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Understanding Gonski

Author: Janet Fletcher, Senior SACE Officer Curriculum and Assessment, SACE Board of SA
Published: December 2018

Gonksi. A word that is bandied about amongst state and national education policy makers, particularly when an election is looming. But what does it mean? Why is it important? And how will it affect the way we teach, how students learn, or what schooling will look like in the future? In the first in a series of articles attempting to shed light on aspects affecting the teaching community, this article provides an outline of what the latest iteration of Gonski is all about.

Who and what is Gonski?

David Gonski is an Australian businessman and philanthropist. In 2011 he was appointed by the Australian government to chair a review into Australian education funding. He was subsequently appointed to chair the Review to Achieve Education Excellence in Australian Schools (Review) in 2017 and to make recommendations on how funding could be used to 'improve school performance and improve student outcomes'.

Those reviews have become known as 'Gonski', and 'Gonski 2.0'.

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Gonski 2.0

A total of 279 submissions were returned from schools, teachers, parents, educational experts, stakeholders in education (states, sectors, unions, tertiary institutions) and other interested parties. Those submissions represented the 9444 schools, 404,580 staff and 3,849,225 students within the Australian education sector at the time of the review.

From the submissions, the Review identified the following three priorities for moving education forward in Australia:

  1. Delivering one year's growth in learning for every student in every year.
  2. Equipping every student to be a creative, connected and engaged learner in a rapidly changing world.
  3. Cultivating an adaptive, innovative and continuously improving education system.

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1 — Delivering one year's growth in learning for every student in every year

The review identifies that students are currently taught in year levels. These are structured by age where students, irrespective of where they might sit in a 5-6 year spread of learning, receive the same 'fixed year-level diet' (p 28). When the calendar year turns over, the cohort moves to the next year level.

The review's criticism of this structure is that 'it is not designed to differentiate learning or stretch all students to ensure they achieve maximum learning growth every year'. (p ix).

Hence, the report's view that lockstep delivery 'makes it difficult to develop teaching and learning programs for students who are above or below year level expectations' (p 29).

The review proposes to move from the traditional, industrial-based paradigm of 'a year-based curriculum to a curriculum expressed as learning progressions independent of year or age' (p ix).

Rather than reporting simply against a year level standard, the report suggests that teachers would need a 'sound understanding of what long term learning progress across the curriculum looks like' (p 30). This would particularly help to show the learning improvement, or lack of movement, in those students operating above or beyond year level expectations.

An online formative assessment tool is suggested in the recommendations as a critical tool to assist teachers to 'help diagnose a student's current level of knowledge, skill and understanding, to identify the next steps in learning to achieve the next stage in growth and to track student progress over time against a typical development trajectory' (p x).

Teachers would log in and access a series of assessment items tailored to the student. The on-line assessment tool or teacher, dependent on the nature of the task, would score the tool. The tool would outline the student's current progress and give advice on the next step and the teacher would be 'empowered to make evidence-based changes to respond to individual student learning needs' (p 65).

The Review states there would 'likely be a need to reduce teaching contact time to enable this to occur' (p 66).

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2 — Equipping every student to be a creative, connected and engaged learner in a rapidly changing world

The review is eager that each student leaves school as a 'creative, connected and engaged learner' with a 'growth mindset' (p x) and the 'right mix of knowledge, skills and understandings for a world experiencing significant economic, social and technological change' (p xi).

The OECD's The future of education and skills: Education 2030 project recognises that students 'will need a broad range of skills, including cognitive and meta-cognitive skills (e.g. critical thinking, creative thinking, learning to learn and self-regulation); social and emotional skills (for example empathy, self-efficacy and collaboration); and practical and physical skills (for example using new information and communication technology devices)' (p 5).

The Review recognises that capabilities teaching and assessment are areas that need attention:

  • Ensuring that embedding capabilities in the general curriculum doesn't devalue and bury capabilities under subject-based content delivery.
  • Enabling teachers to understand how to deliver capabilities education within their subjects.
  • Developing learning progressions to measure capability development.
  • Redeveloping the ACARA capabilities to come into line with current thinking.

In the senior years, the report raises a concern that in-spite of a need for 'a broader and different mix of skills…including stronger problem solving, communication, digital skills, and creative thinking…' (p 48), due to the change in the jobs market, there is still a focus on ranking students for university entrance based on content knowledge.

In light of the tension between educating for an ATAR and educating for 21st century readiness, the Review proposes a review into the organisation of secondary education which considers:

  • more flexible curricula sensitive to student preference
  • increased use of apprenticeships/internships/work experience and inquiry-based and cross-subject learning
  • incorporation and prioritisation of capabilities
  • informed and consistent careers advice
  • stronger engagement with industry (p 54).

Other areas proposed for immediate review are

  • The possible re-organisation of senior school:
    • separating senior schools into separate entities
    • schools that specialise in different pathways: academic/vocational
    • schools as service hubs offering industry work placements/volunteering/extracurricular activities.
  • Assessment and Reporting. Currently there are multiple existing options:
    • Australian Tertiary Admissions Ranking (ATAR)
    • State certificates
    • Micro-credentials and badges system used by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) which allows students to create an individualised portfolio of achievement.

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3 — Cultivating an adaptive, innovative and continuously improving education system

The Review argues that because teachers work in a 20th century model aimed at providing a 'standard mass education [it] does not support the widespread implementation of contemporary teaching methods, such as tailored teaching' (p 56).

If teachers are to shift to a 'growth-based learning environment, teachers need to upgrade their professional practices' (p 56).

The review points to several ways to support and encourage teacher practice:

  • professional collaboration such as de-privatised classrooms and professional-based learning teams
  • formative assessment tools
  • better access to professional learning.

School systems are encouraged to 'optimise their teachers' schedules so they can better balance teaching obligations, administrative tasks and effective professional learning' (p 57).

Attracting and retaining excellent teachers is seen as 'one of the most important drivers of a well-functioning education system' (p 69).

The Review addresses issues such as:

  • Lack of specialists
  • Teaching out of field
  • Better induction
  • Better career structures
  • Raising of teacher profiles in the community.

Other developments that are proposed to improve the system are:

  • A Unique Student Identifier that would create national data sets for analysis and aid students transferring school
  • A National Research and Evidence Institute to:
    • Generate and source relevant research and evidence
    • Synthesise evidence
    • Transfer, broker and manage knowledge
    • Accelerate and mediate the practical utilisation of knowledge.

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Going Forward

The Review calls for action to enable all 'students to realise their full learning potential, and [re-establish] Australia's education system as world-leading” (p112).

Few teachers would take issue with 'enabling students to realise their full learning potential'; fewer still would argue that every teacher in Australia isn't working professionally to do just that.

The Review gives voice to very powerful voices and ideas in the education space. This has the potential to affect:

  • what, and how, students learn
  • what, and how, we teach and assess
  • the very structure of school.

Content, capabilities, on-line formative assessment tools, the potential use of separate vocational and academic senior schools, the career shape of teachers and principals, the focus on PISA as a measure of Australian educational success, these are issues worth our professional attention and consideration…and your voice is just as important to this debate.

The Institute of Educational Assessors (IEA) has been working since its inception in 2015 to present teachers with the latest research and practical strategies to reflect on and consider pedagogical and policy issues affecting teachers in Australia and around the world.

Previous issues of the Assessment Insider have highlighted key issues addressed in the IEA professional learning courses, including:

  • Vygotsky's work on enabling students to work in their zone of proximal development:
    • The best learning occurs where the target is just outside of a student's reach and where the student is supported to progress their learning in conjunction with a 'more knowledgeable other'.
  • The importance of formative assessment to check what each student knows, understands and can do.
  • Using differentiation in teaching and assessment
  • The use of capabilities education to equip students for life, not only in areas such as critical and creative thinking, and collaboration with increased student agency in areas such as efficacy, regulation and resilience.

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References

ACER 2018, 'Trends in international mathematics and science study (TIMSS)', Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), viewed 29 October 2018, https://www.acer.org/

Department of Education and Training 2018, 'Review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools', Australian Government, viewed 29 October 2018, www.education.gov.au

Gonski, D, et al 2018, Through growth to achievement: Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools, Commonwealth of Australia, Australia

OECD 2018, The future of education and skills: Education 2030, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), France

OECD 2018, 'PISA Programme for international student assessment', Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), viewed 29 October 2018, www.oecd.org

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