The opportunity to lead Australia’s largest education system, however, quickly proved irresistible.
The more I thought about it the more I came to understand that in Australia, this is education’s moment.
The future of our economy, the strength of our communities, the resilience and contribution of our citizens: all will depend on the quality of our education system and what happens in our schools.
I think there is a shared understanding of the nature of the challenge.
The Gonski review was commissioned to look at how we can fund our schools to improve educational outcomes for all young people and ensure our school systems remain areas of national strength.
Results from national and international testing programs are making us ask fundamental questions about the nature of teaching and learning, teacher recruitment and the development and focus of the curriculum.
What I am seeing in Australian education is a restlessness to find reforms that deliver strong and demonstrable outcomes.
We understand that in a technologically-driven global economy of the future, Australia’s strength will come not from what machines dig out of the ground, but from the people who walk the land.
Professor Dylan Wiliam expressed it well recently when he wrote: “We need to improve education ... because of the profound changes that are taking place in society and work.
"Our world is becoming more and more complex, and so higher and higher levels of educational achievement will be needed to be in control of one’s own life, to understand one’s culture, to participate meaningfully in democracy, and to find fulfilling work.”
At no time in history will the nature of work be changing so quickly as the workforce in which today’s students will find themselves.
There is hardly a job that is not being transformed by technology, as automation replaces both simple and complex tasks.
Once again society will look to schools to ensure students have the skills needed to survive and flourish in this dramatically transformed landscape.
To have a growth mindset to master new skills and develop new competencies. To work collaboratively. To learn from experience and design new practices. To embrace change and to thrive.
Our teachers are at the coalface of this change.
Every day they deal with an incredible diversity of students – students from many different cultures, those with additional learning needs, students with significant family issues.
We need to support our teachers to meet these challenges because school is a place where we care for the whole child – their academic progress and their wellbeing.
We can see that as communities deal with the social transformation triggered by technology and globalisation, all kinds of pressures. emerge around how we live and face these challenges together.
Again, it is our schools where we expect young citizens to learn about being part of community, understanding and respecting each other, contributing together cohesively.
Traditional good practice and reliable old ways in schools will not pass muster for what lies ahead for our students.
What a challenge for educators. As Wiliam continues: “We need to create a culture in which every teacher ... accepts the need to improve – not because they are not good enough but because they can be even better – and when teachers do their jobs better, their students are healthier, live longer and contribute more to society.”
I have inherited leadership of an education department in NSW that is committed to evidence-based reform.
We are continuing to ensure all our efforts are based around lifting the quality of teaching and learning to improve educational outcomes.
We are backing professionals in schools to make important decisions in the best interests of local students, strongly supported by departmental expertise.
For Australia, it is education’s moment. A profound challenge, opportunity and responsibility.