Jennifer Buckingham

Over 180 literacy educators voice their concerns over Dan Tehan’s expert task force on reading

This open letter voices the concerns of over 180 literacy educators on the composition (and implied terms of reference) of the “expert task force” created to advise the Australian Government on the teaching of phonics and reading.

In his press release of 15th October 2019, the Federal Minister for Education, the Honourable Dan Tehan, announced he had asked the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) to create an expert task force to do two things:

  • provide AITSL with advice on the inclusion of phonics in national accreditation standards for Initial Teacher Education (ITE); and
  • advise on how to ensure graduate teachers can teach the fundamentals of literacy through learning how to teach the five essential elements of literacy: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency, comprehension.

Since the press release, further details have emerged about the function of the task force, which includes giving advice and resources to academics in ITE, informing them how to teach phonics and early reading.

The expert task force comprises:

  • Jennifer Buckingham – an AITSL board member, former researcher at the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) and Strategic Director for MultiLit (a provider of commercial synthetic phonic programs);
  • Lorraine Hammond – Associate Professor at Edith Cowan University, teaching courses in Direct Instruction, and President of Learning Difficulties Australia; 
  • Robyn Cox – Associate Professor at the Australian Catholic University and President of the Primary English Teachers Association of Australia (PETAA).  

The signatories of this letter have profound concerns about the task force and its functions for the following reasons:

Erroneous assumptions and narrow focus

  • the Minister’s announcement is premised on an erroneous assumption, which is that phonics is not being taught in schools and universities;
  • although five essential elements of reading are mentioned, the discourse appears to privilege phonics. In his press release the Minister mentioned phonics six times, reading twice and comprehension once, which implies the remit of the task force will be narrowly focused.
  • literacy education consists of more than the five essential elements referred to in the Ministerial press release.
  • the emphasis on reading and phonics appears to privilege one mode of language over others (e.g. speaking and listening, writing, viewing) and privileges only one aspect of reading (phonics), when NAPLAN data demonstrates that writing and higher order comprehension in upper primary and secondary years require attention.  

Composition of the expert panel (task force)

  • The educational perspectives represented in the task force membership are not balanced.
  • Two members of the task force have highlighted their bias in media releases in which they claim Initial Teacher Education providers have not taught students how to teach phonics.
  • One member of the task force has a vested interest in synthetic phonics, as a senior employee at MultiLit. We consider this may constitute a conflict of interest.
  • One member of the task force is an advocate of Direct Instruction, which may result in advice that privileges narrowly framed teaching methods.
  • One member of the task force has links with a conservative think tank (CIS), which brings into question the political neutrality of the task force.

Initial Teacher Education provider viewpoint and concerns

  • University Initial Teacher Education courses that are accredited by AITSL already must meet both the AITSL Program Standards, AECEQA and the Australian National Curriculum and have evidence of meeting the Graduate Teacher Standards.
  • The Australian National Curriculum includes phonics and the five essential elements of literacy.
  • Academics teaching into Initial Teacher Education programs/courses have both authentic classroom experience and high-level qualifications in the field, with many holding a PhD.
  • The imposition of narrowly prescribed methods, by an external body, is not conducive to professional dialogue.

As a collective we ask our Australian Education Minister, Dan Tehan, to consider the following as a constructive way forward:

  • review the composition of the task force with a lens of expertise in child/adolescent language and literacy development to include experienced practitioners who represent a broader spectrum of pedagogical approaches to teaching oracy, reading, writing and visual literacy;
  • minimise the potential possible perceived conflicts of interest;
  • work collectively with the various State and Territory Regulators of Initial Teacher Education programs to review the evidence presented by each Higher Education provider as part of the accreditation process;
  • acknowledge the work currently undertaken by all Higher Education providers who have nationally accredited Initial Teacher Education programs approved by AITSL;
  • restore confidence within the community about the quality of the Initial Teacher Education programs, that they are accredited, and quality assurance has been undertaken as part of the accreditation process.

The future

As a collective we share the minister’s views and goals regarding the enhancement of children’s literacy. We acknowledge the diversity of the school population and the need for our initial teacher educators to be able to differentiate the curriculum.

We also acknowledge that the role of a Graduate Teacher, although classroom ready, is indeed only at the Graduate level and that there is a need for all state and territory Ministers of Education to be committed to ensuring the continued professional development of graduate teachers as part of the professional standards as articulated by the Australian Institute of Teaching and School leadership.

Kind regards,

180+ concerned literacy educators
(Names attached) 

Dr         Helen Adam                 Senior Lecturer Literacy and Course Coordinator

Dr         Misty Adoniou              Associate Professor, University of Canberra

Dr         Jennifer Alford            Senior Lecturer, English as a Second Language and Literacy Learning

Prof      JoBeth Allen                 Professor Emeritus, Language and Literacy Education, University of  Georgia. International Reading Hall of Fame.

Prof      Richard Allington      Professor Emeritus, University of Tennessee.  International Reading Hall of  Fame.

Dr         John Andrews               Curriculum Advisor, Senior Curriculum Advisor Education Department of Victoria; Author; classroom teacher (retired)

            Roger Atkinson             Co-editor, Issues in Educational Research

Dr         Glenn Auld                    Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Peninsula Campus, Monash University

Prof      Caroline Barrett-Pugh   Early Childhood Studies

Dr         Pam Bartholomaeus      Lecturer, Rural Education and Literacy Coordinator of Secondary Initial Teacher Education Programs, College of Edn, Psychology & Social Work

            Wendy Bean                 Literacy Consultant, ALEA Principal Fellow. 

Dr         Eve Bearne                   Formerly University of Cambridge

Prof      William Bintz              Professor of Teaching and Learning, Kent State University

            Faye Bolton                  Literacy Consultant, Melbourne.

            Georgina Bonzos          Teacher (retired)

            Fiona Boylan                 Lecturer, Early Childhood Studies

            Elizabeth Broad            International Convenor, United Kingdom Literacy Association

Prof      Greg Brooks                 Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Sheffied U.K. International Reading Hall of Fame.

Dr         Nikki Brunker                School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney

            Lisa Burman                 Education Consultant, author

Prof      Cathy Burnett               Professor of Literacy and Education, Sheffield Hallam University

            Lynne Bury                   Ph.D. candidate, Literacy Consultant, Melbourne.

Dr         Glenda Cain                 Senior Lecturer; Literacy Coordinator

            Phillip Callen                 Education Consultant, SA

            Sharon Callen               Education Consultant, SA

Dr         Jon Callow                   Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney

Prof      Brian Cambourne AM    Principal Fellow, University of Wollongong.  International Reading Hall of Fame.

            Terri Campbell              Literacy Consultant, Director Campbell Consultancy

            Kelly Carabott               Assistant Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University.

Dr         Liz Chamberlain Senior Lecturer in Education

Dr         Denise Chapman          Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University.

            Helen Chatto                Primary School Principal  

Dr         Julian Chen                  Senior Lecturer

            Keay Cobbin                 Education Consultant

            Robyn Coleston            Education Consultant, New York

Prof      Barbara  Comber       Research Professor, School of Education, University of SA. International Reading Hall of Fame

Prof      Phillip Cormack         Adjunct Research Associate Professor, University of SA

            Christine Cougan          Teacher

            David Crawford             Former English teacher

Prof      Ken Cruikshank            School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney

Prof      Wendy Cumming-Potvin      Associate Professor

Narelle Daffurn      Sessional academic, PhD Candidate; MEd Learning Support – Reading Difficulties. Experienced Senior Teacher.

Prof      Susan Davis                  Central Queensland University

            A.J. Dempster               Master Teacher, ACT

Dr         Michael Dilena              Formerly Director, Learning Language and Literacy Research Centre, University of SA and Hong Kong Institute of Education.  Now University of  Hong Kong.

Dr         Madeleine Dobson        Lecturer and Course Coordinator of Early Childhood

Prof      Henrietta Dombey         Professor Emeritus, University of Brighton, UK. International Reading Hall of Fame.

Dr         Clare Dowdell               University of Plymouth, UK

Dr         Jennie Duke                  Sessional Academic and Inclusive Education Consultant

Prof      Carole Edelsky              Professor Emerita, Arizona State University

Prof      Warwick Elley               Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Canterbury, NZ

            Bronwyn Elliott             

Prof      Marie Emmitt                Emeritus Professor Australian Catholic University

Dr         Angela  Evangelinou-Yiannakis  Lecturer and Honorary Research Fellow

Prof      Robyn Ewing                Professor Emerita Robyn Ewing, Sydney School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney.

Prof      Beryl Exley                    Course Convenor, ALEA Life Member. 

            John Farvis                   Literacy Consultant, New York

Dr         Julie Faulkner               Senior Lecturer, Monash University.

            Judith Fellowes             Reading Recovery Tutor, Victoria

            Janet  Fellowes             Language and Literacy Consultant

            Julie Fitzpatrick             Teacher

Prof      Bev Flückiger                Professor in Education, Griffith University

Prof      Alan Flurkey                  Professor of Literacy Studies, Chair Dept of Specialized Programs in Education, Hofstra University, New York.

            Narelle  Furminger         Classroom teacher; literacy leader.

Prof      Susanne Gannon          Associate Professor, Western Sydney University

Dr         Paul Gardner                Senior Lecturer, Literacy;  UK Literacy Association Ambassador for Australia.

Prof      Robyn Gibson               Associate Professor, School of Education and Social Work, University of  Sydney

            Shani Gill                      Teacher

           Libby Gleeson AM         Writer

Prof      Yetta Goodman            Regents Professor, Emerita, University of Arizona; Past President International Reading Association; Board Member of other major professional literacy organisations.

Prof      Kenneth Goodman        Professor Emeritus, College of Education, University of Arizona; Past President of National Council of Teachers of English;  Board Member of other major professional literacy organisations.

Dr         Deborah Goodman       Professor of Literacy Studies, Hofstra University, NY. 

            Mardi Gorman              Literacy Consultant; PETAA Board Member

Dr         Alison Grove O’Grady   Program Director Combine Degrees, University of Sydney.

            Patrick  Hampton          Primary Program Coordinator

Prof      Jane Hansen                 Professor Emeritus University of Virginia.  Member of Reading Hall of Fame.

Prof      Colin Harrison              Emeritus Professor of Literacy Studies in Education, University of Nottingham.  Past President, United Kingdom Literacy Association. Member of Reading Hall of Fame. 

Prof      Jerome Harste              Distinguished Professor, Culture, Literacy and Language Education, Indiana University.  Member of Reading Hall of Fame.

Dawn Haynes Literacy consultant

            Christina Holly              Lecturer, Diversity and Inclusion, Primary and Secondary Education           

Dr         Jessica Holloway          DECRA Research Fellow, Australian Research Council, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

            David Hornsby              Literacy Consultant, ALEA Principal Fellow, author, ex-principal.

            Penny Hutton                Session Lecturer University of Sydney; Professional Learning Consultant PETAA

            Danny Hyndman           Education Consultant

Prof      Jenny Jay                     Associate Professor for Early Childhood Studies

Prof      Moss    Julianne            Professor Julianne Moss, Deakin University

Dr Anne Keary Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University

            Olivia    Karaolis            University of Sydney

            Katrina Kemp               President, Australian Literacy Educators Association, Sydney North

            Tony Kennedy               teacher 

            Bushra Khateeb            Deputy Head of Primary; Primary Curriculum Coordinator, Islamic College of Melbourne

Dr         Lisbeth Kitson               Lecturer, English and Literacy Education, Griffith University 

Dr         Bree Kitt                       Lecturer, Language and Literacy, School of Education and the Arts, CQU.

A.Prof   Marianne Knaus            Associate Dean, Early Childhood Studies, School of Education, Edith Cowan University

            Barbara Kneebone        Primary teacher (retired)

Prof      Stephen Krashen          Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California

            Margrete Lamond         PhD candidate, Monash University

Dr         Gloria   Latham             Honorary Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney; former Literacy lecturer, RMIT University

Prof      Carol Lauritzen            Professor Emerita of Education, Eastern Oregon University

            Joy Lawn                      Freelance children’s literature expert

            Narissa Leung               Education Consultant 

            Alison Lockhart             Sydney School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney

Dr         Kaye Lowe                    Read4Success

            Janet  Lyon                   Secondary English teacher;  teacher of students diagnosed with dyslexia.

Prof      Mary Macken-Horarik    Associate Professor, Language and Literacy Education, Australian Catholic University

            Susan Mahar                Literacy Educator, Melbourne

            Tim Mahar                    Concerned teacher (retired)

Prof      Jackie Manuel               Associate Professor, School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney

Prof      Richard Mayer             Distinguished Professor, Cognition, Perception and Cognitive Neuroscience.

Dr         Clare McBeath              Publisher, Issues in Educational Research

Prof      Jill McClay                    Professor Emirata, University of Alberta

            Mary McDonald            Primary teacher (retired) 

Dr       Lorraine McDonald        Honorary Fellow, ACU; Literacy Consultant, PETAA/ALEA

Dr         Kelli McGraw                Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology.

Dr         Pam McIntyre              Author; honorary senior lecturer in literacy RMIT University, former lecturer in literacy at the University of Melbourne.

            Anne McNamara           Former Early Years and Primary Teacher, Ex-President ALEA, Curriculum Consultant ACT.

            Deb McPherson            Chief Education Officer, English, NSW Dept of Education (retired) Geringong, NSW.

Dr         Margaret Merga            Senior Lecturer

Dr         Richard Meyer              Regents’ Professor, Department of Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies, University of New Mexico.

Prof      Kathy Mills                    Research Professor, Literacies and Digital Cultures, Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education, Brisbane.

Prof      Julianne Moss               Deakin University

            M. Murphy                    Teacher

Dr         Amanda Niland             University of Sydney

            Karen Nociti                  Lecturer, Early Childhood Studies

Dr      Annemaree O’Brien       Lecturer, Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne

Dr         Joanne O’Mara             Associate Professor in Language, Literacy an Literacy Education

            J. Oksiss                      Teacher

            Alayne Ozturk               Senior Lecturer, Head of English, Kingston University

            Jo Padgham                 ALEA Principal Fellow, Fellow Australian Council Educational Leaders. ACT

Prof      Judy Parr                      Professor of Education

            Sandra Parsons            Lecturer, PhD Candidate, School of Education, Edith Cowan University.

            Carol Pearce                 Literacy Consultant, Junior Primary Principal (retired), University tutor (Language and Literacy, English)

Dr         John Pollock                 Formally Associate Professor of Language and Literacy, RMIT

Dr         Debbie Powell              Associate Professor Emerita, Language and Literacy, University of Northern Colorado, Wilmington

Dr         Jacqualine Rankine       Curriculum Development;  Teacher (retired)

            Reading Recovery         Dr Catheryn Sale


            David Reedy                 Literacy Consultant

Dr         Jennifer Rennie             Senior Lecturer, Acting Professor, Monash University; Associate Editor Australian Journal of Language and Literacy.

            Denyse Ritchie              The THRASS Institute

            Amelia Ruscoe              Lecturer

Dr         Kathy Rushton              School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney

            Jennifer Ryan                Teacher

Dr         Jo Ryan                        Senior Lecturer English and Literacy Education, Faculty of Education and Arts, ACU

Tim Ryan Former early years literacy teacher; Language and Learning in the Middle Years tutor; Principal; New York based educational consultant

Dr         Carmel Sandiford         Senior Lecturer, Language and Literacy Education, Melbourne Graduate School of Education. 

Dr         John Saunders              Honorary Associate, University of Sydney; Director of Education & Community Partnerships, Sydney Theatre Company.

            Yvonne Sawers             Senior Lecturer, Coordinator Primary Program

            Johanna Scott              Teacher (retired); Educational Publisher

Prof      Janet Scull                    Associate Professor, Associate Dean Education, Monash University

            Jan Senior                    Lecturer, Literacy Education, RMIT;  Literacy Consultant.

Dr         Cheryl  Semple             Lecturer, Literacy Education, RMIT (retired) 

Dr         Steve Shann                 Adjunct Assistant Professor, Secondary Literacy, University of Canberra.

            Julie Shepherd              Literacy consultant, Victorian State Director ALEA 

Prof      Runar Sigporssan         Professor of Education

Dr         Sharyn  Silver                Formerly Senior Lecturer English/Literacy ACU.  17 years in NSW DET in senior positions.

Prof      Michele Simons            Professor Michele Simons, Dean of Education, Western Sydney University.

Prof      Alyson Simpson            Professor Alyson Simpson, Potts Point, NSW.

            Diane Snowball             Literacy Consultant, Past-President ALEA

            Brenda Stewart             South Coast, NSW.

Prof      Madonna Stinson          Associate Professor, School of Education and Professional Studies, Griffith University

            Deb Sukarna                 Literacy Consultant, ex-principal.

            Michelle Tham              Teacher

Dr Angela Thomas Senior Lecturer in English Education, University of Tasmania

Dr         Anne Thwaite                Lecturer, Language Education

Lyn Tonkin Former Teacher and Principal; Teacher educator at UniSA in Language and Literacy Education; Member and Executive Member of ALEA; Literacy Consultant Singapore, PNG, Philippines and Solomon Islands.

            Christine Topfer            Australian Literacy Educators’ Association, Principal Fellow.

Dr         Deborah Towns OAM    Academic researcher; teaching experience in primary, secondary and                                                     tertiary.

Dr         Eseta Tualaulelei           University of Southern Queensland

            Tracy Tunney                Classroom teacher

Dr         Jan Turbill                     FACE, University of Wollongong. International Reading Hall of Fame.

            Rita van Haren              ACTATE Executive Officer

Dr         Lisa van Leent              Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology.

Prof      Renate Valtin                International Reading Hall of Fame.  Berlin. 

Dr         Maureen Walsh             Previously Professor of Literacy Education, ACU; Honorary Professor, University of Sydney.

            Lorna Ward                   Independent Literacy Consultant

            Janelle  Warhurst          ALEA member

Dr         Craig Whitsed               Senior Lecturer, School of Education, Curtin University; Visiting Fellow University of Groningen.  

Dr         Sandra Wilde                Hunter College, City University of New York (retired)

            Lyn Wilkinson               Senior Lecturer, English, literacy and Language Arts, Flinders University for 25 years. 

            Stephen Willy                Education Consultant

            Cait Wilson                   Literacy Consultant   

            Lorraine Wilson             Literacy Consultant, author

Lesley WingJan Teacher (retired), Literacy Consultant

            Mary-Anne Wolpert       Affiliated Lecturer, University of Cambridge

Prof      Annette Woods             Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology

            Alan Wright                   Education Consultant, author

Dr         Katina Zammit              Deputy Dean / Senior Lecturer, English Pedagogy, Curriculum School of Education, Western Sydney University. 

            Roger Zubrinich            Former English teacher;  Lecturer;  Coordinator professional writing TAFESA; Former Advisor to South Australian Government ministers. 

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‘School funding on a budget’ paper (a justification for dumping Gonski) is nonsense, here’s why

The Centre for Independent Studies is an Australian free market think tank that produced a policy discussion paper School funding on a budget in the lead up to the first Coalition federal budget in April, 2014. The paper was part of the think tank’s campaign to get the Australian Government to reduce spending.

The paper got substantial media coverage in the lead-up to the Abbott/Hockey budget that reduced funding to states and territories by $80 billion. This is significant because the paper provided a justification for the government’s failure to implement Gonski and helped push an agenda for further privatisation of Australian schooling.

As these policies have implications for all Australians I decided to have a closer look at what the paper said, how it was said and the evidence used to justify its stance.

School Funding on a Budget (SFoB)

SFoB is an exemplar of the think tank report genre. It is written in plain language, by author Jennifer Buckingham, and purports to be a research report, with this claim affected through some academic accoutrements (such as tables, footnotes and appendices). It has the user in mind and is readymade for mainstream media. Even the campaign name, TARGET30 (all in upper case) has the feel of an advertising slogan about it. The length of the paper is 27 pages; long enough for policy makers, politicians and journalists to take seriously, but not too long to put them off reading it.

There are eight tables, nine figures, 60 footnotes, and two appendices. In the footnotes, there is cross-referencing to other CIS reports and those of other think tanks, the work of a conservative free choice US Foundation that promotes the use of school vouchers, and to the reports of consultancy firms such as Pricewaterhouse Coopers. These references are granted equivalence with academic research by influential Australian education academics such as Steve Dinham and John Hattie and to analyses by the OECD in PISA reports and in Education at a Glance.

Something of the political framing is indicated in the section of the report outlining why government spending on schools has to be reviewed – because of the supposed need to reduce government expenditure and to enhance ‘productivity’ in schooling. This is an economistic construction of the work of teachers and their achievements.

The argument goes that increased funding does not result in better outcomes for students, therefore funding should be linked to improvements in outcomes. To do this, tight controls should to be in place.

Please go to my full paper (link at the end of this blog) for more detail about my thoughts on all of this.

Here, I want to take serious issue with the argument categorically stated in SFoB that there is no relationship between increased funding and improved student outcomes.

The OECD demonstrates quite unequivocally that schooling systems with the most equitable funding approaches are those that achieved the best PISA outcomes, that is, higher quality and more equitable outcomes. Beyond a threshold level of funding, what matters is the equitable targeting of additional funds. This is the Gonski approach to school funding – targeting those most in need. It is also important to acknowledge that across the time since the first Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2000, the strength of socio-economic correlations with performance in the 34 member countries has grown.

Additionally, across this period there has been a decline in the percentage of resilient students in all OECD countries, that is, students in the bottom socioeconomic quartile who perform in the top two categories (poor students who achieve top results.) For Australia, this figure was 8% in 2003 and 6 % in 2012. This is the period of school reforms supported by the CIS and that the SFoB seeks to strengthen even further. It is also the period of growing inequality, a reality not acknowledged in SFoB.

SFoB speaks of the decline in Australia’s PISA performance. On one reading this is correct. However the performance of different states and territories are added together to depict a crisis. The substantial differences between school systems are hidden. If it is broken down we see a vastly different, but more informative picture: Western Australia and the ACT, for example, perform very well indeed, while Queensland is at the overall average for both quality and equity. It is the very poor comparative performance of the Northern Territory and Tasmania that contributes most to the picture of declining Australian PISA performance.

This evidence about the Northern Territory tells us more about structural poverty in remote Indigenous communities and high levels of youth unemployment in Tasmania, along with a lower level socio-economic community in total. I would stress that the pressing educational policy issue in contemporary Australian schooling is equity. This is silently denied by SFoB.

The report gives Eight ‘Tips’ for reducing government expenditure on schools

Here are the ‘tips’ and my responses. (I see the use of ‘tip’ rather than recommendation is another way this report seeks particular media attention.)

Tip 1 is to ‘revise the federal government funding model’

The Coalition government has been forced to do this, given its rejection of the Gonski model.

Tip 2 is ‘abolish the federal Department of education’

Any remaining programs, it is suggested, could be run through other federal departments or agencies. It is also argued that 90% of federal recurrent and capital funding for schools could be funded and overseen through Treasury. In assessing, and rejecting, this recommendation, we need to think about the Whitlam government’s reasons for federal involvement in schooling. It was to ensure that all young Australians, no matter where they lived, their socio-economic background or which schools they attended, had the same educational opportunities as all others. Back then it was mainly about giving more funding to poor Catholic schools.

This was an equity framing of federal involvement in schooling and it is one still needed. This is why we need a federal department, redistributive funding as articulated by Gonski and targeted federal programs such as the Rudd/Gillard government’s National Partnerships, which were abolished by the Abbott government.

Tip 3 is ‘reduce the cost of state and territory bureaucracy’.

This amounts to reduction of ‘out of school’ costs compared with ‘in school costs’. It is linked to more devolution of education policy and funding directly to schools. Interestingly, in research I have conducted recently with a group of schools in regional Queensland, the major criticism proffered by the principals has been that they are now responsible for everything, without systemic support.

Tip 4 is to remove ‘mandatory class size minimums and eschew further class size reductions’

This is a covert criticism of the teacher unions, who have lobbied hard and long for class size reductions. It is also seen as a straightforward way to rein in expenditure. Here SFoB also links class size reduction to the employment of more teachers, pointing out that in most OECD countries the ‘major commitment of education expenditure is teaching staff’. Interestingly, the evidence on class size relationships with student achievement and other kinds of outcomes is equivocal, and it suggests the biggest impact is in early years and for disadvantaged students. Class size is an equity issue, but not recognised as such by SFoB.

SFoB also argues class size reductions have negatively affected both teacher salaries and teacher quality because of the growth in teacher numbers. The evidence provided in SFoB for rejecting any relationship between class size and student performance is think tank reports, including from the CIS itself and the Grattan Institute.

Tip 5 is ‘Education Bursaries for low-income students to use at non-government schools’

SFoB argues that such bursaries would save money, as there is more government money expended on government schools than on independent schools. SFoB states, ‘Low-income students could be offered an education bursary valued above the average per student expenditure on non-government schools but below the average cost of attending a government school (say $10,000)’. This is choice at the extreme, and destabilising of the democratic and social justice purposes and qualities of government schooling.

TIP 6 is ‘charge high-income families to attend government schools’

The specific charge mentioned is $1000, a small amount, but which would be the ‘thin edge of the wedge,’ so to speak. It is noted that there are half a million ‘students in government schools from families with a household income that might be considered high’. Reflecting the ideological bent of CIS, this call is argued to be equitable because the schools these high earning parents attend received $15,000 per student of government funding, at the same time as some low income families pay for their children to attend non-government schools with less government support. This is a perverted reconstruction of equity.

Tip 7 is ‘reduce the oversupply of teachers by elevating entry standards to teaching degrees’

I have some sympathy for this ‘tip’. We see here the tension between state intervention and market driven approach to university enrolments. This ‘tip’ is represented as a supply and demand question and one of economic efficiency at one level. It is interesting that the recent Review of teacher education commissioned by the previous federal minister rejected such a call for minimum entrance standards to teaching degrees. The Australian Education Union supports a minimum entrance score.

Tip 8 is ‘decentralise teacher employment and make it easier for principals to dismiss ineffective teachers

This is also part of devolution that is supported by CIS. Historically Australian schooling systems have had centralised staffing because of the difficulty of staffing schools in remote communities and in very disadvantaged urban communities. There is also an issue of social justice and equity.


SFoB is about agenda setting and ideas for policy in the context of a down-sized state and fast policy making. It sought to use a political moment to drive an agenda that, in my opinion, would further entrench inequalities in Australian schooling.

The Abbott government appointed Professor Steven Schwartz, currently an academic advisor for the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS), to chair the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority ( ACARA) and Dr Jennifer Buckingham, author of the SFoB paper, to the Board of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership ( AITSL).

I won’t be alone in wondering if CIS will be as influential with the Turnbull government as it was with the Abbott government.


SBS-017Bob Lingard is a Professorial Research Fellow in the School of Education at The University of Queensland, where he researches in the sociology of education. His most recent books include: Globalizing Educational Accountabilities (Routledge, 2016), co-authored with Wayne Martino, Goli Rezai-Rashti and Sam Sellar,  National Testing in Schools (Routledge, 2016) (The first book in the AARE series Local/Global Issues in Education),co-edited with Greg Thompson and Sam Sellar, and The Handbook of Global Education Policy (Wiley, 2016), co-edited with Karen Mundy, Andy Green and Antonio Verger. Bob is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences and Co- Editor of the journal, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education.  You can follow him on Twitter  @boblingard86

The paper  Think Tanks, “policy experts’ and ‘ideas for’ education policy making in Australia can be found here