Welcome to the fifth #AARE2023 blog of the conference

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The following post is by Helen Proctor, University of Sydney, who was the discussant for this session.

The war between the underfunded and the overfunded

Jane Kenway and Matthew Sinclair’s featured symposium, entitled “Critical policy junctures,
private school hegemony and potential counter hegemonic challenges” addressed the
serious problem of the underfunding of public-school education in Australia and the
peculiarly Australian policy relationship between public and private school funding. Having
assembled a team of early career, mid-career and well-established academics, the aims of
the organisers were not only to offer new perspectives – conceptual and empirical – but
also to contribute to the development of a future pro public-school counter discourse and
policy strategy.

Barbara Preston (Barbara Preston Research) has for many years been tracking the increasing
divergence between private and public schools in terms of various categories of advantage
and disadvantage. In her paper, “The private school ascendancy: An origin story” she called
for, among other things, a recognition—in terms of sufficient funding – of the public-school
system’s unique responsibilities to welcome all comers.

Matthew Sinclair (Curtin University) proposed that we are now in a ‘Post Gonski’ era and
argued that the equity promises of the 2011 Gonski report remain unfulfilled. He proposed
the establishment of a new National School Funding Agency to distribute funding to schools
based with the kind of rigour and transparency that could be resistant to political lobbying
and to the pressures of the state and federal electoral cycles.

A key contribution of Emma Rowe’s (Deakin University) paper was her centring of the voices
and experiences of overworked public school principals who, as she describes it, have been
compelled to become funding entrepreneurs, supporting basic functions of their schools by
applying for soft money grants from philanthropic foundations and from a shifting array of
government programs.

Jane Kenway (Monash University) and Rebecca Boden (Tampere University, Finland), in a
paper co-authored with Malcolm James (Cardiff Metropolitan University) offered an
excoriating critique of the practices of elite private schools, proposing a framework for
understanding their accumulation of wealth – via substantial recurrent funding, taxation
exemptions and other indirect public support) as a process that actively depletes the public

Joel Windle (University of South Australia) was unfortunately unable to join the session but
the article on which is contribution would have been based is this one in The Australian
Educational Researcher: Windle and Fensham (2022), ‘Connecting rights and inequality in
education: openings for change’
Also watch out for a Special Issue in The Australian Education Researcher edited by Jane
Kenway and Matthew Sinclair which will include papers from this symposium as well as
others, coming soon.

The following post is by Sally Morgan, Hope Co-Operative and Monash University

Activist researchers: all for radically improving CALD and refugee education

Hi all. At the end of this wonderful conference, I hope to articulate my experience of that richness, as it emerged today in the CALD Education concurrent session. Picture, if you will, the intimate space offered by Room 217 in the Babel building squeezed  full with passionate education researchers. Literally all but one of us were women. All of us were either presenting or keenly listening, on four topics: Sally Baker (ANU) presented on the progress being made on the development of Complementary Pathways for refugee students into Higher Education in Australia; I presented on my doctoral study, ‘Partnering for Hope: Critical participatory action research with young people seeking asylum in Australia; Wendy Goff shared the work being done at Swinburne University of Technology (in partnership with Centre for Multicultural Youth, Pasifika community elders and others), facilitating hands-on university experiences – marvellous, creative and rich ‘Discovery Sprints’ – for Pasifika youth; and Jennifer Alford gave a fascinating snapshot of the critical literacy practices being engaged in by EALD teachers and their students in two schools in QLD, and by those students beyond school, in their critical engagement with social and digital texts.

I’ll talk briefly about my own work, then try to draw some of the themes that I think were emerging across our two hours together.

Being a newly minted doctor, and being ongoingly involved in the Hope Co-Operative (image above) which was the site and focus of my study, I remain rooted to practices of bottom-up social justice with people of asylum-seeking backgrounds and committed to critical participatory action research. I have become convinced that the theory of practice architectures offers a very useful tool for understanding what site specific arrangements enable humane and educationally effective practices. My study found that in Hope Co-operative, there were five characteristic practices that worked symbiotically and ecologically together, in relationships and activities that sustained Bhaba’s empathic solidarity. The most exciting part of that was finding that empathic solidarity makes it possible to shape practices in which people seeking asylum navigate and prevail against the barriers to their social inclusion and connectedness.

There were two things that stood out to me across the various parts of this session. 

First, that there is change afoot. At national, institutional, community and classroom levels, there are policy windows and policy entrepreneurs (many either present or represented at AARE) coming together and making change. 

Second, there is nowhere near enough change. There are deeply sedimented colonialist and racist conditions that persist in our education systems, discourses and practices which keep refugee students’ diverse experiences of education, and their educational rights and needs hidden from view. As Molla powerfully argues, policy invisibility and misframing, among and continue to reproduce socially unjust educational practices in Australia. 

However, today at AARE, we were all reminded that there is change happening. We need to know about the specific instances and sites of that change. We need to talk it up, support it and grow it. Today was a reminder of how scholarship can have impact, bringing the best of what the academy might – through knowledge, skills and advocacy of activist researchers – bring to bear on real world wicked problems in education provision for students who have experienced forced migration. 

My final point however, is that the people working hardest as academic activists in the refugee education space – or as Sally Baker asked, “field”? –   need to be valued within and by their institutions as more than what I call ‘academic bling’. As Jane Wilkinson reminded us at the end of today’s SIG symposium, our work is often hard. Moreover, it comes from and through the heart, and connects us with profoundly difficult human experiences. It also deeply enriches us. The work needs – it ethically demands –  to be sustained, and in order to sustain it, we all need to be taking care of ourselves and of each other.

Today, for me, was part of that care-taking and care-making. Thank you to everyone who was part of it.

The following post is by Keith Heggart, University of Technology Sydney

A balanced diet: teachers and online professional development

Keith Heggart, University of Technology Sydney and Steven Kolber, Faculty of Education, The University of Melbourne

The “administralisation” of teachers 

In Australia, over recent years and in all jurisdictions, the teaching profession has become increasingly ‘administralised’. This has taken a number of forms, including requirements for teachers to undertake, document and comment upon professional development, limited avenues for recognition of registered professional development and increased requirements in order to become a teacher or to gain employment in various schooling systems. This has been described as the impact of neoliberalism upon the education profession, and is related to the use of performance measures and cultures. These can trigger critiques of teacher performance (as opposed to the performance of schools or systems) and calls for reforms. Many of these reforms have focused on higher standards amongst the teacher profession – high standards of entry to the profession, higher standards of practice within the profession, even higher standards of dress and grooming amongst teachers). Yet these calls do little to address significant concerns from teachers and their representatives about casualisation, workload and status. These criticisms of teachers are a common aspect of both legacy and social media.

It is hardly surprising, then, that initial teacher education student numbers are either declining or experiencing only very limited growth. There is also evidence, contested though it might be, that many teachers are planning to leave the profession, citing workload, stress and poor remuneration as the key factors for that decision. One of the issues of workload is linked to teachers’ concerns about the increasing administrative requirements of the teaching profession. For example, the completion of mandated professional development (PD), and the necessity of recording and uploading this and completing paperwork associated with it is an increased administrative burden for many teachers – and there is a great deal of evidence that teachers are already time poor. Time spent on this, and other administrative tasks, means that there is less time for other activities, sometimes represented as ‘core work’ : planning, teaching, collaborating with colleagues – despite many teachers’ desire for this to be a central part of their daily work. 

The contradiction of teacher professional development

When faced with this, one might imagine that many teachers might seek to limit their required professional development solely to that which is mandated. And that might be the case for some teachers; however, for many teachers, the opposite of this is true. The opportunities afforded by social media have been embraced by teachers, both in Australia and worldwide, for a variety of reasons and purposes. A number of ongoing, sustainable and vibrant educator-focused communities developed on social media platforms like X (then Twitter) during the 2010s-2020s. Some of the best known in Australia included #AussieEd, #edureading and #primarystemchat. Teachers embraced both the synchronous and asynchronous nature of the platforms, and the flexibility to engage when and how they chose, with whom they chose, as they discussed key educational ideas, topics and approaches. Numerous studies have shown that this was an empowering activity for teachers – in a profession where they were increasingly feeling disempowered. It’s possible to visualise a suite of online learning communities and activities that might be useful to sustain teacher commitment, reignite passion and build both professionalism, confidence and make steps towards empowerment. In the case of #edureading, teachers from all over the world engaged with democratically chosen research papers via a variety of platforms over a monthly cycle, and in doing so, developed a new model of professional development that alleviated many of their previous concerns. 

A case study of online PD: #edureading

#edureading was chosen as an exemplar social media community for the purpose of this study. This was because both of the authors had access and were familiar with the community. The 15 most active members of the community were identified and interviewed by the researchers. The interview transcripts were thematically coded. 

#edureading as a social media group for educators was launched by one of the authors (name removed) in 2018. The stated purpose of #edureading was to explore the ways that teachers engaged with, made use of, and spoke back to educational research (Kolber et al., 2021). #edureading was an immediate success. It continued for more than four years, during which time different participants read and discussed more than 30 journal articles. More than 1000 educators from Australia and overseas, including England, Canada, France and South Africa, were regular participants in the various #edureading activities.  

Each month, articles were selected via group consensus. Participants then read the article, and shared their thoughts via X, or posted their reflections via a video journal using Flip. Originally, users made use of the #edureading hashtag and posted their comments on Twitter in public. However, increasingly, members are making use of private groups within Twitter to have conversations. At the end of each month, there is a Sunday evening twitter chat that makes use of the #edureading hashtag; this is conducted publicly.   

Benefits of #edureading

It is clear that #edureading met some of the needs of the educators that were regular participants. Interviewees were quick to identify the differences between #edureading and other forms of professional development. Another aspect that they noted was that, although there was an additional time commitment involved in #edureading (in teachers’ already busy schedules) the fact that they had choice about how often, how much and when to engage with #edureading made a significant difference. Some of the key benefits of #edureading included:

  1. It was accessible and sustainable. Teachers liked the ongoing nature of the PD, and also the fact that it wasn’t a one-shot; in other words, it didn’t matter if they missed a month, they could return the following month and continue the conversation
  2. It allowed teachers to follow their own interests. Teachers had a great deal of choice about what they engaged with, and that was linked to the development of a reflective practitioner mindset, as well as the perception that they were being treated more like a professional. 
  3. The flexible schedule was also vital. As stated above, it allowed teachers to dip in and out, but also allowed them to access the content in small doses, and respond in those brief periods of downtime they might have. In this respect, it was like a basic form of microlearning. 

But… the future? 

We’re not suggesting that #edureading should be the only form of PD available to teachers; indeed, far from it. Instead, we are arguing that it is important for individual teachers and the collective profession to be able to make decisions about their own professional development, and #edureading is an example of that. There is a need to make space within the current PD diet for these informal learning communities and opportunities too. Of course, how that might look in a world where Twitter is increasingly being abandoned by educators is hard to predict. 

This varied and balanced diet of PD available online may require additional ingenuity and resources for teachers to find. As such, the participation in these avenues may be limited to a small group of highly committed and connected teachers. It must also be noted that this work is aspirational labour (Duffy, 2016), unpaid, and often gendered in nature, so they are not provided here without complications. Making clear what avenues there are for freely available PD online to teachers outside of this group may be beneficial. 

As well, principals, school systems, departments, archdioceses, AITSL and similar accrediting bodies should be aware of these emergent forms of professional development and consider how a varied and balanced diet of PD can support teachers. 

Lastly, there is a real need for these kinds of groups and learning opportunities to be possible and realistic for all teachers – not just those highly committed and willing to make personal sacrifices to engage. A workable workload for teachers where time and flexible work allows for participation in learning of all kinds. Whilst ambitious, if teachers, as knowledge workers are to have their thinking and learning valued, alongside their work, time and freedom to carry out this work is essential and unavoidable. 

The following post is by Steven Kolber, University of Melbourne

Voices otherwise: Feminist and anticolonial Place-based pedagogies for ecosocial justice

Justice in place based pedagogy, in a fossil fuel orientated nation, is a clear challenge to educators. 

This series of four papers brought together the following disciplines: 

  1. Education
  2. Social work
  3. Childhood studies
  4. Indigenous studies; and
  5. Performing arts

Firstly, the concept of ‘Petro-pedagogy’, that sees fossil fuel companies making resources developed around climate change and how they position the nature of this topic. WA is an example of a ‘captured state’ where petrol companies have infiltrated almost all aspects of public life, including schools. 

Holding these resources, both learning and promotional, up to a feminist and anti-colonial lens found that individuals were positioned as both the cause and the solution of climate change. 

Climate change was shown as slow, natural, and inevitable, zooming out and noting that changes occur across climate in a natural, and unproblematic manner.

These resource remain silent on issues that matter, and instead suggest ‘walking to the shops’ and ‘meat-free Monday’ rather than more considered alternatives. Within these resources, First Nations perspectives on land, place and country are never mentioned – ‘greenhouse gaslighting’ is a neat catch-all for the focus of these resources and their positioning. Separating schooling from the placating embrace of petrol companies within WA is a key proposal from the paper.

Educational practices around the Gabbiljee Wetlands and a close focus on bracken fern as a foci for some place based pedagogical approaches. 

‘Vulnerable reading’ is a way to get educators to connect with place and relationships with human and other groups. Walking with educators brought a focus to the appearance of bracken fern throughout the journey. The ongoing attempts to remove this plant from the environment spawned a story response. 

This story was then considered with ‘hesitating practices’ slowing down to consider the partial nature of understanding, as a way to consider alternative readings and stories that positioned this 

The Noongar people used bracken fern for medicinal purposes, and this plant provides important roles for the native animals within the area. 

A reading of a colonial story that mentioned bracken fern from the Famous Five stories by Enid Blyton where bracken is regularly collected for bedding – the assumption being that this plant will always be present and available for human use. 

Considering the silences and silencing from stories of this type was proposed as a clear technique for teachers and educators to use. 

Place-based pedagogies 

From a First Nations perspective, the world is recognised through its relations, ‘relationality is kinship’, noting the power hierarchies within colonial framing where patriarchal and neoliberal concepts are given precedence, for example ‘Time Imperialism’ work which disempowers communities and their connection to the land. The alternative is the ‘Long Now’ where the past, present and future exist in a non-linear fashion, but are always embedded within the environment.  

This circular perception of time is a way to make people know that their actions have ongoing (never ending?) actions. (Writing about time in a non-linear way within a time linear scale is difficult). 

The ‘One Peppercorn’ method / workshop, place-based event, brings together an audioscape and performances. Participants follow actions presented through this audio performance (delivered through wireless headphones) and interact with elements within the place and lived environment. Within this performance, headphones were removed at points and participants walked in synchronicity, as a means to bring people closer to land.

Embodied listening 

A demolition site on contested land opposite a school became a site of great curiosity and interest for students. The children of the Montessori school produced an improvised dance that was produced into a video that outlines the history of the building and how it begun, was sold, then later demolished. 

The media was a co-construction, using elements of green/screen style approaches to bring the environment and the student dancers into closer relationship. 

The discussion brought about the fact that environmental and earth science as a contested subject within the Australian Curriculum, and elsewhere within Australia. Each paper was considered and critiqued, touching on the centrality of themes that ran through each session.

Place-based education and non-traditional approaches to teaching and interacting with the natural world can be used to consider the topic of ecosocial justice. For a practitioner well outside of one’s depth, each of these papers suggest possible ways forward worthy of deeper consideration. 

Feminist and anticolonial

Place-based pedagogies for ecosocial justice

Petro-pedagogy in WA Schools: a critique of fossil fuel reach in education.

Georgia Beardman, School of Arts and Humanities, Edith Cowan University; Lucy Hopkins, Centre for People, Place and Planet, ECU; Naomi Godden, Centre for People, Place and Planet, ECU; Trudi Cooper, Centre for People, Place and Planet, ECU

Vulnerable reading practices: Making space for otherwise weedy worlds.

Karen Nociti, Centre for People, Place & Planet, Edith Cowan University

Circular Relations: Art Activations

Generating Extended Forms of Knowledge through Place-based

Audio-Visual Encounters.

Cassandra Tytler, Centre for People, Place & Planet, Edith Cowan University

The following post is by Scott Eacott, UNSW

In for a difficult few years in higher education

In this year’s AARE Presidential Forum, Julie McLeod brought together key figures Andrew Norton (ANU), Alison Ross (ARC) and Jill Blackmore (Deakin) to discuss significant moves in higher education that will shape the work of academics at all levels in all institutions in the immediate future.

(Picture, left, Nicole Mockler)

It is impossible to capture all of the issues that speakers, and questions raised, but I will endeavour to provide some highlights:

Potential greater intrusion from the government was flagged by Andrew Norton. Drawing specifically on a high-level overview of the University Accord (in its current publicly available form), Andrew spoke of the current low-trust and high-regulation approach to higher education and the potential for greater government (Commonwealth Department of Education) involvement in curriculum, specifically around the how and what universities teach – an unprecedented move. There is currently a move towards a further market-based approach embedded in the Accord where complaints from students could trigger audit of courses, and this is coupled with incentives to pass students to avoid fines for failing students. The potential for how best to respond by academics and universities to this may be far less desirable than intended.

Similarly, Jill Blackmore highlighted the preserve impact – at sector level, and its manifestation at institutional levels – of research assessment on the individual and collective behaviours of education (and other) researchers. Metrics are often blunt, yet used uncritically in the assessment of individuals and cascading effects they have on research cultures. We are all part of this. It is how our institutions interpret and enact these policy conditions that matters. Mindful that higher education is embedded in a global context and if thinking with the Accord, there is potential for greater differentiation of the university sector (research-only, teaching-research, teaching-only), and in a field that so often focuses on national or jurisdictional enactment of policies and practice, how do we best support research (basic, strategic and applied) in education?

It was not all doom and gloom. Alison Ross spoke of the importance of consultation and the importance of individual and collective voice to bring about changes in the system. Specifically, she highlighted how listening to the sector led to reforms aimed at reducing the administrative burden of applying for ARC grant schemes. With evidence immediately clear in the streamlined application process and new two-stage process for the 2025 Discovery Program round. Recent and currently proposed changes include reconfiguring governance at the ARC to with greater oversight through a board rather than minister. This is not to mention the changes in assessment of research engagement, impact, and quality built on feedback and consultation. These changes come about through individual and collective voice.

An overarching theme across all the speakers was the recasting of government and sector relations. Initial Teacher Education, and education more broadly, are easy targets for social commentators, policy makers, click bait stories. There is no doubt there is a public purpose for our institutions, and considerable public funds flow into them. This creates considerable opportunities and risks. Policy is cyclic, and as Andrew Norton warned, based on the current version of the Accord, we are in for a difficult few years in higher education. Creating better conditions, represents a call to arms. This week there have been countless presentations of the breadth, depth, and quality of education research in Australia. There has never been a better, or more important time to raise our collective voices to speak back to policy makers with our expertise. As alluded to by Andrew, Alison, Jill, and Julie, now is a time to draw on our capacities and capabilities to speak back and collectively behave in ways that sustain – if not advance and expand – our work and its impact. As a powerful concluding plenary, the takeaway message is not one of doom and gloom but of hope. Hope not built on blind faith, but instead, voice, truth and place as we have reached this critical juncture for education research. 

Header image from Joanna Tai‘s Twitter feed.

Republish this article for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

One thought on “Welcome to the fifth #AARE2023 blog of the conference

  1. Ania Lian says:

    Thanks for this report. Let’s hope that the bureaucrats stop in their tracks and stop believing that increased control can produce better results. Let’s look at Asia, where everyone is scared to even meow the wrong way, and for progress, they look to Australia, the country where it is believed our intellectual freedom delivered results. The same is true in the US, where the bigger the university, the less chance newcomers have to think independently. The curriculum is always top down. Choking critique and suffocating innovation are the easiest things to do. Publications in Q1 journals are no guarantee of success when the culture is to overproduce. I’m not saying education cannot improve, but bureaucracy is hardly a help. Who can remember the time when bureaucracy gave us the Direct Instruction period in the NT? What happened to that? I really do not want to see more of such great ideas. We have good policies in place, probably the world’s best curricula EYLF and the AC. Why not just settle in and wait for great stuff to emerge? It does take time. I hear innovators in science also took time.

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