Thursday, 1 December 2016

Australia slips in world rankings for science and maths

The airwaves have been abuzz this week with the bad news about Australia's academic school performance rankings against other countries.

It was mainly about science and mathematics, but the phonics advocates are out in force and even the rote learning of tables devotees.  They admit that phonics is back and express their relief.  There seems to be less certainty that rote learning of multiplication tables and number facts is again common practice in the schools.

Aussie school principals what is your position?  For mine phonics is back and I am relieved.  Phonics will aid spelling.

Recent experience with one of my grandchildren revealed an expectation from the school that the home should provide a lot of the rote table learning to back up the school. I also had another teacher support this view in discussion with me.  As an ex school principal and Superintendent of Schools I cannot support this.  It is the school's job to empower its students with a memorised knowledge of the tables and number facts.  If a student has these facts as instant memory recall then basic mathematical calculation is so much easier.  I'm afraid that the mathematicians gained control of school curricula pushing youngsters too early into processes that would eventually be the basis of higher mathematics.  Basic numeracy was required to take a back seat.

To offset the wave of communication grabs that have now overpowered longer and more complex communication, I urge principals as educational leaders to entreat their teachers to return to the traditional letter writing format that invites clear simple sentence structure and easier paragraph construction.  These skills can be the basis for descriptive writing as in science studies and be further translated to the more difficult creative writing.

Even with the discipline of phonics and rote table memorisation the best teachers make the learning an exciting experience.

Enough already!


Saturday, 19 November 2016


Hi school principal colleagues!   Across Australia you will be winding your schools down for the long summer vacation and putting in place as much preparation for 2017 as possible.  I hope 2017 sees the establishment of a student wellbeing program or the continuation of the one already in place. I am convinced that student wellbeing is the #1 school effectiveness criterion.

Encourage your staff to make a lot of time to be with their close loved ones during the vacation as it is these relationships that are the ultimate nature of reality.

Have a fruitful break, rejuvenate and return in 2017 to one of the best jobs in the world:  School Principal.


Monday, 24 October 2016

Effective High Schools teach their students how to study.

I have just posted the following in my blog:  'myschoollovesme'

Yes I do mean 2017.

Heard about 2016 final year Australian high school students stressed out as they front to their HSC exams.  I accept that there might be nerves something like before an important footy or netball match in which you are about to participate.  But being stressed out means that whoever is in this state is probably not well prepared for the big exams.  No blame apportioned as it might be you or your school failing to teach you how to study or some combination of both.

2017 final year students make sure you ask your school to teach you how to study.  This is different from homework and I have written at length about it in a previous post for this blog.  Your school must teach you how to study as it part of the brief of an effective high school.

Get on to it now 2017 final year students and apply the study techniques and you won't be stressed to the max when the big moment arrives.  Trust me.  Been there at secondary and tertiary level and want you to do well.

Enough already!


Wednesday, 19 October 2016

WA Goldfields High School Trashed

How sad I was to read of the severe trashing of the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Community High School soon after the State Minister for Education had unveiled a completely refurbished school.  The refurbishment cost $45 million.

The perpetrators were young children of 10 to around 13.  Apparently this group roam pretty much unchecked around the Kalgoorlie community.  One has to feel the sense of loss for the main student body in having this pristine school taken from them by needless vandalism.

My sympathy also to the principal and his staff members.  Do not lose heart.  If you have not already done so create a vibrant student wellbeing program in the full sense of what this means.  If you need expert help in this I strongly recommend you contact the Melbourne University Graduate School of Education under Professor John Hattie.  They know how to get out on the ground and create student wellbeing programs.  Such a program  will win out in the end and even the young vandals may get to feel that school is a safe place where they are respected and yes even loved.

Enough already!


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Term 4 and the big reporting in Australian schools

Coming up is the big reporting time when parents receive the final news for the year and have time over the long summer break to contemplate how their student offspring are going.

I've got some fairly radical ideas about reporting to parents but the main one I want to promote today is about specific reporting on literacy and numeracy.

Even though I can assume that you will be reporting on the student's performance in English language skills and mathematics in terms of outcome attainment as per the prescribed curriculum, I believe it is vital that each report contain a specific indication about the student's status quo in terms of being literate and numerate.  This is based on an assumption that your school has identified the criteria that indicate functional literacy and numeracy, that is the ability of the school leaver to be able to function in those skills as a young adult in post secondary school education and/or out in the big wide world.  This sort of specific focus could begin to appear in reports from around mid- to upper- primary schooling.  By the final year of high school hopefully you are reporting that each student is now literate and numerate as defined above.

If this is teaching you to suck eggs then I apologise, but I remain concerned about continuing reports of high school leavers without functional literacy.

Have a great final term for 2016.


Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Melbourne University School of Graduate Education

High praise is due to Professor John Hattie and his team for their work in promoting the importance of nurturing the wellbeing of our school students.

High praise is also due for the work of the team in improving the impact of teachers in the classroom.   As an ex teacher and school principal I know that this is where effective learning happens if best practice teaching is in operation.  Great teachers create in their students a sense of wonder and excitement about new facts, concepts, patterns, theories, skills and processes. As the teaching learning progresses they minimise their talking to students all the while creating listening space to hear how the students are grasping the new knowledge, understanding(s) or process(es).

Keep up the good work Melbourne University.  You must be an inspiration to school principals and teachers across Australia and beyond.

Enough already!


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

On the nose: Testing and the resultant ranking of students

Hi fellow principals out there.  Been on a short holiday and come across some interesting thinking on the subject of testing and ranking of students.

Greg Whitby, the Executive Director of Schools for the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta had an interesting article in the Wentworth Courier, 31 August 2016, p25.  Greg noted the rise of students being stressed and unhappy due to school pressures.  Alarmingly he sees this as not a local issue but " becoming a global one."  He indicated the views of many experts who "...cite the overemphasis on testing, ranking students by test performance and the one size fits-all approach to schooling as key reasons for unnecessary strain on students, which eventually kills young people's love of learning."  Even more alarming Greg points out that "...Students are expected to be at a certain level by a certain age."  We who have been in the game for many years know this extant pressure.  He cites some schools that are "...replacing external exams with more flexible assessment tasks in an attempt to get students to think critically about their own learning and the steps they need to to take to improve."  He sees this approach as matching learning to the needs of the learner rather than wanting "...learners to conform to one standard at a given time."

Good on you Greg I couldn't agree more.  I have worried for a long time about the pressure as students move on to a new year largely based on their age yet with a worrying proportion having gaps in the prerequisites for the new learning for that new year.  In my experience all competent teachers also worry about this but find it very difficult when there are many pressures to grade students A, B, C, D and E.  Then across Australian schooling NAPLAN was born and more pressure became a reality.  There is another way and with all due modesty I am currently setting this out in my small practical book on what makes an effective school : not quite ready, but in near final draft form.  I have moments when I lose heart with the book but at this stage am determined to finish it and get it out there probably in digital form.

Then on the flight home from my holiday I came across an article by Kelsey Munro, "Less homework, shorter days: the Finnish touches,"  The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 September 2016, p14.  So much has been written lately about the Finnish schools which I learned from this article are mostly public schools with few private school offerings.  In fact Munro reported that they don't fund independent schools with the local public schools receiving everything that they need.  Munro cites Chris Presland President of the NSW Secondary Principals' Council, the peak body for public high school principals, as being critical of the recently reported "'political interest and gnashing of teeth' around the recently reported plateauing of NAPLAN results. He was very critical of federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham's "...criticism of Australian schools' plateauing NAPLAN results.  Mr Birmingham said the results were 'not good enough'."  Mr Presland is then quoted as follows:  "I think anyone serious in the game knows that's a silly comment.  It's a politically driven statement attempting to justify the non implementation of the Gonski reforms,..."  Mr Presland is cited as noting that Australia ranks in the top 20 and Finland consistently in the top 5 in international PISA rankings.  He further indicates that Finland seemingly doesn't give much credence to their PISA rankings, having minimal focus on external test data.

Munro indicates that the NSW Secondary Principals' Council argues that along with NAPLAN results the following "...non-cognitive measures of school success.." should be published:

  • Parent or student satisfaction; and
  • Attendance rates.

Such measures are seen as " indication if students are engaged and enjoying school," ......"...which is far more important in terms of what schools are trying to do overall."

Again I agree, especially with the indicator of student satisfaction.  Such an indicator is available from the trend of Australian schools applying a focus on student wellbeing as well as academic performance. In broad terms the vital indicators of academic performance are the daily assessment of student performance on the prescribed curriculum whatever that may be.  Hopefully within Australia the evolving Australian National Curriculum (ANC) is receiving strong running as the preferred curriculum. In some states this will be the ANC with local state adjustments as is the constitutional right of Australian states and territories, who have the responsibility for compulsory education of the young within their borders.

At primary school level I do not hold to ratings like Above satisfactory, Satisfactory and Below satisfactory as in the work samples of the ANC, but acknowledge that these are important for teachers as guides to performance standards.  Typical school reports have rated A, B, C, D and E and again I do not hold to this.  Parents need to know that the syllabuses are being covered and that in the normal course of the student learning experiences teachers are probing to ascertain the depth of knowing, understanding and doing that is being achieved. The more detailed assessment ratings will come alive at secondary school level. I have much more to say about all of this in my small book.

I would add to the regular school reports a separate statement on how each student is doing in achieving basic literacy and numeracy rather than this only being embedded in the report sections of English and mathematics.  I suspect that parents would welcome this separate information being reassured that their children will be able to cope with the English language and mathematical requirements needed to function as adults in society by the time they leave school. No more illiterate and innumerate high school graduates.  Digital literacy might be included here.

On the matter of less homework I am an unashamed advocate of no homework at primary school level except for reading practice in the early childhood years.  The French have banned homework at primary level in their state (public) schools.  I am ambivalent about shorter days but am strong on the view that effective high school teachers show their students the value of maximum effort during school hours thus reducing homework loads.  Study is another matter and should take up most of the home time school work at secondary school level.

Enough already!