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Budget 2024: The government must support universities, students – and research

This is the third in a series of posts on the 2024 Budget. Today: higher education by the University of Melbourne’s Abigail Payne, director of the Melbourne Institute. Last Friday: early childhood care and education by the University of New England’s Marg Rogers, postdoctoral fellow at the Manna Institute Last Thursday: school funding by Curtin University’s Matthew P. Sinclair, a lecturer in education policy.

I approached this year’s budget with excitement and with trepidation. 

Why excitement? This budget offered the potential to embrace some of the more positive insights from the Universities Accord Report.  Trepidation? Would we see the government fail to address the more challenging aspects of working at a university in Australia.

I had hoped to write about the promise of renewed investment in research, in the financing of universities, and supporting the important role that universities play for progressing innovation and delivering solutions that will support strong economic growth for Australia. 

Frankly not much was announced about any important investment that must be made to strengthen and invest in our universities.  

A quick search on terms revealed that the term “student” appeared 109 times, higher education 27 times, university 27 times, VET 25 times, TAFE 7 times, science 35 times, and research 65 times. This blog will focus on the budget announcements for addressing enrolment and the servicing of debt.  

Importance of Increasing Tertiary Education Attendance

Let me start with the promising information. A goal of creating a highly skilled workforce that includes a tertiary attainment target of 80 percent by 2050. This is both laudable and ambitious.  As Figure 1 depicts, Australia is ranked 10th amongst OECD countries for educational attainment (tertiary or higher) for individuals aged 25 to 34. The current rate for those living in Australia is 49 percent for men and is 63 percent for women. 

Is increasing access to universities only about the money?

The budget also recognizes the importance of broadening access to encourage more underrepresented students to attend university. This importance will include a commitment for more needs-based funding.  What this means for the budget is vague.  And is the solution to achieving both an 80 percent target and broadening access simply about money? Increased financial commitments were announced in the budget: $1.1 billion over five years for expanded access and $350.3 million to expand access to free university courses. 

Of course, money matters. 

But research has shown, time and time again, the returns to further education are positive. That has not wavered over time. Why are we not observing high demand for university places? 

Increasing educational attainment must include considerations: how we encourage students to prepare for pursuing these degrees; how we support our schools to deliver what is needed for success in university; and what we can do to support growth in the tertiary system. All that, while maintaining high standards to ensure graduating students are best prepared for opportunities that will require higher levels of skill and knowhow.

Addressing accumulated debt – will changing indexation solve the problem?

As has been well reported, as tuitions have risen, so has student debt. Figure 2 illustrates the dramatic increase in student debt based on tax data obtained from the Australian Tax Office, computed based on the year of the last observed loan for a student, reported in real ($2022) dollars. When HECS/HELP was introduced, the average accumulated debt at the end of schooling was $10,000 in today’s dollars.  Today, the average is nearly $40,000. If we look at remaining debt after five, ten, and fifteen years (ignoring those who have fully repaid their loan), those with debt after ten years are still not making much of a dent in repaying the debt.

Increasing debt, and in more recent years, increasing effective interest on this debt has risen. This means that it is taking longer to repay debt.  Figure 3 illustrates this fact.  Using tax data and the loan information from the Australian Tax Office, we depict the share of students who have repaid their student loan debt after five, ten, and fifteen years, respectively, based on the year of the last year a loan was received.  For example, if a student enrols in university in 2000 and takes out three years of loans between 2000 and 2002, the student is identified as having received her last year of loans in 2002.

What’s changed

When tuition was on the order of $2,000 (nominal) per year (1989 to 1995), approximately 30 percent of the students had repaid their loans within five years and 78 percent had repaid the loan within ten years. Fast forward to more recent periods: only 20 percent of students have repaid their loans within five years. Only 55 percent have repaid their loans within 10 years.  As debt has increased so has the time to repay. 

The budget has recognized the challenges of loan repayment. They have announced that the effective interest rate for these loans will change. The rate will be the lower of either the Consumer Price Index or the Wage Price Index. This use of different measures to capture “inflation” is welcomed. 

Are the cuts to debt fair?

The Government has also indicated it will cut $3 billion in student debt, providing relief for those with existing debt. That’s welcome. But is it fair for those who no longer hold debt but paid off their loans in recent years?  One should also consider the potential signal it serves regarding opportunities to pay off one’s loan faster than is required. And finally, what about those who have never held a loan but are struggling financially?

Confusions around tuition rates and debt repayment – does it cause a student to pause before enrolling?

Revisiting the question of how to increase participation in tertiary education, we should think about the role increasing debt plays on the decision to pursue a university degree. The income-contingent loan repayment scheme should be applauded for creating a structure to encourage participation while deferring payment for that participation.  

What started as a simple concept, however, has become convoluted. It may lead to confusion and a decision not to pursue further education. As Figure 4 illustrates, tuition has not only increased but there are differential tuition rates depending on the program of study.  This aspect makes sense if the tuition rate reflects the cost of delivering the given program of study. This simple depiction of three or four rates, however, quickly gets confusing when a student pursues courses in different programs. Once enrolled, depending on course selection, a student can end up facing differential course fees, making it even more challenging to understand the total cost of a degree before enrolling in university. 

Source: Parliamentary Library based on Department of Education,  https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp2021/Chronologies/HigherEducation

Potentially even more confusing for a student who wants to be fully informed before university registration is the repayment rates. The basic principle is that repayment is tied to earnings. With the minimum repayment amount equalling a percentage of one’s income.

But the percentage and thresholds vary across incomes and over time. Figure 5 depicts the minimum repayment rates. These have changed both with respect to what is owed as well as the income threshold for computing the amount owed. Given the repayment rates can adjust on a year to year basis, it would be very challenging to figure out at the time of university registration how long it might take to repay a student loan. 

Source: Parliamentary Library based on Department of Education,  https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp2021/Chronologies/HigherEducation

Encouraging greater participation and meeting 2050 targets

Encouraging greater participation in tertiary education must be more than making a proclamation. We can do more to invest in our institutions, to identify the factors that contribute to a decision to pursue a degree or diploma beyond secondary school, and to provide transparent mechanisms for capturing tuition and loan repayment. To encourage greater participation in tertiary education, information on costs and expectations for repayment should be clear and easy to understand. 

Government has made a move towards reducing the costs associated with loan indexation. It has also provided temporary loan forgiveness, and is investing to promote greater access to university. But it should do more to embrace and address the challenges students AND universities face.

Abigail Payne is the Director & Ronald Henderson Professor at the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne. Her research is wide- ranging and includes the effects of policy on educational outcomes, schooling transitions, gender differences, and student performance; the determinants of poverty and disadvantage and the mechanisms for reducing poverty; and charitable giving and the role played by nonprofits in service provision.  

Budget 2024: These early childhood educators love kids. But love won’t pay the bills

This is the second in a series of posts on the 2024 Budget. Today: early childhood care and education by the University of New England’s Marg Rogers, postdoctoral fellow at the Manna Institute. Yesterday: school funding by Curtin University’s Matthew P. Sinclair, a lecturer in education policy. Monday: higher education by the University of Melbourne’s Abigail Payne, director of the Melbourne Institute.

The 2024 Federal Budget has included new and continuing early childhood initiatives to support educators and relieve the workforce crisis. That said, there are no rainbows or new pots of gold in easy reach for educators. Here’s what is new, and what remains the same.

New: Paid practicum placements (from July 2024)

Educators are eligible for a payment of $319.50 a week for practicum placements outside of their own workplace. Educators have to do many practicums as they work through certificate, diploma and degree qualifications. In this past this has led to educators taking annual leave from their job to do their placement, or worse, unpaid hours creating ‘prac poverty’.

New: Lower indexation rates for HECS-HELP student debts (retrospective adjustment from 2023)

Rather than rely on the rate of inflation to set the indexation amount on student loans, the Government will now rely on lower and more predictable figures. The indexation rate, (similar to interest), will be either the Wage Price Index or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower on any given year. 

This initiative will bring relief to early childhood educators who are trained, or training to be degree qualified and have a HECS-HELP student loan. Educators are often especially affected as they generally take longer to pay these debts off because:

  • they have low wages, so the rate of compulsory repayments is lower;
  • as 92% of the workforce are women, they are often taking career breaks to be the primary carers of children and relatives; and
  • they often work part time due to their caring responsibilities, meaning there are often years where they pay little to none of the debt.

These debts often fester for years, increasing educators’ levels of poverty, and reducing their ability to apply for a home loan. Thus, HECS-HELP schemes are an outdated and very sexist policy designed in the 1980s, largely by men who had little understanding of the impact it would have on women.

Continuation: Wage increases (when the Fair Work Commission completes its processes)

Probably the most disappointing part of the budget for educators is there is no increase in wages until the Fair Work Commission has completed its Annual Wage Review and Gender Pay Equity Research exercise. 

While this is important work, it will not help educators in the middle of a cost of living crisis who are leaving their jobs because they can’t afford to stay. It is important to note here that degree qualified early childhood educators receive about 20% less than school teachers with the same qualifications. 

That said, the Government has committed $30 million over 2024-25 to the processes of paying educators more once the decision is finalised. 

Continuation: Incentive System payments (2024-25)

Apprentices, trainees and employees benefit from Phase II of the Incentive System for priority skill areas, such as early education. In the second phase, educators on a traineeship could receive between $3000-5000 as a bonus over the two years. Additionally, sign on incentives payments of $4000-5000 are available for early childhood services to attract staff. 

This might help to attract some new educators in a time of high employment. This bonus is especially needed in regional, rural and remote regions, and low-income metropolitan suburbs who live in ‘childcare deserts’. This is where three or more families are competing for one space within a service. In some areas, it is 20 or more families, with parents waiting for many years to access early learning for their child. 

General initiatives: New supports impacting early childhood educators

As part of the general taxpaying population, educators will benefit from the stage 3 tax reforms. It will improve their take-home pay as they earn less than $146,000. Additionally, because 92% of the workforce in early education are women, some will be eligible for these new measures, depending on their circumstances. These include:

  1. domestic violence payment of $5000 for those fleeing an abusive relationship (continuation of a pre-existing scheme);
  2. improved funding in crisis and transitional accommodation (new funding); and 
  3. superannuation added to Commonwealth paid parent leave (from 2025). 

The verdict

In some ways, this is a disappointing budget for educators. Their wages have been effectively reduced from low to unsustainable during a time of high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis. This will mean more educators will leave, if they cannot wait for the lengthy Fair Work Commission’s processes. 

Many have already left. They are enjoying higher wages in other sectors, such as the Aged Care Sector, whose wages were adjusted previously.

This high level of attrition negatively impacts:

  1. children (who need secure, caring relationships to support their learning, and access to important developmental screening);
  2. parents (especially women, who cannot work when they have no access to early learning);
  3. family wellbeing (reduced family income increases household stress);
  4. communities (who are losing young families when they cannot access early learning, and who cannot attract workers from other sectors to the area), and 
  5. the economy (as there are less taxpayers when parents cannot access early education for their children). 

Unfortunately, passion for children’s education does not pay the bills and provide a sustainable economic wage. We need real reform in early childhood education so our children, parents, families, communities and country thrive.

Dr Marg Rogers is a senior lecturer in early childhood education at UNE and a postdoctoral fellow at the Manna Institute.

BUDGET 2024: Why is the money for public schools still missing?

This is first in a series of posts on the 2024 Budget. Today: school funding by Curtin University’s Matthew P. Sinclair, a lecturer in education policy. Tomorrow: early childhood care and education by the University of New England’s Marg Rogers, postdoctoral fellow at the Manna Institute Monday: higher education by the University of Melbourne’s Abigail Payne, director of the Melbourne Institute.

This is beginning to feel like the “Gonski 3.0” phase of school funding policy reform that will yet again fall short for public schools

We’ve seen this movie before. This time the actors are different but the plot remains the same. 

Analysing Tuesday night’s federal budget was a timely reminder that fully funding the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) for all Australian public schools has been an unattainable goal since at least 2012—when the Review of Funding for Schooling’s final report [the Gonski Review] was publicly released. 

There’s nothing put aside

An analysis of the forward estimates for public schools beyond 2025 shows there’s nothing put aside by the federal ALP for New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria to help reach 100% of the SRS any time soon. 

Nor does the money appear for Western Australia (WA) or the Northern Territory (NT). Earlier this year they signed Statements of Intent to deliver an agreement to fully fund the SRS of public schools in the coming years—2026 for the former and 2029 for the latter—in a deal worth an additional $785.4 million and $737 million in federal money respectively over five years.

Regarding the signing on of WA and the NT, as Elisa Di Gregorio, Professor Jane Kenway and I pointed out earlier this year, WA was low hanging fruit given they funded more than 100% of the SRS in 2018, and the robust state of its economy— it delivered its sixth straight budget surplus last week. While the Northern Territory, in terms of its population of under 300,000, is much smaller than the eastern states who are yet to sign on.

Ongoing budget negotiations – but does that matter?

Of course, Minister for Education Jason Clare would point to the ongoing negotiations between the federal government and the unsigned states on coming to an agreement for public schools to begin a path to reaching 100% of the SRS. And the fact that the next set of bilateral agreements are set to be signed at the end of the year as part of the National School Reform Agreement (NSRA), and that the money is there and available.

In response, I would point out that the Gonski Review, which first recommended the SRS as a needs based funding framework, was commissioned in 2010 and delivered its final report to the federal government in December 2011. Furthermore, the previous set of national school funding bilateral agreements between the federal government and the states and territories expired at the end of 2023, and required a 12-month extension.

Almost 5 months later we still don’t have five states signed on for the next agreement that we’ve been promised will get all public schools to 100% of the SRS sooner rather than later. 

Memories of Gillard past

Unfortunately, we’ve seen this trajectory in school funding policy for public schools before. The Gillard government in 2013 put together a six-year funding deal that promised to get public schools to 100% of the SRS. The problem was that two thirds of the funding was to come in the fifth and sixth years of the deal, and had not been budgeted for in the forward estimates. 

At the time of the deal, the Gillard government was in a precarious political position and unlikely to win the two elections needed to deliver on the promise. Thus, when the Abbott government won power in 2013, they either had to find two thirds of all the funding promised by the ALP in two years, or take a new direction. 

As we know, they chose the latter, and this led to the ALP being able to use school funding policy as a political weapon against the Coalition, arguing they were cutting funding for public schools when in fact that money was only promised, and never budgeted for. The ALP made similar arguments during the Gonski 2.0 phase of school funding reform where they presented their unfulfilled promises as hard policy.

The ALP’s slim majority

This storyline came back to me Tuesday evening looking at the federal budget papers and thinking about the 12 month extension to the current funding agreements. After listening to Treasurer Dr Jim Chalmers’ speech, and looking at the forward estimates, my first reaction was to check the next election date. It is May 2025, at the latest, and the federal ALP sits on a slim majority of 77 of 151 seats in the lower house of parliament. 

Under the current extended bilateral agreements, the states and territories are meant to provide 80% of the SRS for public schools and 20% for non-government schools. While the federal government provides 20% to public schools and 80% to non-government schools. 

Well short of the budget mark

The reason public schools outside of the Australian Capital Territory are not consistently funded at 100% of the SRS is the states and the NT do not fully fund the 80% and in some cases are well short of that mark. 

Minister Clare knows this well and is proposing lifting the federal share of public funding from 20% to 22.5% in a deal worth an extra $6bn over five years, while the unsigned states want the federal government to lift its share to 25%, in order for them to contribute 75%. 

Minister Clare also wants funding tied to new reporting obligations that he argues will lift student outcomes; the states who are yet to sign on are arguing this is yet another level of compliance for schools and teachers. 

Meanwhile, the Australian Greens want more urgency from the federal government on reaching 100% of the SRS. 

History repeated

All of this feels like history repeated. The ALP makes promises about fully funding the SRS for public schools, the Greens call for fully funding public education, the money isn’t budgeted for across the forward estimates, and then political winds change, and the money never lands.

Is this the Gonski 3.0 phase of school funding policy? It is beginning to feel that way and the current trajectory suggests it may well end the same way as 1.0 and 2.0. 

Although, there is still a possibility that Minister Clare and the remaining states will come to an agreement and sign on to finally fully fund the SRS of all public schools during the next set of bilateral agreements, which provides hope. 

Indeed, Minister Clare has achieved positive results so far including much needed money for public school infrastructure (although much more capital works funding is required), putting together a national plan to address the teacher shortage, and paid school placements for some university students, and more.

We need a positive ending

However, he has a lot more work to do to deliver on his commitment to getting all public schools on a path to 100% of the SRS.   For our less advantaged students, for a change, we need a positive ending to this school funding policy story. 

Matthew P. Sinclair is a lecturer of education policy at Curtin University’s School of Education in Western Australia. His first book titled Equity and Influence in the Funding of Schools is on track to be published by Bloomsbury later this year.

School exclusion: what this heartbreaking work tells us

Numbers show school exclusion is on the rise. But there is very little evidence to show it is an effective mechanism for improving or managing student behaviour. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students with a disability, or living in out of home care continue to be significantly overrepresented in suspension and exclusion statistics. These patterns of systemic exclusion are part of a much longer story. Ahead of the Yoorrook Justice Commission’s inquiry into the education system, what might we learn from this history that can help us to end school exclusion?

School exclusion today

Across Australia today, schools disproportionately exclude Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Data from 2019 shows that in Queensland and NSW, schools directed 25% of all exclusions at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students despite making up just over 10% of full-time state school enrolments in QLD and only 8% in NSW. The likelihood of exclusion increases even more for students with intersecting experiences such as living with disability or in out of home care. There are also connections between inadequate and unfair schooling systems and contact with the criminal justice system. However, access to up-to-date school exclusion data remains difficult, limiting public scrutiny and accountability for the full extent of school exclusion across Australia. 

The history of school exclusion

Beginning in 1883, multiple generations of Aboriginal students at Yass were segregated, excluded and denied access to public schooling. The 70-years of school exclusion at Yass is just one of many stories of school exclusion detailed in a recent research report. For the first time, the history of school exclusion of Indigenous students across Australia has been recorded in one place. It confirms what families and communities have said for generations: the education system has a systemic racism problem. But Indigenous communities have always resisted and organised to fight exclusion. The historical record is replete with stories of families fighting back in diverse ways including strikes, organised protests, letters and petitions, media and legal campaigns.  

What we found

Our research found exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students occurred across all state school systems in Australia. We found systemic exclusion, that is, exclusion in all states and territories, from the foundation of the first education systems in the 1870s to the present. We found two main types of exclusion:

  1. The failure of governments to provide access to schooling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by either not ensuring access or by outright denying access. 
  2. The disproportionate use of exclusionary measures, such as suspension and expulsion, against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. 

Historically, Indigenous students were excluded based on explicitly racialised justifications. Today, modern forms of exclusion are represented as race ‘neutral’, yet schools use disciplinary exclusion measures disproportionately against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, compounding the educational debt that is owed.

This history highlights the explicitly racist origins of school exclusion today. It also makes clear that school exclusion is not a new issue but rather is part of a system that has yet to fundamentally rethink how it supports young people. 

Problems with current policies

Exclusion has proven ineffective in addressing the underlying causes of student ‘misbehaviour’. In fact, most data shows that once a student is excluded, they are likely to be excluded again. Yet school systems in Australia continue to rely on exclusion as a form of punishment. 

Our research also found troubling continuities between past and present policies. From the outset, education systems gave police powers to investigate and bring charges against families for their child’s non-attendance, sometimes leading to the removal of children from their families. Today, police continue to play a central role in managing school absenteeism in many states. In Queensland, this relationship has been formalised. Of 57 secondary schools currently in QLD’s ‘School Based Policing Program’, 41 have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student population higher than the state figure of 8-10%. This suggests a link between the racial profiling, surveillance, and over-policing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in schools, and their overrepresentation in processes of school exclusion. 

Policy fixation

Another problem is policy fixation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school attendance and disadvantage which have dominated the policy-making space in Indigenous education. Yet, there has rarely been a focus on the impact of the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. In fact, notably, our research suggests that discipline policies, suspensions and expulsions are rarely mentioned in national policy documents and inquiries.

Finally, access to data remains difficult. This is despite national agreement for increased levels of transparency around school attendance. Limited availability of data on school exclusion in Australia prevents a full investigation of the racialised nature of exclusion and hinders public accountability.

So what does work?

First and foremost, disaggregated data needs to be made publicly available to increase transparency. Only then can we have a full picture of which students are being excluded which can be used to hold governments and schools to account.

Second, we need to shift away from school exclusion as a form of discipline towards more restorative approaches that emphasise repairing relationships over and above the need for punishment. Restorative justice practices are already being implemented in communities across Australia and numerous school districts in other countries are implementing restorative practices in schools as an alternative to exclusionary discipline. We have clear examples to draw on, we just need the willingness to do so.

Lastly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have fought and continue to fight resolutely to access schooling for their children and to resist discriminatory practices and policies. Today, organisations like the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition are taking up this fight, advocating for the end of school exclusion and for a self-determined education system that reflects and embodies Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing. 

How do we end school exclusion?

We developed a School Exclusion 101 – Youth Guide. It aims to equip young people with the knowledge and tools to challenge exclusion in schools. The guide includes an audit tool that young people can use to reflect on whether their school’s student behaviour policy (or code of conduct) is inclusive, transparent and fair. It provides a starting point to discuss ways to make such policies more inclusive.

The report underscores the need for greater attention to the historical foundations of discrimination in Australian school systems. Acknowledging this history and advocating for greater truth-telling is a pivotal step towards addressing systemic inequalities.

From left to right: Mati Keynes is a non-Indigenous historian living and working on Wurundjeri Country. Mati is currently McKenzie Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Education at the University of Melbourne. Samara Hand is a Worimi/Biripi woman born on Awabakal Country in New South Wales, Australia. She is currently a PhD candidate at UNSW, visiting scholar at the University of Manitoba, and a co-founder of the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition.  Beth Marsden is a non-Indigenous historian living and working on Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country. Currently, she is ARC Laureate Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Research Centre for Deep History at the Australian National University. Archie Thomas is a Chancellors Research Fellow at University of Technology Sydney where his research focuses on how institutions like schools and the media exclude and include historically marginalised groups.

Transforming Online Assessment in Business Education: What do we need to know now

Elaine Huber’s collaborators on this project are: Andrew Brodzeli, University of Sydney; Andrew Cram, University of Sydney; Lynne Harris, Head of Teaching and Learning Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand (CAANZ); Corina Raduescu, University of Sydney; Amanda White, CA, University of Technology Sydney; Sue Wright , University of Technology Sydney; Sandris Zeivots; University of Sydney.

The pandemic reignited more innovative approaches to teaching and learning. It also gave us an opportunity to consider how we might conduct assessments differently in business education. 

The intricate dance of managing expectations across different stakeholders has never been more dynamic.

In a recent exploratory study, educational researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney  shed light on the nuances of designing online assessments that uphold academic integrity, assure quality feedback, and enhance student experiences in business education. 

Why business education?

Business education, bound by stringent professional accreditations, is grappling with maintaining standards while navigating the complexities of online assessments. The Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC) acts as the collective voice of Australian university business schools, which educate about one in six of all domestic students ­and nearly 40 percent of the nation’s international students. Our research project commissioned by the ABDC investigated current evidence about the forms of online assessment practices and developed a framework to guide best-practice decision-making about online assessments.

Aiming for Quality and Integrity

Drawing upon an extensive literature review and empirical data from surveys and focus groups, our research identified six key considerations essential for high-quality online assessments: ensuring academic integrity, delivering quality feedback, supporting a positive learning experience, maintaining the integrity of student information, using authentic content that reflects real-world scenarios and guaranteeing equal opportunity for success. 

A Framework to Guide Practice in Business Education

Our findings culminated in a proposed framework aimed at aiding educators in their decision-making for online assessment design. This framework takes into account the nuanced scales of delivery, resource limitations, institutional policies, and accreditation demands that shape educators’ practices. 

The imperative of authenticity

A key insight from our research was the need for authenticity in assessments, ensuring that what students learn is not only tested but also applied, resembling real-world scenarios they are likely to encounter. This authentic approach not only engages students more deeply but also reinforces the relevance and applicability of their learning beyond the classroom.

Fostering Academic Integrity in Business Education

In an online world, upholding academic integrity becomes increasingly complex. Our framework suggests the need for innovative assessment methods that can mitigate the risks of dishonesty while maintaining the credibility of the educational process. For example an approach that is growing in popularity is the Interactive Oral. Our study explores how academic integrity can be woven seamlessly into the fabric of online assessments, preserving the trust and value inherent in higher education. Since the study was published, generative AI has increased the access to mechanisms that enable academic dishonesty, making this issue even more critical to understand and address. In response to this development, integrity is receiving more attention than other considerations in the design of online assessments. 

Quality Feedback Through Dialogue

Feedback in the learning process cannot be understated. It is the subject of many studies over decades of educational research. Our study delves into how quality feedback can be integrated into online assessments, creating a dialogue between educators and students. This exchange not only clarifies expectations and enhances learning but also allows for the continuous improvement of assessment design itself. A way of doing this well is to invite students to contribute their voices to a co-design or co-creation approach to the assessment design.

Tackling trade-offs head-on

Our findings also underscore the complexity of these factors influencing assessment design. Focus group participants highlighted the constant negotiation of constraints in the assessment design process. This includes the delicate balance between ensuring academic integrity, fostering a positive learning environment, and addressing scalability. For example, while traditional assessments such as exams and essays are familiar and easily translatable to the online format, students perceive them as boring. Online assessments often lack innovation and fail to leverage the potential of technology such as enhancing authenticity through simulations and real world cases. I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS MEANS

Real-world Implications

Our study not only contributes to the scholarly dialogue between educators and higher education providers but also resonates with the professional accreditation bodies of various industries such as Chartered Accountants, Property Management, Chartered Financial Analysts etc. The intricate dance of managing expectations across different stakeholders has never been more dynamic. In the next stage of our research project, we aim to validate the framework elements across relevant stakeholder groups including students, educational decision and policy makers, accreditation body representatives and employers.

The future is now

And then came GenAI. When ChatGPT and its allies landed in full force we quickly harnessed the access to our stakeholder groups to explore their perspectives on the use of AI tools. We used thematic analysis to validate the framework and uncover new elements and their relationships. Preliminary findings indicate concerns from educational decision makers (financial costs), employers (who defines authenticity), accrediting bodies (academic integrity), students (feedback), and educators (differentiating summative and formative assessment). 

Join the conversation

In the complete paper, “Towards a framework for designing and evaluating online assessments in business education,” we present a rich, data-driven discourse on the intricacies of assessment design. You can also read more on our theoretical underpinnings, the voices of educators shaping the next generation, and the potential pathways our framework paves for future research and practice. We hope to continue a conversation aimed at changing digital assessment practices, and offer a guide for those at the forefront of educational innovation. Our website is the place for this, see http://bizonlineassessment.com  

Elaine Huber, associate professor at the University of Sydney, has been designing curriculum and teaching adults for over 20 years and is currently the Academic Director of the Business Co-Design team at the University of Sydney. Elaine leads this multiskilled team of educational developers, learning designers, media producers and research associates, working together with discipline staff, students and industry partners on a large strategic project called Connected Learning at Scale.

What is the tension between Jason Clare and Tony Burke?

Dan Harris has given two keynotes at national education gatherings this year. This post is based on those keynotes and addresses a gap in education policy research the tension between arts and education.

Education in conflict with cultural portfolio?

There is an urgent tension playing out between two national government portfolios, one which is creating confusion and regressive decision-making in Australian education. Federal Education Minister Jason Clare’s response to emergency-level teacher shortages and an inability to retain the ones we have is characterised by what is known as the TEEP Report, “Strong Beginnings”, which advocates for direct instruction of literacy and numeracy in all teacher training and schools, and increasingly a turn away from embodied, experiential and 21st skills like collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Arts Minister Tony Burke’s National Cultural Policy, ‘Revive’, however, mentions education 37 times, linking arts and education as core to the recovery of a post-COVID vibrant cultural landscape.

National Education review

Last July, the Strong Beginnings: Report of the Teacher Education Expert Panel, otherwise known as (TEEP), set out 14 recommendations to revamp Initial Teacher Education in Australia’s universities. The recommendations were emphasised across four domains – a) strengthening ITE programs to deliver confident, effective beginning teachers; b) strengthening the link between performance and funding of ITE programs; c) improving the quality of practical experiences in teaching; d) and improving access to postgraduate ITE for mid-career entrants.  Creativity nor the arts are mentioned even ONE TIME in its entire 128 pages. Wellbeing is mentioned just once, and only in relation to students. Education experts pushed back: “The loss of agility and likelihood of sameness is thus concerning, cookie cutter education programs seem to be the antithesis of what we need to ensure we attract and graduate a diverse teacher workforce,” wrote Griffith University’s Professor Donna Pendergast. 

Despite an embedded ‘Critical and Creative Thinking’ General Capability (CCT) in the Australian Curriculum, and participation in the global PISA Creative Thinking test, our government responds to burnout in the teaching workforce, declining teacher retention, and increasing student disengagement, by ignoring the evidence-based research and pushing a one-size fits all approach to teacher training. To suggest that spelling and adding up are the most important skills our students need for 21st century success is just playing short term politics.

One size doesn’t fit all

In January, The Guardian reported that

“Overwhelmingly, students want to learn anywhere, anytime, but they also want to learn in ways that suit their individual needs. Sixty percent of the students we surveyed are juggling work or family commitments, and increasingly students need to learn at times that suit them. What’s more, 17% of students report having a disability, which may require an adapted approach. For many reasons, the one-to-many traditional model of university teaching is not the best approach for every student.”

Not only COVID, but its acceleration of automated decision-making and predictive AI technology can be seen as an opportunity to re-think and re-do our cultural, creative and educational sectors, including the coming ‘higher education revolution’. 

Minister Clare acknowledged last year that teacher workforce challenges cannot be addressed by any one jurisdiction alone and called on researchers to develop and publish data about teacher wellbeing and career intentions as part of his National Teacher Workforce Action Plan. We now have a chance to respond to this call with a holistic approach to reinvigoration as interdependent sectors in a larger national cultural and creative ecology. 

National Cultural Policy ‘Revive’

REVIVE links arts education as core to a vibrant cultural landscape: “Access to arts and culture through education and training will also assist the capacity of the industry through the development of future audiences for arts and cultural experiences” (p. 52, ). In other words, we have to work together to move forward. REVIVE reminds us that the more than 3.2 million Australian young people (aged 15-24) deserve experiential pathways into cultural and creative jobs. Are they going to get those pathways through a return to direction instruction in schools and teacher education? In fact, it seems as though the two ministers are not even aware of each others’ policies. But given’s Australia’s short-term desire to raise literacy and numeracy scores, and the longterm goal of improving wellbeing, a vibrant cultural sector, and global workplace skills, a combination of direct instruction and creative skills and capacities is one possibility.

REVIVE claims that “Creativity and design thinking have been shown to be increasingly valuable to a range of different disciplines, including to train and upskill individuals across a range of industries” (2023, p. 48). So how is this addressed by the direct instruction injunction to all Initial Teacher Education programs by 2026? REVIVE itself calls for a rethinking of our education system (p. 13). This is government at its schizophrenic worst, with departments not talking to each other, seemingly not even knowing what the other is releasing to the public. 

UNESCO Sustainability Development Goals

Australia is of course a signatory to the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals. Does a direct instruction approach align with SDG 3 ‘to ensure good health and wellbeing for all at all ages?’ Does an accelerated training program advanced by the Strong Beginnings report ensure that? Teachers need more training, and more support, just like artists and other precarious and overstretched sectors. Not less, like stop-gap “permission to teach” solutions. Just more short-term solutions to long-term challenges.

While REVIVE seems to respond to SDG 4’s call ‘to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all (targets 4.3, 4.4, 4.5)’ by re-integrating arts-rich experiences all across compulsory education (not just the early years), the Strong Beginnings report refutes this. 

Lastly, do these contradictory policy and vision strategies enact our commitment to SDG 8’s call ‘to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’ (8.4, 8.5, 8.6) (UN 2020; Sachs 2015)? 

They do not. Teachers are leaving because it is, for many, no longer decent work. Surely sustainable futures – ecologically, economically and emotionally – depend upon longer term commitments than the ones currently on the table.

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 Co-Director of Creative Agency research lab: www.creativeresearchhub.com.

Housing: how to fix the teacher shortage

Legislation requires governments to provide every child with a quality education, regardless of where they live and what school they attend. 

But meeting this requirement is at risk because of  two crises: housing affordability and teacher shortages. 

As we require children and youth of a certain age to attend school, we need to be able to staff those schools. Ensuring staff can access quality housing within commuting distance of their workplace is a major challenge, one that needs new ways of thinking. 

Housing the education workforce (as with other essential workers) should be thought of as necessary public infrastructure

An adequate supply of quality housing for educators should be assured through government planning and implementation. Just as communities need roads, transport, health services, and schools – they also need essential workers. Otherwise, we risk the prospect of schools without teachers.

Research has revealed 90 per cent of teaching positions in Sydney, more than 50,000 full-time equivalent posts, are in Local Government Areas (LGA) where it is unaffordable to rent or buy on a teacher salary. Half of all statistical areas (SA2) in Sydney have a higher average salary than a teacher salary (up from 31% in 2017-2018). The gap between teacher salaries and housing costs continues to widen, with no sign of letting up.

The impact is already being felt. Nearly two-thirds of Australian schools report daily activities are being compromised by staffing issues, 10,000 classes are uncovered each day in NSW, and as of January 2024, 47 per cent of teacher vacancies (n=844) in NSW were in metropolitan areas. Schools need to pay incentives and allowances to meet rising housing costs in the city.

The state of play

Housing is considered affordable up to three times an annual salary. Using the latest data (September quarter, 2023), median housing sales costs in all Sydney LGAs are severely beyond that – five times the annual teacher salary right at the top of the range times) annual top of the scale teacher salaries. 

Across the state, over one-third of LGAs have median housing sales greater than five times an annual top of the scale salary.

Based on December quarter 2023 (latest data), across the state, 43% of LGA have a median rent that is unaffordable for a graduate teacher and 13% for a top of the scale teacher. However, if focused on Greater Sydney, all LGAs are unaffordable for a graduate teacher, and 44% of LGAs are unaffordable for a top of the scale teacher. Put simply, the long-term sustainable staffing of Sydney, and NSW (as with elsewhere) schools requires new approaches.

A case study: Parramatta LGA

Identified as one of five super-growth LGAs, needing an additional 1,347 teachers by 2036, an increase of nearly 70 per cent on present levels, Parramatta represents a key challenge for meeting staffing needs.

Median house sales are greater than six times a top of the scale salary and rents are severely unaffordable for a graduate teacher.

Current evidence shows a greater distribution of the points of origin for the workforce over time. And as a result, commuting distance and time spent travelling are increasing. Research has shown that increased commuting time has a negative impact on productivity and well-being. 

Problems and Possibilities

The NSW Government’s Shared Equity Home Buyer Helper scheme has income ($93,200 for singles, $124,200 for couples) and property value ($950,000) limits where only graduate teachers (Step 1 and 2) are eligible. Based on the latest median sales figures (Q3, 2023), non-strata properties in 89% of LGAs, and strata properties in 29% of LGAs across the city are ineligible.

AWARE Super has launched an Essential Workers Housing Portfolio, with properties in Epping, Hurstville, Miranda, and Waterloo. Rents are set at 80% market value to help essential workers live closer to where they work.

Evidence from the Center for Cities and Schools in California indicates that it can take between five and ten years from conceptualisation through to tenants being housed in education workforce housing projects.

Overall, there is an absence of context sensitive independent research to deliver the evidence needed by governments, developers, and systems, for interventions.

Where to focus our attention

There is a compelling case for change. And the window is rapidly narrowing for decisive action to avoid multi-generation implications for schools, communities, and most importantly, students. 

We know salaries cannot keep up with housing costs, that there is limited availability of quality housing stock in many areas, that commuting times are increasing adding to an already tiring workday, and that productivity, retention, and personal well-being gains can be achieved with reduced commutes.

Three things policy makers should do:

  1. Revise shared equity schemes so that income and property cost thresholds reflect the reality of current city circumstances. Success would be having shared equity schemes available for all teachers who want it and in areas nearby workplaces.
  2. Expand targeted housing developments through public – private partnership with tax incentives to house education workers near where they work. Success being the availability of high-quality housing stock within proximity of workplaces.
  3. Build the evidence base to inform interventions. Success being improved decision-making quality through robust independent research and data infrastructure aligned with interventions.

These problems are not unique to Sydney, but common throughout Australia. The ideas presented here alone will not solve the teacher shortage nor the affordability of housing. 

Initiatives to attract and retain teachers mean little if they cannot afford to live within commuting distance of their workplaces.


Scott Eacott is
 professor of education in the School of Education at UNSW Sydney. He leads an interdisciplinary research program on the intersection of the teacher shortage, the housing crisis, and the organisation of education. The central question of this program is ‘How accessible are schools for their workforce?’ His work seeks to develop tools for governments, stakeholders, systems, and educators to better understand how best to meet legal, social, and cultural expectations in the provision of education.

Explicit teaching mandate – a pushback now is critical

Today, NSW teachers will spend  their professional learning session focused on explicit teaching, also known as explicit instruction. 

The NSW Education Department Secretary Murat Dizdar told the ABC: “On day one, term two, which is a school development day, right across 2,200 schools, we will be undertaking explicit teaching learning, in every single school in New South Wales.”

Excessive focus on explicit methods will have side effects and could lead to students not meeting curriculum expectations.

A pushback is critical – explicit teaching is not a magic bullet, nor should it be the single pedagogy in any classroom. Definitions of explicit teaching vary, as do its implementations. The approach to explicit teaching and its effectiveness will depend on the discipline and specific focus in question.

 Learning is complex: Multiple pedagogical approaches are needed

We all agree that teaching and learning are critically important but complex. Teachers are focused on improving student learning. However, in Australia the 3 yearly PISA results over the last 2 decades show a decline in 15-year-old students’ ability to apply their reading, scientific and mathematical knowledge and skills to solve real-life problems.  PISA focuses on the capacity of students to analyse, reason and communicate ideas effectively, to continue learning throughout life, and become successful in the workplace.  One of the highest ranked countries in PISA has mathematical problem solving at the centre of their curriculum framework. In Singapore teachers are highly valued 

Those pushing explicit instruction,do not recognise that the literature doesn’t support its use in mathematics education. It’s either commentary or uses literature focused on research outside the field of mathematics education (e.g., literacy in the early years) and is not drawing on other mathematics education research literature. Other research is in very specific situations, such as students with some specific disability, or where the ‘thing’ being learned is very narrow.

The language used to describe various pedagogical approaches from general to specific matters. Advocates of explicit instruction or explicit teaching often state this should be the main (or only) approach used by teachers and often incorrectly infer it is the only evidence-based approach. Definitions of explicit teaching vary, as do its implementations. Importantly, the approach to explicit teaching and its effectiveness will depend on the discipline and specific focus in question. 

Comparing the pair

Explicit teaching is typically described as teacher-centred. A lesson based on this ideology begins with the teacher presenting their understanding of the lesson focus, followed by an explanation of important ideas, and a demonstration of how to do  particular examples. Students then work on similar ‘tasks’ with teacher support reducing over time as students demonstrate they are able to achieve success independently. Such lessons conclude with the teacher highlighting the important ideas from the lesson. 

Alternative approaches, where students investigate or inquire into mathematical and real-world problems  are typically described as student-centred. A lesson based on this ideology typically begins by considering a real-world situation or mathematical context that demands exploration and application of prior mathematical and/or real-world knowledge and problem-solving processes. As is often the case in social settings (including workplaces), students are encouraged to work on the task both independently and in small groups. The skilful teacher then draws on their planning and observations of students’ learning to orchestrate discussion whereby key ideas and thinking strategies are shared and evaluated by the class. This too, is explicit teaching… but the enactment allows for greater student agency and voice. This interactive, cyclical process might be repeated several times as students are supported to solve the problem.

Is it simply a matter of “Teachers, choose your pedagogy!”?

No. Australia is a low-equity education system. This means our classrooms are highly diverse. The idea that there is one best way to teach all students is not evidence-based and warrants scrutiny. Making judgments on how to teach students well relies on professional knowledge of the school, the students, the curriculum, and the real-world contexts that are important for students to learn about. Planning for student learning, and teaching effectively in the moment, are skills that teachers develop through their initial teaching qualification(s) and practice over the course of their careers. A skilful teacher will adopt a balance of teacher and student-centred approaches, depending on what the learning focus for the day calls for. 

Teaching and learning is complex. Thus, there is no one way for teachers to act in every classroom irrespective ot school type (e.g., mainstream, special education), Year level (F-12 and beyond), discipline in focus (e.g., mathematics), time of year, and even time in a lesson sequence or unit of work.

Once ‘something’ is learned it can be challenging to consider how to best teach that ‘something’ to others. This is why teachers have discipline knowledge, pedagogical knowledge (both general and specific to each discipline they teach) and curricula knowledge. We should value teachers and their knowledge of teaching, initially developed in their University degrees, and developed further as they teach and engage in professional learning – especially that specific to the specific subject and year levels in focus.

How are education systems responding to the debate?

In 2017, the Victorian Government published the High Impact Teaching Strategies, commonly referred to as the HITS. These are based on the work of Hattie’s (2009) meta-analysis of over 800 studies, his 2012 book and work from Marzano (2017). A meta-analysis is a synthesis of many different studies across levels of schooling (early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary), types of schooling (e.g., mainstream schools, special education) and discipline areas (e.g., English, Mathematics). Hattie’s approach thus aggregates findings from many studies together. This ‘averaging’ approach can be criticised but the top ten strategies are unsurprisingly part of every teacher’s set of competencies. 

Explicit teaching (following Hattie, 2009) is one of the 10 high impact teaching  strategies or instructional practices presented. An argument is made that all 10 HITS: Setting goals, structuring lessons, explicit teaching, worked examples, collaborative learning, multiple exposures, questioning, feedback, metacognitive strategies and differentiated teaching should be part of a teacher’s practice. Some of these practices are described using different terminology elsewhere. Importantly, the HITS are seen as being used alongside other effective strategies by teachers. 

However, in different jurisdictions explicit teaching is presented as ‘all encompassing’  or all central to other more specific strategies including questioning, feedback, connections.

Questioning

If we think about questioning – an essential pedagogical approach in every discipline and Year level, and which all teachers would aim and plan to be effective – different questions have different purposes. The importance a teacher gives to the students’ response can vary greatly. Most secondary mathematics pre-service students would read an article such as Questioning our patterns of questioning to develop an understanding of different patterns of interactions (initiation-response-feedback, funnelling or focusing). In planning and in-the-moment in the lesson, a teacher selects the interaction type depending on the specific focus for learning at that point in the lesson: mainly providing feedback (IRF), or funnelling students to use a specific strategy, or helping students’ articulate their current thinking. Teachers ask important planned questions and respond to student input in ways related to the learning focus.

Aiming for methods that make sense

Any discussion about teaching must be specific to what is intended to be learned by students. Otherwise too much is open to interpretation.

We should be aiming for methods that are understood and make sense to students – these won’t be forgotten in the longer term. Teaching needs to focus on learning opportunities that persist beyond the short term.

Those who expect learning to be evident immediately do not understand what it means to learn or to understand. Learning  is an ongoing process.

Two examples from within mathematics education are included here. Anthony and Hunter’s (2009) review of the characteristics of effective teaching of mathematics discussed explicit language instruction and explicit strategies for communicating mathematics (explaining and justifying) but did not report evidence for explicit teaching as effective teaching of mathematics. Discussing research-informed strategies for teaching mathematics,  Sullivan notes that if explicit instruction is taken to be “drill-orientated approaches, with the teacher doing most of the talking” and mathematical thinking, then this is not conducive to student engagement nor motivation to learn. 

If we look at the curriculum teachers are implementing, it is very clear in the Australian curriculum, both recent and current, that explicit instruction alone will not provide opportunities for students to meet the expectations of the general capabilities, cross-curriculum priorities, nor of specific disciplines (especially mathematics).

The first aim

According to the Australian Curriculum V9.0, the first aim of Mathematics is to: “ensure that students become confident, proficient and effective users and communicators of mathematics, who can investigate, represent and interpret situations in their personal and work lives, think critically, and make choices as active, engaged, numerate citizens.”

This cannot be achieved without students engaged in decision-making about their own learning. Equally, the proficiencies and processes that underpin the mathematics  curriculum cannot be learned solely via explicit instruction.

The school classroom, the people ‘doing mathematics’ should be the learners, not the teachers, hence the term ‘student-centred’. Teachers do their mathematics in preparation for class. Mathematics teachers need to use varied pedagogies, both planned and in the moment.

Irrespective of definitions, teachers plan for effective teaching and have specific learning goals in mind. As a lesson unfolds, teachers make decisions – based on their planning – and use a variety of pedagogical strategies to maximise learning opportunities for all students. All teachers have the learning at the centre of their planning. In the classroom, the teacher should be empowered to make decisions about pedagogy based on their teachers education, prior classroom experiences, the curriculum, and professional learning (especially that focused on knowing how students learn particular ideas in a discipline.

Complex and nuanced

Teaching and learning is complex and nuanced. Thus, there is no one way for teachers to act in every classroom irrespective ot school type (e.g., mainstream, special education), Year level (F-12 and beyond), discipline in focus (e.g., mathematics), time of year, and even time in a lesson sequence or unit of work.

Once ‘something’ is learned it can be challenging to consider how to best teach that ‘something’ to others. This is why teachers have discipline knowledge, pedagogical knowledge (both general and specific to each discipline they teach) and curricula knowledge. 

We should value teachers and their knowledge of teaching, initially developed in their University degrees, and developed further as they teach and engage in professional learning – especially that specific to the specific subject and year levels in focus.

Dr Jill Brown is an Associate Professor in Mathematics Education at Deakin University. She has been working in teacher education for two decades with preservice and inservice secondary, primary and early childhood teachers of mathematics.Jill is internationally recognised for her research in the field of mathematics education. She has an impressive list of publications that focus on mathematical modelling, the teaching and learning of functions, and the use of digital technologies by teachers and students.

What happens now to children and families after these horrors?

In the aftermath of the horrors of the attacks in Bondi and Wakeley, many community members have been involved in or witnessed traumatic events. These can  impact mental health and family life, what we call events which cause moral injury. 

Our team has co-created resources to support children who grow up in families where a parent has a moral injury. As Anzac Day approaches, it is also relevant to consider defence, veteran and first responder (service) families.

What is moral injury

Moral injury (MI) is a deep wounding of the soul. It is the social, psychological and spiritual response when something or someone has gone beyond the limits of an individual’s deeply held values and beliefs. This can include events where vulnerable members of society are affected. 

In countries like Australia, members of the public seldom witness such extreme events. That’s in contrast to service members who are more frequently exposed to trauma. As such, they are more likely to have a moral injury than the general population.

Moral injury can also be caused by abuse or betrayal by individuals and organisations. For example, a child might be abused by an adult who should be protecting them. Similarly, an organisation might say they will support staff members who injure themselves at work but fail to do so. 

Sometimes injuries can be compounded. For example, a police officer might experience an injury when they witness the mistreatment of a community member. When they report it, however, they might be betrayed, demoted or ostracised by management or colleagues. 

Interestingly, moral injury is not yet considered a psychological condition. However, it can lead to mental health conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. It should be noted that all of us feel upset or shaken at times by what we experience or see in everyday life. This does not mean we will develop a moral injury, because it is caused by a deep wound, generally from very traumatic events.

What does moral injury feel like

Those with a moral injury feel a deep sense of shame and betrayal and experience feelings of unworthiness or dirtiness after seeing or being part of such events. They might think they could have done more, despite the impossible choices they might have faced in an emergency.

Those with a moral injury can withdraw from their family members and friends because of these feelings. They might think they are unworthy of loving relationships. They may even fear contaminating their loved ones because they feel guilty for what they have done or failed to do.

How does moral injury impact family life

Despite their best efforts to shield them, a parent’s moral injury can negatively impact children’s and teenager’s family life and mental health. Children generally misinterpret their parent’s withdrawal as rejection. They can blame themselves for their parent’s behaviour and even the moral injury.

Also, children might be exposed to their parent’s aggressive risk-taking behaviours. The parent can be over protective because of the danger they themselves have been exposed to. Children’s world view is often impacted by their parent’s. Children and teenagers might also start to see the world as a dangerous place, or that those in authority, or government departments and organisations cannot be trusted.

Adding to these challenges is the availability of mental health services for all family members, especially for those in regional, rural and remote communities. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found 30% of defence members and 50% of veterans live in these communities. So do many first responders. Therefore, there is a need for online resources and support for these families.

Our research and resources

Research showed a lack of resources to support this group of children and their families. Our Child and Family Resilience team worked with Australian and international research partners from Canada and the UK to address this need. We gathered the voices of adult children and spouses of veterans and first responders with a moral injury. And we also collected stories from support workers and clinicians who support those with a moral injury. 

We used these narratives to co-create free, online research-based resources to support children with a parent who has a moral injury. This includes a research-based storybook to support children’s understanding of their parent’s behaviour and develop coping strategies. The storybook has research-based information in the prologue and epilogue to assist educators, parents and support workers to understand what these children experience. 

Accompanying the storybook is a research-based module for parents to build their capacity to assist these children. We are also co-creating a module for support workers and educators.

Who is the storybook for

It should be noted that the book is not suitable for group or classroom readings; rather it is only for children who are already experiencing these issues at home. It is designed for one-to-one reading with a child and their parent, school counsellor, support worker, or educator. 

Bibliotherapy provides a non-pharmaceutical intervention to improve an individual’s mental health through reading, reflecting and discussing books to improve understanding. In this way, storybooks provide children with an opportunity to empathise with the characters and practice their emotional responses safely. The book is designed as a springboard for discussing the story and what the child is experiencing at home. 

Stakeholder feedback 

Our online survey provided feedback on the suitability of the resource. The participants were stakeholders, including service personnel, their families, and those supporting them. They provided helpful feedback to help us improve the book, along with comments such as these:

 “…I am currently still processing the injuries… I have share[d] it with …my children…(now adults) … they hurt from my actions or inactions, they become wounded children”.

”My children are grown, however, this would have been a very helpful resource for us”.

“Real words to start the conversation”.

“So sad this book wasn’t around when [my partner’s] kids and granddaughter were younger, realising what a difference it may have made if they could have understood what was happening with him.”

“This wee book provides the clearest explanation yet of the origins and initial steps toward explaining and solving a highly complex problem that (as veterans) my husband and I have been grappling with for the past 62 years”.

What next

The book is also being piloted with UK families through the Kings College of Military Health Research. Our team will adapt resources from feedback by July’s end to create a final copy that will be released online.

We wish we lived in a world where moral injury and mental health disorders are non-existent. In the meantime, our team needs further funding to co-create more free research-based bibliotherapy resources for children impacted by their parent’s occupations.

Marg Rogers is a senior lecturer in early childhood education at UNE. She is a postdoctoral fellow within the Manna Institute, building place-based research capacity to improve the mental health of regional, rural and remote Australia. She researches marginalised voices within families and education, especially in regional, rural and remote communities. Specifically, she researches ways to support the wellbeing of defence, veteran, first responder and remote worker families and early childhood educators.

Why we must say YES to supporting mental health now

Mental health exists on a continuum, so we need to teach young people how to obtain and maintain good mental health. The approach to include mental health education and literacy in schools needs to be targeted to suit youth needs, proactive and educational not clinical in nature. 

Consult!

Firstly, young people need to be consulted with. Our research has found young people find schools reactive in times of crises. Preventative approaches are rarely taken to support youth wellbeing. Young people could be included through school advisory groups, student surveys, and co-development of programs. Taking into account needs consistently throughout the school year will help to ensure student voice is heard, and MHL programs and mental health education are tailored to what they are identifying as gaps in their knowledge. 

Educate!

Secondly, the aim of mental health education and MHL program is not to diagnose or teach young people the diagnostic criteria for a mental health disorder. Rather, it is to educate young people on what, for example, anxiety is, how to recognise it and what to do if you experience it. Low mood and feeling anxious can be in reaction to certain life stressors. Young people need to know how to cope with this. When feeling anxious becomes a persistent dread and impacts everyday functioning, young people should know to talk to a trusted adult or health professional. A MHL program can help to teach young people this. 

YES (Youth Education and Support)

Our MHL program, Youth Education and Support (YES) was adapted and developed to suit Australian youth needs. We included youth voice during the development, consulted educators and allied health professionals working with young people. We framed it based on an evidence-based model. The universal design for learning, and the health curriculum were also used to align the program within the current system of education. What we have learnt so far of the YES program is:

  • There has been an increase in MHL after participation
  • Young people have found the program interesting, educational and helpful
  • Schools want MHL to be included in their learning

Healthy coping

A large focus of the program is teaching young people healthy coping skills, and how to seek and give help. Although schools tell students how to access onsite counselling or psychological support, this information is not always retained by students. Consistent education and reminders of the support across the years is important for young people. 

By building their knowledge from primary school years up until the end of secondary school, their understanding of MHL can be broadened and different topics suitable to age can be targeted. For example, during primary school the focus may be on understanding emotions, and understanding the fight, flight, freeze and fawn response. 

How to seek help

For the upper secondary school years, it may be about coping during exam time, identity formation, and understanding where to seek help once they leave the school environment (for example,  how to seek help from a psychologist or counsellor). However the target for each year level should be based on consultation with key stakeholders, including young people, and professionals working with young people such as educators, psychologists and/or wellbeing staff. 

For mental health education and MHL to be successful, evidence-based interventions or evidence-based curriculum needs to be included. 

Stigma still exists

Evidence-based practice is not new in education and government policy, and helps ensure better outcomes for communities and services provided. Education also does not exist in a vacuum. The school environment plays a role in shaping MHL, particularly attitudes towards mental health. Stigma still exists towards mental health and mental illness, and is a major barrier for young people to seek help and solve mental health problems. 

Increasing awareness of mental health can help to ensure young people hold a positive attitude towards mental health. Strategies include fostering a positive classroom climate, and discussing help seeking options with students. Increasing awareness does not mean teaching young people the DSM-5. Providing mental health education in a safe and non-judgmental space could help those who are significantly struggling seek help sooner. 

Feeling alone

Many young people feel alone in their personal experiences. Normalising different emotions and providing healthy options to cope could benefit young Australians in future. For this to happen, the workforce supporting young people in schools needs to be strengthened.

Teachers are overworked, and do not have the necessary training or confidence to deliver mental health education and MHL currently. 

But this could be rectified by a mental health education curriculum as part of the health curriculum. Teachers could be trained to teach, with mental health professionals supporting teachers to do so. This will require government bodies to consult with experts in the field of youth mental health, MHL and education to firstly develop the curriculum. Universities will need to include this content in their degrees, and then evaluation needs to occur throughout. This is no small task. But it could make an invaluable difference to the mental health and wellbeing of Australian young people. This is not offering intervention, therapy or counselling services.

A step forward

A step forward includes comprehensive mental health literacy, ensuring the curriculum covers the core aspects of mental health theoretical framework, tailored to be age-appropriate and culturally sensitive. 
Does focusing on diagnostic models of mental health in mental health programs lead to more harm? We’re exploring this question in the working group at the University of Oxford, to identify if these approaches further stigma.

From left to right: Christine Grove is adjunct associate professor, Monash University School of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Vice-Chancellor Research Fellow (Advanced), School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia and a Fulbright Fellow. Alexandra Marinucci is a research fellow, School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, RMIT University.