Seize the day, Dan Tehan, and make education extraordinary

Dan Tehan
Education Minister Dan Tehan

As a keen observer of federal politics, events of recent weeks had me thinking about what it must be like for an individual to suddenly find him or herself in the role of minister for education. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s a position that may not come with a specific job description or orderly handover. So from this old student of education policy, I've drafted a few study notes for Dan Tehan.

Govern like a good principal; be a leader, and recognise the expertise of the people at the frontline. The role of the Commonwealth in education should never be micromanagement. This means respecting the role of the states and territories in service delivery. Most importantly, let the teachers teach.

Forget short-term funding fixes and focus on fairness. In the community there is a broad egalitarian consensus that should be met with a degree of bipartisanship around sector-blind investment in education on a needs-basis. Last week’s announcement bettered [a $4.6 billion to non-government schools] your predecessor Simon Birmingham's botch-up on funding that disproportionately affected many disadvantaged families with children at low-fee Catholic schools. Tony Abbott once suggested there was a “unity ticket” from the major political parties on education funding: why not try to make that bold claim a reality?

We need to think differently about school and about education. Will you lead our thinking beyond what we know and think we know? Forget PISA and stodgy old international rankings.

The real test that will determine whether or not Australian education policy is an example to other nations is this; how will the decisions you make in your work change the lives of children and young people –and consequently our community – for the better? And please don’t forget to give the students a voice in what they learn and how they learn.

Cut the red tape. Extra marks if you can pull this one off; teachers would welcome the opportunity to focus their efforts on making a difference to student learning. We need to go back to the smartboard on NAPLAN. A one-off snapshot of student learning is not enough, there are better ways to collect information to support students in their learning, and schools in improvement. Sadly, NAPLAN has spawned an illegitimate coaching industry and resulted in school ranking that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Always remember that Catholic schools are mainstream. Serving one in five students in Australia, it would be a rookie error to see Catholic education systems as niche providers. They are not. If a truly national approach to education policy is to be effective, it must fully include Catholic schools – that’s why funding certainty is so important. Though some ideologues like to set state and Catholic systems against each other, great policy should grow from the common ground we share.

And if in doubt, as one of my favourite fictional teachers says in the cult classic Dead Poet’s Society, carpe diem, minister. Seize the day!

Read the article online at Sydney Morning Herald


Posted By Greg Whitby for Sydney Morning Herald at 5/10/2018 8:03:38 AM

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