Students First, as the title implies, is the Coalition Government's policy purported to support education systems and schools. The claim is to enrich learning outcomes for ALL students and subsequently our nation's future capacity.
The Coalition's education policy statement, however, demands interrogation.
Minister Pyne has throughout the Students First Policy Statement threatened or attacked ACARA, Gonski, and the quality of our teachers, the Australian Curriculum framework and developmental process and the premise and foundation of public education, thinly veiled by creating independent schools within our state systems. He has cast a shadow over the universal provider of education by attempting to generate a desire for public schools to be more like private schools.
Surely the division between and marginalisation of school communities in Western Australia should be enough to dissuade such a debate? Apparently not. It is of grave concern that the majority of Students First seems grounded in combative contrast to any significant educational evidence.
The search for credible research to forge policy should be the task.
Instead the Coalition seems intent to pursue policy that is proven to be debilitating to schools and systems and cannot illuminate educational achievement.
We ask Minister Pyne to:
- Honour the heads of agreement between federal and state governments regarding the Gonski Review. The review resources a national framework on the certainty of needs funds to ensure every student in Australia will have access to quality education. This will ensure students are prioritised ie: students first. Why has the Coalition not engaged and navigated through a process to ensure all schools, systems and consequently every young person, move to the needs-based funded educational construct?
- Acknowledge that autonomy or independence (Independent Public Schools — IPS) is not a goal in itself. Recognise that privatising public schools only dilutes system strength. There is no substantial or credible research to support that autonomy is central to any successful high level or sustainable educational reform. High performing quality systems primarily embrace and invest in quality teacher development and recruitment, with adequately resourced school sites. This policy will be of no value if the aim is to increase student learning outcomes. Western Australian and Victorian IPS strategies have not uncovered any evidence of change in achievement or enrolment. The Productivity Commission has warned that without adequate resourcing as outlined by the Gonski principles, school autonomy may further compound inequalities.
- Recognise the bias of the announcement to review the curriculum. The review announcement is illogical, ill-informed and poorly timed. This further illuminates the minister's inability to recognise what is valued by the education community. Educators, parents and students had participated in extended feedback processes and the curriculum development at this stage had been signed off by all state education ministers. This must be valued. We must also consider those charged to review the curriculum. Dr Kevin Donnelly appears to currently be acknowledged for his previous prejudicial positions on education in the public arena. His bias precedes the review process. Donnelly is a publically noted critic of the curriculum. By his own admissions some of his bias includes: assertions around multiculturalism and its acceptance and claims that many would consider homosexuality "abnormal behaviour".
- Ensure that as you review NAPLAN and the MySchool website, that the negative consequences of high stakes testing will be redressed and continue the transparency of accurately published nationally comparable data. Continued consultation with the profession is an imperative.
- Maintain the currency of ACARA's construct — it is a comprehensively representative group. We ask the minister to act in the best interests of our children and put students first!