A new research organisation for Australian school education
by Peter Goss
Australia should establish a national school education research organisation to investigate the most effective ways of teaching and spread the word across schools, states and sectors, according to a new Grattan Institute report.
The Commonwealth’s role in improving schools calls for a national debate on how to boost the performance of Australian students.
It says the new research body should be charged with lifting the standard of education research in Australia, creating a long-term research agenda for school education, and promoting key findings across the country.
It could link-up all research on education for people from birth through to age 18, so policy makers and the community better understand the continuum of learning, from early childhood to school and vocational education.
The Australian peak body could be modelled on successful overseas organisations such as the US Institute of Education Sciences. It should be independent of government but backed by the Commonwealth and the states.
The report says that the Commonwealth-commissioned review on ways to achieve excellence in Australian schools (known as the ‘Gonski 2.0 Review’) should focus on reforms like this where the Commonwealth can make a genuine contribution.
The danger is that the Gonski 2.0 Review is used as a platform for Commonwealth interventions into school education that sound good, but don’t actually help on the ground. Experience shows that well-meaning Commonwealth interventions into systems primarily run by the states and territories can end up just increasing red tape and destroying policy coherence.
The ‘Gonski 2.0’ funding deal struck last year will deliver an extra $23 billion in Commonwealth funds to schools over the next ten years. But it needs to be kept in perspective: the extra money will be only 3 per cent of all government spending on schools over the decade. The states and territories still overwhelmingly fund and run schools.
Key priorities for states and territories include supporting schools more so that teachers know what works in the classroom, and know how they can adapt their methods to better target their teaching to the needs of their students.
“Because it doesn’t manage schools or school systems, Commonwealth intervention in school management is likely to be counter-productive,” says Julie Sonnemann, the report’s co-author and Grattan’s School Education Fellow.
But the Commonwealth could help with a research body. “If Australia wants to achieve excellence in schools, we need more and better education research,” says Peter Goss, co-author and Grattan Institute School Education Program Director.