Christopher Pyne: ‘Going backwards’

Hello there. On Sunday, while watching “Insiders’,  I was somewhat taken aback by a few statements of Mr. Christopher Pyne, Shadow Minister for Education. See below. I wrote to him immediately.  I have not received a reply, of course; nor an indication of receipt….nor should I have expected one.  That’s okay. I expected too much….only two days.  My sincere apologies to him for my holding such great expectations. I now want to share my actions with you, presuming that, you too, will be interested in the replies to my queries when they come; perhaps comment before or after.  I do have high hopes that Mr. Pyne is an anti-high-stakes testing person; and, like all of our fair-dinkum Aussie schoolies and parents, cares about kids.

Phil C.

The Treehorn Express

[Maintained by N.Z. educator Allan Alach]


“I call it NAPORN – it’s so obscene.”  [Jan Moroney]

Christopher Pyne : ‘Going Backwards’

When I heard Liberal Shadow Education Minister Christopher Pyne say, on Sunday’s ABC program “Insiders”, that student outcomes were going backwards, I was surprised. I had neither seen nor heard of any empirical evidence of this. I was perplexed. How much had ‘they’ deteriorated? Which particular outcomes? When was the evidence gathered? Was it proof that NAPLAN had failed or did it mean something else? I decided to write to him to clear this matter up as well as seek more detail about some of his references to curriculum, principal autonomy and teacher quality.

Here is what I wrote after I introduced myself as an experienced schoolie; and emailed it on the same day as the program: Sunday, 9 Sept.2012.


Dear Christopher Pyne,

I am hoping that NAPLAN testing, the most immoral, costly, dangerous, unnecessary, curriculum-destructive, fear-driven, child-stressing stunt ever introduced to Australian schools will disappear from the schooling landscape before I do. You will know its history of how it came to be introduced and implemented. I would encourage  you to become part of the history of its disappearance….for the sake of healthy and positive child development.

I am hoping that you will be the architect of its demise, not just because its banishment will be an election winner, but [1] for the sake of children’s natural desire to learn; [2] to escape from the prevailing push for mediocrity; [3] to push for limitless success and ‘achievement’ in all part of the schools curriculum; [4] Australia’s economic and social future.

I would seriously ask you to respond to the following queries without equivocation as I should like to be able to tell those who read The Treehorn Express in Australia and other countries that Australian children will be  in safe hands by the end of next year.  I’d like to tell them as soon as I can.  Treehorn has a sympathetic public here and overseas, especially in New Zealand and the U.S. [See world renowned educator, Diane Ravitch’s blog from yesterday – Saturday, 08-09-12 ]. We should lead the world by being the first to rid it of the GERM virus [NAPLAN] and the first to establish the greatest education system ever known to mankind. It is possible.

BUT … You worry me.

1. On this morning’s ABC program, “Insiders” you said, “Certainly, student outcomes have gone backwards over the past ten years.”

Would you kindly list your authority or authorities for saying this?  What outcomes ?  Literacy, numeracy. music, art, history, geography?  Were you referring to the crumbling effects of NAPLAN on literacy and numeracy according to scores on the Paris PISA occasional test ? If so. would you be so kind as to list the empirical evidence for your statement? Do you, by the way, trust the PISA numbers?

2. You have referred, more than once, to the need for a ‘robust curriculum’. What do you mean by this?  The term ‘curriculum’ usually refers to the ‘guidance of learners through learning experiences.’ Do you intend increasing the level of fear and threats now used on teachers and children that come with NAPLAN testing?

3. “Principal autonomy” also needs some explanation. At present, school principals are forbidden to comment on NAPLAN testing. Teachers are also forbidden and, now, the members of Parents and Citizens members in some states have to give such an undertaking or they will not be allowed on school premises. Will you free each group from such totalitarian demands as a first step towards autonomy?

4. “Teacher quality” is also a favourite expression in your ‘new reform’ repertoire. Will you or one of your writers please explain what you mean, without the use of numbers? There is a prevailing assumption that when Julia and her cohort mention this, they are pointing to those who can pass a numeracy and literacy test and, therefore, raise children’s scores on any kind of test. Did you have other qualities in mind.?  Most of us who have been there and done that, have.

Have you a plan to attract the best of the best to follow teaching as a career?

I am anxious to receive your reply and assure fair-dinkum schoolies, parents and children that their future is not as bleak as it is now.



A suggestion from Brian Cambourne.
Mr. Pyne’s email address is
Please ask him to respond to your question about one or more of these issues.


Kids matter       Vote KIDS – NOT tests      Ban NAPLAN


Aussie politicians…..please….THINK kids….



I’m genuinely apolitical. I will vote for the party that promises to ban NAPLAN. That’s it.  I’m sure that there is a very large number of teachers and parents who feel the same way. [An informal vote it is, if I can’t find a party that cares about kids….cares about our future.] No party has yet expressed any interest in improving learning conditions for school children. They have had every opportunity to do so; but, each, so hung-up and confused by invalid scores and numbers, can’t!   It’s very serious.  All the ramblings in Australia about migrants and coal gas are minor issues. Decent schooling is our real future. The future goes for ever and ever.  You can’t put numbers on it.

New Zealand’s Leader of the Opposition, David Shearer, has something going for him. He’s thinking about schooling. Can Labour transfer him across the ditch? He’s sure needed here. While he didn’t say, as bluntly as he should have, that he would ban NZ’s ‘Standards’ tests, he went close.:-  “National  [The conservative ruling party] has spent the past four years trying to tell you that if we only measure the problem, things will get better.

Well, it wont. As the saying goes : ‘You can weigh a pig as much as you like; it won’t get any fatter.”


Kelvin Smythe, prominent NZ educator, comments, with cautious applause for the politician mentioned. “Labour has done something right at last and is onto something of a winner. [Listening Christopher?]  The beauty of what has been announced by Shearer is that it puts the ugliness and unhappiness of National’s [the ruling party – c.f. Australia’s Labor] education policies into stark relief. [Still listening Christopher?] Kelvin Smythe continues by quoting from David Shearer, deservedly NZ’s next Prime Minister, that its present government [Still listening Christopher?] is “…systematically undermining the very values that make our education system great.”[Yep Christopher. That’s what Julia has done. What’s your views?]

“And…we listened with stirring of hope in our hearts.”


“We need to shift the focus to children and not just the tests. Children need to shake hands with their brains and develop their emotional literacy in classrooms that are joyful.”

[Goldie Hawn]

Yes, Christopher!  Goldie! Are you listening?









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One thought on “Christopher Pyne: ‘Going backwards’

  1. Hi Phil,
    I congratulate you on your decision to take the fight up to Christopher Pine. I’m sure there’s a decent human being in there somewhere, but I fear it is suppressed in the pursuit of government at any cost. Even if he were to respond positively to your questions and ‘demonstrate’ some sympathy for your views, I fear that as a ‘conservative’ he is more naturally attracted to the ‘measure it to death’ fraternity, and would behave rather differently when he becomes the Minister for Education. His repetition of the ‘falling standards, principal autonomy, accountable teachers’ mantra is code for MORE MEASUREMENT, MORE PUNISHMENT, MORE FEAR! I believe that the only chance we have of ‘turning’ Mister Pine is if one of his children, or those of a close relative suffers as a result of the Gillard policy.

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