Tag Archives: Australia

Closing the attendance gap in Australia’s schools

The following post was written by Sarah Butrymowicz and was originally published on the Hechinger Ed blog of The Hechinger Report.

Skip school and lose welfare? The good and bad of Australia’s tough tactics on truancy

What if the punishment for skipping school was a loss in welfare benefits for your family? It’s a strategy that some politicians are considering in the U.S. – plans have been floated in Missouri and put into action in Michigan last year.

Australian students in their final year of high school take a break during a conference about what to do after graduation. The country is trying to boost its high school completion rates to 90 percent.

Australian students in their final year of high school take a break during a conference about what to do after graduation. The country is trying to boost its high school completion rates to 90 percent. (Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz)

Australian students in their final year of high school take a break during a conference about what to do after graduation. The country is trying to boost its high school completion rates to 90 percent. (Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz)

But in Australia, they’ve already tried it, and the experience is a cautionary tale.

In 2008, Australia’s high school graduation rate was about 75 percent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That’s about the same as in the U.S., where it’s nearly 75 percent, but it wasn’t good enough for Australian officials. Many states there allowed students to leave at the age of 15, following their 10th year of schooling and just before college preparation work begins. Thousands dropped out. So that year, the Australian government set a target of 90 percent high school completion. Within a few years nearly all states had increased the age to 17.

Still, the Australians thought they should do more. To make sure all students stayed enrolled until they were 17, officials put strict penalties in place and a series of supports for truants, such as opportunities to work with social workers. Parents could also be fined up to $11,000. And, as a last resort, parents on welfare could lose their payments if their child was truant.

The logic was simple: if parents needed the money, they’d make sure their child got to school.

Attendance did improve in areas where the program was piloted, by about 5 percent. But a 2010 evaluation by the Australian Department of Education found that it decreased after an initial bump and low-income students still had lower attendance than their peers. Critics said that the increases weren’t enough to justify the cost of the program – about $3 million a year for the trial in 44 schools.

At the same time, only a relatively small number of parents lost their welfare payments. In the first two years just 95 out of about 6,600 parents in the trial program were affected and all of them had their payments reinstated, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. In 2012, Queensland stopped cutting welfare payments to parents of truants because attendance didn’t improve.

The program got mixed reviews from parents. Many of them “perceived the program as a ‘big-stick’ approach to dealing with attendance issues,” according to the government evaluation. But they also saw some positives. Even if the strategy didn’t lead to significant increases in attendance, nearly half of parents said that “the implementation had made them think about the importance of their child’s schooling,” the evaluation said. “A further 29 percent also noted the program had encouraged them to make more effort to address their child’s attendance issues.”

For more on this topic:

Truancy officers boost attendance at remote Indigenous community schools

Closing the school attendance gap at one of Australia’s most remote schools

Tony Abbott sets new school attendance target for indigenous students

Scanning the globe

Several reports over the past month highlight issues such as educational funding, early childhood education, new schools and school closure, and curriculum:

Funding

In the Phillipines, http://www.philstar.com argues that the country is not contributing enough to education. While education spending increased from 1999 to 2011 (13.9% to 15%), it has yet to reach the target 20% of the national budget. According to UNESCO, “The share of national income invested in education, which equalled the subregional average in 1999, had fallen behind by 2009 at 2.7 percent of GNP, compared with an average of 3.2 percent for East Asia.” In CanadaThe Globe and Mail reports that school boards have increased their spending over the past decade. In Canada as a whole, expenditures have increased 53 per cent – or 5.3 per cent a year, a rate much higher than inflation. In Australia, The Australian Teacher Magazine reports that the government is in the midst of a debate over the funding of education. While the government has committed to a new educational funding system for four years starting from 2014, officials are debating the timeline for the new funding system as well as the question of whether the funding should go to private schools as well as public schools. Meanwhile, The Norway Post reports that the Norwegian government is making plans to increase spending on teacher training.

Early Childhood Education

In Bulgariahttp://www.novinite.com reports that, in order to avoid a loss of EU funding, new legislation is being drafted and must go into effect by September 2014. Legislation includes revisions to a draft law on pre-school education, which include making pre-school education non-compulsory for 4-year-olds. Meanwhile, The Helsinki Times reports that Finland, where approximately 63% of children aged 1-6 attended daycare in 2012, is considering a new law that would “secure the high quality of early childhood education,” as well as all other issues, including funding and teacher quality.

New Schools and School Closure

According to Norways The Foreigner, Conservative Education Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen has proposed lifting current restrictions on establishing private schools. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the government has amended the Children and Young People Bill in order to defer decisions about school closures to new review panels. The aim of establishing these panels is to improve transparency and remove allegations of political bias from the process. In Lithuania, the Education and Science Ministry has approved a network of Russian-language schools, emphasizing that education programs of foreign countries and international organizations must be consistent with the education goals and principles in the Education Law of Lithuania, as well as the law on national security and other legal acts.

Curriculum

In Finland, The Helsinki Times reports that a high school reform task force delivered a proposal to the Minister of Education and Science in which they proposed reducing compulsory subjects, such as the study of Swedish, and introducing new interdisciplinary studies. The proposal has been met with resistance from some teachers and politicians. Meanwhile, in The New York Times, questions about the relationship between identity and the curriculum surface for Palestinian children who are educated in Israel, and Muslims who are educaed in Germany. The debate over language instruction is ongoing in countries such as The NetherlandsLatvia, and Japan.

In AustraliaAustralian Teacher Magazine reports on a new review of the national curriculum, which leadership feels should be pared back to basics. Kevin Donnely, one of two men who will conduct the review, raises concerns over teaching and learning, and considers the relationship between educational spending and learning outcomes. As he explains, “We really do need to know whether the millions and millions of dollars that’s gone into education over the last 20 years, where results have flatlined or have gone backwards – we want to know how effective that money has been.”

Addressing teacher quality in Australia and India

Reports over the past month show that Australia and India are countries are implementing new policies to address teacher quality, albeit with two distinctly different approaches.

In Australia, principals will be given the power to address teacher behavior as part of an $150 million reform effort to improve the quality of teaching. Education Minister Adrian Piccoli described it to the AAP as “more like a private sector approach to performance management….It’s going to be a fair process but a tougher process than what exists already.” Teachers who fail to meet the new standards of conduct could be released, demoted, fined or cautioned. Additional reforms include salaries based on meeting standards rather than employment length.

In India, the government has adopted a three-pronged strategy to improve teacher quality, which includes (i) the strengthening of Teacher Education Institutions, (ii) the revision of curriculum for teacher education in accordance with the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education 2009 and (iii) the laying down of minimum qualifications for Teacher Educators and their continuous professional development.

In Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the Indian state of Kerala, the District Institute of Education and Training (DIET) will embark on a three-month study to analyze how classroom practices correspond to the prescribed curriculum of the district’s primary schools.  As Mohammed Kabir, a DIET official, explained to The Hindu, “There is an increasing need to analyze the problems faced by practicing teachers to get a complete picture. Sometimes, teachers follow textbook-based teaching while the curriculum mandates on activity-based learning. This might be out of habit or due to lack of understanding about the methodology. Here, teachers can open up on the problems they face in adapting to the methods”, said Mohammed Kabir, a DIET official.

A view from Australia

Dr. Leila Morsy Eckert

Dr. Leila Morsy Eckert

Recent reports from Australia question how the changes outlined in the Gonski school funding reform would be impacted by the outcome of the nation’s recent election, in which Prime Minister Julia Gillard was replaced by her opponent, Kevin Rudd. We asked Dr. Leila Morsy Eckert, a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales, to provide us with some background information on the reform effort, different perspectives on the issue, and the implications of this reform for education in Australia.

What does this reform mean for education in Australia? How will it change?

The Better Schools: A National Plan for School Improvement, colloquially known as the Gonski reforms, are in principal meant to account for the real cost of educating a child. Funding is allocated to schools on the basis of the average cost of a student’s education. A base amount of funding will be allocated per child. Additional funding, or “loadings,” will be given to schools based on whether the children who attend that school are, on average, disadvantaged. Disadvantage will be measured on the basis of socio-economic status, language background other than English, indigeneity, rural or small schools, and disability. Funding is sector-blind, meaning that the Catholic Schools Sector and the Independent (Private) Schools Sector will also receive money. 

What are some of the different perspectives on the issues? 

Overall, there is consensus that the current funding system is unclear and unequal (much funding is duplicated, and it is difficult to trace where funding is coming from and where it is going to). However, Catholic School and Independent School representatives have been concerned that they will lose money under the new policy. Others still believe that the premise of the new funding mechanism itself is flawed. Indeed, the Federal Government in Australia funds non-government schools. Many education researchers believe that this has resulted in a system where any family that can afford to send their child to a private or Catholic school does so. One consequence is that public schools have become a place of last resort for all those who cannot afford a private education. The Gonski reforms continue this trend of federal funding of non-government schools. 

What do you expect will be happening in the near future? 

While the reforms have passed in the Senate, it is unclear what will happen next. Politically, there has been a change of leadership—Julia Gillard, the driving force behind the reforms, was replaced as Prime Minister last week by Kevin Rudd, who supports the reforms but to a less fervent degree than Gillard. Also, not all Australian states and territories have signed up to the federal reforms. So, it may be a slow start for any actual change to roll out across the country. 

For more information:

Independent schools sign up to Better Schools plan in $1bn deal

Giles digs in on Better Schools funding scheme

Gonski reforms in ‘chaos’: Pyne

Scan of news: Access and Funding

Sources in many countries over the past few weeks highlight issues ranging from educational access and funding, to quality curriculum and government corruption. Here is a quick glimpse of what we’ve seen on the issues of access and funding:

Pia Philip Michael and Bridget Nagomoro visited the UK to discuss the challenges to girls' education in South Sudan. Photograph: Leapfrog Public Relations

Pia Philip Michael and Bridget Nagomoro visited the UK to discuss the challenges to girls’ education in South Sudan. Photograph: Leapfrog Public Relations

Reports have shown that the United Arab Emirates is struggling with the issue of high tuition and long student wait lists, while Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Education has suggested that the government link educational subsidies with evidence of high quality. Australia and the Philippines seek to increase investment in educational research by launching a partnership that aims to raise the quality of education in the Philippines through investing in research to support K-12 education. Meanwhile, union leaders in Peru met to develop policies that would defend the right of indigenous peoples to public education. Sudan aims to keep young girls in primary school by involving officials in the effort to spread the national message on educating girls. India is about to launch the second round of the Right to Education Act admissions, which will include a reservation of 25% seats in private schools for disadvantaged groups; however, reports reveals that word has not yet reached parents who would benefit most from the new provision. 

Australia

Education takes a dramatic new course
Hall, B.  The Age (10 July 2012)

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) announced that all schools would be required to enroll in dance, drama, media arts, music and the visual arts until year 10 under a draft new national curriculum released yesterday.  However, schools would have some discretion as to how they teach them.  In conjunction with the announcement, the Education Minister, Peter Garrett, said “making the arts a key part of the new national curriculum would have ‘huge’ positive impacts for students.”  For instance, teaching such subjects inspires creativity, encourages young people to think critically, boosts self-esteem, aids the development of their sense of identity and can provide great benefits for learning in other core areas.

Australia

Baillieu plan to get rid of bad teachers
Topsfield, J.  The Age (21 June 2012)

Under a plan to be released for consultation entitled “New directions for school leadership and the teaching profession,” the Victorian State government plans to amongst other things, sack the worst 5 percent of teachers.  According to the plan, principals often view the process of firing teachers as burdensome:  ”This [current] process [of firing teachers] seldom results in the departure of the teacher and there is a strong perception among principals that it is cumbersome, lengthy and overly complex.”  The plan’s other controversial suggestions include “teachers doing extra days of professional development during school holidays, teachers of hard-to-staff subjects such as maths and science earning more money and principals coming from professions other than teaching.”  The intent behind the plans is to enable Victorian students to match the performance of students in places like Finland and Shanghai on international assessment tests, like PISA, in a decade.