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!


Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Australian National Curriculum (ANC)

I've just spent considerable time perusing the ANC (Version 8.2.  It is in my view a great curriculum which provides the details across the range of subjects that teachers will welcome.  I would love to be back in harness implementing this curriculum as a teacher and as a principal.

I realise that you will be implementing the version of the ANC that has adjustments made by your State or Territory as compulsory education is constitutionally a State or Territory matter in Australia.

Included in the detail F-10 and Senior Secondary are well explained achievement levels which will assist teachers to rate student performance and inform the structure of student reports.

The links from the general subject outlines to the underlying detail are excellent.

As a Principal I would be organising for my teachers to have ample time to get together to discuss the ANC in detail so that they are all on the same page when it comes to implementation.  In a large primary school I would group the teachers of say the year 4 classes together; in a smaller primary school the groupings could be teachers of F-2, 3-4, 5-6.  For very small primary schools I recommend the taking on of a mentor large primary school and utilising the results of their discussions or joining in with their discussions.  For secondary schools discussions would be arranged within specialist subject departments.  This is a also a standards setting exercise opportunity as discussion covers Achievement Levels as outlined in the various syllabuses.

Depending on how far you have moved in implementing ANC version 7.5 you may have to go slowly to guide your teachers as they transition to version 8.2.  It is unfortunate that there is a change to version 8.2 but this is the way with major curriculum developments.  Let's hope that this is it for the time being.

To all my colleagues out there enjoy working with this exciting document.

Enough already!


Monday, 15 August 2016

Independent Public Schools In Western Australia

It has been reported in TV news and by Bethany Hiatt, "Results for independent schools fail to improve", The West Australian, 16 August 2016, p6, that this trend to Independent Public Schools (IPSs) has "...failed to improve student outcomes and has increased existing inequalities between schools, a parliamentary inquiry has found."

The Western Australian (WA) scheme started in 2010 with 34 IPSs and now there are 445 (Hiatt p6).  The inquiring Committee found that  the IPS initiative "....had reinforced inequalities between public schools by giving some the chance to recruit the best teachers and not others." (Hiatt, 6)  The Committee also reported that the monitoring system for IPSs lacked rigour with too much reliance on self assessment. (Hiatt p6)

As a retired school principal and regional superintendent of schools I have watched the trend to IPSs with interest and some concerns. These are:

  • Whether principals will be sufficiently prepared for new responsibilities like one line budgeting and recruiting teachers?  To be fair I note that the Education Department of WA has established in-service training opportunities for principals one of which is at an overseas prestigious university.
  • Will the IPS principals have the training to run their schools on a development plan embedded with criteria of school effectiveness that enable them to know, based on hard evidence from measuring these effectiveness criteria, how their school is travelling?
  • Will the IPS schools be required to follow a recognised curriculum like the Australian National Curriculum rather than have schools having too much freedom to do their own curriculum thing?
  • Will the additional administrative responsibilities weigh the principals down and detract from what for me is their prime role of educational leadership?
  • Will remote schools and non independent public schools in general be able to receive appropriate teachers?  The central Education Department staffing system would need to ensure this.  
Commenting on some of the above dot points:

Staffing the school:  

Staffing what are known as disadvantaged schools and remote schools has always been an issue even under a fully centralised Education Department staffing system.  The remote schools usually with an indigenous population of students tended to receive graduate teachers who rarely stayed beyond two years.  These graduate teachers took at least six months in the initial year to come to terms with the cultural nuances of the remote communities so the schools probably got 18 months of good service then the teachers left.  Such a turnover was not helping these schools.  I wanted my Education Department to encourage young married couple teachers to take up the positions and remain for a lengthy period, giving them incentives like low interest home loans to purchase their home in Perth or wherever on the coast and if they had teen age children provide then with a free boarding place in a top coastal senior high school with free air fares in and out of the remote community.

Staffing large disadvantaged schools also had problems as one didn't find teachers clammering to teach in these schools.  Effective principals of these schools could ensure best practice from their teachers by assisting them to feel good about the profession and creating a culture where the teachers sought to improve so that best practice was the status quo.

The actual process of recruiting staff is complex.  Fortunately applicants would come to the school already accredited by a recognised Association that does this work in WA.  Theoretically this should mean for example, that the principal does not have to carry out the difficult task of ensuring the bona fides of an applicant's qualifications to teach.  I have come across independent schools where this process was not done with rigour and due care.

Interviewing applicants requires a lot of training and at best is a rough guide as to the quality of the applicant.  Referee statements are very important and judging the bona fides of the referees is vital.  Some referees do not fully understand the responsibilities of writing a reference and may shy away from refusing to do so when they should have done so.  I have experienced a case of a reputedly high level teacher training institution letting a trainee through to teach, leaving a principal and yours truly having to deal with an incompetent teacher.  I learnt from a contact from that training institution that they knew the young person would struggle with teaching.  I am confident such cases are rare as I have assessed many wonderful young graduate teachers striving for permanent status with their employer.

Principals ensuring that their school is effective:

Every principal worth their salt would want their school to be effective broadly on two counts, the first being that as many students as possible achieve as many of the prescribed curriculum outcomes as possible and secondly that the students operate in an environment in which they feel safe, respected and even loved.  I understand that Western Australian IPS schools are under a charter to accept regular external reviews however each principal would want the reviewers to come to an effective school as described.  The Education Department external reviewers would need to be highly skilled as it is not an easy task to rigorously review a school.  The reviewers must be able to see through the school's self review process to ensure that it is valid and reliable.

Choosing the learning program:

I hope that IPS schools do not have too much freedom in choosing a curriculum.  Teachers do not have time to be curriculum builders. Their main role is to be curriculum implementers.  All hail the advent of the Australian National Curriculum (ANC) .  I love it.  My understanding is that the States and Territories of Australia are embracing the ANC with some amendments as is their constitutional right as the authorities who provide compulsory education.


The IPS trend is a big deal and one hopes that it will not become another casualty to poorly conceived change process in education.  We have been subjected to this in WA in the past with the  major most recent example being the failed outcomes-based approach.

Good luck all principals out there whether yours is an IPS school or otherwise.

Enough already!


Thursday, 4 August 2016


4/8/2016:  NAPLAN has come under fire this week as an expensive exercise producing plateauing results.  Is it all worth it?  Watch this space.

9/8/2016:  Today I read an article by Bethany Hiatt, "Test just part of school kit", The West Australian, 9 August 2016, p19, citing the evidence that students and teachers have become used to the routines of NAPLAN testing and the worry for both groups has diminished. The same article indicated the improvements from 2008 but also highlighted the plateauing that is now occurring. The ACARA Chief Executive Robert Randall was quoted as saying: "Plateauing results are not what we would expect or assume from our education systems." The Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham agreed indicating that 'flat' results were not good enough.  He was reported as complaining that "improvements to NAPLAN results had been insufficient despite a 23.7 per cent increase in Federal funding since 2013."  Hiatt indicates that this is consistent with the Turnbull government's position that "the way education funding is spent is more important than the amount."  Senator Birmingham calls for evidence-based measurements that will get results for our students..."

According to Hiatt the evidence-based measures referred to include "assessing children's skills in their early school years to see if intervention is needed.....and providing incentives for top teachers to work in disadvantaged schools."

As a school principal I would welcome the data that NAPLAN provides but maintain that the emphasis in the learning program is on having every student achieve as many of the outcomes required in the curriculum as possible based on effective teaching.  This is the day to day data that teachers obtain :  it is the bread and butter of explicit teaching.  In the normal course of admitting early childhood students the teachers will ascertain what they can do and know and will proceed from there.

On the matter of top teachers for disadvantaged schools, I was a superintendent of a district containing many disadvantaged schools and I disagree with the top teacher sentiment. It is a naive and destructive view.  The quality of the teachers is paramount to an effective learning program in an effective school.  In an effective school every teacher wants to be the best that they can be and they work hard to keep up to date and to use best practice teaching because this is how it is in the culture of their school, disadvantaged or not.  No child should have a teacher who is not as I describe.  Effective school principals know this and work hard to ensure that quality teaching is a given within the culture of their schools.

Money is well spent if it is focussed on allowing and encouraging teachers to be the best that they can be.  If changes are to be made within a school to achieve this best teacher goal then the money spent must be embedded in viable change process.  I have witnessed so much money wasted because the change processes have been poorly designed.  It is worth emphasising that some of the most effective in-service for teachers is when they are given the opportunity to discuss in relevant teams the various syllabus outcomes they will be working with so that they have an agreed position on what the outcomes mean and the student performance(s) that indicate the outcomes have been achieved.  It is a standards setting activity whereby teachers share their expertise and learn from one another.