited ‘dick picks’ to anxieties about the manosphere radicalising young men into misogyny. 

These concerns have led to renewed scrutiny on boys and masculinity. Research finds that ‘manfluencers’ like self-proclaimed misogynist Andrew Tate (who is facing charges of rape and human trafficking) have become popular with boys, have resurrected sexism and have legitimised, stabilised and reinvigorated a regressive ‘male supremacy’. In this current landscape, understanding the online experiences of young men has become increasingly important – especially given their voices tend to be absent from these debates. 

There are few studies, for example, that specifically focus on the gendered impacts of social media on young men. 

Our recent Australian study provides a comprehensive account of how young men are engaging with online spaces. It was led by researchers from Deakin University and The Queensland University of Technology and funded by the eSafety Commission. The study involved two-hour focus group interviews with 117 young men (aged 16-21) from diverse backgrounds. 

Our research highlights the need for more nuanced discussion of the gendered impacts of social media on adolescent boys. This is consistent with similar international research. Certainly, there is cause for concern about the harms arising from the wide availability of misogynistic content online. But there are also reasons to be optimistic given the variety of ways in which young men engage with and experience online spaces

A very encouraging finding from our study was that many young men are critical of the gendered content they encounter online – from Andrew Tate videos and the sharing of intimate images to online pornography. 

Young men have a critical engagement with Andrew Tate

Our study highlighted that some young men viewed Tate as an important source of inspiration for general self-improvement and manhood, as a good advocate for men and as someone who is unfairly represented as a bad guy in the media. But others rejected his misogynistic views, his arrogance and pursuit of wealth. This is consistent with previous research on the impacts of Andrew Tate as a role model for boys

In our study, it was encouraging to hear some of the young men’s critical reflection on Andrew Tate in relation to his perpetuation of sexist ideologies and his ‘shit stirring’ for attention and ‘likes’. Here are some comments they made: 

Tate’s justifications for cheating on his partners as not ‘cheating’ but ‘exercise’, his focus on how much money he’s got and how many girls he’s been with, and his alleged trafficking. I don’t really wanna consume his content (Jase, aged 20, heterosexual, CALD)

[H]e really wants to be a loving father and he really respects the women in his life, but [he] also runs a freaking [human] trafficking ring … [H]e’s going on about how he doesn’t own anybody, but he’s getting arrested for literally owning and stealing money off of webcam models (Lionel, aged 20, heterosexual)

It’s just gross and it’s for attention

Specific people and personalities – so, influencers – kind of stir shit and act out and say outrageous things to get attention. People like Andrew Tate – perfect example …  The things he says make me so uncomfortable. It’s just gross, and it’s for attention and it gets the attention of the media (Felix, aged 20, bisexual)

[B]y [being] all controversial and saying things that usually people don’t say, you will stir up the pot, you will get lots of views, likes, comments … Tate’s not just doing this for fun. I mean, he has something to sell his audience. So, of course, he’s gonna be controversial, get people on. And eventually get more sales (Tariq, aged 19, heterosexual)

And a critical engagement with sharing intimate images

In contrast with some of the research on young men’s carelessness with sharing intimate images online, the young men in our study spoke of the importance of trust, intimacy and in-person connection when sharing intimate images with others online. 

Lucas (aged 18, heterosexual) commented for example, “obviously trust plays a big part of it … I’m hesitant to do it [until I] definitely know I can trust that person.” 

Toby (aged 16, heterosexual) noted the importance of choosing the right person and the strength of the relationship when sharing intimate images: “I just think you have to be really careful when you do that… the type of relationship you have with that person, and can you really trust them” to not spread the photos around?

Lleyton (aged 16, heterosexual) similarly, stated, “…you just gotta be really careful … cause it’s so easy to spread these days”.

Ari (aged 19, heterosexual, CALD) expressed discomfort about “sending intimate photos” before meeting in person, stating, it’s “not something I agree with, and I just feel like … there’s no like genuine like connection there to do that kind of stuff … I just feel as though you’re not connected physically so why should you physically show yourself online?”

Jamie (aged 16, First Nations) questioned the rationale behind unsolicited sharing:

“There’s definitely a sort of a judgment, I guess, to someone sending that sort of stuff unsolicited because like you’re not just gonna be in the middle of a conversation with someone and whip your tits out in the middle of the street. So why do you do it in the middle of a conversation on Instagram?”

Young men and online pornography

Similar to their reflections on sharing intimate images, the young men in our study expressed views about online pornography that are more nuanced, considered and complex than the stereotypes about young men and their online expressions of sexuality would suggest. The young men were highly critical of online pornography – its pervasive presence in their online experiences and its negative impacts on their lives in terms of desensitisation, addiction and their views on intimacy.

Lucas (aged 18, heterosexual) for example, described how explicit content infiltrates everyday online activities like scrolling through TikTok or Instagram. It often appears unexpectedly, potentially pushing individuals toward consuming more adult content. Several of the young men spoke of how their access to online pornography at an early age had affected them negatively, including narratives of addiction.

Life shouldn’t be that

Jamie (aged 16, First Nations), who first encountered pornography at 11 years old, noted how this exposure and the saturation of adult content online more broadly, is desensitising and can lead to struggles with “addiction”:

“I wanted to talk more about porn specifically and how that plays a role in the desensitisation because a lot of people nowadays … have struggles with porn addiction and I feel like that itself has a big impact on the way we perceive content. And yeah, there’s a lot of unsolicited stuff that you see scrolling through which is mostly just advertising and all the main pages that post photos of like these chicks … I guess definitely desensitising … it’s so accessible and it’s such a common subject when it really isn’t that important. Life shouldn’t be that.”

Kieran (aged 19, heterosexual) also described his relationship with pornography as an addiction. He shared his personal battle with this addiction from age 13, emphasising the negative impact it had on his perception of girls and his ability to maintain healthy relationships. He explained online pornography as “negative” and as leading to feelings of shame.

Several of the young men commented on how pornography had led to negative views about girls and women. Ibrahim (aged 18, heterosexual, CALD) stated: 

That’s what appeals to a lot of guys

“In my experience, [it’s] very toxic [in] how you view women … [because women are] obviously made to look liked it’s forced and that’s what appeals to a lot of guys who do watch porn, like is someone who’s submissive.”

Benito (aged 20, heterosexual, CALD) noted how pornography “twisted with reality” and “changes their perspective on women or certain situations” while Nico (aged 18, heterosexual, disabled, CALD) described online pornography as “definitely toxic” in how you view women “more as a sexual object than a human being”. 

Critical digital literacy

An encouraging finding in our research is young men’s critical engagement with the gendered harms that arise in online spaces. While, to be sure, some of the young men perpetuated gender harms, others showed a robust critique of these. It is important to pay attention to and strengthen these positive narratives going forward. This is not easy work, as research in the space of gender justice and activist pedagogy has attested for many years, but young men’s critical engagement with online content in the ways foregrounded here is perhaps the most important resource for helping them to navigate the current digital landscape in ethical, caring, safe and just ways.

This research was supported by the Australian government through the eSafety Commission. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Australian government.

Amanda Keddie is a professor of education at Deakin University. Michael Flood is a professor of sociology at QUT. Josh Roose is an associate professor of politics at Deakin University.

Now read this: the story so far

Our best read blog of the year so far? Nicole Brunker on evidence-based practice, a scathing critique of  our obsession with what she describes as “a narrow base of evidence as ‘what works’ for student achievement”.

Here are the rest in the top five for 2024:

Melissa Close and Linda Graham reject the idea of a behaviour curriculum.

Jill Brown on why a pushback against the explicit teaching mandate is now critical.

Jane Kenway and Katie Maher asked whether student encampments are sites of pedagogy and learning

And Rachel Wilson on the one report on teaching you really need to read

This week, it’s been all about creativity and the latest PISA results – special thanks to Kylie Murphy and Dan Harris for giving us a comprehensive picture of what it all means.

Kylie Murphy: Fourth in the whole world in creative thinking? How good!

Dan Harris (part one): Fourth in the whole world but the government doesn’t care

Dan Harris (part two): Love this. Creativity can be measured – in diverse ways. What we can learn from PISA

It’s been (in)exactly ten years since EduResearch Matters was first published under the leadership of our first editor Maralyn Parker. We all owe her a lot for her energy, perseverance, attention to detail and her great love of education.

Since those first few blogs in mid-2014, we’ve published hundreds of posts from researchers all over Australia, PhD students and professors, classroom teachers and principals, engaged with research everywhere from early childhood to tertiary education of all kinds. We (almost) live blog the AARE conference with contributions from so many sessions

And you are welcome to contribute. Read our notes to contributors here.

Thanks for a wonderful first half of 2024 and looking forward to hearing from more of you.

Love this: Creativity Can Be Measured – in Diverse Ways. What we can learn from PISA

The latest on PISA Creative Thinking results:

Kylie Murphy: PISA results show thinking can be cultivated. Australian teachers are doing that better than most others

Dan Harris (part one): Fourth in the whole world but the government doesn’t care

Now, read on!

The good news is that the just-released PISA Creative Thinking test reveals new ways of assessing creativity. Now we must decided how Australia might apply these methods and findings.

What PISA did differently: two important methodological testing innovations

1. The assessment includes new, interactive item-types based on a visual design tool. For the first time in PISA, some items required students to produce a visual artefact, rather than construct a written response or choose the correct answer.

2. The assessment only includes open-ended tasks with no single solution but multiple correct responses. That demands more complex scoring methods, based on rubrics and sample responses. The collection and analysis of responses of many students around the world informs those rubrics and responses.  

This is good news for educators who believe in the dangers of a ‘single right answer’ approach to learning and assessment. Getting away from the exclusive use of written numerical and/or narrative responses and using visual design tools is also a great step forward. The test’s attention to the power of creative thinking to address complex social problems is also a welcome focus of the assessment and its results.

Fig 1: PISA Creative Thinking test domains

Student beliefs

This important data set aligns with international best practice creativity research. It reflects longstanding reports by both students and teachers that any area of enquiry can benefit from creative approaches and creative risk-taking. PISA’s test reports that “around 8 out of 10 students (OECD average) believe that it is possible to be creative in nearly any subject”,  But many students did not hold positive beliefs about their own creativity or ability to improve. This seemingly contradictory finding is consistent with my own research in which perceptions of creativity in compulsory education are expanding beyond the arts and into all subject areas, but self-confidence continues to lag. .

School environment

PISA’s focus on the whole-school environment is encouragingwelcome, but in stark contrast to the other areas of enquiry, this one is minimal and draws on limited data to make incomplete recommendations. It says, in part:  

·            “Classroom pedagogies can make a difference. Across OECD countries, between 60-70% of students reported that their teachers value their creativity, that they encourage them to come up with original answers, and that they are given a chance to express their ideas in school.” Australia has long produced robust, empirical data specific to our national context that advocates as much, but has not been taken up by policy makers.

·            “Participating in school activities such as art, drama, creative writing or programming classes regularly (once a week) is associated with better performance in creative thinking than doing so infrequently or every day.” I’m mystified as to why arts activities (note that they stop short of advocating for direct instruction of arts skills, but that’s another battle) are associated with improved creative thinking at weekly rather than daily engagement. Or, for that matter, why such measurements are helpful. Are Education Minister Jason Clare and his advisors really debating whether to mandate weekly versus daily arts activities? His three 2023 education reviews hardly seem to suggest as much.

Lastly, PISA recommends that improving creative thinking across whole school systems “consistently and effectively…requires educators, curriculum developers and assessment designers to have a shared understanding of what creative thinking is, how students can develop creative thinking skills, and how their progress can be measured”.

Again, our calls for this detailed work to effectively underpin our National Curriculum’s Creative Thinking General Capability have gone unanswered – or more recently answered with a mandate for direct instruction and phonics. 

Will the weight of the international PISA recommendations effect greater change?

Key Insights but will they become Key Actions?

In summing up, the report links high performance in creative thinking with performance in the PISA core domains. Yet some countries and economies performed relatively better than expected in creative thinking, given their students’ mathematics, science and reading performance. Students in Australia, Canada, Finland, and New Zealand demonstrated a “large overall relative strength in creative thinking together with high mean performance.” These findings certainly don’t seem to concur with the current government narrative about Australia’s international test scores falling. Despite an overall decline since the tests began in 2000, Australia’s PISA scores in maths, science and reading have remained about the same since 2017, a part of the narrative always left out. Surely creativity is a far more important workplace skill now than it was 24 years ago, a fact similarly left out of current debates. 

According to the PISA summary, high-performing systems in creative thinking have often implemented at least two of the following four concrete approaches to supporting the development of creativity and creative thinking in education:

1. Embedding creativity and/or creative thinking throughout the curriculum.

2. Supporting educators to recognise, develop and evaluate creative thinking by defining learning progressions or rubrics. 

3. Creating opportunities in the curriculum for students to engage in creative and/or interdisciplinary work. 

4. Encouraging accountability through monitoring and evaluation. 

We need a more joined-up approach

While Australia can boast a Creative Thinking General Capability in our National Curriculum, it is hardly present ‘throughout’ the curriculum as point number one above recommends. Points 2-4 offer clear ways of improving how we capacitate teachers and students for creativity. My own research has long advocated for a more joined-up, creative ecological approach to fostering creativity in schools, one which takes into consideration place, people, processes, product, and policies (both internal and external). The PISA recommendations limit its systems approach to curriculum, pedagogy and assessments – in other words, only products and processes. This leaves a long way to go toward integrating subjects, transforming places and spaces for the digital revolution and crucial person-to-person collaborations, as well as recognising the centrality of place to learning, as our First Nations colleagues have long advised us to do.

Still confused about creativity?

Finally: “Students in many countries/economies report that they do not find learning or engaging in creative work at school particularly enjoyable.” Might this be because teachers – and students – are still largely confused about what creativity and creative thinking are? Are teachers and students confused about how to ‘do’ creativity in school contexts? I doubt students would say the same about creativity on TikTok, or decorating their room, or sports participation, where creativity and its learning potential are inherent. Teachers have long been calling for more help on assessing creativity, but students in these PISA results are calling for the content to be more creative. Australia’s education sector needs to evolve past the obsession with creativity assessment, and – while not perfect – the PISA test suggests some ways forward. 

The Australian Council for Educational Research manages PISA in Australia and will release a national report later in the year, with results for states and territories and additional demographic characteristics.  Beginning in 2025, though, ACER will take over the administration of the entire suite of PISA tests, a great coup for Australia. In doing so, Australia will be in a perfect position to advance PISA’s aim of “providing internationally comparable data on students’ competencies that have clear implications for education policies and pedagogies”.

Now all we need is the political will to make creativity central to that work.

Daniel X. Harris is a professor at RMIT and a leading international scholar in creativity, diversity and social change. They were most recently an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, DECRA Fellow, RMIT Vice Chancellor’s Primary Research Fellow, and are currently research professor in the School of Education, RMIT University, and Director of Creative Agency research lab: www.creativeresearchhub.com.

Fourth in the whole world! Yet the government doesn’t care

Since PISA released its first creative thinking test results last week, there has been a flurry of commentary both formal and informal among educators and education researchers. 

The report, called Creative Minds, Creative Schools, ranks Australia 4th out of a total 81 participating countries, with Singapore topping the list at number 1 in all areas including literacy, numeracy and creative thinking. That’s sweet revenge for the city-state Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak once called ‘uncreative’ .

In the decade since then, Singapore has shown itself to be a leader in both direct instruction and creative innovation, a trend now making global headlines due to PISA. But is Australia listening? And will we similarly be able to pivot from the 2023 juggernaut of ‘return to phonics’ and direct instruction, toward a more nuanced approach to education that incorporates both approaches?

How is this included in the curriculum

Broad findings of the test are widely available, including yesterday’s post here by Kylie Murphy. But the findings have not yet been sufficiently unpacked in relation to the ample amount of Australia-specific empirical data and scholarship already available. There are some familiar findings here: the PISA Executive Summary definition that “indices of imagination and adventurousness, openness to intellect, curiosity, perspective taking and persistence are positively associated with creative thinking performance” is something most ‘creative skills and capacities’ lists and studies (including mine) have identified over years. 

The more pointed question remains: where and how are these indices included in the Australian Curriculum in ways that are actionable by teachers overburdened with literacy, numeracy and a constant prioritising of STEM curriculum?

What’s creativity got to do with it

The PISA Creative Thinking test results not only provide scores in a range of task types, but also correlation against scores in reading, science and mathematics skills. Together, they provide an interesting relational snapshot between what has traditionally been considered ‘core’ content for learners, and creative thinking, now a recognised 21st century skill alongside critical thinking, collaboration and communication. These assessment results show that “academic excellence is not a prerequisite for excellence in creative thinking”. This will come as no surprise to most educators. While some students excel in ‘academic’ ways of thinking and doing, not all do – a difference long documented as a poor indicator of success in work and life.

What we do know – and what PISA results reinforce –  is that test results, including creative thinking here, often correlate to socio-economic status: “Students with higher socio-economic status performed better in creative thinking, with advantaged students scoring around 9.5 points higher than their disadvantaged peers on average across the OECD.” Where is the government attention to these statistics, in the constant rhetoric about falling test scores?

Interestingly though, “the strength of the association between socio-economic status and performance is weaker in creative thinking than it is for mathematics, reading and science,” a powerful rationale for the levelling power of giving more priority to skills and capacities like creative thinking. In Australia and just five other countries, “more than 88% of students demonstrated a baseline level of creative thinking proficiency (Level 3), meaning they can think of appropriate ideas for a range of tasks and begin to suggest original ideas for familiar problems (OECD average 78%)”. That’a result Australia should be proud of and keen to build upon in both social equity respects as well as the increasingly outmoded ATAR obsession.

Different types of creative thinking tasks show different aptitudes

While the rankings show which countries scored highly overall, the test also highlighted variations in types or applications of creativity. These results show what Australian students do well, in our unique creative contexts and cultural orientations. It also provides an opportunity for us to understand how we can make the most of them. The risk, of course, is that the data are used for blunt comparison, a deficit-approach that often drives ‘moral panic’ responses around fear of ‘slipping’ in international rankings, and short-term stop-gap solutions. For the 2022 results, students in Singapore were the most successful across several task types, especially social problem-solving tasks. Students in Korea were the most successful in scientific problem-solving contexts and evaluate and improve ideas tasks. Students in Portugal performed the most successfully in visual expression tasks.

Such results offer an exciting opportunity to reflect as a national education sector on how we might aspire to raising aptitude in multiple tasks, for example, rather than simply ‘beating’ other countries in overall results.

Gender and equity gaps

The report makes a point of how comprehensively those identified as girls outperformed those identified as boys in creative thinking. “In no country or economy did boys outperform girls in creative thinking, with girls scoring 3 points higher in creative thinking on average across the OECD,” and in all type of creative tasks. 

If participating nations were to use the data to fund “Get More Boys into Creativity” campaigns, as they do with girls in STEM, the utility of a binary gender analysis would be clearer. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t carry through university and workplace trends: A recent analysis of female-identified versus male-identified creative university graduates and early-career employees does not correlate to the strong performance by female-identified 15 year olds. It shows female-identified creatives at both adult stages consistently fall behind their male-identified counterparts.

A welcome measure

Overall, the PISA Creative Thinking test results are a welcome international measure to complement the literacy, numeracy and science tests. Thus far, there has been no comment from government on Australia’s fantastic 4th in the world result – in stark contrast to the ongoing failure narrative of falling test scores. Australian students need to be well-rounded and best prepared for the jobs of the future by the end of their secondary schooling. That’s why our teacher preparation programs at RMIT University’s School of Education, I’m sure like the vast majority of other schools, ensure that all students receive training in all the basics that our new teachers and students need to excel in 21st century life, at the centre of which is creativity. 

Daniel X. Harris is a professor at RMIT and a leading international scholar in creativity, diversity and social change. They were most recently an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, DECRA Fellow, RMIT Vice Chancellor’s Primary Research Fellow, and are currently research professor in the School of Education, RMIT University, and Director of Creative Agency research lab: www.creativeresearchhub.com.

Fourth in the world in creative thinking: how good!?!?

For the first time, global PISA data includes an assessment of fifteen-year-old students’ ‘creative thinking’. The 2022 results for this new measure are now out – and the implications challenge some beliefs about teaching creative thinking. 

Australia ranks fourth among the eighty-one participating countries. Australia’s ranking on creative thinking positions us just behind Singapore, South Korea, and Canada. Australia’s other PISA results also climbed: We now rank 10th for mathematics and 9th for both reading and science. Australian teachers are clearly doing great work and deserve recognition and praise for it.

It’s a good thing

While critics have argued that attempts to teach students to think creatively are misguided, suggesting that creative thinking cannot be taught, the PISA results indicate that thinking by learners can be cultivated and Australian teachers are doing that better than most others. This is a good thing! We want our students to both acquire knowledge AND think constructively with that knowledge.

The global data collected by PISA shows that teaching students to think creatively does not compromise their learning in more traditional domains, such as mathematics, science, and reading. There is no evidence of a problematic ‘opportunity cost’. Students who performed more strongly in creative thinking also tended to perform better in mathematics, science, and reading

However, the PISA data also confirm that creative thinking is not just a natural consequence of acquiring domain-specific knowledge. The correlation between more traditional measures of academic achievement and creative thinking is not perfect. In the PISA data, the intercorrelations between performance in mathematics, science, and reading (irrespective of creative thinking) were stronger than the respective correlations between each of these domains and creative thinking. One country (Portugal) performed higher than average in creative thinking but only average in the other three domains. Other countries (China and Czechia) performed above average in mathematics, science, and reading but at or below average in creative thinking. 

It isn’t surprising

Plainly, creative thinking is not innate and immutable; it is learnable and the experiences that teachers facilitate matter. So, it is not surprising that Australia has ranked highly. My colleagues and I surveyed hundreds of primary and secondary teachers across Australia. We found Australian teachers appreciate the importance of teaching students to think. They routinely and skilfully invite and facilitate creative thinking as they teach the broader curriculum. 

Our research focused on both critical and creative thinking, but given that PISA defines creative thinking as “the competence to engage productively in the generation, evaluation and improvement of original and diverse ideas”, it is fair to say that PISA’s test focuses on critical (evaluative) thinking as well as creative (generative) thinking. 

Like Australia, other high-ranking nations – Singapore, South Korea, and Canada – all include creative thinking as part of their official curricula. It is reasonable to assume that Australia’s inclusion of Critical and Creative Thinking in our national curriculum – as a ‘general capability’ – has something to do with Australia’s high ranking in the PISA Creative Thinking test, particularly given the other high performing nations also have a specific creative thinking curriculum. However, it is not because Australian teachers formally teach this aspect of the curriculum. 

All available evidence (including our own research and others’) suggests that Australian teachers do not feel confident in their knowledge of the ‘general capabilities’ in the Australian curriculum, including Critical and Creative Thinking, and do not teach the associated progression descriptors. That said, the mere existence of a component of our national curriculum called Critical and Creative Thinking arguably reflects and reinforces a widespread cultural belief in Australia (including among teachers) that critical and creative thinking skills are desirable and important for teachers to teach. 

The test

PISA’s creative thinking test covered four areas: written expression, visual expression, social problem solving, and scientific problem solving. Students were set tasks with no single correct response; for example, coming up with a story idea or multiple different approaches to address a challenge, or evaluating and improving an idea. Nearly 70% of Australian students achieved Level 4 or better, meaning that they could think of original and diverse ideas for different types of tasks, including simple imagination tasks and everyday problem-solving situations. 

While the results are informative and affirming of Australian teacher practice, the abilities PISA measured, in themselves, are of course limited. One obvious point, often (tediously) raised by those opposed to the notion of teaching critical and creative thinking, is that thinking in the absence of content knowledge is inherently constrained. Aiming to teach students to think critically and creatively in a knowledge vacuum or only in artificial contexts (like the tasks in the PISA test) would indeed be misguided. Practising the kinds of tasks in the PISA creative thinking test is not the reason why Australian students performed well on the test, and it should never be. Yes, of course, thinking is best taught by teaching and facilitating the use (and consolidation and extension) of knowledge. 

But there’s more

Additionally, there are discrete concepts and skills that students can be taught which meaningfully augment and add value to the individual mental abilities tested in PISA’s creative thinking test. These skills are applicable in different ways, depending on the subject area and grade level, and are not necessarily amenable to being measured on a standardised numeric ‘creative thinking’ scale. For example, teachers of different subjects and grade levels can teach different ways of creating ideas, including by combining ideas that have just been taught or by building on, modifying, or adapting ideas.

Students can be taught domain-specific ways to test ideas, to consider alternatives before making a decision, to effectively propose their ideas, or to write recommendations in a way that makes them more likely to be adopted. Students can also be taught to use learned information to think in questioning, accurate, and reasoned ways, to valuably complement creative idea generation. These are concepts and skills that some Australian teachers already teach – but they could be taught more explicitly and by more teachers

There are many valuable skills that teachers can teach – incidentally or formally – which are ‘observable’ (and thus assessable) but do not necessarily lend themselves to being ‘measured’. Learning self-regulation skills is no less potentially life-changing for a child because such skills are not typically scored by teachers. The same goes for the skills involved in productive thinking. Some things are worth teaching regardless of whether they are psychometrically scorable, and regardless of whether there is an international ranking to compete for.

How good?

Coming fourth among 81 countries for our students’ ability to think creatively is good – really good. The fact that Australian teachers value and are actively cultivating these abilities in their classrooms is not a coincidence. No doubt, Australian teachers’ efforts are having a positive impact on students’ propensity to think creatively – and this is reflected in Australia’s impressive ranking. 

But the test on which this ranking is based is very limited. It does not capture all the critical and creative thinking skills that Australian teachers should and do teach to help students (a) learn knowledge more deeply and (b) use their knowledge in careful and constructive ways. Australian teachers are very capable of teaching these skills, but we cannot take this for granted. Discrete, observable, and applied critical and creative thinking skills (flexibly applicable in all subjects and grade levels) should be focal in teacher education and professional development in this area. 

Nice if the home country scores well

Any singular, measurable construct of creative thinking risks becoming a distraction in the context of schools and what schools are for. Australian teachers want to teach critical and creative thinking skills – and they want to learn how to do this more effectively. Initial teacher education and in-service professional learning programs have an important role to play in ensuring that classroom teachers feel confident to teach and assess the broad range of critical and creative thinking skills that enhance academic learning and bring rich personal and societal benefits. Measuring creativity as a psychological construct is interesting – and nice if your home country scores well – but it should not be the focus of schooling.  

Kylie Murphy is the Academic Program Director (Postgraduate) and a senior lecturer in Educational Psychology and Pedagogy at La Trobe University’s School of Education. Kylie is passionate about ITE that develops critically informed, classroom-ready educators. She is currently researching the alignment between ITE coursework and professional experience, and ways to support more inclusive and effective teaching of critical and creative thinking in schools. Follow her on Twitter @KylieMurphyEd or on LinkedIn

16 Years a HALT: Reflections of a Highly Accomplished Teacher


I received some long-awaited news last week, and it came as a simple enough e-mail. After ten years, I’ve been certified as a Highly Accomplished (HALT) teacher under AITSL Standards for the third time, granting my accreditation from 2013 to 2029. 

Sounds very fancy. What does that actually mean?

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) provides a national framework for Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers (HALTs), who are recognised as expert teachers and reflective practitioners. Under AITSL’s vision, HALTs lead and support their colleagues towards better outcomes for learners, understanding their own impact in improving teaching and learning within and beyond their schools.

Some days I’m not sure

Some days, I’m not sure how expert I am. In reality, I see so many teachers doing amazing things every day. But, I have learned this about accreditation. It’s about professional teachers making decisions for their own career and working to develop colleagues and students every day. And it’s the kind of professional development we can initiate ourselves.

Since national teacher certification became available in Australia in 2012, around 1500 teachers have achieved HALT status, working in schools across every state and territory. Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 10 years as a highly accomplished teacher:

HALT is a Political Football

From the $7000 bonus initially promised by the Gillard Government, which was quickly withdrawn by Christopher Pyne as the incoming Education Minister; to some states, systems, and unions opting out of HALT operations for a while; the program has been at the centre of many political debates. Current Education Minister Jason Clare aims to have 10,000 HALTs or equivalents by the end of next year. Every discussion of HALT is a discussion of values and priorities in a contested place. Even the cost of applying for HALT is problematic  – teachers pay fees on progress through application in some jurisdictions while other systems provide incentive payments of $4000 during application

Everything Changes

The current models for HALT certification differ significantly from the original system. For instance, the ACT’s Teacher Quality Institute  has implemented a modular system to simplify applications and support teachers collectively. At the national level, AITSL’s framework change last year is designed to increase HALT numbers while maintaining the integrity of the certification process by allowing regulatory authorities flexibility in accrediting HALTs. The rate of gain for certification is growing and will continue to grow.

Your Progress Matters

Applying for and operating as a HALT demands continuous reflection on practice. The Standards provide a scaffold for innovation and improvement, encouraging teachers to consider their impact, actions, progress, and missteps. This constant focus on professional growth benefits not only the individual teacher but also those around them. Some days provide deeper inspection of practice than others, but the Standards provide clear expectations for performance.

One Person Can Make a Difference

HALT certification provides a professional mandate to pursue larger goals. For me, this has involved working with early-career teachers and teaching students during their practicum. With strong and consistent support from leaders at my College, I mentor new teachers in classroom practice, lesson planning, professional networking, and student feedback and provide practicum experiences to support the next generation of teachers. HALT offers a powerful impetus to support the development of others.

The Only Boundaries Are Your Own

I have been fortunate to work with researchers at universities in studies of teachers’ careers. I have been able to brief regulatory authorities about ways to support aspirant HALTs. The work to establish HALT networks in states and territories shows many HALTs are seeing opportunities to improve the profession in a range of ways. HALT can provide a banner for teachers to come together and make progress to benefit teaching and learning for all.

It’s important to note that HALT is not the only path to progress in schools. Many excellent schools thrive without a single HALT. There are impressive initiatives like QT Academy and the Monash Q Project, which guide thousands of teachers toward reliable improvement. A HALT badge doesn’t bestow superpowers. I am not, and never will be, the best teacher at my school. Instead, HALT can  serve as a marker of dedication to building capacity and creating development pathways.

Ultimately, HALT is a way to keep expert teachers in the classroom – to provide a career that recognises and rewards teachers for their work each day. Traditionally, great teachers were promoted out of the classroom into management roles. A system that recognises and rewards exceptional teachers while keeping them in the classroom is a vital part of addressing the teacher retention crisis. HALT is not a silver bullet, but it is a significant step towards ensuring expert teachers can continue to teach effectively and support their colleagues’ professional growth.

John Cole is a Year 7 teacher in Canberra. He is about to take a sabbatical to work on a Doctor of Education with University of Melbourne, researching how Australian teachers make  career decisions (but he’ll still be teaching every week).

Fight! How video games can power up learning now

Video games are a dominant form of entertainment, consistently outselling books, film, and music combined. How can education learn from their addictive design?

Great games and great learning share attributes of experiences that challenge us through a variety of immersive problem solving, decision-making and strategic activities.

Video games tap into supportive internal factors of learning such as engaged and positive emotional states, immediate feedback, interval learning and input quantity (or ‘chunking’).

It’s super effective! (For learning)

The success of video games in facilitating learning lies in their intuitive, pleasant design, engaging narratives, and addictive, rewarding feedback loops. Research indicates that video games can improve perception, memory and knowledge retention.

Though video games may be studied as texts , we are focusing here on incorporating game-inspired elements into teaching methodologies to enhance both learning outcomes and student enjoyment. By leveraging the intuitive and self-directed nature of gaming, educators can make learning addictive and engaging across various subjects.

Gamification vs games-based learning. Fight!

Incorporating game elements into education can take two primary forms. Both approaches can enhance the learning experience by adding elements to lesson content such as risk and excitement, urgency, pleasure, and status.

Gamification pervades our lives in everyday things such as loyalty program points, fitness apps, productivity performance targets, Uber ratings, social media metrics and dating apps. Gamification in education involves integrating game mechanics, such as points, badges, achievements, awards or rankings to the classroom, while game-based learning uses actual games as the primary teaching tool . Here, we are more focused here on game design than using games per se.

via GIPHY

“It’s-a-me, Mario!”

Effective game design is crucial for facilitating learning through gameplay. Games with visually pleasing designs, engaging narratives, and addictive gameplay mechanics tend to be more successful in capturing learners’ attention and promoting active, enjoyable participation.

Engineer Mark Rober outlined how a game design approach, what he calls the “Super Mario effect ” can encourage participation in learning activities where it otherwise would not be evident. 

By situating repeated, instant feedback for error correction in a dynamic narrative or context where there is a freedom to fail, gamers learn from failure, try alternate strategies, and develop their skills at their own pace until they succeed.

Design is crucial to this process, and there is even a New York school that has based its philosophy on the principle of video game design.

Achievement unlocked

Video games excel in setting challenging goals and providing clear objectives for players to achieve. The sense of accomplishment and progression inherent in games motivates players to overcome obstacles and master new skills.

Educators can adopt similar strategies to set challenging yet achievable goals for students, fostering a sense of accomplishment and motivation in their learning journey.

Emphasising effort, progress, and continuous improvement fosters a sense of agency and ownership in learning.

Advocates of game-based design have recognised that games prove students are quite capable of memorising and recalling immense volumes of knowledge, when it is constructed by them and founded in experience.

Pokémon players famously memorise more than 27,000 values in three dimensions when battling hundreds of character iterations. By contrast, the entire periodic table has 118 elements and there are approximately 200 irregular verb forms in English.

While students may want to hide their effort and achievements, gamers proudly share their status, achievements and even how long it has taken. In Mortal Kombat, one achievement requires winning 2,800 matches, playing more than 670 hours. To obtain the Pure Poker achievement in Pure Hold’em takes about 10,000 hours.

One has to respect the time and effort gamers dedicate to their craft. Gamers are willing to dedicate and invest time into seemingly repetitive and mundane levels or challenges, showing a persistence and resilience that we would envy in education. Some gamers even modify their games or set challenges to make them even more difficult  than the developers intended, such as speedruns or completing games using only one button!

Games are ‘eustressful’, a beneficial form of stress somewhere between fun and scary, that is motivational.

How can education manage this balance? Measuring progress rather than purely achievement could be key.

“Save progress?”

Games offer tangible feedback on players’ progress through various metrics such as scores, levels, and achievements. Similarly, educators can implement assessment methods that provide meaningful feedback and recognize students’ growth and achievements. Emphasising progress  over final scores encourages continuous improvement and resilience in learning. ATAR, take note! 

The Legend of Zelda was one of the very first games to offer saving. In education, resubmitting a task for a better grade and measuring improvement rather than pure achievement is an example of offering the equivalent of save points for assessments. Could a student’s response to teacher feedback be considered as well as the achievement itself?

Compared to many games of the 80s and 90s where a player had only a few ‘lives’ to survive the whole game, modern first-person shooters such as HALO and the Lego series of games provide more generous opportunities to make progress and complete levels, rewarding persistence and removing a punishment for failure. Where once, players may have merely given up when reaching a level or ‘boss’ that was too difficult, modern games allow players to eventually progress. When learners are not as worried about how they fare relative to everyone else, they focus on their own game.

“Select your difficulty”

Games often offer adjustable difficulty levels to accommodate players with varying skill levels and preferences. The 1977 Atari is credited as one of the first video game consoles to offer selection of difficulty.

Nintendo intentionally made Disney’s The Lion King and Aladdin games difficult so that gamers would have to rent the game longer from the video store!

Games showcase a stellar array of ways to increase challenge in differentiated ways. They can add more enemies, more difficult or faster enemies, more complexity, reduced health or time to complete the same challenge, and even adaptive intelligence enemies.

Moving away from kill counts and mindless shooting, first person shooter action games such as the James Bond franchise and Metal Gear Solid have innovated with objectives related to time, stealth, lives lost, civilians saved, accuracy, ammunition saved and even style.

Similarly, educators can personalise learning experiences to meet the diverse needs of students by offering differentiated instruction and support. By providing opportunities for students to challenge themselves while maintaining a supportive learning environment, educators can foster a sense of competence, growth and autonomy in their students.

“Game over. Play again?”

Often based in an immersive world or context, in games there is a clear sense of objective made meaningful by a narrative  and the presentation of a pathway towards a goal. The map views of SuperMario, Donkey Kong Country and Candy Crush are exemplary examples of how to establish a sense of journey and incremental challenge, which promote mastery and replayability.

By embracing game-inspired elements such as dynamic feedback, meaningful challenges, and personalised learning pathways, educators can empower students to become active participants in their learning journey.

Video games offer valuable insights into effective learning strategies that educators can leverage to create engaging and immersive learning experiences.

Dr Hugh Gundlach is a lecturer and researcher in the Faculty of Education, The University of Melbourne. He teaches in the Master of Teaching (Secondary) and is the Commerce Coordinator.

We have a massive teaching shortage. Here’s how to fix it

The Federal Department of Education predicts an alarming teacher shortage of 4,100 teachers by 2025. It is now more pressing than ever that we explore ways of addressing this crisis. 

Our research examined female Initial Teacher Education (ITE) completion data in Australia to identify trends around which degree types (postgraduate and undergraduate) and study modes (internal, external, and multimodal) are likely to attract more potential female ITE students, and subsequently increase the ITE completion and ultimately the teacher supply pipeline.   

The research reveals a declining trend in ITE completion by females in the internal study mode for both degree types.  On the contrary, there has been an increasing trend in ITE completion by females in the external and multimodal study modes for both types of programs.  We therefore argue that policymakers and universities should make these programs and study modes more accessible to potential female ITE students.  This would help to maximise female ITE completion in tackling the predicted teacher shortage. 

Why use female ITE completion data

Historically, the teaching profession in Australia – and globally – has attracted more females than males. As such, efforts to increase the number of females graduating from ITE programs would play a significant role in bolstering the teaching workforce. Supporting women’s entry and retention in the teaching profession is key to ensuring an adequate ongoing teacher supply.  

A closer look at what the female ITE completion data tell us 

Our research shows that for the period from 2001 to 2021, there was a significant decline – by nearly 40 per cent – of female ITE completion in the internal study mode for undergraduate ITE programs. But at the same time, female ITE completion by multimodal study doubled and nearly tripled for female ITE graduates in the external study mode.   

Similar observations can be seen with the postgraduate ITE programs.  The internal study mode declined by nearly 20 per cent in the same period. For the external and multimodal study modes, there were mammoth increases of 264.40% and 1089.11% respectively in female ITE completion.  

It is clear that there is a growing interest by females to enrol in and complete ITE programs in the external and multimodal study modes as opposed to the internal study mode. 

A graph showing the percentage of a course type

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The upward trend in the external and multimodal study modes is likely attributed, in part, to technological advancements.  The increased use and accessibility of the internet in homes would have contributed to the growth in female ITE completion in these modes of study.  

These same technological advancements facilitated the adoption of online delivery methods for ITE degrees by universities. The shift to online learning around 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic would have also contributed to the upward trend in the external study mode. 

Given the increasing trend in female ITE completion in these flexible study modes, universities would be wise to make these modes more accessible to maximise ITE completion.  We argue that policymakers, universities and schools have an important role to play in this space to address the teacher shortage. 

Policymakers should consider: 

Offering financial support, such as scholarships and financial incentives, which are specifically targeted at female students, for example: 

  1. loans or grants for female students during placements to help cover living expenses; and 
  2. needs-based support for female students from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds. 
  3. Capping tuition fees to ensure they remain affordable for all female students. 

Universities should consider:  

Providing support for students balancing academic studies with other commitments, such as family duties, which disproportionately burden female students, such as: 

  1. flexible assignment extension and leave of absence policies; and 
  2. subsidised childcare services. 

Offering flexible study options, which might include: 

  1. part-time study;  
  2. evening classes; 
  3. block study; and 
  4. mixed study mode. 

Enhancing the accessibility of external and multimodal programs by: 

  1. providing 24/7 IT helpdesk support and certified training programs to aid the development of skills required for online learning; 
  2. implementing user-friendly learning management systems and eLearning tools; and 
  3. offering funding for suitable IT equipment and internet access, especially for those in regional areas.

Fostering supportive and inclusive learning environments by: 

  1. establishing peer support groups and academic skills advising tailored to external and online students; 
  2. providing networking opportunities;  
  3. mentorship programs; and 
  4. further initiatives that address the unique challenges faced by women in tertiary study. 

Schools should consider: 

Collaborating with policymakers and universities in structured partnerships to: 

  1. facilitate the establishment of outreach programs; 
  2. provide mentoring initiatives; and 
  3. promote teaching as a viable and rewarding career choice for females.

Investing in flexible, supportive, and financially accessible ITE programs, alongside broader strategies can encourage more females to enrol in and complete ITE degrees.  This would contribute to ensuring a steady supply of qualified teachers to help avert the pending teacher shortage. 

From left to right: Scott Cowie is a librarian in Academic Engagement Services at Griffith University, who has a keen interest in educational research.  Loan Dao is an Educational Designer at the University of New South Wales and an Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Access Education at Central Queensland University.  Jeanne Allen is an Associate Professor in the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University and is also a member of the Griffith Institute for Educational Research.  Darren Pullen is a Lecturer in Health Science and Information and Communications Technology in the School of Education at the University of Tasmania.

What makes a gifted student?

At the SMH Education Summit earlier in 2024 the Education Minister of NSW, Prue Car, announced a new policy to cater for high-potential and gifted students. While well-intended, the number of schools hosting Opportunity Classes increased without changing the total number of competitive places, still only 1840. Yet, the total number of children who sat the entry tests in 2023, was around 15,300. A shift in places will make no change for those students who are missing out and cannot get the support they seek.

The announcement made for an eye-catching headline, but in terms of policy, it just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Frustratingly, there have been few changes in Gifted Policy in more than 30 years, specifically since the introduction of KLAs in 1991. Core to this problem is that gifted students fit outside the “mythical middle” that most, if not all, current educational practices attempt to cater to.  

Motherhood statements

Mantras of acceptance and diversity are motherhood statements that articulate aspirations acted on in varying degrees. An underlying culture of inertia is unhelpful in creating disruption or change to the status quo: The postcodes have changed, and cards have been shuffled, but the problem (and the deck) remains the same.

What’s policy got to do with it?

It appears that policy has little to contribute to connecting theory with practice given that we are still working with a policy and ideas that are essentially three decades old. There is an obvious disconnect between the policy messages, the reality of what students need, an ever-evolving social world, and what is happening in our classrooms. 

An additional point missed by those who have commented on Car’s announcement is the assumption that these places, no matter the postcode, are for gifted and high-potential students. This belief overlooks the performance-based culture of our education system. 

We must make considerable progress in translating good intentions into meaningful educational change.

Why is performance not the most important thing? Who are the gifted?

In this country, performance doesn’t always reflect ability. In many instances, performance reflects opportunities, much of which is afforded by private funding and unequally distributed wealth. While some gifted students will succeed in their application for government-funded opportunities, i.e. opportunity classes, many will miss out as their peers will be selected based on their performance – oftencoached and honed through parent-funded tutoring. This effectively dismisses potential and provides further opportunities for those with the funding and external provisioning to achieve academic success. 

Historically, gifted appears to be linked to diverse education principles, which are characterised by diagnoses that can act as enablers and barriers to students fulfilling their potential. Gifted education policies in NSW still refer to the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) as a way of aligning these documents with an equitable ethos of education.  Unfortunately, this source document does not mention ‘giftedness’, ‘talent’, ‘high potential’, or ‘twice-exceptionality’. Therefore, outside of students whose achievement is so significantly masked by disability, no additional provisions need to be  offered. 

Outstanding promise

Gifted students have outstanding promise to contribute to Australia’s intellectual capital and growth. Yet, they are left behind as the opportunities espoused for gifted students are, in fact, for students who perform, regardless of whether they fit the definition of gifted.  

Likewise, with the search for one definition of giftedness, there is no agreed-upon understanding of gifted education. Subjects’ syllabuses cite potential considerations for gifted and talented students. Numerous documents, such as the Gifted and Talented programs in the NSW Department of Education and several Independent schools, cite Gagne’s theory of giftedness and talent as a core model. Some of the more useful, such as the position paper to the Newman Gifted Selective Program of Sydney Catholic Schools, cite a series of observable identifiers for giftedness in children, as a starting point for investigating the capacities of individual students.  

What can be done?

To recommend another model, a reshuffling of an archaic policy, or indeed another policy change is unlikely to make a difference to the education and success of gifted students. That’s particularly true  if it is interpreted without expertise, not systematically implemented, or worse, shelved entirely. 

A system for procedures and strategies must be collaboratively developed, widely publicised, and implemented with support. 

There must also be more accessible professional learning opportunities for teachers to understand that giftedness is not an all-in-one-encompassing definition. 

Nearly half of our teachers have no experience with gifted students

Despite the extensive resources and information available in the current DET HPGE policy, 47% of teachers still report that they have no experience with gifted or high-potential students (NSW Department of Education, 2023). This demonstrates that policy alone is not the solution. Changing policy or reshuffling within a system can be ineffective, despite best intentions. 

Instead, policy needs to be coupled with adequate teacher education, and provisions and planning as part of implementation, so our best and brightest are enabled to reach their full potential and contribute to society more broadly. Recent work on the impacts of educators’ professional learning shows teachers are more motivated to address student needs once formally recognised (Sims et al., 2021; Jha, 2024). 

There are many examples of highly motivated teachers who are assisting our brightest science students well. The introduction of Science Extension in 2019 was a promising curriculum innovation giving students an authentic, open-loop experience of science as it is practised. Here, non-linear, non-coachable tasks with novel problem-solving scenarios (in mathematical concepts and differentiated instruction) have effectively extended and engaged students beyond what most thought was possible while at school (in Maths). Unfortunately, current policy has interfered with the full intention of the course. Students are once again required to sit a high-stakes exam to conform to exam-driven learning expectations. Despite this, our students have succeeded as an army of researchers, many of whom have contributed to our body of knowledge while still attending school. They have experienced firsthand that our exam-focussed system is irrelevant compared to what they have and can achieve. 

Conclusions and Next Steps

To create meaningful shifts in reform, the reform must cause ripples throughout the educational system. This includes creating aspirational goals, and transparent and visible achievement by transformation agenda, not a piecemeal approach to improving on what is already in place. 

The approach to gifted students needs to be redesigned to position the student as part of a system of support and engagement networks. The above diagram is a suggestion for what this might look like (Jawerth, 2021). This consideration catalyses a more holistic view of gifted education as it currently stands. 

Give students wings and they will fly. 

Photos of Kelly-Anne Jawerth and David Nally

Kelly-Anne Jawerth is a science specialist teacher, has held roles in syllabus development and writing and has taught in schools across Sydney. She completed her PhD in 2021 on policy development and reform for gifted and talented science education in NSW.  David Nally is an HSIE specialist teacher and has held roles as Social Sciences and Gifted and Talented Coordinator, across schools in Sydney.He is completing a PhD on Post-Truth, the impacts of its related issues (such as misinformation) on education, and how history educators can address them.