National School Reform Agreement

Lean over PISA. Make way for a better future for schools

As the year grinds to a close, we celebrate the end-of school results of our Year 12 students. It’s an annual ritual, the festive season is always accompanied by school league tables and predictable stories about school and student success – somewhat in contrast to the seeming failure of other schools and students. 

But something extra happened this year. The results festival was preceded by the release of the most recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scores and analysis . . . hotly followed by the quite separate release of proposals for Australia’s next National Schools Reform Agreement (NSRA). When seen alongside our end-of-school results, these two events point to a sorry past and present, but one gives us a glimpse of a better future.  

Let’s start with PISA

Each PISA report usually sparks a moral panic about our schools – not so much this year because there seems a bit of good news: Australia’s student achievement picked up a tad. We have actually climbed the international rankings … alas, only because others have slipped backwards. 

But a different story lies behind the headlines. PISA shows that the achievement gaps between high socio-economic status (SES) and disadvantaged students have continued to widen in reading, mathematics and science since 2006. For those at the bottom, this now amounts to years of lost learning time and opportunity. 

Even where progress seems evident, variations within Australia reveal problems. NSW students have improved most in maths and reading . . . but NSW has the widest range of scores between the top and bottom students, results usually found in the Northern Territory. It’s a bit unsettling: in terms of the school achievement gaps, NSW ranks alongside the poorest parts of Australia.

End of year results

Of course, not everyone wants to dig into PISA scores to get a handle on such gaps. So why not see how it plays out in those end-of-school results that get us excited every December? We know that the HSC and Victoria’s VCE, as two examples, tell something about student achievement, school by school. But the changing distribution of high-level scores reveals much more.

There has always been a gap between the highest and lowest SES schools; those near the top creep up, those at the bottom just keep struggling. So what has happened to those just above and below the middle – the schools which enrol most students? Back in 2006 the schools above the middle increased their share of the most valued students and, in the case of NSW, their equally valued distinguished achiever awards. But the schools below the middle saw their share of such students cut in half. The pattern in Victoria is similar, with fewer extremes. 

Put bluntly, large swathes of rural and low SES schools, even if they can attract teachers, struggle hard enough to offer a rounded senior school curriculum, let alone boast many, if any, high-level achievers. The latter have gone, and they took their high scores with them.     

It’s almost as if the lower half decided not to try harder. Certainly, that’s often implied by the commentariat, and by legislators who should know better. And of course there is no shortage of reasons offered up for such poor performance. Take your pick from some recent ones: too many devices, an inadequate science syllabus, impact of COVID, misbehaving kids, not enough phonics, the list goes on.

Reasons for optimism

But there is reason for optimism, and this is where we get to the third big event, alas the one with the smallest headlines: the panel set up to inform the upcoming National School Reform Agreement (NSRA) has now reported. As expected, and as it should, it wants full Schools Resourcing Funding for all schools, closing the funding gaps sooner.

There is much more. By any standards, the report Improving outcomes for all developed by this remarkable panel and its supporting team has potentially broken new ground. 

It clearly states that “the current system entrenches educational disadvantage and makes it less likely that other reforms will realise Australia’s longstanding ambition of equity and excellence.” They won’t and shouldn’t walk away from authentic and proven reform, but they are effectively saying: let’s stop fluffing around here with peripheral (and appealing) reform and reduce the segregation of student enrolments which is increasingly widening achievement gaps and contributing to poor overall performance. 

Markedly different obligations

It effectively confirms a fundamental and sadly unique feature of Australia’s public/private framework of schools, its hierarchical nature. Schools operate on a very unlevel playing field, with often similar funding . . . but markedly different obligations. In the inevitable competition between schools, those with choice – and that includes both families and schools – do well, those without risk falling behind. 

Who they enrol and where they come from

The hierarchy is everywhere. Anyone can compare, for schools in their local area, this year’s HSC or VCE results alongside My School’s measure of school socio-educational advantage. It is the work of schools which should contribute most to ‘school’ results; instead, the school-by-school differences are more determined by who they enrol and where they come from.

Given that this crazy framework of schools is rusted into our psyche and functioning as families and schools, it was arguably brave of Education Minister Jason Clare to set up any review, especially one entitled a Review to Inform a Better and Fairer Education System. Then, it was a very forward looking panel to deliver recommendations which, if implemented, will begin to change our system for the better.

The panel has directly addressed the need to increase socio-economic diversity in school enrolments and to do it soon, by “reviewing existing policy settings by the end of 2027 and implementing new policy levers to increase socio‑economic diversity in schools and lift student outcomes” and, even earlier, to set in place the reporting of the SES diversity of schools and systems. To serve this and other purposes it recommends substantial improvement in data collection and use at all levels.

Those on the panel and in the supporting reference group could see the problem. The Productivity Commission has stated that peer effects and less experienced teachers in schools with high concentrations of disadvantage were drivers of poorer student outcomes – and that students from priority equity cohorts demonstrate, on average, less learning growth if they attend a school with a high concentration of disadvantage. Parents know this and arguably have for decades, it substantially drives their search for schools up the SES ladder. It matters to them who their kids sit with – and the evidence, even going back to the Gonski Review, backs up their concerns. It has left Australia with a profoundly wicked problem.  

What next?

Where to from here? The recommendations have gone to Australia’s education ministers and will be worked into Commonwealth legislation for the next School Reform Agreement.    Our leaders and legislators need to be firmly convinced that what are relatively mild recommendations should remain and be even strengthened and implemented in full. And that’s just the easy part. It then has to navigate a perilous path among politicians who will need to fully understand all the issues and possible solutions – and cast their lot in with those who really do want a better and fairer education system.

Chris Bonnor AM is a former teacher and secondary school principal and was a previous head of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council. He has co-authored a number of books, most recently Choice and Fairness: a common framework for all Australian schools and is co-author with Tom Greenwell of Waiting for Gonski, how Australia failed its schools. NSW Press, 2022. He regularly contributes to a range of publications and media.

Timid thinking no longer cuts it. Change is needed now

Their buildings are substandard— cheap and poorly ventilated.  Their classrooms are under resourced and uninviting. Their gardens are sparce and bleak.  Their play and sports grounds are inadequate— frequently small and ill equipped. Their students often struggle at school and their families often struggle at home. Money is scarce, employment and housing are insecure and good health care is usually unaffordable. 

Their teachers work harder than most because their students need more help than most. But these teachers don’t receive anywhere near the support and recognition they deserve. Many such schools are government schools. Yet they are left to make do with minimal resources and minimal care from state and federal governments. They have been pretty much abandoned— left to deteriorate, not properly helped prosper. 

Instead, these governments have allowed the private sector of schooling to grow without limit— depleting struggling government schools of the material and human resources they need for their students to flourish rather than flounder. 

These schools and these kids are part of the’ long tail’ of under-achievement that characterises the Australian schooling system. But the tail’s problems can’t be addressed in isolation. They are the tragic effect of much bigger problems. Australia’s schooling system is amongst the most privatised and least equitable in the world. And it underperforms on many indicators. 

New opportunities for equitable, achievement-oriented, change in Australian schooling have arisen in 2023. We now have a progressive national government, an equity-sensitive federal Minister for Education, and the National School Reform Agreement is being renegotiated. 

The time is thus ripe to reconsider and reconfigure the fateful intersections between school funding, equity, and achievement. This requires a critical examination of the vexed relationships between the public and private sector and federal and state governments. On Monday, the Melbourne Graduate School of Education hosted a policy symposium and public forum, called Funding, Equity and Achievement, which interrogated these intersections and vexed relationships.

The symposium room was packed with 75 experienced education policy analysts, members of key stake-holder groups and people from state and federal governments. Ten eminent thinkers, including speakers Professor Barry McGaw, The Hon Dr Carmen Lawrence AO and The Hon Verity Firth AM, shared their views and the public forum attracted over 250 participants off and online. And Melbourne University’s Twitter feed had over 3000 views. 

The Gonski Report of 2011 was a touchstone for discussion at this event. All agreed that its funding solutions to the problems of equity and achievement have since been seriously watered down.  

Some argued that the political timidity of the national Labor government, the power of the private school lobby and the sectional interests of the states were ultimately responsible.  

‘Gonski lite’ was the result. Yes, ‘needs-based’ recurrent funding arrangements were a result and the focus on needs was welcome. But ultimately, as many policy experts at the Symposium showed, greed replaced need. Gonski was always in the lite side, others insisted.   It was constrained from the outset by an invented funding architecture involving state, Catholic and Independent school systems.  This architecture, they argued, is a policy construction and convenience. Yet is treated as immovable and untouchable. The implicit message to the Gonski review team was don’t mess with the private schools. 

Historians in the room shared examples of the formidable power of private schools’ backlash-politics – and of their serious electoral consequences.  

State schools abandoned by governments 

So began an unjustifiable pattern of school funding. This is known as the 80/20 split. The wealthier federal government provides 80 per cent funding to private schools and 20 per cent of funding to state schools. The poorer states and territories do the reverse.  And here is the kicker. The Federal government meets its funding obligations to private schools and constantly provides them with lavish top ups. In contrast, the states and territories seldom meet their funding obligations to state schools. 

Speakers at the Sympisoum provided an avalanche of carefully researched numbers which left no doubt about the serious funding inequities. Slide after power-point slide showed how private schools have been consistently over-funded and how state schools have been consistently underfunded.  

A vicious funding circle was identified. The more resources the private sector gets, the more it grows. The more it grows, the greater its market dominance and share of allocated resources. Along with this is a sense of entitlement to automatic funding. In turn, this has led to the private school sector opening new schools and upgrading and expanding existing ones at will. 

This sector has thus enjoyed unfettered growth – becoming ever bigger, more middle class and more segregated from wider Australia. Few people in the room agreed with the funding split that has allowed this to happen. Many firmly believed the Commonwealth should more equally share its funding benevolence with state schools.  

And for this to happen they thought, a National Schools Resourcing Body as proposed by Gonski should be established. This would over-see funding for both public and private schools— together. The relationships between the sectors would be in plain sight. 

Public funding to private schools is untied. They are not required by law to provide any wider public benefit. They do as they please despite the copious amounts of public money they receive. The Symposium audience was shown how the wealthiest private schools draw on their funding excesses to fund their infrastructure excesses. We wondered if such overabundance could be justified in educational terms.  We agreed it was more about market signalling than student learning. So why fund it? 

Other questions arose. Should public money be conditional on private schools democratising their fee structures, entry policies and governance practices? Yes. 

What can stop them from draining the state school sector of money, reputation and the ‘best’ teachers, students and parents? Cap their growth for a start. Properly fund all state schools so that they can be the best they can be. 

The policy symposium provided unequivocal evidence that increases in private school funding have been at the expense of funding for public schools especially for struggling schools in struggling locations. 

Such underfunding, we agreed, leads to under achievement. Indigenous kids, country kids, kids with disabilities and kids from low-income families under-achieve because they are under-supported. They are under supported because they are under-funded. 

Struggling schools in struggling locations have less money to spend on the bare necessities. Additional resources are necessary to allow them to meet their complex needs in the best ways possible. Distinct and distinctive interventions are required.  

Ken Boston, a member of the Gonski Committee and former Director-General of the NSW Education Department, said as much, back in 2017: “They need smaller class sizes, specialist personnel to deliver the appropriate tiered interventions, speech therapists, counsellors, school/family liaison officers including interpreters, and a range of other support. And that support requires money. You can’t deliver education as a genuine public good without strategically differentiated public funding directed at areas of need. That’s what Gonski sought to achieve.”

Such under-support is sometimes driven by a naive policy mindset. It goes like this, ‘It’s not the money that matters but what you do with it’. Money AND what-you-do-with-it matter. It is not an either/or situation

Serious concerns were expressed that the current federal Labor government might not live up to its policy rhetoric.  People feared it might adopt a target and tinker approach.  Safe, simple and unlikely to make much difference. Time and again people called for systemic change. 

Presenters shared international studies that convincingly show how achieving equity at the systemic level leads to systemic improvements in achievement. Put equity first and achievement follows. 

Further, segregated education systems concentrate disadvantage. This, it was shown, has all sorts of deleterious effects and not just on the schooling of disadvantaged kids. Social cohesion depends on social mixing and where better to learn to mix than at school? The shared case study of Poland’s dramatic rise in school results is attributed to its introduction of comprehensive schools. 

 Many agreed that, despite its limitations, the Gonski review made hope possible. State school supporters united behind the slogan ‘I give a Gonski’.  

Now such supporters must unite again to save state schools from the residualisation caused by private school expansion. And the federal government must be prepared to stand up to the private school lobby which has neither the public interest nor the national interest at heart. 

Timid, standard arrangements and conventional thinking no longer cut it. Change is urgently required. 

Professor Jane Kenway is an elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, Australia, Emeritus Professor at Monash University and Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Her research expertise is in educational sociology.  

So much love: school leaders answered the call through COVID and bushfires. Now love’s gone

Each year, the Australian Principal Occupational Health and Wellbeing Survey of nearly 2500 school leaders comes to similar, and disheartening, conclusions – the accumulation of demands, and generous preferring of others ahead of themselves, leaves too many school leaders languishing. And while we continue to encourage school leaders to seek help and be responsible for their own circumstances, our concerns have shifted markedly this year

It’s a tough time to be a school leader. In addition to regular demands of the role, the impact of significant weather events and COVID-19 in recent years has added to already full workloads; 2022 started the year with thousands of principals across some jurisdictions even monitoring vaccination status and administration of rapid antigen tests! And yet they keep turning up to serve their communities, and do so with distinction. They certainly deserve more than thanks.

Increasing demands, diminishing resources

An increasing number of school leaders are losing their passion to manage workload, teacher shortages, and offensive behaviour. As well as items on health and well-being, the survey includes specific items on Job Satisfaction, Commitment to Work, and Meaning of Work. We identify these as types of positive, protective factors which sustain school leaders to do their challenging work. 

From the start of the project in 2011, all three of these items have been constant, showing that school leaders derive a lot of meaning and satisfaction from their work, consistent with some research which characterises school leadership as an ethical and moral vocation.  But a concerning shift may be emerging. Remarkably, in 2020, the first year of COVID-19 and which followed Black Summer bushfires, both Job Satisfaction and Commitment to Work were at their highest level since the survey started, seeming to reinforce the notion school leaders have a strong sense of “call” to serve, especially in difficult circumstances. In 2022, both are at their lowest.

We also compare school leaders and the general population on these three items. Between 2019 and 2021, all three were much higher than across the general population, as might be expected from leaders in one of the caring professions. In 2022, however, these differences are not as great, with Job Satisfaction now about the same for school leaders as the wider general population.

Nearly 400 open-ended comments were received, highlighting three key consistent themes, represented here through one comment for each theme (some have been modified to keep confidentiality consistent with our ethics approval):

  1. Bureaucratic pressuresPrincipals’ jobs are becoming increasingly more difficult. Expected compliance and bureaucracy are destroying schools. The curriculum is being pushed as the holy grail with no consideration of pedagogy and engagement. 
  2. Diminishing professional trust – My professional wellbeing would be enhanced by the system trusting me to manage my school with local autonomous decisions and recognising that I have wisdom and skill in conjunction with staff, student and community partnerships to deliver on the high performance agreed outcomes that we have established
  3. Waning passionThe increasing workload on my colleagues and myself is causing increasing disillusionment with our profession. The need to continually provide evidence and accountability for teaching and learning is adding to the stress and workload. In my [many] years of teaching, recent years have caused me to look at early retirement alternatives.

Even among those who express great passion for their work, the tensions and pressures are mounting: 

Sometimes it feels like a thankless task and whilst you hold the noble ideal of why you do it in your head there are days when you feel spent and wonder why you do it ( and I love what I do!!).

It is why our concern this year highlights the commencing decline of that passion for an increasing number of school leaders. Were it to continue, consequences are far-reaching and will exacerbate what is already evident with teacher shortages.

A broader Action Plan is needed

Teacher workforce issues have been the focus of scholarly research and policy debate for many years. Performativity, standardisation, workforce supply and retention, and initial teacher education conversations seem perennial. Yet it was only in the latter part of 2022 that all Australian education ministers came to the table with an agreed National Teacher Workforce Action Plan. As the Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare, told The Australian newspaper recently, the Plan is “not a panacea, not perfect – but it’s a start”.

Agreed, which is why the lack of presence of school leaders throughout the plan is astonishing. The two priority areas which fall mostly to schools to implement, and thus to school leaders, are Priority Area 3 – Keeping the teachers we have and Priority Area 4 – Elevating the profession. School leaders are mentioned in only two of the 13 action items listed in these Priority Areas. The first is the unremarkable and expected consultation on any curriculum initiatives, and the second is about the merits and challenges associated with an “accreditation process aligned with the principal standard” (Key Action 15)! The intentions seem good, but the appearance of school leaders is opaque. In light of our report, it seems extraordinary that school leaders are not central to the plan, given we can reasonably assume they will likely be held to account for many of its outcomes. Additionally, we argue that the situation requires a comparable national school leader strategy to address the issues identified in our report.

Productivity Commission’s critique

Open-ended comments in this year’s survey reflect extraordinary frustration at the impact of unilateral accountability. So let’s broaden the lens. Policy and procedure, as well as accountability for their implementation and any results which they achieve, flow centrally to school leaders who now are saying, loudly, “enough”! The recent report on the National School Reform Agreement seems to echo this. It makes for sober reading. “Failure to achieve” is a consistent theme expressed through the words of the report itself:

• no outcome that captures wellbeing; 

• a single weak target for academic achievement; 

• a dearth of targeted reforms to lift outcomes for students from priority equity cohorts and for students who do not meet basic levels of literacy and numeracy; 

• a lack of transparent, independent and meaningful reporting on national and state reform activity which means there is limited effective accountability (p. 33).

So where is system accountability for these failures?

Of the seven Expected Outputs and Implementation Status as reported by Education Council (p. 6), only four have been achieved, one is in progress, and two have not been achieved. We can only wonder at the response systems would have to school leaders achieving 57% of their targets. Where, and to whom, are education systems held to account?

Our educational elephant and the blindness of policy

An ancient Buddhist story tells how six blind men came across an elephant for the first time. Each felt a different part of the elephant (ears, leg, trunk, etc.) and described what they touched. None could see the whole, nor had any prior experience with elephants to describe accurately what they touched; each told their own limited “truth”. It seems an apposite metaphor for our current education system. The most recent evidence of this may be that it took only three paragraphs for last week’s Teacher Education Expert Panel Discussion Paper to acknowledge the “complex regulatory and funding environment” (p. 4) constraining its own work. Outcomes, the Expert Panel politely mused, “cannot be addressed by any one jurisdiction alone” but must be “a shared responsibility” (p. 4)

School leaders must take responsibility for their personal health and wellbeing, but the responsibility is not theirs alone. It is time for greater systemic accountability. It is time to be healed of our blindness and to see the whole. The Productivity Commission’s blunt assessment deserves to be heeded. 

Perhaps an even wider Commission might therefore be needed to achieve this. So intractably complex is our national policy architecture, and so apparently ineffective is it at meeting our national educational goals, and so lacking in transparency and accountability are current frameworks (according to the Productivity Commission), perhaps there’s need for a Royal Commission into the purposes and processes of education for our nation. We’ve seen their effectiveness in responding to other priorities related to education – disability, protection of children. 

This will be read by some as histrionics. However, a close reading of the report will find, in similar spirit, that :

Parties should retain the provision in the next school reform agreement for an independent review. The scope of the review should consider all aspects of the agreement, including the effectiveness of state-specific reforms (p. 30; emphasis added).

If the next National School Reform Agreement doesn’t address the Productivity Commission’s findings, the voices may grow louder. We now have 12 years of data, representing over 7,100 school leaders, many in broad agreement with the Commission’s view. The accountability school leaders have worked under for decades must now be embraced by policy makers and bureaucracies which, according to our report, preside over many of our participants’ frustrations.

Dr Paul Kidson is Senior Lecturer in Educational Leadership at the Australian Catholic University. Prior to becoming an academic in 2017, he was a school principal for over 11 years. His teaching and research explore how systems and policies govern the work of school leaders, as well as how school leaders develop and sustain their personal leadership story.

It’s a watershed report but it’s hidden behind headlines

What the Productivity Commission’s National School Reform Agreement report really says. 

Monday’s ROGS report from the Productivity Commission is the fourth in a row making important insights on where Australian education has gone wrong. 

The data for the Report on Government Services (ROGS) made it clear that Australian school funding is iniquitous. While this fact could have been called out on any day in the nearly 11 years since the Gonski report was released, the data establishes it authoritatively. Previous low key reports by the National School Resourcing Board and National Audit Office  have highlighted the lack of transparency and accountability evident in funding arrangements. 

Earlier, the PCs interim report for the quinquennial productivity review in October last year put education issues front and centre of economic concerns, and provided a warning bell for their interim report on the National School Reform Agreement (NSRA).  Both clearly assert ‘Canberra, we have a[n education] problem’

These three identify the threat that arises from our current educational woes, and make it clear that there are system structural and transparency faults contributing to our difficulties.  But it is the PCs report on the National School Reform Agreement that provides a fuller analysis of our education system. Importantly identifying deeply entrenched system level faults.  

Headlines on the NSRA report squealed “Call for focus on teaching as academic results slide despite $300b school funding deal“ and  “Still lessons to be learned to improve student outcomes“ suggesting the problems resided with teachers, in classrooms . Social media comments were along the lines of  “please save us from another report telling us how bad Australian education is”, and from teachers… “the start of school year whinge about teachers” 

However, the 350 page NSRA report is not just another highlighting the long litany of stagnation and declines in Australian education. I would encourage all education researchers to read it, but for fans of Blinklist, I provide a synopsis and explain why.

Teachers are not to blame. Calling out Government and bureaucratic failures

Let’s start at the beginning. The report was designed to examine and evaluate “the effectiveness and appropriateness” in the national school reforms; and “the appropriateness of the National Measurement Framework for Schooling in Australia”. 

On the reforms a report card is provided in the main report, see below, but not the summary report (perhaps this is why the headlines went awry?).

This report card rather optimistically claims that four out of seven initiatives have been achieved. Reflecting on this, I can’t help but wonder what a 3/7 scorecard for a school principal would lead to? 

In this case, despite investing $319 billion, key initiatives remain virtually untouched. 

The tick against the national teacher workforce strategy seems overly positive, particularly as the National Teacher Workforce Data set is currently incomplete, with only approximately 10% of Australia’s teachers included. 

So too the report of “partial” outcome assessment in improving national data quality. As the report goes on to show, the NMFSA data is far from ideal, not aligned to national education goals, and poorly reported on.

If you’re not a fan of educational data please don’t turn away now. You may have been put off by the data we currently have, and the focus on how schools will work with it, but data is fundamental to system monitoring – and here is where the core of the problem lies. 

The report goes on to conclude: 

  • “The Agreement’s outcomes and targets were incomplete
  • Reform activity has at times lacked focus and flexibility
  • Reporting and transparency arrangements have not had bite “

There may be some bureaucratic euphemism here. On my reading of the situation there were no specific targets, many reforms were not achieved, and reporting and transparency was virtually non-existent. 

Still, there are some lessons to be learnt for future reform agreements, namely

  1. “Parties should focus the next school reform agreement on directly lifting student outcomes … 
  2. … and adapt accountability mechanisms to reflect a greater role for state-specific actions “

In other words, if there is to be any hope of improving the situation, we need to focus on clear goals for students – and make the system/s accountable. 

I have to agree. After all, teachers have been facing accountability pressures for some time and often face the brunt of blame for poor educational outcomes. From my own research perspective, listening to teachers, I can see much current frustration in Australian education  boiling down to the old expression “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” . 

Frequent calls for teachers to lift teaching quality, be more evidence based in their practice, must be matched by evidence based policy.  We need more data, transparent reporting and critical system analysis to identify the structural problem at the heart of our current woes. We need an education system designed for purpose that can pursue the educational goals we have agreed to. And we need upward as well as downward accountability in order to serve students, citizens and society. 

Nicole Mockler’s analysis of media suggests the dominant refrain is “we have a teacher problem” but much relies on system architecture, like the NMFSA, where we evidently have some challenges.Furthermore there is little evidence to support the assertion that teacher/teaching quality is a problem. Our system data is simply inadequate to support that assertion. We don’t have adequate data on who and where our teachers are in order to address teacher shortages, nevermind data telling us what they do and how effective they are. 

The report goes on to examine some of the dynamics between poor monitoring of educational equity, rising issues with student wellbeing and problems,work demands on teachers and teacher shortages. It makes for sobering reading. 

The National Measurement Framework – unfit for purpose? 

In its evaluation of the NMFSA the report concludes: 

“The Measurement Framework for Schooling in Australia (MFSA)’s Key Performance Measure (KPM) dataset has reporting gaps against the National School Reform Agreement (NSRA) performance reporting framework, particularly on outcomes for students from priority equity cohorts. “ 

In fact, as the submission from the Centre for Educational Measurement and Assessment makes clear, very little of the data is aligned to national educational goals. Furthermore, there is inadequate monitoring and reporting on the data available – resulting in poor transparency on how our system is performing, and where trends are heading. This is particularly the case with educational equity, which is declining, but is not effectively monitored by government reporting. The outcomes for some equity cohorts, like students with disability for example, are completely ignored in the National Report on Australian Schooling. 

The PC NSRA report agrees and concludes: 

“The NSRA has an accountability deficit. In addition to the MFSA not being wholly relevant and complete as a tool to measure progress against the Agreement sub outcomes, visibility of governments’ progress is diminished by the absence of standalone reporting.”

Recommendations: Focus on equity, increase system transparency, support teachers and student wellbeing

These seem like sensible recommendations. Equity, in tandem with excellence is, after all, our number one education goal. It seems logical we should focus on it, monitor and report on it. Only then can we hope to target money and resources accurately and efficiently to minimise inequity.

The key to building equity naturally requires a focus on students, not only what they learn but how they feel. Broadening educational goals, and data, to value and monitor student wellbeing is a no-brainer. 

And no progress can be made without supporting teachers. Addressing structural and system accountability problems, including poor data, inadequate monitoring for reasonable targeting of funding and resources, poor professional workforce management, will make teachers’ working lives in schools much easier and productive. 

This is a watershed realisation in a government report, an acknowledgement that it is the system, not teachers, that is failing. That is a good start. 

Rachel Wilson is associate professor at The Sydney School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney. She has expertise in educational assessment, research methods and programme evaluation, with broad interests across educational evidence, policy and practice. She is interested in system-level reform and has been involved in designing, implementing and researching many university and school education reforms. Rachel is on Twitter @RachelWilson100