Experts condemn student performance scheme

Improving student performance is the Coalition’s main education plan this federal election.
The Coalition's plans to improve student performance are a step in the wrong direction, warn education experts. Elana Frost reports.

The Federal Government’s education budget proposals focus too much on labels, punitive measures and failed ideas, according to education experts.

Professor John Fischetti, head of the University of Newcastle’s School of Education, says the initiatives are “a set of failed policies … taking resources away from kids that need help most.

“It’s an undermining of the intent of Gonski. [The plans] are really not successful, not just because of opinion, but because they have already failed elsewhere.

“I don’t know who their advisors are, but they must not have read the research. We really don’t want to take ideas that have failed and make that our future.”

The Gonski school funding scheme began in 2014 after the then-Labor Government’s Gonski Review found many children were suffering academically due to lack of resources.

The Coalition will not fund the remaining $4.5 billion of Gonski, instead proposing $1.2 billion of education funding in 2018-20 only upon implementation of new measures to improve student performance.

However, according to Fischetti, these initiatives – which include paying teachers more if their students perform well and standardised testing for Year 1 students – are not the best course of action.

He says performance-based pay “discourages teachers from working in [needy] schools”. Also, standardised testing could result in children being given labels that “become self-fulfilling prophecies in how we treat them.

“That $1.2 billion … may not be a good investment at all … everything is mostly punitive – let’s label schools and punish teachers.”

Glenn Fowler, secretary of the Australian Education Union’s (AEU) ACT branch, also says the Coalition’s proposals are inappropriate.

The AEU represents about 185,000 educators and is responsible for the I Give a Gonski campaign, which has about 170,000 supporters.

According to Fowler, the performance-based pay initiative is “demeaning, divisive … and an attempt to motivate us through crude individual benefit.

“[The proposed $1.2 billion] is essentially money for the states to implement their ideological agenda, which includes a range of disturbing ideas,” he says.

Fischetti says the government should instead be fully funding early childhood education, and creating incentives for teachers to teach in rural and disadvantaged areas – where they are needed most.

“If [the money] went to incentives to get teachers where it’s hard for them to go, or [paid for] them to take in additional credentials … [that] would get us results.

“You wouldn’t have to have the punitive testing and the performance pay and the other things recommended if we’d funded that end.”

According to Fischetti, “It’s about rewards rather than punishments. And it’s about incentives rather than labels.”

However, he says the government’s other plan – to make maths or science compulsory in Year 12 – has merit. “If you take maths through Year 12, you’re almost guaranteed a good first year at university.

“So I really like the idea of that … [it’s] a proposal that I think is actually a really good one, and would set us apart.”

Fowler says the AEU would be open to alternative incentives such as those suggested by Fischetti, as long as they do not pit teachers against each other.

“We are not averse to teachers being rewarded and recognised for what they have achieved … but teachers are not in this to obtain money at the expense of their colleagues.”