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Standing Committee on Education and Employment

HALL, Mr Michael John, President, ACT Principals Association; Principal, Erindale College; Director, Australian Secondary Principals Association Ltd

Committee met at 11:39

CHAIR ( Ms Rishworth ): I declare open this fifth public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment inquiry into the Australian Education Bill 2012. The bill was referred to the committee on 29 November 2012. The Australian Education Bill 2012 sets out three goals for Australian schooling: first, to provide an excellent education for all students; second, for Australian schooling to be highly equitable; and third, for Australian schooling to be placed in the top five countries in reading, science and mathematics. Quality and equity are to be recognised by international testing by 2025. The bill commits the Commonwealth to work collaboratively with states and territories, the non-government sector and other partners to meet these goals through developing and implementing a national plan for school improvement and needs based funding arrangements. The Australian Education Bill follows the Australian government's commissioned review into school funding presented in late 2011, otherwise known as the Gonski review. It is a framework for establishing the future direction of education in this country.

We have held hearings with a range of stakeholders—teachers, principals, parents and citizens associations, academics, unions, community and youth organisations—in Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. We look forward to continuing the discussions today in Canberra. We will be raising some of those stakeholders' views with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations later. I now welcome the representative from the Australian Secondary Principals Association to today's hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. Thank you for your submission. I invite you to make an opening statement to your submission before we proceed to questions.

Mr Hall : ASPA thanks the committee and the government for allowing us both to present a submission and to appear before this committee. We congratulate our policymakers for engaging in what is often referred to as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. ASPA's view of the education bill is informed very much by the work that we have been doing in relation to the future of education, particularly secondary education, in this country.

In reading both the bill and the information that has come with the bill, the explanatory memorandum, we ask a question about particularly the preamble: how come this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is not taking what we believe is a truly revolutionary change to how education is conceived in Australia? Looking forward to a 21st-century environment in this country, there are a number of observations ASPA would make and I will paint a bit of context around that as I go. We certainly acknowledge and applaud the work of the Gonski panel for the way in which they have gone about looking at the notion of funding. We recognise that that is a huge challenge for our policymakers to come to grips with. We encourage you to make sure that that is achieved before any changes happen further down the track.

The other component in relation to the bill itself is also in the preamble. Our suggestion would be that it is actually a little limiting. It is a little limiting in the sense that it tries to describe an education environment that is measured as improving by measures that potentially cannot grasp the full nature of education. I will talk a bit about that at the moment, but we are encouraging the government and all members of parliament to look at how we might include the Melbourne declaration goals as a significant part of this education bill, because we secondary educators and principals across the nation applaud what is inherent in those goals. We would encourage some revisiting of the bill in relation to how those goals may be included.

The notion of a national plan for school improvement is equally applauded for its intent. We understand the difficulties in the role of the Commonwealth government providing education in each jurisdiction is somewhat limited and that will determine what is included in the national plan and how the plan is implemented in each of the jurisdictions. We applaud the push by all governments to work together to come up with an approach that truly is representative of a 21st-century learning and teaching environment.

The five focus areas within the areas for reform around quality teaching, quality learning, the empowered school, leadership, transparency, accountability and meeting student need generally are themes that we agree with. One of the key aspects for ASPA, as representing government secondary school principals, is perhaps that there is a bit of an understatement about leadership and the leadership role. Depending on the definition of 'empowered school leadership', which again probably needs teasing out, we are particularly keen on having the bill emphasise the place of leadership in making a difference to the schooling outcomes for young people. It is our belief that sound leadership and effective leadership bring about change in teacher practice and research around teacher practice making the single biggest difference in student learning outside their inherent characteristics.

We would like to ensure that the empowered school leadership takes on a broader scope. For example, a recent OECD document 'Preparing teachers and developing school leaders for the 21st-century: lessons from around the world', a 2012 document, has a concluding paragraph, on page 29, that I will make reference to. It gives a broad ranging scope of what school autonomy, or principal autonomy, or local leadership, or any of those connected themes might be. It lists significantly a range of factors which I do not think have been captured in current government practice and through the national partnership arrangements in empowering local schools.

Just to note, I am in that initiative as a principal currently in the Empowering Local Schools initiative. I have just completed the AITSL flagship program of local leaders that included visits to the UK, amongst other things. Informing my view and informing the view of ASPA, we are looking at world practice. As a concluding comment, without going into too much detail of what you may wish to ask me about, ASPA has held over the last four years a national forum where we discuss the issues of what is a 21st-century secondary school learning environment and what it might look like. We have explored with experts from around the world what lessons Australia can learn. The last one, which was held here in Canberra just last July, came up with six 'big ideas' for education.

The big ideas—just to state a couple— included that 'the role of educators is to facilitate a collision of ideas'. In that, there is very little to control and delimit what is taught and learnt in a school, so it is more about the nature of the thinking that goes as an essential part of 21st century life.

Another idea was the need for a new paradigm for how we do schooling, how we envisage schooling. And there are a range of approaches identified in documents from around the world, like the Innovation Unit out of the UK. One mentions the 'big picture' approach to learning, which is a very 'one student at a time' approach. I mention that because that is an approach being adopted in my own school. It is a growing international notion where students attend to learning in a different model to that which exists.

The last one I will mention is that it requires a new leadership, a notion of principal leadership, that we have yet to come to grips with. How do we go about making change that matters?

I guess, like most principals, I could talk for another hour on things that I am passionate about, but perhaps I will leave it at that.

CHAIR: Thank you. I will ask a question. We are a bit limited for time. We will get each of the committee members to ask a question as well. My question is around the concept of the loadings and how that potentially changes the way—how will that enable you to change the way you fund your school? I am interested to hear, from a principal's perspective, whether or not you see that as a positive; to how it currently works for disadvantaged students and the different areas, whether it is a negative. I am interested to hear your views on that.

Mr Hall : The basic premise of the Gonski funding model ASPA applauds. The notion of the loadings is certainly something that we recognise. Our membership covers every breadth of the country. So the notion of identifying areas of educational disadvantage, as the Gonski panel have done, is certainly something we support. The notion of a base level of funding and the notion of loadings on those areas of disadvantage are something that we applaud. What that would do for me in Canberra is perhaps less relevant than if I were a principal in the outback of New South Wales.

But there is no doubt that being provided extra dollars—in terms of resource together with the empowered notion of leadership, to bring in some of those services that in the past have been difficult to access because you are looking at either a user-pays service or you are looking at an intergovernment-agency agreement approach; certainly the flexibility that will provided to engage different models of solving local problems—will be a huge advantage. We would certainly support that notion.

Mr RAMSEY: Thanks, Michael. I would have to say that I was surprised and disappointed the bill is so vague. There is a lack of detail, and the bill is very short—we believe it has a clause saying that it is non-binding on government. You were speaking just before about this idea that principals in schools will have more autonomy; yet, that, on the other hand, you are going to be asked to collect data on all kinds of new things. Presumably, there will be some decision-making process at some level around that data. You will be expected to examine the skills of your teaching staff, under some formula that is unknown at this stage. Are you concerned that, while there is talk about autonomy, you may actually find yourself in as much red tape, or more, as you are in?

Mr Hall : Principals are always worried about red tape. Truly empowered principals—and I believe I currently am under current arrangements—it is really sometimes about doing what matters to students and communities and 'do with' them, and then respond around the requirements that are for other purposes and other needs. So, in my own context, I focus on teacher performance as a fundamental; and around our students' needs and the partnerships we can generate as fundamental. In doing those things, the outcomes that may be measurable outcomes, like evidence base around student performance on some set of testing regimes, should look after themselves.

I do not want to see—and ASPA does not want to see—a range of accountabilities that are unintelligent, just a collection of data. I make reference to the bill, and we would contest the goal that says 'in 2025 we will be the top five highest-performing countries based on performance of Australian school students in reading, mathematics and science' as such a limiting set of measures of success of schooling. If we limit ourselves to that which is easily measured, which is part of the challenge—and I know part of the political reality is how do you actually quantify that there is value in the investment; so we appreciate that scenario—but we would challenge you as policymakers to look at how we actually go about measuring what is hard to measure and making sure that we do allow principals to operate in an environment that is right.

Mr RAMSEY: Do you have enough comfort from the bill that you will be given that autonomy? Or are you concerned about—it depends whether your glass is half full or half empty or whether you are looking at threats or opportunities. There is plenty of potential within that bill, because we do not know the detail on anything really. So we do not know what this extra compliance is going to be on your school.

Mr Hall : I would agree with the observation that the bill does not give us any certainty in that regard. I guess it has been our experience in the period of the national partnership approach to funding that there are significant freedoms within that but there are significant outcomes expected. 'We will measure the outcomes, and give you the resource and then hopefully get out of your way.' If that is the approach that comes out of this education bill, then that is fair and reasonable—

Mr RAMSEY: But we do not know.

Mr Hall : Yes.

CHAIR: We have to move on because there is going to be a division. I am conscious of time, so please stick to one question.

Mr SYMON: One question? Thank you, chair. My one question probably goes to what we have heard from some previous witnesses who were more concerned with the parent side of things and how they fitted into what the bill proposes. I would like to ask what ASPA thinks a parent's role would be in the system that comes in under the new bill? We are talking about more empowerment for principals; is there a need for more empowerment for parents to be involved in the system as well?

Mr Hall : I have not yet met a parent that does not want their child or their young adult child to succeed and I have not yet had a conversation with a parent who has not wanted to be a willing partner in that. In terms of the bill's encouragement for local leadership to resolve local needs, you cannot do that in a vacuum. You cannot as a practising school principal ignore the will and desire of parents. It is very hard to please everyone all the time, as you well know. I am sure in your roles you find that occasionally.

The research around effective schooling—and it does not matter where you look at it; whether you look at the back streets of Brazil—where new ways of doing school or providing education are community based with professional expertise brought in from passionate educators, the place of parents to help generate success is huge. Part of the problem has always been around the parent attitude to that and the conventions in Australian education largely. In my experience, as a parent, grandparent and principal educator for 35 years, is that, happily, in secondary school, they hand them over; keeping parents engaged. Although, as I said to you, the 'big picture' approach to learning—and I am not here to sell 'big picture' in any sense—has a requirement that the parents enrol as well. And not only do they enrol; they participate in the learning plans and in the authentic assessment regime that wraps around it. So you cannot but help to be party to the educational process. The bill will not, as I read it, prevent that happening. It does not prevent it happening now. And where there is a—

Mr SYMON: But should there be a clause in the bill that encourages that to happen?

Mr Hall : I think it would be stating the bleeding obvious, in the sense that, if you need to legislate parent involvement then—

Mr SYMON: I am thinking more of an avenue for parents to be involved; not saying 'you must be', but opening the door to be able to be.

Mr Hall : I guess, my experience, both locally and from my colleagues across the country, from the number of years I was in New South Wales education system, there are forums available in effective schools and there are forums under most government arrangements for school councils or school boards, and parent involvement there is appreciated, invited and encouraged. So there are plenty of avenues, at this stage, I would think, available without there having to be a mandated process.

Mr SYMON: With the exception of a less than effective school?

Mr Hall : How you go about mandating in a less effective school is an interesting challenge. We certainly, from ASPA's perspective, would not discourage anything that lifts the value of parent involvement.

Mr SYMON: Thank you.

Mr TUDGE: I have just a quick question. Have you seen the modelling for the school funding proposal; and, if so, how many of your schools would be better off and how many would be worse off?

Mr Hall : We have not seen the modelling. We have had conversations with officers of DEEWR around what that might be. It is our understanding of course that many of our schools would be better off. Would I say 'most' of our schools would be better off? There is certainly no fear amongst our membership that schools will be worse off in terms of the funding model. Currently, the problems that we see are that methodologies for allocating funds for disadvantage—for non-English speaking backgrounds, Indigenous backgrounds and remoteness—are ad hoc around the nation and, therefore, anything that can put a better methodology to that, that gives surety to a principal to operate in the local environment, is a bonus, I would think.

Mr TUDGE: But the bottom line is you have not seen the details; you don’t really know?

Mr Hall : No, we have not seen the details and we would not really know.

Ms O'NEILL: Thank you for your longstanding commitment to education for starters.

Mr Hall : Thank you.

Ms O'NEILL: And for putting 'big picture' on the record. It is a very interesting concept about much more holistic engagement. My question really goes to the comments you have made about the inadequacy of limited measures—PISA as a goal, and we have had some evidence in other places that: 'Yes, it is good; they are basic things and we need to do that. But we need broader measures.' So my question to you is: there are things that are difficult to measure; but they are not impossible. What things? What are the core things about schooling that we need to know to be sure that good learning is happening there and that these are healthy and vibrant learning communities?

You have mentioned professional development and opportunities for teachers to grow. I think in your submission you talked about about three dimensions: professional practice, professional engagement and professional knowledge. But what about things like social skills, critical thinking, civic duty? What else do we need to put in there to get a rich picture that provides the outcome accountability but is also a source of enabling people to take movements in the direction of what is being measured?

Mr Hall : You have mentioned some of those that I would have highlighted. By way of highlighting the experience: I think it is an important thing for us in this Asian century and in the light of the Asian white paper scenario. In ASPA's own knowledge—just for the information of the committee, ASPA has now a five-year standing partnership with the National Training Center for Secondary School Principals in China. That is a respected, ongoing partnership that is unique, pretty much, from what we can see around the nation.

As I said, we hosted 21 principals last year to our forum. They did their own 16 'big ideas', and amongst those big ideas—and this is why your question is so relevant—they know they can perform in PISA, TIMSS or any other testing arrangement internationally, through a whole range of strategies. They know that they can do that. That training centre is for over one million secondary school principals. Their aim is to make it not just made in China, but created, invented, innovated and made in China. That is the world that our young people are going to be in.

So we as a community and a society must have a schooling system that not only recognises the essentials of read, write and calculate, and the scientific thinking and the citizenship and the interactivity of technologies; we have to be able to look at problem solving, social interaction and relationship building. We have to look at the notions of creativity in all its forms. We have to acknowledge and recognise and measure how we go about saying a school provides growth in a whole range of those sorts of concepts—including things like capacity to attend and participate in education. Capacity to be there to learn and to follow areas that interest them as they get into that older set of age brackets.

Ms O'NEILL: So even things like attendance at school and truancy could be a measure that could become some part of My School for schools to be identifying that; because we know that that is a trigger: if you have high levels of truancy, it is usually an indicator that something might be going wrong.

Mr Hall : It is interesting how you go about measuring attendance because you can attend and have kids sit in there and sleep or you can have them attend and engage in learning. So I would not want to 'days attended' as against days not. Again, there are some flexible ways to actually acknowledge engagement, I guess.

Ms O'NEILL: Including asking students for some data.

Mr Hall : Exactly.

Ms O'NEILL: That could then be published as well.

Mr HAWKE: Mr Hall, my questions are similar to those of my colleague Mr Tudge. You spoke about the funding arrangements and you said that your members are not necessarily that concerned about losing funding. We have heard concerns from different sectors about the timing of everything that is happening and the ongoing need for planning and future certainty, from a principal level in particular. Are your members telling you they are concerned about the time frame provided for in this bill? We are coming to the end of the agreements, and there is a COAG process to go through and other processes, with a lot of detail to be finalised.

Mr Hall : Our membership is concerned that we do this well and get it right. If we are taking a stance on a national approach to education, then let's take the opportunity and have a true revolution in how we do schooling, how we approach education. What matters? How do we go about encouraging those things that we know make a difference—everything from the parent involvement to teacher practice to different forms of schooling—how do we go about doing that and doing that well?

And make sure that the funding does address disadvantage, because we know NAPLAN will give you results based on socioeconomic status or something similar pretty well.

Mr HAWKE: While that is being worked out, should we extend the current funding arrangements? We are almost at the end now.

Mr Hall : I guess that decision is for someone other than me to make. I would like to see the notion suggested by the Gonski panel to be taken forward. Our membership are supporters of the notion of funding need and going from there.

CHAIR: If there is anything else you would like to provide the committee, please do so. You will be provided a transcript of the evidence you have given and you can make changes to that for grammar or fact. Thank you so much for attending.

Mr Hall : Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 12:10 to 12:23