The Gonski 2.0 report is a test of national leadership

Dr Mark Merry

7 May 2018

As reported in mainstream media, the response of educators to the final report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools (the ‘Gonski 2.0 Review’) has to date been generally positive, if muted. A case of praise, with faint damns.

After all, most educators would discover at least one point, finding or recommendation in the report they could readily support. Who would argue, for example, with the finding that ‘Early childhood education makes a significant contribution to school outcomes’? And many schools would already have introduced individual learning plans for students, or be tracking the development of students’ numeracy and literacy gains against a skills progression that bridges multiple year levels.

For educators communicating via Twitter and the blogosphere, or via opinions in the press, the response has been more a case of damns and (very) faint praise. That also is understandable: for all its reflection of leading edge practice or innovation in schools, the Gonski 2.0 report fails to inspire. But it is not a report for educators: its intent is to provide a map for politicians and bureaucrats in search of an education policy to drive the development of the nation’s human capital, as measured by Australia’s ranking in international tests.

Measurement is in fact a major theme of the report. There are many hints of the possibility of a range of new performance, accountability or quality assurance measures for Australian schooling – all linked to student ‘growth’ and not only reshaping the business of schools but profoundly affecting the way teachers and principals go about that business.

And this is the crux of the deflating effect of the report: its view of education is mechanistic. It never stops to ask if education is about more than PISA league tables, or students’ academic achievement or work readiness. Missing is any sense of the wonder and power of learning for its own sake, of developing the human mind, body and spirit, and only an echo of what inspires teachers to join the profession lingers in the empty space that remains.

For all its earnestness, or perhaps because of it, this report manages to reduce education to a numbers game, robbing the wonderful business of schooling of all sense of joy in what is perhaps one of the most sacred of human endeavours – raising our young.

This presents a difficult challenge to the federal Minister for Education, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham. As he ponders the report and what he will take from it to shape into conditions of federal funding for schools, will he choose to forge a framework that will sustain young people and the nation, or will he settle for a handful of numbers?

The Gonski 2.0 report may read as a catalogue of new accountability measures for educators, but it is ultimately a test of national leadership. 

Dr Mark Merry is National Chair of AHISA. He is Principal of Yarra Valley Grammar, Victoria.

The Gonski 2.0 report is a test of national leadership (PDF)