Time for a post industrial way of thinking

Main Page 9 Comments »

There are so many conundra in education.

For example: if we believe that all people should be supported to achieve their potential, then why do we continue to accept a concept of ‘strength in unity for collective bargaining’ which prefers to reduce the points of individual excellence to the blunt object of a bludgeoning of creativity.

If we really do believe in the uniqueness of the individual, and the efficacy of differentiated curriculum, and accepting the broad spectrum of humanity and human behaviour, then why do we still see a uniform policy as a key measure of positivity in public perception of our school?

As teachers who are so aware of the ability of Twitter to transcend linear control of the message, why do we still blindly buy the idea that an Australian government will fall sheeplike, into the production of a facsimile OFSTED or NCLB:  with or without apples and meat-cleavers.  Why is there the huge trust differential?  Faced with a vodcast from a Director General and a similar message from a union official, why is it almost automatically accepted that there is a huge trust differential based on who is seen as the member of the ‘boss ‘class.

Teachers are the people who provide the interface. Teachers will always have the ability to make this interface as productive as possible with the most valuable and transcending resource being their own engagement with the ideal of, in its purest sense: ‘being a teacher.’

Yet, we still expect that those people who have progressed to any ‘higher up’ level are, by their demonstrated aspiration: ‘not to be trusted’

The depressing sight of men, in the great depression, fighting each other along the hungry mile to catch a token for a day’s work. There are good and strong reasons why people have had to band together.  When we have a vastly different ability to connect, though, let’s look beyond the ‘bust or ban’ strategy which seems to have delivered so little for our young people in terms of an innovative educational setting.

In a world wide web world,  the ability to connect leads us closer toward a proposition where we can develop an international meta language related to answering the question:  “Beyond culture and religion, what are the things we all need to agree upon if humanity is to be sustained for the benefit of all?”

We can have enormous diversity yet a tight commitment to some fundamentals.

I was so relieved to have someone tell me this week that they had an optimism that our communities would actually be intelligent enough to see beyond the hype of league tables in education, if they were created.  Is it reasonable that we take action to prevent the gathering of data which allows feedback which lots of parents seem to be interested to know.  Our communities have access to so much information these days in every area of their life.

In a web 2.0 world, is it reasonable to adopt an activist stance which is predicated on a perceived need for teachers to advocate on behalf of an unknowing and helpless public.

And, have we asked them?

We need the NAPLAN snapshot

Main Page 4 Comments »

The Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday announced a review of the model for funding schools in Australia.  This will take place in the run up to the next Federal election and, predictably, it has made some sectors very anxious. In an attempt to hose down this anxiety, Julia Gillard has maintained that no school will end up poorer as a result of the review.

Various sectors of the educational community have been very vocal in the last months regarding the Federal transparency agenda and the MySchool website in particular.  This site, rather than being static, will continue to evolve, with more and more information being added.  As well as the very important addition of growth data, this year will also see the addition of much more disclosure of all sources of funding for the private sector.  When this is added, it will allow even more clarity in the overall picture across sectors of schooling.  As the piece at the end of this post demonstrates, we haven’t necessarily been shown the full picture before.

Many sources are revisiting the ideological debates surrounding testing agendas and the potential for a narrowing of curriculum, loss of holistic approaches creation of league tables and a perception of stifling creativity.  Some of the loudest voices in this actually come from the non-government sector.

In an avowed attempt to mitigate the negative impact of the use of data to create league tables, unions have called on teachers in public schools to refuse to administer tests.

In the non-government sector, while there’s plenty of rhetoric about holistic education and the evil of a league table environment, there’s absolutely no suggestion at all of a similar form of action against the testing program.

Despite the finely argued ideological opposition, the overwhelming outcome of this action will simply be a reinforcement, in the court of public opinion, that public school teachers and schools have things to hide.

Our public schools are doing some wonderful things for children from the entire spectrum of our local communities.  This year, we have the opportunity to publish the extent to which this is occurring by having the data available which shows growth.  In the years to come, we also have the chance to track and verify this progress, assisted by a range of National Partnership programs which focus heavily on providing even greater access and opportunity for children from low SES communities.

Far from ‘protecting’ low SES communities from the stigma which many fear will flow from the media creation of league tables, we may actually lose the ability to demonstrate that additional resource has meant that our hard work is paying dividends: that the fundamental tenet of free and secular public education can deliver a fair go for all, especially as increasingly fairer funding models are applied.

Let’s ensure that we think through the balance between the need to ‘send messages,’ or to advocate for ideological stances, and the possibility that a broad based agenda of transparency and reporting of a wide range of measures, including NAPLAN data can actually assist in the movement toward a funding model which is more of a level playing field for all.

NAPLAN, approached correctly is no more than a ‘point in time snapshot’ of how we are travelling toward our objective of providing maximum opportunity for every child to grow their potential and to assist us to realistically look at how we can get into the business of ‘planning school’ as a place where this can occur.  Without the snapshot, taken at regular intervals, we have no means, other than asking a sceptical public to ‘trust us, we know best,’ to highlight the quality of the work we do.

As a comment on the current model of funding for schools, the piece below was written a number of years ago, using references to source material which was available at the time.

Having your cake and eating it too

Imagine running a business where you could apply the following formula :

  • Assume that you have no funds carried forward, and no debts: you are starting from scratch.  Despite having the capital value of a fully functional site, you are starting with a zero budget.
  • Estimate what it will cost you to operate over the next year: salaries, maintenance, contracted services, risk management etc.
  • You are now well below zero in the value of your business.  You need to plan to get ahead, and to make sure that you have an attractive product. (All within a highly competitive area and within a narrow market where the consumer described ‘indicators of quality’ are not necessarily a construct contemporaneous with other general societal trends.)
  • To stay competitive, in a pro-choice environment, you need to create surpluses to be applied to growth of the business and its capital.
  • Work out how much profit you want to make, your ‘operating surplus.’
  • Your business is eligible for significant grants from the government.  Work out exactly how much you will get from these grants.
  • Now decide how much you will need to charge per unit of your product to achieve the operating surplus you have set as a budget goal.

With no effect on the size of the government grant !

In fact, as you attract more customers, the government will make sure that you get more funds, so that you can set the price that customers pay to give you the profit you need.  A sort of government underwriting of a set income stream ! Oh, and while you get the funds you can decide who works for you based on whether they go to the same church as you, or reflect your beliefs, despite the fact that the government funds you get come from everybody.

And this is how a consultant to the independent schooling sector believes private schools should run their business.  Speaking at a conference of Heads of Independent Schools, Trevor Gorey, suggested some key principles for financial management in private schools.

As a matter of interest, most schools operate on a gross profit (income less direct teaching costs) of between 30% and 40%

Critical Financial Issues in Independent Schools Trevor Gorey –AHISA Conference –  April 2003

In another cool and clinical analysis of how to play hard but fair, Audrey Jackson, 2002 Executive Director of the Association of Independent Schools in Western Australia, has little time for the proponents of the concept of being a ‘not for profit’ organisation, preferring to dismiss this as ‘altruism in the extreme.’ Audrey Jackson – Building a Capital Base in a School – 14th Biennial NCISA Conference, 2002

Now, look at some strategies to increase surplus.

Clearly, to get a bigger surplus, you need more customers, and preferably customers of the type which will attract the highest level of government funding.

As the calculation is done on postcode, the retention of a boarding house as a home for the sons of western graziers actually retains a number of students who may be from postcodes where the average income levels are massively depressed due to drought and the flight within the Australian GDP from the rural sector.

Or, you can offer scholarships, which give you a double barrelled benefit.

  • Firstly, you get to pick the cream from other schools, making your own outcomes improve and enhancing the perception of the value of the education on offer.
  • And, what a bonus, because the scholarship can be directed to worthy students from certain SES groups, the actual cost to the school of offering it is not comparatively high.

The judicious use of bursaries and scholarships can have a hugely beneficial effect on enrolments both in the short and long terms.

They can be used to improve the overall academic profile of a school and to bring students into the school from low income families.

The strength of the strategy from a financial point of view is that the scholarship students attract full federal and state funding so the cost of forfeited fees is lessened.

Critical Financial Issues in Independent Schools Trevor Gorey – April 2003

Now, before you rush to describe this as the politics of envy, stop and think it through again.

  • How many parents who choose to send their children to private schools understand how their fees are calculated. ?
  • As they work themselves into the ground, and sacrifice things to provide what they see as an opportunity, do they understand that the fees they pay don’t just fund the gap between what they think they would get in their local public school and the cost benefit they see in their choice of a private school.?
  • Do they understand that they are also paying up to 30% on top, so that the school can maintain and improve its ability to sustain annual capital growth ?
  • What would the outcome be of using a percentage of the funds invested in this business, which sets a margin of profit, to invest in a system which can be a hub of the community in which you live, and, as such, be the means by which the entire community will move ahead.

And, in the fairest of all Aussie ways, wouldn’t they agree that there could be some compromises of the aspirational need to ‘have the best’, to create a better, fairer, more truthful system all round ?

References : (These were active at the time of writing – may now be broken)



Just who perpetuates the paradigms?

Main Page 13 Comments »

The recent ACEC 2010 conference in Melbourne was interesting from a range of perspectives.  Disappointingly, I became more and more and more dismayed at the perpetuation of a number of dominant paradigms.

Prominent amongst these was the view that the failure of our schools to change to has been largely the responsibility of a range of successive policy makers, governments, management, bureaucrats and, basically anybody not ‘at the coalface’ of teaching. Predictably, the biggest laughs came from the heavy criticism of government policies at both state and federal levels, and in the heady ideals from the seventies, and the belief that the very people who had assisted the rise of these ideas to prominence were now actively proceeding, blinkered and in step, to pull the truck of an ideology which would seek to turn all children into complicit cogs for the machine.

And, you’ll need to allow me a wry grin here when we stop and think that much of this glee and anti-establishment rhetoric was coming from people whose livelihood is derived from working for establishments which value their uniform policy, which suspend girls who have the wrong coloured hair, who know that their faith policies may include profession of religious views which could provoke hatred in various parts of the globe, or lead to significant reduction in the rights of women or other groups, or which have, in the past, decried public schools for their humanist approaches to individual choice making which are divergent from the truth of gospel.

All of these schools have an absolute right to exist in my opinion.  The fact that they can relies, however, on exactly those taxpayers, of all sizes, shapes, colours and faiths, who in turn elect governments who provide a very significant portion of  their funding. This guaranteed funding then enables the creation of budget models which can adjust additional income through fee increases and plan for surpluses which can fund an ongoing cycle of improvements.  After then actively discriminating, in their employment policies, against anyone who cannot produce a suitable evidence of their ethos compatibility, it would be nice if they had the decency to see a little more of the forest which is the realm of public opinion and the broad spectrum of a very diverse modern Australian; and less of the separate trees which they have the opportunity to shape in ways which suit themselves, and their customers.

There was loud applause for widespread criticism of the National Curriculum, for NAPLAN, for the Digital Education Revolution, for Victoria’s Ultralab, Queensland’s Digital Pedagogy Licence etc,  and for the general idea that governments basically always have it wrong.

Whether they are right or wrong, the policies which were planned for implementation were put on the table very publicly prior to the last round of elections. In Australia, we all vote.

It’s like sitting in a pub, in the fug and swill of an after-work session and overhearing the conversations which so often default to the age old laughter and derision to those in the ‘boss’ classes, who invariably ‘wouldn’t have a clue,’  are ‘all brains and no common sense,’  or who are ‘only concerned about putting something on their CV’ etc. This seems fairly usual group behaviour, but we should always remember that everybody started somewhere sometime.

It is also useful to remember that: titles and positions aside, we are all human beings. We all, as a former leader of mine said, “put our pants on the same way in the morning.”

Sometimes we need to hold a mirror up to our own paradigms.  Just as it is unreasonable for ‘the system’ to assume that every person ‘at the coalface’ of teaching, is trying their best to do as little as possible and therefore needs to be whipped into shape with some good testing regimes and performance management systems, may it not be a bit unfair to assume that every person at a management level is spending all of their days planning ways to make life difficult for those ‘at the coalface.?’

‘At the coalface’ is, for me an expression I fundamentally dislike in reference to teaching. While I fully understand the analogy, it simply serves to reinforce all of the stereotypes about organisational behaviour which grow from a labour oriented industrial model of the world. An interesting clinging to a paradigm which so many profess to be wanting to change through working in more student centred ways. Are students just so much coal that we dig? If, as a teacher, you want to be seen as a person who does more than process commodities, in a drudge of non-recognition and encouragement, then stop talking like a coalminer or process worker. We can all make choices about the mental models we apply to our world. Maybe that dude in the suit who’s one of those people from DET might just be a human being like you. Maybe they also like Twitter, or keyword searching on YouTube, or playing volleyball, golfing or building websites. Inappropriately applied paradigms are just as destructive from any direction.

Just for the record, we have many leaders in our system of education who have been trying different approaches for many years. Gary Stager and Seymour Papert may be interested to know that we were using 1:1 computers in a Juvenile Justice school in Sydney in 1985, with Apple 11e computers and Logo, along with wonderful text based story software like ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ etc.

We might also like to remember that, in 1989, the ‘Schools Renewal’ report, or Scott Review, lead to some very significant changes, with the introduction of new structures, smaller school ‘clusters’, educational resource centres, acknowledgement of the growth of technology in schools, and calls for more localised approaches. Full implementation of the recommendations were thwarted, however, by hugely strident industrial opposition: the famous ‘Metherell Years.’ While policy makers and system leaders tried to move away from a centralist organisation and structure and provide a framework for greater engagement with priorities at local levels, teachers came out en masse to decry this direction.

After working as Teacher in Charge at a Juvenile Justice school and teaching myself how to program in Basic and Logo, to provide engagement for very troubled young offenders, I spent a year as a classroom teacher with limited access to a small lab of MicroBee computers and sporadic use of the one Apple 11e in the entire school to produce slideshows of student work using a technique which created a screen display which I have long ago forgotten.

Then, in 1988, in my first Principalship, at Broken Bay Sport and Recreation Centre, the efficacy of using a computer to assist the program booking process and information management became very obvious. The booking database I developed using Appleworks Database and its integration with the Wordprocessor module to mailmerge all correspondence, accident report cover letters etc was then scaled up to operate for all centres statewide by 1990. An upgrade to an Apple 11gs gave a bit more graphic ability, (we couldn’t afford a Mac), and we used this to create brochures to accompany environmental quests and information transfer.

One of my staff told me about Keylink in 1989 and, equipped with a new modem, it was good to be able to use a very primitive form of text based messaging, using the Austpac system with text which wiped onto the screen. Using Keylink, it was also possible to get involved in some of the first online OzProjects like Newsday. It was also possible to send faxes directly via Keylink, including outputting a spreadsheet list directly via fax.

In 1990, we hosted 140 teachers at Broken Bay Sport and Recreation Centre for a Computer Education Conference. The theme was ‘technology and the environment’ with significant input from the regional Aboriginal Education consultant and the Computer Consultancy team. Over 100 computers were manually loaded from a truck onto a ferry for a half hour trip to the Broken Bay wharf. They were then manhandled onto a tractor and trailer, then carried across a footbridge to another truck and then to the dining hall. Computer Consultant, Glenn Mullaney, had arranged for Telstra to provide an additional four phonelines which had to be physically provisioned across Patonga Creek and over the eastern ridge to the camp at Broken Bay. We had Keylink demos in the nurses quarters, Lego on the messhall verandahs, hypercard stacks in the lodges and, at night, lots of connection and fun.

We carried and lugged. The Sydney Morning Herald ran a story, under a headline which said, ‘And no Pac Man after lights out!’ about the use of Medical Forms intended for children sent to ‘campers.’ We did it because we believed this was important. It was, and it still is, and many are still trying to scaffold and support.

I remember taking a group to the beach to try an idea I had to develop Logo programs. One pair would write a program to describe a shape using basic sequential instructions eg Fwd 10; right 90; fwd 10 etc. Another pair would then be the turtle..using foot lengths as a unit and a stick as a pen to scribe a shape on the sand. We threw hoops onto grass and leaf-litter and did mini beast counts, tallying the data in spreadsheets.

It is possible to continue listing a whole range of ways that things have been tried to build environments which provide opportunities for students and which encourage shifts in pedagogy and in policy. There are many others who have continued to look for ways to work to make a difference. Don’t let us forget that system attempts, in the early years of the 21st century, to provide a platform for a range of web-services was met with bans by the union, operating with the majority support of teachers. Did those who speak loudest against the failure of the system to achieve change, speak up in their staffroom? Why does the union still use Faxstream as its primary communication format if not through fear of alienating non- email/internet users? No matter what the leadership vision might be for a school learning environment which is constructivist and flexible in approaching groupings and pedagogy to enable learners, there are still very strict processes in place around staffing schools, which were fought for by teachers themselves, as recently as last year.

There is much that is imperfect in a policy environment which bases itself on a fundamental principle of equitable provision, and the rollout of infrastructure and access. Yes, there may be better ways to finesse this. We can, however, point to the fact that students in Brewarrina have the same level of access to publicly provided ICT as students in Balmain. Our ‘fatcat’ bureaucrats have, in the DER NSW approach, handed a mass of resource to practitioners. Their way of doing it can be scoffed at by visiting experts, but the potential is there for the taking. I’m pleased to say that, if you put your hand up and say you’d like to have a go, if I can, I’ll do whatever I can to support you. Why not connect and collaborate at your staffroom level and gather a team who can then create something better and different through collaboration and mutually respectful relationships at all levels within your organisation. And, at the next social function or barbecue, why not speak up, and if necessary, seek to educate friends and community members about the urgent need we have to move from school planning to planning school. This is everybody’s business.

Please don’t let us, as people engaged in something much more important, allow ourselves to persist with exactly the paradigm entrenchment which we so vehemently criticise.

A friend, a colleague, a mother, a cousin, think of the range of things which describe who we are.

It is our affiliations which give meaning to who we are.

LIPS Wordle

Main Page No Comments »


This is a wordle created by entering the URL of the LIPS blog.


WP Theme & Icons by N.Design Studio
Entries RSS Comments RSS Log in