Four education claims of 2016 – reviewed

Image result for Four education claims of 2016 – reviewed2016 has been a big year in education. Debates over school funding and the nation’s poor performance in school assessments have led to the surfacing of several claims about education.

We take a closer look at some of the common claims to see if there is any truth to them.

Claim 1: More funding does not equal better outcomes

“For the majority of OECD countries there is essentially no relationship between spending per student and outcomes in PISA.”

The is a recent statement made by the education minister Simon Birmingham who drew on OECD research to talk about the lack of impact of funding on education outcomes.

But is he correct in his analysis?

When you look at an aggregate level, increased funding to the education system does not seem to make a difference.

Recent research shows that school expenditure in Australia increased by A$8 billion in the last ten years, yet the additional resources have not led to better student outcomes as judged by national and international assessments.

However, more funding to schools can make a difference – when targeted effectively to improving student learning.

The Low Socio-Economic School Communities National Partnership ran between 2009 and 2013 and targeted funding to schools in disadvantaged communities. Through this initiative, the schools that benefited from the additional funding:

  • invested in leadership and teacher development
  • provided welfare and learning support for disadvantaged students
  • used evidence to inform their decision making

There is a lot more to lifting outcomes in education than just funding, although funding is often a necessary ingredient.

Claim 2: Graduates with high ATARs are better teachers

Throughout the year, various ways of improving teacher quality have been debated.

Restricting entry to teaching degrees by capping places or introducing minimum ATAR standards have been the more popular solutions.

Victoria recently became the second state after New South Wales to announce a minimum entry standard for teaching.

ATAR is a measure of year 12 performance. How this is a measure of the broader set of capabilities that 21st-century teachers need in dynamic educational workplaces is far less clear.

Research shows that students are less likely to achieve a high ATAR if they are from a low SES background. Part of this stems from the fact that children from low SES backgrounds often start school behind their peers.

So if the ATAR is the measure of quality teaching, it means that a larger proportion of students from less affluent backgrounds – or who live further from the city – would be likely ruled out from becoming teachers.

Given the undersupply of teachers in rural areas this would be problematic.

There is a need for diverse cohorts of teachers that have the capability to respond to the diversity of student needs.

So, what is a solution?

Universities need to partner with schools to ensure their graduates can teach and lift outcomes in the reality of the modern classroom.

A key part of the solution also lies in ongoing teacher development through collaboration between schools.

Claim 3. A post-school qualification increases the chance of employment

It’s the time of year when many young people have finished school and are deciding on their future pathways.

As the job market becomes increasingly competitive for young people, some form of post-school training or degree is important, but is it enough?

Some degrees have poor employment outcomes both in the short and medium terms – for example nearly 20% of agricultural and environmental studies students who want to work full time are not in full time work three years after finishing their degrees.

This contrasts sharply with trade apprentices – over 90% of these students remain employed post training. So higher qualifications will not necessarily increase the likelihood of finding employment.

Future employment growth is likely to be the highest in areas requiring a university degree, but a high level of job growth is expected in diploma level and higher level Vocational Education and Training (VET) certificate roles as well.

Given this, it’s concerning that we are training fewer people in VET than in 2006.

A recent FYA report shows how thousands of jobs can be grouped into seven “clusters of work.” Each cluster shares a common set of capabilities or “soft skills” which are portable across multiple jobs. For instance, “The Carers” cluster has a high reliance on interpersonal skills and includes jobs such as GPs, social workers and childcare workers.

The role of VET, then, will be paramount in providing the training needed to navigate the future jobs landscape.

Claim 4. School is the most important part of education

Given the spotlight on schooling this year, one could think it the most important part of education – but is it?

School is vitally important, but learning is a dynamic process occurring at multiple stages of a child’s development – both in and outside of the classroom.

Research shows that there are certain stages in a child’s development that are optimal for learning. It is crucial to prioritise these stages to get the best learning outcomes. The early childhood years, around ages three to five, is a stage of significant growth and development:

“Important connections between the brain’s nerve cells are developed and there is rapid growth in cognitive, language and social and emotional development.”

Quality early education is critical to help children develop symbols, language and social skills – the building blocks for future learning.

Recent PISA results show the positive impact of early learning.

Children who attended a year of preschool did better than their non-attending peers. Children who attended two years performed even better. The impacts of preschool attendance were higher than the impacts of formal coaching in literacy and numeracy in the early years.

Investing in getting the foundations right should be a key priority for governments.

Adolescence and early adulthood offers another opportunity to boost learning. But, too much emphasis on academic learning during this stage can diminish self-esteem and spark disengagement.

Opportunities to develop non-cognitive skills and capabilities such as critical thinking, resilience and collaborative problem solving skills can be equally as important as acquiring knowledge.

Given that around one in four children and young people in Australia are falling behind at each educational milestone from the early years through to adulthood, governments need to look not just to schools but across the entire education continuum to target investment effectively.