The Blame Game Has Started


This was a letter sent to the Courier Mail on the day that the approval of a ‘hit squad’ was announced. It was not printed.  Imagine !  Failing Courier Mail Letters 101 !

Inspired by Brendan Nelson and pursued by Julia Gillard, the blame and shame game is now in full swing in Australian schools. Education Queensland has called for volunteer Principals to lead hit squads that will move into schools that don’t seem to have ‘performed’ well enough on the Nelson/Gillard tests; and to tutor the Principal on what can be done better. It will be trialled in Term 4, 2009 and will be successful. In 2010 these Teaching and Learning Audits will start.

EQ will identify the tardy Principals and Teachers and the squad will focus on auditing key curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment practices at the school.  This means that schools will then be advised as to the best ways to promote the left-brained easily-tested items of the curriculum and curb the time spent on the rest of the curriculum. It’s the only way to go.  Such proposals are way over the top.

There is a temptation to compare the squad visits to Inspection visits of years past and this is true if one goes back far enough. Schools were once visited annually by School Inspectors, well-experienced  ex-Principals who had done the hard yards through the school system; and had been promoted by proving themselves at a number of levels of school leadership. They had been academically successful and they were the cream of the crop. Some were feared, most respected. As the years went along, opinions of Inspectors changed for the better.  All were  ex-teachers [not ex-tertiary lecturers or ex-secondary principals as in the past]. During Inspections they  joined in with each school team, spread ideas that they had picked from various schools; and their direct connection and involvement with state curriculum committees helped everybody to keep ‘up with the latest’. They were respected for their experience.  It was a form of quality control that has only a suggestion of the raison d’être of the shame squads.

Queensland school children will do better than other states in the future, because this kind of bullying is heavy stuff.  They will need to try harder because the pupils are younger than their class-peers in other states. It is not generally known that there is a difference between states in ages of admission to schools, number of years of compulsory schooling, treatment of private and public schooling; and kinds of curriculum offerings.

Many parents believe that children have to start school when they turn five years of age. However, in most states they don’t have to start until after their sixth birthday; and concerned parents think seriously about the best for their child.

There is a real mess in the inter-state differences which should have been fixed before any nation-wide blanket testing program for the purpose of blaming-and-shaming were introduced. The differences are well-illustrated in the naming of the first year at a school. In NSW and the ACT it is called Kindergarten; in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland it is Preparatory; Northern Territory calls it Transition; and WA calls it Pre-primary. After this year, pupils move into Year 1 !

What is so difficult for a country as small as Australia [1] to have a standard age of entry to school such as turning 5 years of age by 1 January of the year of enrolment; [2] to call the first year of school Year 1 ?

Why not have a Department of Compulsory Schooling in each state ?  It’s an important undertaking.

This would mean that children could progress through formal compulsory schooling year by year for the twelve or thirteen years of school life.  Children too young to be enrolled could be cared-for by pre-school arrangements of many kinds.

If the Deputy PM can impose her will over the conduct of blanket testing, surely she can order a standardisation of compulsory schooling.