Media Release – New National Education Goals Are Fatally Contradictory

A policy brief issued today by the public education advocacy group, Save Our Schools, claims that the new national education goals promulgated at the end of 2008 are fatally contradictory and fail on equity.

SOS national convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said the national commitment to reporting school results will work against improving equity in education.

“The new school year opens to follow new national education goals that will create a Janus-like school system tugged in different directions. Reporting school results and improving equity in education are incompatible goals.

“Reporting the results of individual schools makes the publication of league tables of school results inevitable. It will entrench choice and competition between schools as the fundamental organizing feature of school systems in Australia.

“The international evidence shows that equity in education is diminished where choice and competition rule. It leads to increased social segregation between schools as better-off parents use league tables to ‘vote with their feet’, as the PM says the system is designed to do. Increasing concentrations of students from low socio-economic status families in some schools tend to lead to lower average results and increase the achievement gap between rich and poor students.

“The new Melbourne Declaration of national goals for education means that the already large achievement gap between students from high and low income families in Australia will widen.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the contradictory signals of the Melbourne Declaration are compounded by its weaker commitment to improving equity.

“The SOS Policy Brief shows that the new Declaration weakens the previous Adelaide Declaration in three ways:

  • It removes the key goal of achieving social justice in schooling;
  • It increases the emphasis on equity in access to education and reduces the emphasis on achieving equity in student outcomes; and
  • It weakens the commitment to eliminating achievement gaps between students from different social groups.

“Dropping the previous goal of achieving social justice in schooling is symbolic of the retreat on equity in the new national goals.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the introduction of league tables of school results completes the Howard Government’s program to develop a national market in school education based on English and US models.

“Australian governments, led by the Rudd Government, have chosen to follow the example of the UK and the US – whose school systems generally perform worse than Australia – while ignoring the example of school systems that perform better. The highest achieving countries such as Finland and Korea don’t publish comparisons of school results.

“The Rudd Government has achieved what former Howard Government Education Minister, David Kemp, could only aspire to. Labor’s supposed revolution in education is one conceived by Kemp.”

28 January 2009

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