Lesson to learn from our class act

While bad news is all too common in education, there are also some success stories worth celebrating. Some schools — mostly in disadvantaged areas — are recording excellent outcomes and have made significant improvements.

The results are life-changing for students, as well as their teachers and parents. Students who do well in NAPLAN are much more likely to finish Year 12, achieve an ATAR that gets them a place at university, and successfully find work as young adults.

On the other hand, students who don’t meet national standards won’t be confident readers, will have trouble writing and communicating ideas clearly, and will struggle with maths. In many cases, these students won’t successfully complete school and could face challenges in their adult careers.

That’s why it’s so important that the schools achieving good results are highlighted and more is learned about what brought them success.

International research has studied what creates ‘turnaround’ schools — those who go from being low-performing to high-performing.

The evidence shows is that it’s not more funding, smaller classes, new curriculum, or extra tutoring that makes the biggest difference. Instead, it’s a surprisingly simple recipe: high-quality teaching, excellent teachers, and maximising the time spent on teaching.

CIS research also has found similar results in our study of high-performing disadvantaged schools. It shows success comes from a combination of quality teaching and leadership.

A common finding is that teaching in those schools is explicit — meaning teachers consistently give clear explanations and sufficient guidance when learning new content. While students will occasionally work in groups and do tasks that require them to explore concepts themselves, most of their learning is guided by the teacher.

Effective leadership helps ensure school is orderly, with clear expectations, processes, and structure in all classes. Effective school leaders provide support, as well as guidance, in improving practices in the classroom and across the school. Experienced and capable principals lead teams of teachers, rather than consume their days on paperwork, red tape, and bureaucracy.

It’s true that NAPLAN — and especially the MySchool portal — are not always popular with educators, but it’s important to remember the purpose they serve.

Without it, we wouldn’t be able to highlight high-performing schools and those making improvements — which is exactly what then Education Minister Julia Gillard saw as the key role for these tools. Rather than rely on word-of-mouth, reputation, and anecdotes, NAPLAN and MySchool give us a system that’s generally reliable, consistent, and valid for highlighting schools that are making the most impact.

Though standout and turnaround schools are rare, they deserve to be commended for their work. The successes, not just the failures, of education must be highlighted — and lessons learned from them.

Glenn Fahey is program director in education policy at the Centre for Independent Studies.

Photo by Max Fischer