Much has been said of the Gonski Report of late, from the Federal Minister's media release lauding it "a blueprint for educational success" to principals in Victoria welcoming a "more modern, personalised learning approach". But what kinds of changes can a school's three key sets of stakeholders expect in the aftermath of the delivery of the Report, which will come into effect from the beginning of 2019?
Terms of reference for the Gonski Report
The terms of reference for the Gonski Report were to focus on the effective and efficient use of funding to:
- Improve student outcomes and Australia's national performance, as measured by national and international assessments of student achievement.
- Improve the preparedness of school leavers to succeed in employment, further training or higher education.
- Improve outcomes across all cohorts of students, including disadvantaged and vulnerable students and academically-advanced students (‘gifted’ students).
To support these recommendations, the Gonski Report also focused on:
- provision of advice on related institutional or governance arrangements to ensure the ongoing identification and implementation of evidence based actions to grow and sustain improved student outcomes over time, and
- proposals for related transparency and accountability measures that support the effective monitoring, reporting and application of investment.
The Review Panel for the Gonski Report also identified a range of themes for consideration including:
- what students learn and how they learn
- teachers and school leadership
- parent and community engagement
- defining and measuring success in education, and
- identifying, sharing and driving good practice and continuous improvement.
Key recommendations and feedback
The Gonski Report was delivered on 28 March 2018 making it clear that, according to the Federal Government's Media Release, "Australian students should receive a world-class education, tailored to their individual learning needs, and relevant to a fast-changing world. They should be challenged and supported to progress and excel in their learning every year of school, appropriate to their starting point and capabilities."
The Gonski Report identified three key priority areas for review:
- Deliver at least one year’s growth in learning for every student every year.
- Equip every child to be a creative, connected and engaged learner in a rapidly changing world.
- Cultivate an adaptive, innovative and continuously improving education system.
Within these three priority areas, the Gonski Report identified 23 recommendations under five themes:
- Laying the foundations of learning before the school years and in the home environment.
- Equipping every student to grow and succeed with the knowledge they need and a focus on growing each individuals’ skills.
- Creating, support and valuing a profession of expert educators including building on the Government’s reforms to date in teacher education.
- Empowering and supporting school leaders with experience and autonomy.
- Lifting aspirations with quality assurance, data and evidence-based research.
The Gonski Report's findings and recommendations were informed by consultation with education, policy and business leaders as well as 279 submissions.
Much of the feedback surrounding the recommendations was positive with the National Catholic Education Commission commenting in a media release, "the wide-ranging report...takes into account current educational research and thinking, and responds to the key challenges being faced by Australian schools and systems." The Association of Independent Schools of NSW also noted “We particularly note its focus on individual student achievement and learning growth, student agency and the need to revise the structure of the Australian curriculum to ensure it equips students for the workforce of the future.”
Teachers: Pay, recognition and responsibility
The Gonski Report, according to the Australian Financial Review, stated that teachers in primary schools are allowing their students to "cruise" rather than challenge them. The solution, according to the Gonski Report is to reward teachers with pay, recognition and responsibilities based on expertise.
An excellent teacher—with strong professional skills, motivation and commitment—can account for up to 30 per cent of the difference in achievement between students and the Gonski Report bases the majority of its recommendations on improving teacher quality and giving school principals more flexibility, indicating these are weak areas in the system in need of attention.
The recommendations focused on three key areas for teachers:
- embedding professional collaboration as a necessity in everyday teaching practice
- developing a formative assessment tool that measures individual student growth and enables teachers to assess where individual students are on the various learning progressions, monitor student progress against expected outcomes and tailor teaching practices to maximise student learning, and
- providing a professional learning environment to enable, support and improve teaching practice.
Shifting to this type of education model focused on attainment will require teachers to be adaptive and embrace changes to their planning, teaching and assessment practice. For example, they need to understand individual students' starting points; create multi-streamed, differentiated lesson plans for each class; adjust their pedagogy to the different needs of individual students based on evidence about the most effective interventions; seek and act upon feedback from students and provide more nuanced reporting on assessments of students' performance and the next steps in their learning; ensure their growth in learning is appropriate given the student's potential; and identify 'flight paths' for where the student needs to be to maximise learning growth each year.
While many teachers recognise the benefits of these methods for student outcomes, and some are already applying them, schools may find challenges in professional collaboration and learning in the coming year as the Gonski Report recommendations are implemented.
Parents: Participation, support and individualised test scores
According to the Gonski Report, the foundations for excellence in learning are laid early in life. Parents and carers who engage children in high-quality learning experiences from a young age make a significant difference to a child's educational success at school. Their support can foster a child's confidence and motivation, early literacy and numeracy skills, and the social and emotional capacity to do well when starting school and beyond.
While parent and carer support is particularly important in the early years of a child's learning development, it is vital for them to remain engaged partners in learning throughout a child's entire schooling period, particularly through the transition points of a child's schooling life. The three critical transition points in education are from:
- early childhood education and care into formal schooling
- primary school into secondary school, and
- secondary school into senior secondary, further education, training or employment.
According to the Gonski Report, parents and carers need more guidance on how to be effective partners in learning and learn not to simply engage when the critical NAPLAN or ATAR scores are released. Schools can help by clearly mapping out ways to engage parents and carers to build a shared understanding of how to improve student outcomes over the entire course of the schooling period. School systems can help by clarifying the most effective engagement models.
Students: Growth, community and adaptation
Encouraging students to be partners in their own learning increases agency (ownership and responsibility) and achievement and creates positive long-term learning habits. It also builds student engagement with schooling, which is associated with positive outcomes in most facets of life.
The Gonski Report recommended overhauling the curriculum to focus on "learning progressions" that extended all students, regardless of ability. According to Victorian principals who have already embraced similar changes in student learning, this also extends to final exams (as reported in The Age), "the VCE [is] too structured and could stall the development of important life skills including critical thinking, creativity, entrepreneurship and collaboration. This...is due to its unwavering focus on the ATAR."
Schools need to be aware of the need to equip students with skills and knowledge to navigate a rapidly changing world, and the focus from the Gonski Report on individualised learning and growth.
Next steps for schools
Other key recommendations from the Gonski Report included:
- setting up a national inquiry to review curriculum and assessment in years 11 and 12
- establishing a national educational research institute
- implementing greater principal autonomy
- overhauling the current A-E grading scale to instead measure progression gains, and
- introducing a "unique student identifier" for all students that allows progress to be tracked across time, even if a student changes schools or moves interstate.
The Federal Government has stated it will work with states and territories and non-government school systems to determine how the reforms set out in the Gonski Report should be delivered. And with no new funding allocated to the recommendations from the Gonski Report in the 2018 Federal budget, new reform agreements between the Commonwealth and jurisdictions will need to be negotiated this year to come into effect from 2019.