After immediate care and support, a good education takes you so much further than any advanced model of welfare or incentive system can ever hope to.
Put simply, education is the best safeguard against wasted potential, particularly in today’s rapidly evolving world.
Therefore, getting education right could not be more important for today’s young people, for future generations and for Australia’s future.
In Victoria, the evidence – according to NAPLAN – is that we are doing much right. But we know we can do so much more.
A little over two years ago, we embarked on making Victoria ‘the Education State’, with the goal of improving outcomes for every student in our education system.
The Victorian Government has set 10 targets to lift outcomes.
These targets go beyond a traditional focus on literacy and numeracy and focus on the whole child.
Importantly, critical and creative thinking is an outcome for the first time which we know is a crucial skill in our rapidly evolving workforce.
The Education State is also underpinned by equity and excellence, so there is also a target aimed at breaking the link between educational attainment and disadvantage and re-establishing pathways for those young people who have left the system far too early.
Research clearly shows us that the best education systems in the world are those that collaborate, those that spread knowledge of what works best, those that are truly connected.
Ontario, Canada, is a perfect example. There, collaboration involving all parts of the system has led to remarkable recent improvements in student learning outcomes.
I firmly believe that for our education system to go from “good” to “excellent”, we must maximise the advantage of our “systemness”.
We need to move from schools working as individuals to a networked system, from professional isolation to networked learning communities.
We can learn a lot from the way in which our health system utilises its “systemness” to spread and adopt new clinical practices that benefit us all.
To be the best we can be, we need to learn – not just from our own experiences – but from those of our colleagues next door, down the road, across the state, across the nation, and around the world.
In Victoria, we are now designing our education system to encourage such collaboration with the Framework for Improving Outcomes (FISO) at its centre.
We have some good evidence and research in education but we don’t have a clear pathway to get it into classrooms.
FISO is about bringing the evidence base to the classroom.
We are implementing a way of principals learning and working together through Communities of Practice.
These bring principals together in a given geographical area to improve student outcomes network-wide through data sharing, capacity building and respectful challenge.
Principals, of course, lead their own schools, but they have a role too in leading our whole system, in boosting student achievement across the board, across the state.
Of course, it’s also important that collaboration occurs within schools.
Our Professional Learning Communities schools are leading the way in engaging teachers in shared problem solving.
It is equally crucial that system leaders in the Department are networked into and truly engaged with school leadership and classroom practice.
A truly networked education system transcends traditional sector-based alignments.
As I visit schools and principals across Victoria I see strong evidence of this work happening.
In Victoria, we have a public system which educates 590,000 students a year and is growing, but we also have thriving independent and Catholic schools.
I think that we, as educators, public servants and a society, are mature enough, that the system is mature enough, to pursue our goals together.
We need not only to deepen collaboration within the government school system, but to extend it across all school sectors.
I have heard of great examples of Victorian government, independent and Catholic schools already working together, sharing facilities, sharing professional development.
For example, in Warracknabeal in western Victoria, Catholic and government schools are collaborating to provide a wider range of subjects and shared learning experiences for their students.
Here in Victoria, we have also been collaborating internationally. Recently, we have been working with a Canadian education expert, Dr Mary Jean Gallagher, who has been instrumental in the transformation of Ontario’s education system, learning from their experiences.
Dr Gallagher emphasised the value of persistent curiosity for improving educational outcomes.
So I am urging every principal, and every teacher, in our schools to be “persistently curious”, to look beyond their own school, their own practice, their own classroom, to be curious about what the research is saying, and to share knowledge of what works best for improving student outcomes.
Because, like Valerie Hannon, a UK education leader says: it is education that will set the extent to which our public is capable of creating a future in conditions that do justice to our aspirations for good lives.