Australia’s school education system is not fit for purpose, and we need to rethink the way we teach students, support teachers and run schools.
Despite individual bright spots, overall student performance is declining in international tests, and an unacceptably high number of our students are not ready for life after school.
Australian school education faces three major challenges: improving student learning in core academic areas; better preparing young people for adult life; and closing the gap between the nation’s educational have and have-nots.
The only way to tackle all these challenges at once is to make our education system more adaptive.
At present, the system is spinning its wheels. The status quo is not working. We have failed to create an education system that adapts and improves over time – a learning system that systematically learns.
Student outcomes improve when teachers track how much their students are learning, identify the specific teaching practices that boost learning and those that don’t, and then adapt the way they teach.
However, this process should not be done independently in every classroom, and schools need more help from education systems to make good local decisions.
As a start, Australia should follow the lead of high-performing education systems such as Singapore and Hong Kong by making better use of our best teachers.
‘Master teachers’ should teach fewer classes and instead should spend more time teaching other teachers how to identify and practise the best ways to improve student performance.
And the system leaders – including education ministers and departments and the heads of the Catholic and independent sectors – need to ensure schools and teachers have good access to the evidence about what works best, and the time, tools, training and support to implement these best practices in the classroom.
If we want to halt the decline and create a system of excellence that supports all students, we need a new approach to reform.