SPEECHNational Press Club Address24 February 2010Delivering the Education Revolution
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today and to share my passion about the future of Australian schooling.
Of course, this subject has recently generated intense public debate, triggered by the launch of theMy Schoolwebsite.
My Schoolhas been a revelation.
A senior colleague of mine reported walking through the Press Gallery on the day it was launched and feeling puzzled that every single correspondent was apparently writing a news story aboutMy School. It took him a minute to realise that the whole Gallery was in fact onMy Schoollooking for information about their schools – the ones that their children attend or that they had attended years ago.
We expected it to be popular, but the level of interest has been beyond expectation.
Everywhere I have been since January 28th, people have told me stories about the conversations thatMy Schoolhas sparked.
Conversations in workplaces and kitchens.
Conversations between parents and school principals.
Conversations between teachers in staff rooms.
Conversations between parents and their children.
There is no doubt that this new era of school transparency is a landmark in Australian education reform.
My Schoolhas shone a national light on our schools.
And the initial findings are, indeed, illuminating.
My Schoolhas shown us how much the performance of schools varies across our nation and that their performance is not determined by simple dividing lines like location or sector.
For the first time, it is allowing crucial aspects of school organisation and performance to be analysed and compared in a systematic way.
For example, around 27 percent of schools have 70 percent or more of their literacy and numeracy results above, or substantially above, the national average.
At the same time, some 20 percent of schools have 70 percent or more of their literacy and numeracy results below or substantially below the national average.
Using the ICSEA, the Index of Socio-Educational Advantage, developed by the ACARA (the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) experts, we can also look at the picture of school performance in context through comparison of statistically similar schools, that is those serving similar student populations.
My Schoolshows us that some 12 percent of schools have 70 percent or more of their literacy and numeracy results below or substantially below the average of their statistically similar schools.
This proves that there are schools, including schools teaching the most disadvantaged children, that can do better.
This variation exists among the schools serving the least advantaged and most advantaged communities.
So among the approximately 750 schools in the lowest 10 percent on the ICSEA scale, 420 had 20 percent or more of their test results above or substantially above the average of their statistically similar schools. Thirty-four had 20 percent or more test results that were above or substantially above the national average across those domains tested.
Unexpectedly good results.
These are schools to celebrate and schools to learn from.
They show that it is possible to overcome challenging circumstances and that every child in every school can be stretched, challenged and supported to achieve.
These are the schools that prove demography is not destiny.
But the lessons ofMy Schoolare also lessons for advantaged communities. Around 850 schools are in the top 10% on the ICSEA scale. Of these, some 460 had 20 percent or more of their test results below or substantially below the average of statistically similar schools. Forty-four had 20% or more test results that were below or substantially below the national average. These are unexpectedly poor results.
These results are in very different communities but the message is the same. We can improve standards and school results for children. And if we know we can do it then we must do it.
My Schoolis telling us that, as a nation, we have developed a status quo which is not in the best interests of all Australians, especially those young Australians with most to gain from educational excellence.
That is what fuels my passion for education reform in this nation.
I believe that every child is entitled to a world class education, regardless of their background or their family circumstances.
And for too long, we have let children down.
Let them down by allowing school reform in this country be distracted by an ideological debate about competition between sectors, at the expense of actually doing anything about the quality of schooling.
Let them down by allowing the quality debate to be stymied by the orthodoxy that what teachers did in the classroom was largely up to them and that external scrutiny of schooling and accountability for student outcomes was somehow not appropriate.
The most damaging consequence of this ideological conflict and dominant orthodoxy was felt by young people. If young people did not achieve highly in whatever schools they went to, the adult world did not respond with outrage. National leaders did not stand up to argue that, if young people are not achieving, it is the adults who are responsible for taking action.
The result has been that in recent years we have allowed our expectations and our performance to slip.
The Education Revolution is about rejecting that failure.
Delivering the Education Revolution
The Education Revolution is about transforming schools today and driving the reforms of the future.
It is transforming schools with new capital and equipment.Today, a new $5.5 million Trade Training Centre is being built at Manjimup Senior High School in Western Australia for students from a cross-sector group of six local schools. By working together, these schools can create a bigger centre where their students will be able to gain qualifications in carpentry, automotive mechanical technology and engineering. It is part of our ten year Trades Training Centre Program, which is being delivered exactly as promised at the election. 46 projects are now under construction and 5 are already completed.
Today at Erina High School on the New South Wales Central Coast, the students have 198 new laptops which are being used in all areas of student learning. These laptops are just some of the 220,000 computers already in schools around Australia.By the end of 2011, the Digital Education Revolution, will achieve exactly what was promised, a one to one ratio of students to computers in senior secondary school.
And today, around Australia, jobs and skills are being created in the delivery of Building the Education Revolution, the largest school building program in Australia’s history. More than 24,000 projects. New investment in every school. More than 500 science and language centres in secondary schools.
This investment is transformational. For example, at Bellaire Primary School in Geelong, Victoria, $3 million is funding a new learning facility that allows flexible, state of the art teaching and learning strategies. The school has won a national award for this new way of teaching and learning in the senior primary years. The new building will allow it to expand to the middle years students. When I visited the school the principal, Jane Warren, explained how BER is helping them to integrate teaching, curriculum, new technology and social relationships to support children’s achievement.
We know that the tools and the facilities matter.
But we also know that the heart of quality schooling is quality teaching.
The Education Revolution is delivering new resources and reforms to teaching through our $2.5 billion National Partnerships for Smarter Schools.
What’s happening today at Merewether Public School in the Hunter is a great example. Today, Debbie Ross is at work in that school as a Highly Accomplished Teacher and earning more than $100,000 per annum. Debbie is a former Maths consultant, classroom teacher and literacy consultant with a special interest in phonics-based approaches to teaching reading. She is both teaching children and her fellow teachers.
Another example is Teach for Australia, which is bringing high achieving graduates to disadvantaged schools. Today at Mill Park Secondary College in Victoria, Shaun Isbister is teaching business studies as one of the first group of Teach for Australia associates. Shaun was the first person in his family to attend university. He ended up with first class honours in economics and was working as a business analyst before joining Teach for Australia.
Now, after an intensive introduction to teaching, he is in his first weeks teaching kids with similar backgrounds to his own.
Sean’s class motto is "results, not excuses."
And the reforms go on, including through our direct investment in schools in low socio-economic status communities. Enabling full service schools with extended school hours, additional teachers, teacher aides, welfare officers, literacy and numeracy coaches and new community connections, this investment is about local empowerment and local solutions.
As a result of this investment, today, at Ingleburn Public School in south western Sydney, teachers are working together on a school improvement plan to lift literacy performance using individual student learning plans and phonics-based instruction methods.
What is happening today is all part of our long-term agenda to transform the quality of teachers and teaching.
Next month will see the release of draft standards defining what is expected of graduate teachers. Of competent teachers. Of highly accomplished teachers. And of school leaders.
For the first time, explicit standards written according to the best evidence and expert knowledge, negotiated between jurisdictions, open for scrutiny and further development.
These standards will inform the way teachers are hired, developed and promoted.
An Australian curriculum
The Education Revolution as it is being experienced today already amounts to the most concerted national reform agenda for school education ever seen in this nation.
But there is more to do.
For teachers to deliver excellent teaching, they must know what they are teaching.
Every student, every parent and every teacher should be able to know with confidence what is expected at every stage of schooling.
As a community, we should be confident about the essential knowledge and skills that every student can learn.
That is why, as the next step in the Education Revolution, we are delivering an Australian national curriculum.
Today I can announce that the draft curriculum in the first four subjects, maths, English, science and history, will be released next Monday March 1st.
It is world class, setting out not just the essential content for each year of learning but also the achievement standards against which students should be expected to perform.
This will not be a curriculum ‘guide’ or a supplement to what states and territories currently teach. It will be a comprehensive new curriculum, providing a platform for the highest quality teaching.
The drafts will be refined through an open national consultation process in the coming months. Everybody can contribute to the debate. Schools will try out the draft curriculum in practice.
From Monday, the Australian curriculum will be available through a fully interactive website that allows anyone to search the whole text for key topics and content.
It is already prompting fierce debate and provoking great interest. I can tell you, I learned a few things myself when I read it.
It has been developed by experts, not politicians, but I have to say I am glad that grammar makes a strong appearance. For the first time ever, grammar will be set out explicitly at every year level from kindergarten through to year 12; the content, the ways in which it should be used, and the other areas of language and literature to which understanding of grammar can contribute.
I urge Australians to view this website at www.australiancurriculum.edu.au.
For too long, what is taught in schools has been a mystery to Australian parents and employers. From next Monday the first tranche of the Australian national curriculum will be there for all to see.
For too long, parents and employers have been anxious that students will leave school lacking the skills they need for life and work including proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics. As a nation we are about to move to a national curriculum of true rigour.
For too long, families have feared moving interstate because they know their child would not only have to confront a new school but a new curriculum. Next Monday is the beginning of the end of those days.
Continuing the Revolution
But this new achievement will not stop my drive and passion to continue lifting standards and addressing equity in Australia’s schools for Australia’s children.
As we continue to deliver our current Education Revolution commitments, we will also debate and develop the next generation of reforms. Reforms that become possible because of what we have already put in place. Reforms that will further embed high expectations in our education system and build the knowledge and the actions that will deliver higher quality and better outcomes.
Individual value added measures
My Schoolshows the value of providing school level results, in context, to analyse how each school is performing. Just looking at how students in years 3 and 5 or in years 7 and 9 are performing at a given school can provide important indicators of student progress.
But after this year’s national test we will for the first time be in a position to see how the same children are progressing two years later, for example seeing how the grade 3 students tested in 2008 are now doing in grade 5 in 2010.
Obviously, children move schools so to track progress systematically, to focus on the progress made by each student, and to evaluate the performance of schools and teachers with full rigour, we need to be able to analyse the gains made by individual students from year to year.
That’s why we need a single number that will remain with a student throughout their schooling so we can ensure that each student's individual improvement, or where they are struggling, can be accurately followed across schools, systems or states.
The Rudd Government will introduce a ‘unique student identifier’ across Australia as soon as possible, so that the most rigorous measures of school improvement and valued added are developed.
I have asked ACARA to identify how, before the introduction of a unique student identifier, we can use existing records to measure the progress of students from year to year in the existing national testing data. With the cooperation of education authorities, and without identifying individual students, it should be possible to link national testing records so that student progress can be identified from year to year once the 2010 national test tests have been taken.
Future reform priorities
And building on our current reforms, we will examine and debate the next stages of quality improvement
We will examine, for example, how every school can get the right support and scrutiny to make sure it is performing well and improving in the areas where it needs to improve. This may involve external assessment and inspection of schools and it will certainly involve strengthening school-based performance management of individual teachers, as some jurisdictions are already trialling through our National Partnerships.
We will examine how to make sure that every new teacher is able and ready to teach to the highest standards, by reforming initial teacher education and recruiting high quality candidates in every jurisdiction.
We will examine whether every secondary student can access the pathway they need to ensure they achieve and excel beyond the school years as we further lift year 12 achievement in line with our agreed national target of 90 percent. In my view this means examining the vocational pathways on offer and how they can be strengthened and expanded, for example through high quality school-based apprenticeships.
Our reform agenda is already broad, deep and challenging.
In its further development, I will build on the approach I have taken so far of publicly raising reform ideas, testing those ideas in public debate and then doggedly pursuing those reforms that stand out as the best.
As Australians we have an obligation to the future, an obligation to ensure the Australian school students of today and tomorrow each get a world class education. They should be stretched and extended into being the best that they can be so they have the best chance to achieve and succeed in life.
Through the Education Revolution, as a nation we are finally shouldering that obligation and making progress.
I am confident that together we will succeed in building a stronger, fairer nation by becoming one of the world’s most skilled and best educated nations.