Education Readings August 19th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Which Is More Difficult: World’s Toughest Sport Or Teaching?

‘Speaking of deforming and fracturing, the figures for teachers’ careers are starting to look scarily more like the short-lived careers of elite athletes. Not because they ‘get old and slow’ and lose the athletic edge but simply because they get bruised and drained by the emotional highs and lows, the expectations, shaped largely by societal expectations but (soon) internalised as their own, incessant demands on their mental and physical capacities and more.’

http://bit.ly/2bjd0gA

My Epiphany Moment. A story.

‘My thinking moments changed to considering the differences between assessment and testing and evaluation and appraisement and teaching. I needed to sort myself out. Here I was:  professing to be a teacher, a lover of learning, a pillar of a thinking community and I was violating the sensitivities of children, defying the  conventions of confidentially and of morality, treating kids like robots; while, in other situations, I was constantly preaching that primary education was  the most intense, busiest, most noble caring profession the world had ever seen.’

http://bit.ly/2b7tI1x

The 13 most innovative schools in the world

Thanks to Tessa Calder for this article.

‘Innovation in education can look like lots of things, like incorporating new technology or teaching methods, going on field trips, rejecting social norms, partnering with the local community. It can be a floating school in an impoverished region, like the one in Lagos, Nigeria. Or it can be a school that’s blind to gender, like Egalia, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Keep scrolling to see what the future of education can, and probably should, look like.’

http://til.ink/2bpRM30

Research Finds The Effects Of Homework On Elementary School Students, And The Results Are Surprising

‘While homework has a significant benefit at the high school level, the benefit drops off for middle school students and “there’s no benefit at the elementary school level,” agrees Etta Kralovec, an education professor at the University of Arizona.’

http://bit.ly/2bpQuFj

How to Become and Remain a Transformational Teacher

‘However talented, no one is a natural-born teacher. Honing the craft takes significant care and effort, not just by the individual, but also by the school at large. Though experience does matter, it matters only to the extent that a teacher — regardless of how long he or she has been in the classroom — commits to continued professional development to refresh his or her status as a transformational teacher.’

http://edut.to/2b2HWyS

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Why mastery matters and creativity shouldn’t be easy

‘Being creative makes us happy – that’s true – but not just because we just enjoy dreaming up new ideas and having flights of fancy. In fact, research tells us that what we really love about creativity is the daily drudgery – the slow and frequently painful trudge towards getting it done and mastering it.’

http://bit.ly/2bqOqfd

13+ unusually simple techniques to get creative when you are in a rut

Very applicable in your classroom.

‘For businesses and content writers, such creativity and originality can often be a distant thought as we battle with deadlines and other pressing needs. Yet most people desperately want to know how to be creative. Especially on days that seem like you are totally uninspired or stuck in a creative rut.’

http://bit.ly/2b2lhZC

Is Estonia the new Finland?

‘Most educators and policymakers can rattle off a list of international educational powerhouses: Korea. Singapore. Japan. Finland.

But there’s an overlooked member of the list: Estonia. Even as educators from around the world flock to Finland to discover its magic formula, Estonia, just a two-hour ferry ride away, has not aroused the same degree of interest.’

http://bit.ly/2b06spj

Doodling with Dr Seuss: how the cat got his hat

Do we fully appreciate his work?

‘In teaching millions the joy of literature, Geisel also opened up a wonderfully unique perspective on the world, where life is funny and beautiful, and where topsy-turviness shows us how things should be.  As the author himself once said: “If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”’

http://bit.ly/2b2oxnH

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Tapping the wisdom between schools.

‘Over the decades innovation and creativity has shifted from isolated creative often misunderstood individuals, who network with each other for mutual support, to whole schools development where schools develop a common language or learning culture across the school.The future development is for teachers to share ideas between schools. Ministries of Education worldwide, after experimenting with the ideas of competing schools and ‘top down change,’ have now realised the real power is to be gained through collaboration at the lowest level.’

http://bit.ly/2bj83nY

Losing the art of play

Have you been in a toy shop recently? Very uninspiring.

‘A cultural historian, Howard Chudwell, believes that from 1955 , due to the marketing of toys, children’s play became focused on the toys themselves. Toys have replaced imaginative improvised activity as the focus of play. New commercial toys provide restricted scripts ‘shrinking the size of children’s imaginative space’ – and owning such toys becomes all important.’

http://bit.ly/2b4UVAq

School Reform: more political than educational

‘I would think that if we had focused on recognising, and sharing, the ideas of creative teachers and innovative schools in the first place, and if the various governments had seen their role as creating the conditions and providing resources, we would be in a far better position than we are in now. And, as well, we would have teachers who have faith in their ability to develop new approaches to teaching and learning without distorting and disabling the total system.’

http://bit.ly/2bB04Cv

Random Bits

AUSSIE FRIENDS OF TREEHORN

     Treehorn Everychild was the hero of a book by Florence Parry Heide: The Shrinking of Treehorn. When he was severely afflicted, worried and puzzled, the adults closest to him – parents, bus-driver, teacher, principal – preferred to ignore him. They had other things to do. The conclusion to the book is dramatic. He had lost faith in all adults. Then, when his skin started to turn a violent green, he had adjudged by then that adults don’t care about school kids in particular …..and the book concludes : “Treehorn sighed. ‘I don’t think I’ll tell anyone.’ he thought to himself. “If I don’t say anything, they won’t notice.’” 

Do you know how your child feels at NAPLAN time?  Do you care?

 Random Bits

 Some news items from here and there.

 Here’s some comments from School Principals [with thanks to Ray A.]

So in NSW, students must achieve marks of more than 80 in three subjects, including English, to be accepted into a teaching degree. The trouble with arbitrary cut-off points is that they are just that – arbitrary. Why 80, rather than 78 or 82? It sounds like decisions are being based on round numbers, without any valid basis. I had a pretty ordinary year12. Emotionally immature and with family issues, I had trouble relating to Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters in early 19th century England. Our teacher thought that accomplishment could only happen in the finer arts and I consistently received a ‘C’ for my Pride and Prejudice essays. So I received 78 for English. Fast forward 30-odd years and it is fair to say I have had a pretty successful teaching career. Not every lesson has been brilliant and I did not handle every situation as I should have, with hindsight. But the successes have far outweighed the failures. I know I have helped many former students on their way, through my love of science and geography. But in the world of arbitrary cut-offs, I would not have been admitted to my degree. Surely performance during the teaching course and practice should be the determination of a “suitability to teach”.

Ralph Judd, Blackburn

Pay teachers well if you want the brightest

There is no need for a “final hurdle test”

Nearly 50 years on, what’s changed?

As a humanities student at a university in Canada in 1968 (48years ago), the awful “tick-box” computer exams (Letters, 16/8) were well and truly present. Even if a student vehemently disagreed with the pre-determined answer to a question, you had no scope to argue your case. The computer did not care and you knew it.

Mara Hayler, Darley

for students before they graduate as teachers, Education Minister, James Merlino. just look at teachers’ pay and the endless political interference in their work. Smart people do not apply for teaching courses when other professions are better paid and respected.

Andrew Ferguson, Mount Dandenong

“My number 3 daughter and her husband, both in their mid thirties, are wanting to get out of the department. He’s Secondary Science and she’s Primary. 

They reckon the ever increasing level of bullshit paperwork and lack of executive support has taken all the joy out of teaching.

 When a business executive, sneeringly asked a teacher what she makes, she replied….

 “I make kids wonder.

I make them question.

I make them apologise and mean it.

I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.

I teach them how to write and then I make them write. Keyboarding isn’t

everything.

I make them read, read, read.

I make them show all their work in maths. They use their God given brain,

not the man-made calculator.

I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know

about English while preserving their unique cultural identity.

I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe and secure.

Finally, I make them understand that if they use

the gifts they were  given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.”

(Bonnie paused one last time and then continued.)

“Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, I can hold my head up

high and pay no attention because they are so ignorant.

You want to know what I make? I make a difference in all your lives,

educating your kids and preparing them to become CEO’s, and doctors and

engineers. What do you make, Mr. CEO?”

 Why is a Politician, especially the slower one who supports NAPLAN,  like a tortoise on a fence post ?

 You know he did not get up there by himself, he does not belong up there, he does not know what to do while he’s up there, he’s elevated beyond his ability to function, and you just wonder what kind of dumb arse put him up there to begin with. “

 180 or 360?

In a recent ‘’Treehorn’, I mentioned that I had done a complete 180 when I had my epiphany moment, and changed from a testucating child-abusive primary principal to a rabid opponent of all forms of blanket testing, one principal corrected me. I had done a 360, she said. She is correct.  Sorry Sam.

 Another wrote that he had found the moral compass that school principals threw away in 2008.  He’s a new-age principal and wasn’t around then.  He reckons that he found it in the truck that Julia used to herd his colleagues into her love-test paddock; and  duly returned the photo from The Treehorn Express: Party Promises on 23 June….

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 2.21.59 PM 

 Most parliaments have resumed. On the federal scene, true-blue educators anxiously awake the first steps by the Labor Party ; to have “….every single child in every single classroom have their learning needs met, because investing in our classrooms is investing in our future.”

Please Laborites, get on with the task. Start screaming about the deleterious effects of NAPLAN.  Give it to them.

Please Libs/NPs, beat them to the task. Do it now, before the NAPLAN SEASON starts….soon.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

My Epiphany Moment. A story.

REVIEWING NAPLAN                                                                                                                                       RESPECTING KIDS

AUSSIE FRIENDS OF TREEHORN

Treehorn [Everychild] was the hero of a book by Florence Parry Heide: The Shrinking of Treehorn. When he was severely afflicted, worried and puzzled, the adults closest to him – parents, bus-driver, teacher, principal – preferred to ignore him. They had other things to do. The conclusion to the book is dramatic. He had lost faith in all adults. Then, when his skin started to turn a violent green, he had adjudged by then that adults don’t care about school kids in particular …..and the book concludes : “Treehorn sighed. ‘I don’t think I’ll tell anyone.’ he thought to himself. “If I don’t say anything, they won’t notice.’” 

Do you know how your child feels at NAPLAN time?  Do you care?

 ——————————–

 MY EPIHANY MOMENT

 Dressed in my finest academic regalia on a visit, this photo was taken in 2014,  I am standing at a door that links two classrooms at Edge Hill State School, Cairns where I had served as a Primary School Principal in the 1960s.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 9.51.08 PMI am pointing at the spot where, in 1968,  I was standing when I made a momentous decision. I call it my ‘Epiphany Spot’….where the truth arrived.

I was testing  Year 3 with a Maths test of numeration.

There were two classes and I stood at the door [obscured] between them.  I gave tests as often as I could until this Epiphany Moment. I had been doing so for years and had a cupboard full of all sorts of tests for all sorts of occasions. I thought that it was expected of me, so I wanted to do it properly.  I became the most testing fixated principal in the country, I’d reckon.  I’d test anything to which one could attach a number.

 I was always uneasy that the pupils didn’t try harder to do well at all tests; and often angry that my remonstrations fell on deaf ears.

 I talked issues like this over, regularly, with my colleague from a neighbouring school, whose opinion I valued. He was very casual about testing. I thought it was an important schooling function. He used to  suggest to me that, if testing was getting me down, I should give it up.  Well, in those days, principals just didn’t do that sort of thing. Weak and compliant, we thought that our Inspector and the whole department would come down on anyone who did that sort of thing,  like a ton of bricks.  Like Eichmann we dared not question. We did as we were told.

 Standing in this doorway, I was able to watch a group of children from behind. Two of them, Jacqui and Peter,  were about the smartest pupils I ever had met and they competed with each other with great intensity. Peter beat Jacqui by one mark on my test. During the hiatus while the pupils gave the results of the test to their teacher to record,  I saw the tears run down Jacqui’s face as she reached for a book from under her desk to read during the pause in testing. It was a book called Voss by Patrick White that had been set at the local high school as a text that year. She was in Year 3.

 I said to myself, “That’s it. There’s somebody stupid in this room and I know it’s not Jacqui.”

 I mumbled something like, “I did not join this profession to make kids cry” to the teacher as I left the room and later told the staff that there would be no more blanket testing at Edge Hill School while I was around. I had earlier started to wonder why we did such tests anyhow, why I was so intense about testing when I believed, at the same time, that primary education was, far and away, the greatest of all caring professions.

 My thinking moments changed to considering the differences between assessment and testing and evaluation and appraisement and teaching. I needed to sort myself out. Here I was:  professing to be a teacher, a lover of learning, a pillar of a thinking community and I was violating the sensitivities of children, defying the  conventions of confidentially and of morality, treating kids like robots; while, in other situations, I was constantly preaching that primary education was  the most intense, busiest, most noble caring profession the world had ever seen. There has to be a special  word for a hypocrite, like that. I didn’t want to be one and was ashamed of what I had been doing.

 l did a complete 180. I remain ashamed at what I had done before this ‘moment’ and I am disgusted that, almost fifty years later, there are some colleagues around who are administering tests and do not think about what they are doing.

I now hate and detest unprofessional regimes of testing like NAPLAN. I certainly would not allow it in any school these days. There’s something crazy, stupid, cruel about having a love for teaching and giving silly tests. Clearly incompatible.  The damage that NAPLAN tests  do is inestimable.

________________________________________
Phil Cullen  41 Cominan Avenue  Banora Point  Australia 2486  0   cphilcullen@bigpond.com             http://primaryschooling.net/                     http://qldprimaryprincipals.wordpress.com/ 

Education Readings August 12th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Writing Junk

‘Mediocre writing starts with the wrong questions, and a focus on a set, proscribed structure and process encourages students to ask the wrong questions. Hammer them with writing templates, and students start to see an essay as a slightly more involved fill in the blank exercise. “I have to have five paragraphs– what can I use to fill up the five paragraph-sized blanks?” “I need three sentences to make a paragraph– what can I use to fill in the the three sentence-shaped empty spaces.” This gets you junk.’

http://bit.ly/2b9sNgu

Why We Need to Move Away from SMART Goals and Towards New Forms of Classroom Assessment

Use SMART goals? Maybe you should read this article.

‘We need to align our purpose. We can’t continue to restrict student assessments to a simplified, out-dated system and expect to prepare them for an ever-changing employment environment of complexity and “abundance.”’

http://bit.ly/2aNc3dv

Stop asking whether laptops improve learning outcomes

‘Simply having students using laptops for learning is not enough. It is the type of activities that are being used and the depth of learning that occurs that is important. The laptop is simply a window to the learning. If the “view” is poor, the results will be poor. If the view is rich and meaningful, the results will be rich and meaningful.’

http://bit.ly/2aOKq6Y

What Makes an ‘Extreme Learner’?

‘Cueva-Dabkoski is considered an “Extreme Learner,” a designation applied to just 12 individuals by the Institute for the Future, for her radical and gutsy approach to learning. Extreme Learners are self-directed, wide-ranging in their interests, comfortable with technology, and adept at building communities around their interests.’

http://bit.ly/2b9A8MM

Hands-Off Teaching Cultivates Metacognition

‘All that thought goes into a lesson, and still there are students spacing out during class or seeming to fall behind. Working so hard and still not reaching every student can be frustrating. And you have no one to blame but yourself — you’re hogging all the best learning in your classroom.’

http://edut.to/2b2aPhq

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

When We Listen to Students

‘As you are beginning to think about returning to school, I have a suggestion that can drastically impact your year (and it’s simple): brainstorm questions to ask your students.

The kids right in front of us often have the most useful information within them — information that can help us reach and teach them, help us engage them, and that can help us have a fantastic year together.’

http://edut.to/2aPDlC1

3 Challenges As Hands-On, DIY Culture Moves Into Schools

‘This hands-on, DIY culture of inventors, tinkerers and hackers is inspiring adults and children alike to design and build everything from sailboats and apps to solar cars.And this fall, more of these chaotic workspaces, stocked with glue guns, drills and hammers, will be popping up in schools, too.But the maker movement faces some big hurdles as it pushes into classrooms.’

http://n.pr/2b0qw6O

Using STEAM to reverse teacher-directed mindsets

‘Integrating content isn’t a new idea. Integrating STEAM, on the other hand, can take educators into uncharted territory while they work to master “learning by doing.” Teachers are more apt to teach the way they were taught, which means roughly 80% of teachers typically use a teacher-directed approach while introducing one subject matter at a time.

The first step to reversing a teacher-directed approach is to change this mindset from the top down:’

http://bit.ly/2b0rRu4

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

The killing of creativity by the technocrats.

‘I have become increasingly concerned about the use of a number of strategies as defined by John Hattie and promulgated by the contracted advisers spreading the word about his ‘best practices’.Somehow, just because Hattie has amalgamated every piece of ‘school effectiveness’ research available ( mainly it seems from the USA) his findings, it seems, ought to be taken for read. The opposite ought to be the case – we need to be very wary of such so called ‘meta research.’. More worrying however is that the approaches he is peddling is pushing into the background the home grown innovative creative learning centred philosophy that was once an important element in many classrooms.’

http://bit.ly/WeTrMo

An idea whose time has come; schools and teachers working together

‘Principals who can share leadership with their teachers and then with other schools will be seen as the real future leaders. Crowther calls this ‘parallel leadership’ – connecting principals and teachers through mutual respect. Up until now, Hargreaves states, teachers have been marginalised but we all know a school is only as good as its teachers.’

http://bit.ly/1aP5A2k

What do good learners do?

What do good students do? Be worth asking your students for their thoughts.

‘Postman and Weingartner in their book ‘Teaching as a Subversive Activity’ gives an excellent outline of a good learner.First, good learners have the confidence in their ability to learn. This does not mean they are not sometimes frustrated and discouraged. They are …..but they have a profound faith that they are capable of solving problems, and if they fail at one problem they are not incapacitated in confronting another.’

http://bit.ly/17qShCj

 Messages about education.

‘I have been reading an article on the web about the pressures being placed on young children and their teachers in the United States to achieve expectations set by standardized tests. In the process teachers have had to narrow their curriculum to ensure their school does well when results are published. And as well, I guess, they would be worried about their tenure?’

http://bit.ly/1KWBtml

Education: Where every child matters

ByronWF2016_SCU-KalebSmit_Lucy-Clark_John-Marsden

Lucy Clark and John Marsden discuss why the Australian education system needs reform. Photo: SCU/Kaleb Smith

Most of us probably remember, however vaguely, what it was like to be in school. There’s this sense of the collective school experience, where everyone knows what it’s like to be patronized, to feel disconnected with a system that teaches students to take tests rather than educating them to exist in the real world.

The panel Education: Where Every Child Matters brought together three former and current teachers to talk about their experience, both as students and as educators, with chair journalist Julia Baird on the first day of the Byron Writers Festival 2016.

As the discussion rolled out, it became overwhelmingly clear that the panellists believe  the education system in Australia, which has remained largely unchanged since its inception, is in need of an overhaul.

The main complaint? Politics are putting a stop to change, and no one is listening to the people who know best about what works and what doesn’t – that is, the kids being taught and the teachers teaching them.

John Marsden, author of The Tomorrow Series also a principal blamed ‘the dead hand of bureaucracy’, which, he said. had ‘come to rest heavily on Australian schools’.

Marsden has led an interesting life having been a truck driver, an abattoir worker, and almost everything in between. But his passion on the subject of education is clear, as is his disdain for the amount of paperwork he has to fill out as an educator, thus detracting his attention from the kids he is meant to teach.

Lucy Clarke, a seasoned journalist and author of Beautiful Failures, labelled Australia’s education system ‘archaic’ because it relies largely on putting students straight from tests to work with little concern for the in-between. That is, the focus is more on passing the tests than giving children a chance to not only learn but to be excited about knowledge.

‘Shouldn’t school be for every child to have the opportunity to reach their potential?’ she asked.

Clarke suggests that the best way to accomplish this is to easy –  start putting teachers into parliament. It seems so simple, and yet the Ministers for Education have historically been just about everyone but teachers. This brings us back to the earlier statement about politics in education.

Gabbie Stroud has written a critical commentary of Australia's education system for the Griffith Review. Photo: SCU/Kaleb Smith
Gabbie Stroud has written a critical commentary of Australia’s education system for the Griffith Review. Photo: SCU/Kaleb Smith

If you’re going to legislate on education, it might be worth  consulting people who have the experience to make decisions for the good of every child, and not just a one-size-fits-all system that leaves kids behind or leaves them unenthused about education. What’s more, it might be worth it to stop treating data as a be-all and end-all for whether or not a system works, a fact that Gabbie Stroud, freelance writer and author, brings up when speaking of her own experience as an educator.

When Stroud was a teacher, she came to the terrifying realization that the system, which she was reinforcing by being an educator, was wrong. This realization culminated in a two-week stay in her bed, trying to deal with the reality of the education system. At the end of the day, teachers are just as much a casualty of the system as children are, being unable to help every kid who walks into their classrooms simply because they haven’t been given the tools to do so.

While the future seems a little bit bleak for the Australian education system, this panel leaves me with some hope for the future. Passionate people like today’s panelists, whether they stay in education or move on to write their experiences down, are exactly the sort of people that we should have to inform us on how to proceed. Change can only begin when we sit down and have a conversation.

Report by Megan A. Morgan, a Writing/Visual Arts student at Southern Cross University. Originally from Massachusetts, she holds a prior degree in English from Umass Amherst.

Child-led and interest-inspired learning, home education, learning differences and the impact of regulation

Abstract

Research into the impact of non-consultative home education regulatory change in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, identified clear benefits of a child-led, interest-inspired approach to learning and a negative impact on student learning and well-being outcomes, particularly for learning-differenced children, of restricted practice freedom. Autoethnographic research revealed a clear difference in practice and learning outcomes pre- and post-regulatory change. A move from a flexible regulatory process which enabled child-led, interest-inspired learning, to an inflexible, strictly regulated process that restricted the possibilities for such approaches resulted in poorer learning and corroded well-being for learning-differenced students. Analysis suggests these changed regulatory processes were founded upon a particular concept of “children’s best interests” which frames all children’s needs as identical and can make individual children’s needs invisible. In this situation, the question of how children’s best interests are defined, and by whom, becomes urgent.

Keywords

  • home education
  • homeschooling
  • child-led
  • interest-inspired
  • learning differences
  • regulation

Chris Bonner & Bernie Shepherd

   What NAPLAN results really tell us

August is when the NAPLAN test results come out to schools and parents. It isn’t as exciting as the annual release of year 12 results, but it is developing a life of its own. We are bombarded with media releases, claims and counter claims about schools and results. Cheer squads or jeer squads form up, the occasional moral panic revived, along with the usual exhortations to do better next year.

NAPLAN test scores have mostly drifted up over the years. This year’s news/panic is about the plateauing of these literacy and numeracy results. In the words of ACARA, “plateauing results are not what we should expect or assume from our education systems”.

Well, yes … and no. Sure, test scores in literacy and numeracy have apparently plateaued. We can’t say that about the rest of our “education system” because it doesn’t lend itself to tick-and-flick NAPLAN-Style testing.

But what a let-down. By most accounts schools are well into literacy and numeracy. They scramble to prepare kids for the tests, often putting aside non-testable stuff like history, art, music and the like, and these kids repay us by … plateauing?

And in the process the little flat-liners have allowed Federal Minister Simon Birmingham to rush in where angels fear to tread. In a told-you-so moment he says it once again shows that money doesn’t lead to improved results. It’s a brave call to link plateaued or poor NAPLAN scores in just 12 months to money matters, but he’s now done it twice this year, last time to a chorus of groans from educators and statisticians.

Simon Birmingham’s mantra about money and results might help him backpedal out of Gonski, but it doesn’t reflect the evidence. NSW is showing that properly targeted and sustained investment in disadvantaged schools pays off.

The minister’s real problem is one he won’t face. Yes, his government does spend up on schools, but the shambolic combination of state and federal funding means that not enough money is going to where it will make a difference. Far too much goes to students already achieving at high levels.

Gonski proposed a schools’ resourcing body to set the purpose and direction of all public funding so that it goes to where it is needed. This solution was thrown into the too-hard basket. The mismatch between funding and achievement is one consequence.

So what about the plateaued results? The reality is that they are almost certainly a product of our unique approach to schooling. A couple of decades ago England went down this high-stakes, test-driven path. The low-performing schools were beaten up (a bit of an art form in Blighty), everyone then focused on the tests, scores improved … and eventually plateaued. Kids and schools learned how to play the game, almost certainly at the expense of engagement in broader learning for the long term.

Meanwhile schools and teachers were blamed to the point where there was a serious decline in participation and commitment — and that was just from the teachers. Even today morale in English schools is not good. All the ingredients now exist for a replay of this in Australia.

Schools can always improve, but our current test regime will have little to do with it. Viewed in isolation the tests are well-constructed (?) and do tell a limited story about individual student progress. But that’s as far as it will ever go. High-stakes standardised tests don’t improve schools. It was always a nonsense to believe otherwise. Meanwhile the level of student anxiety, stress and disengagement from school is on the rise.

A second problem lies in what we conclude from the tests — and what we ignore. The annual NAPLAN results festival is built around shifting scores and the rise and fall of various states and eventually (when My School reports next year) schools. But trends in NAPLAN scores tell a much bigger story, one that is less palatable but more urgent.

As we showed a couple of months ago, a significant and very Australian problem is the growing achievement gap between those schools that increasingly enrol the strugglers and those that enrol the more advantaged. The results in the advantaged schools edge up a bit every year while the results of the strugglers head downwards. We won’t lift our overall achievement in NAPLAN or anything else until we lift the strugglers. And we won’t lift the strugglers until we properly target their schools and stop over-investing in schools that are already well-resourced.

Sadly, little will change until we reach crisis point. Maybe reaching a plateau is the beginning. Funny thing about plateaus: they go up, then level off. But at the other end is a long downward slope.

Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd are joint authors of Uneven Playing Field – the state of Australia’s schools, published by the Centre for Policy Development.