The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

‘Failing schools’ are a failure of government

The concept of the under-performing school is simply a tool for politicians to disguise their own unwillingness to provide appropriate resources to the education system to help lessen the impact of social inequality.

So says Graeme Smithies, recently retired from 35 years in schools, in The Age today. A refreshing statement of the bleeding obvious about the state of public education in Australia. These are the best bits:

The apparent underperformance by many of the students in those schools is a direct result of factors outside the control of the school – the socio-economic, demographic and family factors that children have experienced before they start school, and which they continue to experience in the 17 hours of every school day that they are not at school.

For more than 40 years researchers have identified a variety of socio-economic factors that can influence a child’s educational performance. Proponents of the underperforming school fallacy seem to ignore these factors.

I have never seen a definition of what constitutes an underperforming school, but those who use the term generally imply that the academic performance of its students, as measured by VCE results or literacy and numeracy testing, is below expected standards, or the standards achieved by schools in different suburbs.

The implication is that teachers at such a school are not doing their jobs well enough – and if they work harder, improve their methods or are replaced by better teachers, the problem will be solved.

The concept of the underperforming or failing school is based on a number of myths. The first is that student performance is entirely dependent on what happens in school, and that it is a consequence solely of the activities of teachers and principals and not of any factors outside the school.

The second myth is that all students come to school equally prepared, with equal ability and with equal levels of motivation, so that all they need is excellent teaching to excel.

Students who start school with the best chances of ultimate success will come from a home where the parents are well educated and where education is highly valued; where the child’s imagination and cognitive development have been stimulated and enriched by a wide variety of play and other creative experiences; where English is the first language, and the parents and other adults with whom the child has contact have strong linguistic skills in the English language.

They will come from homes where the child is read to frequently, the parents read and are seen to enjoy reading, and there is a large variety of reading matter; and the child has had at least a year of pre-school experience before starting school.

The absence of any or all of these factors will affect a child’s readiness for school. Lower parental levels of education, limited linguistic ability, lack of reading and books in the home, little use of the English language in families of non-English-speaking backgrounds, high levels of family unemployment and non-attendance at kindergarten are all more prevalent in the northern and western suburbs.

Rather than grapple with these issues, Howard chose to divert funds from public education to the private sector, exploiting every opportunity to create fear that public schools are failing, are valueless, only for povo’s, and it’s all the fault of those lazy leftist and elitist unionised ideologues known as teachers, and we’ll spend countless millions on testing the kids to prove it and show you that we’re tough in The War on Education.

Rather than ‘our failing schools’ it might be more instructive to regard the problem as a symptom of ‘our failing society’. Even in relatively affluent but time poor families, many kids from the earliest age grow up exposed to a mind numbing stream of sensational and trivial trash media dedicated to encouraging unsustainable and insatiable consumption of everything from junk food to lifestyles in the pursuit of pleasure and the illusion of happiness. Family and community are sacrificed on the altar of free market capitalism. As individuals we are driven by our vanities and insecurities to fear, anger, anxiety, intoxication, depression and unhappiness in ever greater numbers. And that’s just those of us who are well-educated and relatively affluent! In economically underprivileged areas, the problems are exacerbated with violence and crime.

The only long term answer to these problems is education, and lots of it. To continue the blame game as we have been doing for the last 12 years is simply shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. We are failing our schools, the students and the families they serve.

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Filed under: Education, Howardians, Ideology, Politics,

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