November 2009

SOME CRUCIAL MONTHS            November 2009


Published in book form called Children: their World, their Education , the most comprehensive United Kingdom report on primary schooling in many decades, has been largely ignored by the Australian and American Press.    It’s publication was announced on 23 October.  There has been little, if any, mention made.

“Compellingly and accessibly written, the book is divided into five parts :

* Part 1 sets the scene and tracks primary education policy since the 1960s

* Part 2 examines children’s develop,ment and learning; their upbringing and live in an increasingly diverse society, their needs and aspirations

* Part 3 explores what goes on in schools, from the vital early years to aims, curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, standards and school organisation

* Part 4 deals with the system: ages and stages; teachers, training, leadership and workforce return; funding, governance and policy

* Part 5 pulls everything together with 78 formal conclusions and 75 recommendations for policy and practice

Children, their World, their Education is more than a ground-breaking report. It is an unrivalled educational compendium. It assesses two decades of government-led reform. It offers a vision for the future. It goes to the heart of what education in a democracy is about. It deserves to be read by all who care about children, their primary education and the world that they will inherit.”

{See &}


Professor Caldwell’s comments in Monday’s issue of The Australian were telling. He mentioned some of the circumstances that will lead to the demise of the mismanaged education revolution. If his forecast is accurate, it will be a slow death as the Australian media presently takes little note of things that can have a positive effect on the lives of the young.

When Jouri Vaijari of Finland visited Australia earlier in the year, he was almost totally ignored by the press, receiving only slight mention on late-night radio. His speech is still available on the web. At the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association conference, he provided useful information that certainly needs to be considered by the Gillard team now in control of schooling in Australia. Yes, as Professor Caldwell highlights, there is a need for improved teacher education, helping prospective teachers to learn how to teach better as they prepare for their Masters Degree. As important to Finland is its general conduct of schooling. For instance:-

1. Formal schooling starts at age 7.   2. Average class size is 18-20.   3. Stress on self-evaluation by teachers and pupils.   4. No national tests.  Inspectors are used to monitor progress.   5. Finland has a national curriculum and allows lots of freedom in selection from it.   5. Only 2-3% attend private schools.

On 23 October, less than a fortnight ago, a report that should have made the front pages of a world that might be interested in schooling was completed and printed. The most comprehensive report written on primary education in Britain since the Plowden Report in 1967 hit the street. It has been almost totally ignored. It is called “The Cambridge Primary Review”. It examined 4,000 published reports and received 1,000 submissions from around the world. It suggests that primary pupils are being denied their statutory entitlement to a broad education, needlessly compromised by a ‘standards’ agenda which combines high-stakes testing and an exclusive focus on literacy and numeracy. It is likely that the Gillard team will not like the suggestions. It contains 78 recommendations, conspicuous amongst them being :

1. Broad-scale national testing should be axed.   2. Replace such testing with a random sampling of a wider range of school subjects at age 11.   3. Start formal school at age 6.   4. De-politicise the classroom.

This Review suggests that the narrow high-stakes testing regime has caused significant ‘collateral damage’ . The drilling of children has ‘squeezed out’ other subjects from the curriculum. While Australian schooling authorites prefer to take more notice of a New York ex-lawyer, the public is being left in the dark.

A visit to will provide more detail on the Finnish experience; and will provide more information for readers, but one should not hold one’s breath.

At least The Australian tries….but only a little. It is the only newspaper in Australia to do so, even though it is less than adequate.

Phil Cullen, A.M. [Former Director of Primary Education – Q’ld]

[This unpublished letter was sent on 4 November]

BRIDGING DIFFERENCES – Education News Nov.4 This is an extract from a letter from Diane Ravitch – Education Historian NYU to Deborah Meier, Principal of a Harlem School and author of  “In Schools We Trust” and “The Power of Their Ideas”. They have had their differences  but appear to be as one on Obama’s agenda for education.

“Most educators are dubious about the Obama agenda, but unwilling to speak up. The profession encourages timidity, I am sorry to say, because no one is supposed to speak out unless their supervisor approves, and superintendents these days are looking at that big pile of cash in D.C. and hankering for a piece of it. So no one speaks.

As you know, one of the big ticket items on the Obama agenda is a proposal to evaluate teachers by looking at changes in their pupils’ test scores. As I explain in my forthcoming book, this idea comes out of studies by various economists who say that credentials and experience count for nothing, and that if we value improvements in pupil performance, we should judge teachers by their pupil’s scores. If the scores go up, the teacher is “effective”. and if they don’t go up, the teacher is a loser.

This approach has become wildly popular among the chattering classes. They think it is akin to a business that makes a profit (a winner) and the one that loses money a loser. They do not know of studies by economists demonstrating that this particular measure of effectiveness is highly unstable. A teacher may have a class that gets higher scores one year, but not the next; or lower one year but not the next.  And then there is the fundamental problem, as all psychometricians warn us, that tests should be used for the purpose for which they were intended, and not for other purposes.  In other words, a test of fifth grade reading tests whether pupils in the fifth grade are able to read appropriate material. It cannot be used to determine whether their teacher was good or bad.

Writers who know nothing about education love the idea, however. For example, The New York Times published an editorial on Oct. 29 about the new teachers’ contract in New Haven, Conn., which will allow test scores to count when evaluating teachers. The Times was happy about that, but disappointed that the contract did  not spell out a precise formula “in which the pupil achievement component carries the preponderance of the weight.” Instead, the details will be determined, to The Times chagrin, by a committee that includes teachers and administrators…..

I have been  trying to figure out how a school would function if the advocates of tying test scores to teacher education prevail. At least three years of data would be needed. though five years would be better. At the end of the three-to-five years, the teachers who did not get gains would be fired and replaced by teachers who have no track record at all. Every year, a new group of teachers who had not produced gains would be fired and another untested group of teachers would take their place. Most [secondary] teachers would be exempt because they don’t teach reading or math. But for the unfortunate minority who do teach the tested subjects, there would be an annual game of musical chairs.

Do any other professions work this way ?  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this describes what any of the high-performing nations do.”                                     Diane Ravitch


COURIER  MAIL  11 Nov Page 7 : “Schools Rated on Web”

“The Acting Prime Minister yesterday unveiled a sample of a controversial new website, comparing school results on the national year 3,5,7 and 9 tests, ahead of its official launch next year.

Many teachers have campaigned against the data’s release, arguing it does not give a complete picture of a child’s education and will permit poor schools to be unfairly judged against those in wealthier suburbs or with better teachers.

Ms, Gillard yesterday rejected the claims, saying the website was designed to compare schools only against those in similar circumstances and whose pupils has similar living standards…….

She said..”If your school is falling behind schools that teach similar kids, then you should go down to your local school and you should say…’Why isn’t my school keeping pace? What’s going on here? What are we going to fix? etc. [Her guru Klein, ex-lawyer of New York has the same  attitude.].

Principals at the forum in Canberra yesterday told Ms Gillard the website ignored concerns about the reliability of the NAPLAN results, would not measure pupil’s wellbeing or cultural development and did not take into account teachers quality.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart called on the Government to delay the website until school resources could be compared and an assessment of the national tests was released. “There are gaps in the data that is being presented and we believe that it shouldn’t be published until it’s all available,” he said.”

Q’ld Teachers’ Journal ‘PROFESSIONAL JOURNAL’, Vol 24 Nov. 2009

The best ever by the QTJ….compulsory reading for anyone with even the slightest interest in schooling.  The information and comment are detailed, accurate and [with lotsa luck] influential. Research evidence is sufficient and definitive enough to support the cancellation of blanket testing forthwith.

Evidence, available to the public during November 2009, through such publications are sufficient to suggest that Principals and Teachers who administer the NAPLAN tests to pupils may be in  breach of professional and ethical codes.

There was no published reaction nor comment from any professional organisation or education journalist.

If  Ms. Gillard and her associates fly in the face of the detail of the Cambridge Primary Review and the Finland experience……why ?

The power of the past comes from experience; the lessons it dares us to dismiss are that things will be different this time.