As, hopefully, students return to the physical school this week, I extend my appreciation to the brilliant teaching staff of Haileybury who have once again delivered an exceptional program in challenging circumstances.
As a school, we always try to focus on what matters and what will make a difference to student academic and social outcomes in what we deliver and how we deliver it. There are too many fads in education and too many practices that are not based on the evidence of what works for student outcomes.
Sadly, many of these fads are practised widely in Australian education and, indeed, promoted through some of our teacher education courses. Some of the broad failures of Australian education over the past 20 years were very well covered by veteran journalist Paul Kelly in The Australian on the weekend.
At the moment I am one of a panel of four people referenced in Kelly’s article reviewing teacher education courses in Australia. The panel has been consulting widely around the country in response to a discussion paper that has been released.
As we, the panel, note in this discussion paper:
“Fifty per cent of the variance in students’ achievement comes from the students themselves (individual student characteristics)—there is a strong correlation between earlier and later achievement. Quality teaching, however, is the most significant in-school driver of student outcomes and school quality, accounting for up to 30 per cent of the variance.”
There is nothing more important that a school can do than put a quality, well-trained teacher in front of students and have them deliver a rigorous, structured program with a curriculum and a pedagogy based on the clear evidence of what works.
During our consultation process, there have been many wonderful, stimulating discussions and one of the most interesting has been with Dr Jenny Donovan. Dr Donovan is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Education Research Organisation—the body recently created by state and federal ministers to spearhead research.
Donovan commented in Kelly’s article:
“We need to focus on practices that deliver the most effective learning outcomes. We know what those practices are. The evidence is extremely robust, up there with the most evidence-based stuff there is. We know what works. We are talking here about explicit instruction, the teacher being responsible for the learning of students; teachers revisiting the content to ensure it is learnt and maintained. This approach is supported by cognitive science and our understanding of how the brain learns.”
Unfortunately, this is not the approach in most Australian classrooms—it is the primary reason why literacy and numeracy standards for Australian students have declined relative to other countries and in real terms across the past decade.
During that same time, the performance of Haileybury students has improved in real terms and relative to other students in Australia and overseas jurisdictions. The reason is that Haileybury teachers have taken an evidence-based approach and have a strong collaborative professional framework and a high level of accountability on performance. Our students deserve nothing less.
I urge you all to read Paul Kelly’s article and assure you we will continue to focus on the evidence of what works in delivering great outcomes for Haileybury students. Haileybury’s teachers are committed to this; they are an exceptional group of professionals and are justifiably proud of their achievements.
Please note that Paul's article requires a newspaper subscription to view.
CEO | Principal