The major parties have failed the students of NSW. Successive Labor and Coalition Governments have created a substandard school system that increasingly focuses on political material rather than academic content. They have allowed standards, discipline and teacher quality to deteriorate, producing an inevitable decline in student results (for global comparisons, see Appendix below).
Dismal international outcomes are also reflected in domestic testing. NAPLAN has reported mediocre results in NSW in most subjects, with a noticeably sharp decline in writing skills over the past decade. In October 2018, the Grattan Institute reported that, in terms of relative student progress from Year 3 to Year 5 in NAPLAN, NSW was below the national average in each of numeracy, reading and writing. No wonder the teachers’ union wants to abolish NAPLAN, to shoot the messenger, as it exposes flaws in the classroom teaching system they helped to create.
Far from leading the nation, in terms of educational quality, NSW is a struggling State. Our system is weak and getting weaker. As Australia drops down international league tables, NSW is dropping even faster.
The tragedy of declining school results is that they hit disadvantaged students hardest. A good school is a poor child’s passport to a better life. Without this opportunity, they are left stranded in troubled, welfare dependent neighbourhoods and towns.
The major parties say they are ‘investing in education’ but they are not yielding results where it matters most. A 2017 study in the Australian Journal of Education found that nearly a third of government high schools in Sydney were “neither efficient nor effective” in lifting student performance between years 10 and 12.
The problem was concentrated in Western and South-Western Sydney, where over 40 percent of high schools were found to be ineffective. These are places most urgently in need of educational excellence, yet their schools are struggling to add value to students’ results and life opportunities. It’s a social justice disaster.
Throwing money at the problem is not an answer. Without major reform of schools and improvements to the teaching profession, most of the extra Federal Government Gonski money will be wasted. Indeed, our schools have never had more resources available to them, but their results have never been weaker.
Studies have shown, for instance, that per student Australian schools spend 40 to 100 percent more than schools in South Korea and Shanghai. Yet in these Asian systems, students record stronger academic results, usually with double the number of high-achievers across all subject areas.
Anyone who thinks NSW is preparing its young people to compete effectively against our international rivals needs to think again. The crisis in the schools system will eventually threaten our prosperity and place in the world. This is not a time for soft, accommodating interest-group politics, pacifying the teachers’ union and ‘progressive educationalists’. It’s a time for serious public policy reform.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation believes in an honest assessment of the problem and implementing much-needed changes. We want to work with teachers, rewarding them as a highly valued profession, so that together, we put the interests of students and parents first. We want to uplift the aspirations, spirit and performance of everyone in the system, ending the era of dismal NSW schooling.
A logical starting point is in repairing the curriculum. The system has lost focus on the core purpose of school education: to maximise the knowledge, skills and ability of every student, consistent with the hopes and values of their family and guiding principles of their nation.
Instead, the NSW curriculum has been over-run by fad Left-wing subjects and teaching methods. Our government schools have become social laboratories for the worst aspects of identity politics and cultural Marxism, with our children being used as guinea pigs. The over-riding purpose of One Nation’s NSW education policy is to rid the system of these influences and return it to the basics of learning. We have identified five areas of curriculum repair.
First, learn-to-read programs must include the explicit teaching of phonics. Despite the overwhelming weight of evidence supporting this approach, the education system persists in pursuing fad ideas and practices.
For instance, the NSW Government’s Language, Learning and Literacy (L3) program, taught to more than 16,000 Kindergarten to Year 2 students, only teaches phonics incidentally. It is based on a New Zealand project called ‘Picking Up The Pace’, which is described as a “socio-cultural, co-constructivist view” whereby “language and meaning are a way of thinking, feeling and acting in a social practice” – that is, post-modernist pap.
L3 is part of the Government’s Early Action for Success (EAfS) literacy and numeracy strategy. Evaluation reports highlight how 77 percent of the schools that joined EAfS in 2013 had either negligible or negative changes in Year 3 NAPLAN reading scores. This is not surprising, as L3 uses a methodology similar to the flawed, now abandoned Reading Recovery program.
Unfortunately, the NSW Government keeps repeating the same mistake. L3 should be abandoned, as should any reading program relying on whole-word teaching. Systematic, explicit instruction in phonics must be taught throughout the schools system, with improved teacher training in this vital discipline. This is the best, evidence-based way of lifting literacy rates across the State.
Second, high school English has become more like a tutorial in identity politics than the development of comprehension and writing skills and study of the great works of English literature. If students choose to pursue politics at university, good luck to them. But it shouldn’t be compulsory during their school years under the fraudulent banner of English.
Large parts of the NSW high school English syllabus now focus on identity issues, promoting gender theory and the politics of ‘diversity’. The curriculum stresses how, “Students experience and value difference and diversity in their everyday lives. Age, beliefs, gender, language and race are some of the factors that comprise difference and diversity. English provides students with opportunities to deal with difference and diversity in a positive and informed manner, showing awareness, understanding and acceptance.”
Students are asked to “identify the ways in which cultural assumption is presented in texts, for example, gender, religion, disability and culture.” The “conventions of speech” are said to “influence community identity” while language “embodies assumptions about issues such as gender, ethnicity and class.”
Multimedia, film, animation and speech studies have been introduced, usually with intensely political content, such as the actress Emma Watson’s address to the United Nations promoting Left-feminism. The class time allocated for studying the classics of prose, plays and poetry has been substantially reduced. For Years 7-10 students, the NSW syllabus contains no requirement for reading novels, let alone the great works.
For the few classics that remain in the classroom, they have been recast through the prism of Leftist politics. Even the meaning of Emily Bronte’s work has been rewritten. In the NSW curriculum, “Wuthering Heights is traditionally read as a novel about intense human relationships but contemporary alternative readings include a political reading, seeing it as a novel of social class and bourgeois exploitation in Victorian England and a gendered reading, with gender stereotypes.”
In Year 10 English, students have to answer the question, “Is This Who We Really Are?” It’s part of a unit on “Media Gender Representations”, with the goal of “making young people aware that besides media representation, gender stereotypes also exist and are perpetuated by many factors, such as peer pressure, family upbringing, culture and tradition.”
Like the insidious Safe Schools program, it seeks to pressure students into disregarding the things they have learnt in the family home. The unit presents students with a list of so-called gendered adjectives, including “clever”, “decisive”, “responsible”, “hardworking”, “leader” and even “frigid” – a bizarre English exercise in sex education.
In Years 11 and 12, post-modernist texts have become common, such as Alain de Botton’s ridiculous ‘The Art of Travel’. The author constantly complains of how the things he is witnessing as a tourist are not real. This is typical of the post-modernist agenda: encouraging young people to believe that all they know and feel about themselves and society is inherently fluid, that there is no valid reality in their young lives. This is not the study of English, but an attempt at Leftist indoctrination, whereby facts and knowledge are said to be “socially constructed”.
Third, HSC electives such as ‘Society and Culture’ are the equivalent of Left-wing sociology teaching, denying students a balanced view of politics and social issues. To give one example: in April 2018 parents at Leumeah High School in South-West Sydney objected to the lopsided framing of a ‘Society and Culture’ exam question on ‘Muslim exclusion’. The question was an exercise in blaming non-Muslims, while ignoring the way in which some Islamic communities have excluded themselves from mainstream society through the formation of ethnic enclaves.
Among the students, there was a clear expectation the highest marks would be awarded for essays and answers that were sympathetic to the Islamic community. That is, if they ran the Left-wing line of Muslims being hard done-by because Australia is a racist nation. This is typical of the ‘Society and Culture’ elective: a one-way exercise in identity and grievance politics, rather than genuine analysis and social justice. The course needs to be overhauled to guarantee balanced content.
Fourth, there has been an attempt in NSW schools to sideline parents and indoctrinate children with notions of ‘gender fluidity’ as a regular, even desirable part of life. In returning schools to the basics of education it is essential that they leave parenting issues (such as gender, sexuality and other forms of personal identity) to parents. Educators must respect the importance of the nuclear family in society. They must teach students academic knowledge and vocational skills, supplementing the work of parents, rather than trying to replace them.
There are some fine teachers in NSW schools but for parents, ultimately, they are relative strangers in our lives. Parents have 24/7 responsibilities with their children, as the core source of love, guidance and pastoral care in their lives. When the schooling is finished, good parents are still there, always there, to deal with the issues and challenges facing their children.
With the march of identity politics through Australia’s public institutions, there has been an attempt to use schools as indoctrination chambers. The authors of the insidious Safe Schools and Respectful Relationships programs have openly admitted this. As the Victorian academic Roz Ward admitted, the programs aim to foster “gender and sexual diversity” as part of “Marxist human liberation”.
They hope to make young people confused about their gender and sexual identity, dismayed by what society has supposedly done to them. In these circumstances, young people are more likely to rebel against the existing social order – a key Marxist goal. Gender fluidity teaching is not designed to help young people but to use them for political purposes.
In the drift away from the basics of learning, NSW schools are also engaged in mental health programs. In truth, the best thing they can do for the mental wellbeing of their students is to stop pushing dangerous notions of gender and sexuality fluidity. Telling children as young as five they can be boys one day and girls the next is a form of political child abuse, and should be treated as such.
At its core, fluidity teaching is an anti-educational activity. With very few exceptions, people are born either male or female – a basic truth of biological science. Programs like Safe Schools and Respectful Relationships undermine the legitimacy of science in our schools, a self-defeating outcome. They should be abolished, along with similar indoctrination lessons in physical, health and sex education and library resources.
Fifth, instead of concentrating on the development of basic knowledge and skills, NSW schools have drifted into teaching vague, new-age-type concepts such as ‘growth mindset’, ‘soft skills’, ‘general capabilities’ and health services like ‘mental wellness’. Not surprisingly, distractions such as these have weakened academic results. Students are missing out on the foundations of learning: the essential content in literacy, numeracy, science and history they need later in life to deal with the challenges of economic and social change.
Having sent the ABC backwards during his 10 years as managing director, in 2016 Mark Scott was recruited by his family friend Premier Mike Baird to be head of the NSW Education Department. As a student and a parent, he had no experience with government schools. Instead, he’s doing to them what he did to the ABC: allowing Leftist propaganda to flourish, based on new-age theories and political correctness, rather than a hard-nosed, evidence-based approach to education.
Scott has written of how a “growth mindset” is needed for students to deal with “greater complexity and a more demanding world.” He sees himself as some kind of ‘mind whisperer’ recasting the way in which students think. While this might play well on pop-psychology programs on Radio National, it has no evidence base in school education.
Indeed, recently published meta-data analysis has shown that the correlation between ‘growth mindset’ and academic achievement is very weak. Mindset is a personal trait that cannot be purposefully developed by schools. Placing it at the centre of school education programs and assessment processes is both futile and reckless, especially given the way in which other, more grounded and evidence-based teaching methods have been downgraded.
Under the banner of ‘mindfulness’ and ‘mental wellness’, NSW schools are dropping their standards, testing requirements and homework expectations to achieve a different type of classroom result: less stress, less anxiety, less discomfort. Naturally, some students are milking this new approach to minimise their workload. Like other parts of society, ‘anxiety’ (what we used to call ‘worrying too much’) has become an all-purpose alibi for avoiding effort and responsibility. The rise of the ‘snowflake school’ model in NSW has coincided with the State’s slide down international league tables.
Commonsense tells us that critical and creative thinking is impossible without a strong foundation in knowledge, logic and rationality – that is, the qualities of the Enlightenment and the classics of Western civilisation. Extensive research studies in education have confirmed this point. Pressure and resilience also play an essential role in the learning process – helping students to test their abilities and extend themselves.
Across the curriculum, attempts are being made to incorporate political content, through the rise of PC and identity politics. In 2018, for instance, the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority published 95 ways in which science teachers can incorporate Indigenous culture into their lessons. This included students supposedly understanding the transformation of energy by studying Aboriginal fire techniques. One Nation strongly believes subjects should be taught with rigour, integrity and political independence, avoiding superfluous cultural content.
In September 2018 the NSW Government announced yet another review of the school curriculum, to be led by Geoff Masters from the Australian Council for Educational Research. A sharp U-turn is required. Schools need to drop the modern obsession with turning themselves into political laboratories, gender fluidity factories, mental health clinics, social work centres and cultural propaganda tutorials. Students have parents, extended families, local communities and other government services to help them address non-educational issues in their lives.
Unless the Masters review returns to the basics of learning and the NSW Education Department finds better leadership, the State’s schools will continue to regress. We will have ‘growth mindset’ but not growth in academic results. We will have students who have heard of ‘gendered words’ and the sins of colonisation but cannot read or write. We will produce a generation of young people better equipped for attending an anti-Australia Day rally than finding a job, building a career and competing successfully in the global economy.
In summary, One Nation will reform the NSW school curriculum by:
Ensuring that learn-to-read programs are based on the benefits of the explicit teaching of phonics, with improved teaching training for this task. Whole-word methods and the current L3 program (Language, Learning, Literacy) will be abolished.
Removing politically biased content from the English curriculum, especially divisive identity politics and post-modernism. Increased class time and assessment weight will be given to the development of comprehension, writing skills and reading the classics of English literature.
Reforming the ‘Society and Culture’ course to provide balanced, evidence-based content and teaching.
Removing any promotion of gender and sexual fluidity in the NSW curriculum, in course work, pastoral programs, library resources and classroom teaching. The State Government should also inform universities that teachers trained in gender theory/fluidity are less likely to be hired in NSW schools than those who have no such training.
Eliminating fad teaching programs, political correctness, identity politics and other distractions from the curriculum. NSW schools must get back to basics – giving students the strongest possible base of knowledge and research skills from which to develop higher forms of learning and creativity in their lives.
Appendix: Australian Schools Sliding Down International League Tables
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), measures the skills and knowledge of 15-year-olds (as they near the end of their compulsory school years) across 72 OECD countries or partner economies. In every discipline NSW has experienced a hefty decline in academic attainment over the past decade.
In reading literacy, Australia now ranks behind comparable countries such as New Zealand, Canada and Ireland, plus Asian competitor nations Singapore and Japan. More than 40 percent of NSW students failed to reach the National Proficient Standard, ranking the State behind Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT. Since 2000 our results have fallen by 36 points (the second biggest drop in Australia).
In mathematical literacy, Australia’s performance was significantly behind 19 countries. Forty-five percent of NSW students failed to reach the National Proficient Standard, ranking us behind Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT. Since 2003 NSW has experienced a 32-point decline in results (while Victoria and the Northern Territory had no decline).
In scientific literacy, Australia ranked 10th internationally, again behind Singapore, Japan and Canada. More than 40 percent of NSW students fell short of the National Proficient Standard. Since 2006 NSW has suffered the biggest decline in scientific literacy scores in Australia, with a 27-point drop.
Some of the results are straight-out embarrassing. In 2016, in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Australia fell behind Kazakhstan – making us the butt of Borat jokes. Over a four-year period, we fell from 18th place internationally to 28th in Year 4 maths; 12th to 17th in Year 8 maths; 12th to 17th in Year 8 science; and stayed at 25th place in Year 4 science.