Parents deserve more information about schools
Much has been written about the Rudd Government’s commitment to introduce a new era of transparency into our schools. As important as bricks and mortar or computers are, the Education Revolution is about more than infrastructure.
If some are to be believed the educational sky will fall in should the Government, and more importantly parents, be given simple information about the performance of schools in their neighbourhood and around the nation.
Some on the other hand, particularly in the NSW Parliament, is nothing more than base political manoeuvring. It has certainly seen some bizarre political marriages of convenience.
What seems to have been lost in the argy-bargy is the desire of parents to provide the best possible education for their children.
In October last year, a survey of almost 2000 parents overwhelmingly called for information about individual schools to be made available to the public.
They know that with these changes for the first time parents, teachers and members of the community will have access to information that details a school’s results, its workforce, its financial resources and the student population it serves.
This is hardly groundbreaking. In almost every other professional field you’d expect the performance of an organisation to be scrutinised. You’d expect that information to be used to improve performance. Nobody wins if one part of an organisation or community is working below their best.
The information will enable comparison of each school with other schools serving similar student populations around the nation. These same transparency and accountability requirements will apply to both government and non-government schools.
The Parents’ Attitudes to Schooling Survey conducted last year showed that more than 80 per cent of parents want information about how their children and their school are going.
That’s an important statistic. Four in five parents want this information. They want the data that will allow them to make informed decisions about their school.
It also showed that parents understand the importance of information for targeting additional resources and helping schools improve.
The assumption in the debate from those opposed to publishing this information appears to be that its purpose is punitive. That rather than being used to raise the level to that of the best schools, it will be used to punish those not performing.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, quite the opposite. The Rudd Government believes that it is in the public interest that the debate and analysis of schooling in this country is well-informed by accurate, properly contextualised information.
Instead of hiding from scrutiny, we need to recognise that substantial public resources go into our schools (more than $60 billion over the next four years from the Commonwealth alone) and governments, schools and teachers need to be accountable for ensuring this money is being spent effectively and in the best interests of students.
We are not copying ranking systems or policies from overseas and we are not interested in simplistic league tables which rank schools according to raw test scores. We want to look at data in context, look at where the students are coming from, what resources schools have and compare apples with apples.
If there are two schools that share characteristics of student background and resources but one is performing much better than the other, we should be able to learn from that success and make sure that the effective methods are being shared and best practice is used to lift results at the other school.
Keeping our heads in the sand we’re not doing any favours to the schools and students who are falling behind. Some apparently think that, if you can’t see a problem then it doesn’t exist. Many parents think differently.
Put simply, parents know that well informed governments can target resources appropriately and their child can be given the best possible educational opportunity.
We know that all teachers and principals benefit from the wisdom of others where the ultimate outcome is better learning for their students. It happens every day at schools around the country as extraordinarily professional teachers share techniques and ideas in the staff room that make them better at their jobs.
This information has the potential to take that approach further. It will allow governments to determine which schools are working at their best, and potentially to share those experiences.
It will allow governments to take the very best ideas from the very best schools and share them for the benefit of all students. All Education Ministers agree and across the country have agreed to detailed school profiles.
There will be strict new protocols on the use of data that will provide comprehensive and accurate information on individual schools, to ensure that if comparisons are made they are meaningful and that any school’s performance is properly understood in context.
These transparency measures will bring about a new era and give parents, communities and the public much better information about the performance of our schools.
Because ultimately, it’s about providing what’s best for our children’s education.
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