Among the many things that have gone wrong in NSW schools, standards and discipline have declined as badly as teacher quality and academic attainment. This is what happens inside struggling institutions: problems in several areas feed off each other, creating a downward spiral of organisational quality and confidence.
NSW school results are going backwards, compared to other countries and other States. Many government schools have moved closer to a ‘welfare’ model of education, particularly in disadvantaged towns and suburbs. In response to falling standards and results, teachers tend to focus on the pastoral care of students – a social worker outlook.
Tests are abandoned, supposedly because they put too much pressure on students. Bad behaviour is rationalised along the lines of: ‘the kids have it tough at home, so we give them an easy time at school’. Fad concerns about ‘growth mindset’ and ‘mental wellness’ play into this new welfarist culture.
Over time, the role of schools has shifted from academic excellence and skill development to social work goals, such as ‘keeping the students happy’ and ‘at least they are growing socially at our school’. Inevitably, parents who want decent scholastic standards for their children go elsewhere, adding to the problem of government school residualisation.
One Nation will restore standards in our schools by emphasising the importance of testing and grading. We will:
1. Stress the importance of resilience over fragility, with school performance measures related solely to staff and student achievement. We will seek to abolish the welfare school model, demanding and expecting all schools to focus on academic and vocational skill development. Social skills are primarily and responsibility of parents and families, while health-related issues are best left to health professionals.
2. Strongly support the NAPLAN system and full transparency in school results on the My School website.
3. Strongly support a rigorous process of HSC testing, marking and grading – recognising that pressure is an important part of life, an opportunity for these Year 12 students to learn more about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses. The recent trend in these tests for students memorising and rote-learning essays needs to be reversed, in favour of a stronger knowledge base and ability to spontaneously answer a range of questions.
4. Expect all schools to administer a regular system of classroom testing and assessment, across all years and all subjects. These should be proper measures of student ability, not watered down quasi-tests or ‘tasks’, with cheat sheets, open books, peer assessment etc. We believe testing should be at the forefront of the learning process:what gets tested gets taught.
5. Emphasise and reward individual effort in schools, abandoning the fad for ‘group work’, with its many unfair and counter-productive outcomes.
6. Insist on a clearly delineated A-to-E grading system that gives students, parents and teachers an accurate report on achievements and failures. In the secondary years, performance should be subject to annual rankings of the student body.
7. Expect all schools to run their assemblies and presentation days with a focus on rewarding and recognising excellence. At the moment in NSW, schools have autonomy over such matters, leading to the ‘all must have prizes’ mentality. It should be mandatory, for instance, to award a School Dux and prizes for students who top their year in various subjects.
8. Survey parents who take their children out of schools, thereby measuring dissatisfaction levels and entrenched problems in a practical way. This should be part of the My School reporting process (while protecting privacy), providing full transparency about issues that force families out of certain schools.
9. Remove political and fad teaching content from the curriculum, thereby upholding the highest academic standards. One Nation particularly opposes Leftist attempts to ‘feminise’ learning materials and content. When this happened to Year 12 physics several years ago (moving from mathematical problem-solving to softer qualitative responses), Professor Michelle Simmons (the 2018 Australian of the Year) described it as a “disaster”, with a “big cost” in the quality of student outcomes. We support Professor Simmons’ view that “we need to be teaching all students, girls and boys, to have high expectations of themselves.”
10. Link secondary school funding to school performance, by tracking outcomes for Year 12 graduates (university entry and job placement, measured relative to socio-economic indicators). To receive additional funding, schools will be forced to focus on these real-life outcomes, rather than nebulous social, political and ‘mindfulness’ issues.
Ending Welfare Schooling
Repairing one problem area in a welfare school is insufficient. Reform is needed across the institution, fixing all issues simultaneously. One Nation is opposed to the welfare model, given that it betrays the best interests of students. When they leave school, pastoral and social work care will not help them find a job. Indeed, the evidence suggests that students from this system themselves end up on welfare, extending the cycle of disadvantage.
One Nation believes the best way of overcoming government school residualisation is to lift the standards and results of struggling schools. The more disadvantaged the school, the more this holds true. Our policies are not just about academic results; they also aim to improve social fairness.
We have identified a major reform agenda for restoring standards and discipline in all NSW schools:
Success in education comes from a combination of opportunity and pressure. The opportunity to benefit from high-quality teaching and learning resources, with the pressure to succeed that comes from high expectations, regular testing, rigorous grading and a strong study ethic.
Under Labor and the Coalition, ‘pressure’ has become a dirty word in school education. It is associated with ‘anxiety’ and ‘mental illness’. Instead of teaching resilience, government schools are pushing fragility, positioning learning as a social activity requiring ‘lifestyle skills’.
The rise of Snowflake Schooling runs counter to the Australian cultural tradition of toughness and persistence. It also encourages students to find a range of excuses for a lack of effort and performance. It downgrades the importance of excellence and academic achievement.
None of this is doing students a favour. When they join the workforce or small business sector, resilience will be valued ahead of fragility. In Year 12 exam preparation, many schools instruct students in ‘de-stressing’ and ‘relaxation techniques’. Yet in practice, hard work and solid preparation – the feeling of being on top of the subject – is the best way of avoiding stress on exam morning.
The problem starts at the top of the education system. Minister Rob Stokes has called for NAPLAN to be dumped, while his Labor counterpart, Jihad Dib,has urged him to go a step further: immediately removing NAPLAN results from the My School website. This is typical of Leftist thinking in education. The response to falling students outcomes is to shoot the messenger, to abolish the mechanism by which outcomes can be measured, compared across the country and then reported to parents.
The anti-testing sentiment in NSW is strong. In 2018 the Berejiklian Government said the number of school-based tests should be limited “to reduce excessive student stress”. High schools have developed ‘key performance indicators’ for lowering anxiety levels. In some schools, the only junior year testing that occurs is NAPLAN. Even some selective schools, traditionally bastions of high standards in public education, have abolished tests in Years 7-10 English.
The Labor Opposition has said it will place the Higher School Certificate under review, criticising these tests as “too rigid”. This is part of the new Labor philosophy of watering down standards and attacking the testing process as “too stressful”. There was a time when the ALP promoted rigour and pressure in education as a poor child’s passport to a better life, but that time has long passed.
We shouldn’t be surprised by reports of students worrying about NAPLAN. They can get to Year 3 without ever having seen a test paper or completed a class quiz. In schools where testing is common, students are more likely to take NAPLAN in their stride. They have seen it all before. Only in schools opposed to testing is ‘anxiety’ a big issue – in many respects, a self-fulfilling drama.
The anti-testing culture is manifesting itself in strange ways. One trend is to rebadge ‘tests’ as ‘tasks’ – more Leftist PC in schools. Open book exams, ‘cheat sheet’ access and peer assessment (students grading the work of other students) have also become common. At every turn, the basic concept of testing students in our schools is under siege – a setback for educational outcomes.
Another regressive trend is the rise of ‘group work’ and assessment. Invariably, group projects are completed by the hard work of one or two students, while others in the group float along, contributing little and learning little. Then each student gets the same mark, regardless of effort – the methods of the old Soviet Union converted into NSW schooling.
Naturally this unfair process causes resentment between students. Group-work fads like ‘project-based learning’ are promoted as a way of building social skills among students (as they work cooperatively together) but in reality, they have the opposite impact. The best educational outcomes come from rewarding and marking individual effort, rather than treating schools as a Leftist commune.
Even the notion of grading students is in jeopardy. Minister Stokes has endorsed the Gonski 2.0 recommendation to abandon an A-to-E reporting system and replace it with the vague notion of ‘progression points’. This is also Labor policy, advocated by its Federal spokesperson Tanya Plibersek.
This is a world in which no one fails at school, a denial of reality. It’s part of the ‘all must have prizes’ Leftist mentality. Indeed, the surest way of identifying a welfare school is to attend its assemblies and presentation days and note the extraordinary number of ‘participation certificates’ being handed out. It’s like the old Soviet Union: no matter the effort and result, everyone gets the same reward.
In reality, success and failure is a regular part of life-after-school. So-called ‘progressive education’ thinks it is doing students a favour by abolishing tests and grades, but it’s actually leaving them under-prepared for later in life. It is also taking away the pressure needed for educational excellence – a betrayal of student welfare.