Why conservatives don’t support school league tables
Thank goodness Julia Gillard and Verity Firth don’t coach the Wallabies. If they did they would be looking to the minnows of world rugby – Canada or Samoa – for ideas on how to improve Australia’s rugby performance rather than a powerhouse like New Zealand.
This is exactly the approach they have taken to our education system. Their big new idea has been the introduction of League Tables, basically the crude ranking of individual schools on basic testing.
The two countries that have most actively used League tables are the United States and the United Kingdom.
To put this in context, in a survey of childhood conditions carried out for UNICEF, the UK was ranked bottom of 21 countries. Furthermore, the 2006 OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment shows that average scores in reading, mathematics and science have seriously declined since 2000.
Countries that do not use League Tables include Finland and New Zealand – two countries that consistently top international benchmarks for student performance.
So why would we want to follow the lead of education systems that Australia clearly outperforms, and ignore the lessons from those education systems that do it better than ours?
That was the question that faced Members of NSW Parliament last week. A majority of the Upper House, and the entire Lower House voted to stop the publication of league tables in NSW in an attempt to protect the integrity of our education system.
What the Bill stopped was ranking of schools from best to worst. A ranking system that is simplistic and wrong because it does not take into account the challenges that individual schools face. Issues like isolation for schools in western NSW, the level of wealth of families, or the fact that kids come from a non English speaking background all effect school performance in tests.
This ranking might make great media headlines but they can also do significant harm to the schools affected. Some of the toughest schools in NSW have the best Principals and the best teachers with the hardest working kids working from a low base. They do not deserve public humiliation by being the subject of simplistic league tables.
Our position is supported almost unanimously by every serious education stakeholder, but it is a position that has earned harsh criticism from journalist and stalwarts of conservative politics such as Brendan Nelson.
At the end of the day, what the debate in the media has revolved around has been what limits can Parliament put on media in terms of what they can report. This is of course a serious debate that deserves serious consideration.
Currently we have limits on publishing the names of juveniles charged with criminal offenses, a law designed to protect young people. I understand the concerns of the media about limiting their right to publish what they see fit and I can see their point.
Perhaps what has been most frustrating throughout the debate is the liberty some commentators have taken in defining what are core Liberal & Nationals values. We value the integrity of what is a world-class education system. We value the reputation of schools and the kids that attend them. We value the effort of teachers and principals, especially those who work in the most difficult and challenging schools in Australia.
These are the core values of the Liberal & National parties, and all are undermined by league tables.
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