Friday, 27 May 2016

NSW Independent Schools rank among the world's best (2016 Term 2 Week 6)

As the Federal election gets into full swing, it is interesting to reflect on the frames through which education is viewed. Time and time again, the discourse around education is that of 'fixing'. As one of my colleagues has noted, it has almost become an accepted fact that Australian schools are failing; consequently, 'fixing' is needed. The performance of Australian students in the PISA test results, which has indicated a 'slide down' the international rankings, is usually the cited grounds for our despair. However, the decline is not uniform; NSW independent schools are performing very well indeed.

Last week some interesting new analysis of the PISA results was released; it provided a more fine-grained exploration of the performance of Australian students. The research by Dr Gary Marks and commissioned by the AISNSW Institute, which can be found here, challenges the perception that Australian schooling is uniformly in decline across the range of jurisdictions and contexts. Rather, it shows that 'a significant part of the Australian education system is getting things right.' 

Students in NSW independent schools are performing at levels that are competitive with Finland and the Asian countries and jurisdictions. As Bill Daniels, the Chairman of the AISNSW Institute said in the media release, 

"This analysis gives parents reason to be confident that choosing an independent school education for their child is a decision that will benefit their child.”

The research seeks to understand these results and the factors that have contributed to it, in particular, exploring the effect of socio-economic privilege. The analysis suggests that a more significant factor than wealth is the educational level of parents and the extent to which education is valued in the household. Committing to the expense of school fees is one tangible expression of valuing education.

However, the analysis also explored school attributes and student learning experiences. Unsurprisingly, it found that individual teachers and schools make a difference: 
Teachers who show an interest in each student’s learning, provide personal support, hold high expectations for all, work with enthusiasm and take pride in their school have better results. Schools add value through the capability and professionalism of teachers, by creating a climate that values academic achievement and sets challenging goals, by providing a safe and ordered environment and by fostering a sense of belonging to a community. These are features of quality schools in all sectors. (emphasis added)
I note that the deterioration in the PISA results (from 2003 to 2012) has coincided with politically-driven 'fixes' for education, such as the National Curriculum, the Digital Education Revolution, NAPLAN, ... and the list goes on. It may just be coincidence that active political interference in education has increased at the same time as educational results have decreased, but the correlation is suggestive.

The teachers and schools described in the quote above don't need politically instigated 'fixing'; they need to be allowed to get on with it.

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