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Zoe-Lee Fuller 16343229

RTSL1 Assignment 2: Engagement with an Educational Issue

Quality Education

(Option 3)

The Australian public has long held a preoccupation with what constitutes quality education, with

major state or national enquiry becoming the annual average for the last 30 years (Dinham, 2013).

This is also reflected in academic research, with investigation into influencing factors on student

achievement. Much of this research attributes teacher quality as the single, largest, in-school

factor (Jenson 2010; Barber & Mourshed, 2007; Hattie, 2003, 2009). However, there are other

studies that argue that school socio-economic status is also greatly linked to student outcomes

(Perry & McConney, 2010, 2013). Thus there has been much political and media debate about how

best to improve the quality of education in Australia: through improving teacher quality, or through

funding and resources. In this essay I will discuss the NSW Government's Great Teaching,

Inspired Learning reform (Bruniges, Lee, & Alegournarias, 2013), Stephen Dinhams (2013)

article The quality teaching movement in Australia encounters difficult terrain: a personal

perspective, and David Gonski et al.s (2011) Review of Funding for Schooling: Final

Report. Furthermore, I will argue that quality education is best achieved through both of these

means, through adequate and equitable funding to support the improvement of teacher quality and

quality teaching.

The NSW Governments Great Teaching, Inspired Learning reform places the responsibility of

quality education on teachers. The recommendations outlined in the document titled Great

Teaching, Inspired Learning: A blueprint for action (Bruniges, Lee, & Alegournarias,

2013), produced in a collaboration between the NSW Department of Education and Communities,
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NSW Institute of Teachers, and NSW Boards of Studies, are centred around improving the quality

of teachers in NSW schools, in response to Australias apparent internationally declining

performance (NSW Department of Education and Communities, 2013, p. 3). This is based on the

assertion that, despite influencing factors originating both within and without the school

environment, once inside the school gates, student performance is most closely influenced by

teacher quality (Bruniges, Lee, & Alegournarias, 2013, p. 5). This finding is based on a paper

reviewing various research on effective education, dated from 1971 to 2013 (NSW Department of

Education and Communities, 2013). Thus the reform presents the issue in question and their

solutions to it as well-informed and based on, and backed by, decades of academic research

(Bruniges, Lee, & Alegournarias, 2013; NSW Department of Education and Communities, 2013).

This certainly suggests a thoroughly comprehensive approach, though one might question the

applicability of the more dated research to the contemporary context. The reforms blueprint

document does briefly acknowledge influences on student achievement external to school, however

its focus on the teachers role neglects these supposedly superfluous factors (Bruniges, Lee, &

Alegournarias, 2013). Furthermore, the reform proposes that improvements to teacher quality can

be achieved through various measures, including: attracting and accepting only high academic

performers into high quality initial teacher education; supporting graduate teachers career entry

with a high quality induction program; supporting professional development, and removing

teachers form the profession who fail to meet standards even with professional support (Bruniges,

Lee, & Alegournarius, 2013, p. 7, 12, 15, 17). The reforms focus on teacher quality, and enabling

the removal of failing teachers, implies that student failure is the fault of the teachers, thus placing

unnecessary pressure on teachers (Dinham, 2012). Nonetheless, the blueprint prioritises

collaboration to improve teacher practice and student outcomes" (Bruniges, 2013, p. 19). So while

these measures appear to be beneficial to both teachers and students in standardising the teaching

profession, NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccolis assertion that the actual application of these

recommendations are not to be specified by the blueprint, but rather by local school authorities, is

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questionable. If the blueprints guidelines are to be implemented at the individual school level,

without input from the state government, then the margin for interpretation is left wide open. As

such, there is much academic and media criticism of the NSW Governments Quality Teaching,

Inspired Learning reform.

In his article, The quality teaching movement in Australia encounters difficult terrain: a personal

perspective, Dinham (2013) criticises the political emphasis on teacher quality for improving the

quality of education, for its condemnation of teacher performance. Dinham (2013) argues that

conclusions drawn from various studies, such as Hatties (2003, 2009), that name teachers as the

most influential factor on student performance internal to the school environment, have been

misappropriated to blame teachers for student failures. He also argues that in the public debate over

teacher quality, the words in school have been mislaid, by accident or design, so that teachers

are represented as be the most significant factor (Dinham, 2013, p. 93). This view of teachers fails

to recognise the various other factors that can influence a students success or failure. The students,

themselves, are the biggest overall factor, accounting for 50% of variance, for their personal

attributes are the most influential aspects on achievement, and that is ultimately informed by the

home environment, which itself contributes another 5-10% (Hattie, 2003, p. 1-2). The criticism of

teachers to ensure success with students, regardless of factors beyond their control, has rendered

teaching as the battered profession, in which teachers and education in general are heavily and

negatively criticised (Dinham, 2013; Scott & Dinham, 2002, 2013; Scott, Stone & Dinham, 2001).

Furthermore, Dinham (2013) argues that the various solutions emerging from the teacher quality

teaching debate, such as dismissal of lowest 5% performing teachers, paying teachers according to

performance, rather than time spent in the profession, and raising entry requirements for teaching

students, neglects the professional support and development of teachers, moreover the recognition

and rewarding of teachers skills and growth. This is contradicted by co-author of the Quality

Teaching, Inspired Learning blueprint and Director-General of Eductaion and Communities,

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Dr Michele Bruniges (2013, p. 19), who claims that the reform proposes a more efficient system for

supporting teachers in all stages of their careers with professional learning plans aligned to the

professional standards. Regardless, these debates are occurring concurrently with the NSW

Governments decision to cut $1.7 billion and 1000 jobs from the states education sector (Dinham,

2013; Patty, 2012). This inevitably prompts the question of how seriously concerned the NSW

Government are with improving teacher quality, if they are cutting the funds necessary to do so, or

whether they are shifting the blame of government's failure to provide resources on to individual

schools and individual teachers (Joan Lemaire, NSW Teachers Federation senior vice-president, as

cited in Armitage, 2012, p. 7). This possibility is supported by Dinhams (2013, p. 93) view that the

message to teachers is to do better with less, or else.

The Gillard Government's Review of Funding for Schooling: Final Report (Gonski et

al., 2011) emphasises the necessity of adequate and equitable funding to support the provision

of quality education for all Australian students. It further suggests that the widening

performance gap amongst students results from the inequitable distribution of school funding,

which tends to allocate more funds to schools with high student performance and high socio-

economic status (Gonski et al., 2011). Thus it proposes a 'needs-based' funding system, in

which funding is distributed according to disadvantage. The Gonski Review presents itself

as a comprehensively researched document, in the review panel's assertion of having input

from hundreds of education professionals and stakeholders and over 7000 written submissions

(Gonski et al., 2011, p. xi). Furthermore, it bases its findings and recommendations upon a

considerable portfolio of academic literature and research material, statistical evidence and

official reports. Such a vast array of research increases the Gonski Reviews credibility and

veridicality, that is, such foundational research affects a far more compelling case for needs-

based funding, for it is represented with sincerity and authenticity. Some of the academic

research informing the review strongly links quality education to adequate and equitable

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resources and funding in the relationship between school socio-economic status and student

outcomes, regardless of students personal SES (Perry & McConney, 2010, 2013). Ultimately,

though, funding positively influences outcomes only when spent on effective resources,

such as learning aids, support workers, or teacher quality (Grubb & Allen, 2011). Thus, while

the Gonski Review certainly has the best of intentions in its desire to promote educational

equality, one must question how Gonski funding will be spent once distributed to individual

schools and school systems. In this, the Gonski Review asserts that school systems would be

held "publicly accountable" through "12-year funding agreements" to ensure conscientious

expenditure of funding (Gonski et al., 2011). Whether this will ensure funding benefits those

who need it most remains to be seen, however students and school in NSW, SA and Victoria

are already reaping the advantages, with funds enabling professional teacher development and

the employment of support staff for struggling students (Australia: Students benefit from new

Gonski funding, 2014; Gonski fact sheet(s), n.d.). While the Gonski funding is equitably

beneficial to all school students, the matter is further complicated by the Abbot Governments

indecisiveness regarding Gonski funding and eventual refusal to honour it to its full extent

(Zyngier 2013). Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, and Prime Minister, Tony

Abbot, abandoned the co-contribution requirement of the states, distributing only 30% of the

funds promised by the Review (Zyngier, 2013). This potentially leaves public schools, with

the most disadvantage, further disenfranchised. Which brings us full circle, for in the midst of

all the Gonski turmoil, Christopher Pine promoted the view that quality education results from

quality teaching, not funding and resources (Roberts, 2013). This implicates that the future of

Australian schooling is uncertain: teacher quality must improve, or suffer the consequences

(see above), yet the funding necessary to support teachers in improving their practice, and to

equip teachers with the resources they need to provide students with quality education, is at

best minimal, and at worst unavailable.

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The turbulent nature of the quality education debate in Australia ensures a certain ambiguity for the

future of education. As both sides of the argument base their findings and recommendations on

comprehensive research, quality education is surely related to both teacher quality and funding.

However, the Quality Teaching reforms omission of other factors influencing student outcomes

incites suspicion of the NSW Government's hidden agenda, whereas the Gonski Reviews

acknowledgement of other factors indicates its sincerity. Arguably, the Quality Teaching

reforms ulterior motive is detract public attention from education budget cuts, and to shift the

blame of student failure from a lack of resources to teacher quality. The implication is that

equitable, quality education may not be taken seriously in Australian politics, despite predominating

public and political debate, likely resulting in further disadvantage for those students, teachers and

schools already marginalised.

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References

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