Labor’s schools policy takes shape

Beth Blackwood

11 September 2018

In February of this year, federal Shadow Minister for Education, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, announced that if the ALP wins government at the next federal election it will establish a $280 million Evidence Institute for Schools. As outlined, a key role of the Institute would be to identify and support the adoption of evidence-based pedagogies and ‘to make best practice common practice’.

On 6 September 2018, in an address to the McKell Institute, Ms Plibersek revealed further details of Labor’s schools policy.

As presented by the Shadow Minister and reported in the media, Labor’s policy development for school education is being driven by a core aspiration: to make what is already a high performing system even better, with a specific focus on narrowing the achievement gap experienced by disadvantaged students.

It is a policy intent that few educators would find unacceptable, as it reflects their daily professional commitment, that is, to help each student achieve to the best of their ability, and to continually develop their own practice.

Ms Plibersek also outlined the intent to call for reporting on the progress of students, schools, jurisdictions and education systems over time. To drive this agenda, a Labor government would appoint a panel of leading teachers and principals with experience in using measures of progress in their own schools ‘to lead the work in putting progress at the centre of our school system’. This panel would also consider how student progress was best reported to parents and carers.

Ms Plibersek also noted the importance of schools equipping students with skills such as ‘resilience, collaboration, creativity, cooperation and problem solving’ and mentioned that a Labor government would ‘rejuvenate’ the national goals for schooling, the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.

The McKell Institute address is of course not a detailed policy document and educators will be looking for far more meat on these policy bones. Even so, as an outline of schools policy, the framework as sketched by Ms Plibersek is perhaps most remarkable for what it does not contain: not once is there mention of schools or teachers as failing their students or the nation. On the contrary, the professional expertise of teachers and school leaders is recognised as a potential source of advice to government.

Recognition and re-engagement of the education profession in policy development is long overdue. Let us hope that this example of ‘best practice’ becomes ‘common practice’.

Beth Blackwood is AHISA’s Chief Executive Officer.

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