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Pros and cons of MySchool site explored -

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ELEANOR HALL: Well let's hear now from some influential players in the education system explaining
their position on this controversial website. Angelo Gavrielatos is the President of the Australian
Education Union, he has been a vocal critic of the Federal Government's MySchool website and he
joins us in Melbourne.

Professor Barry McGaw is the chair of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority
which created the site. He joins us also in Melbourne.

And representing the key target group of this website is Ian Dalton. He is the executive director
of the Australian Parents Council, a national federation of non-government school parents'
organisations. He joins us in Launceston.

First to you Ian Dalton, what are parents telling you about this website? Would they like to have
more information about their children's schools?

IAN DALTON: Yes Eleanor they certainly are telling us that. We've had quite a strong response from
a number of parents who have expressed their support for the move towards the MySchool website and
I think that generally there's agreement with what Dr Jensen said earlier, that parents believe
that the MySchool website is a step in the right direction.

There are some things that will have to be closely monitored as it's wound out but generally we
think that it's a good move.

ELEANOR HALL: What would parents do with that information?

IAN DALTON: Well I think generally that they'll use it as a part of their arsenal for looking at
the way, at either potential schools for their children or for the way that their current schools
are performing, but you know, nothing's going to take, we generally find when we do research among
parents as to what they want from schools that a lot of the stuff that they're looking for is more
around relationships and stuff that's harder to measure.

So as I say, the MySchool website won't replace parents going to schools, getting a feel for what
the school's like, having a talk to teachers, having a talk to other parents. But it will give them
a source of information that they are generally looking forward to I think.

ELEANOR HALL: Angelo Gavrielatos, parents want more information, why is the union so opposed to
giving it to them?

ANGELO GAVRIELATOS: I think we need to be clear about that, we don't oppose a parent's right to
know, we don't oppose a parent's right to more quality information and we've never challenged that
assertion from the Government. What we're concerned about is the creation and publication of league
tables, damaging league tables, that will now only be one click away as a result of the website.

So that's our primary concern.

ELEANOR HALL: Can you spell out for me, we've heard a lot about league tables, can you spell out
what exactly is the problem with them?

ANGELO GAVRIELATOS: Well the overwhelming body of research from overseas tells us that the creation
and publication of league tables damages education by way of narrowing curriculum and overemphasis
on the tests themselves and also deepens inequality and segregation in the provision of schooling.
It's not good for education.

At a very, at the very time when the UK which has lived under league tables for the last 20 years
is moving away from this policy construct if you like, the Australian Government has got us diving
in head first.

We are primarily concerned with the creation of public education league tables but as I, but beyond
that we also have some concerns with the MySchool website as well inasmuch as it's incomplete and
inaccurate.

It's incomplete because it does not contain any information with respect to the total resources
available to a school and it needs to be remembered that throughout the course of last year Julia
Gillard said time and time again that this is vitally important information - so it's not there,
it's incomplete.

But it's also inaccurate because the website focuses on a score arrived at from, as a result of
aggregating national test results, the NAPLAN test results. The national tests were never designed
for this purpose. The national tests are designed to provide a diagnostic information for teachers
and parents to tailor programs to meet individual student needs. So we have an invalid use of a
test and therefore all the inaccuracies that come with it.

ELEANOR HALL: Professor Barry McGaw, you're one of the designers of this website, we've just been
hearing from the union there that this information is being used invalidly. What exactly is this
schools website meant to achieve? Is it fundamentally a parents' resource, or a government resource
for allocating funds?

BARRY MCGAW: Well it will serve several purposes. The Government has said it's committed to using
resources to support schools that are evidently having more difficulty than others. And the
Government also talks about parental choice, but another major purpose of the website is school
improvement.

The argument about league tables is a red herring in my view. League tables already are created.
The information to do that is in the public domain. What we're doing is providing fair comparisons
not unfair comparisons, so in a sense what we're doing is creating 10,000 league tables, one for
each school in the country that compares each school only with 60 other schools that have students
similar to theirs.

When they look at their comparative group they'll find, many of them, other schools with similar
students doing rather better than they are and this will open a conversation principal to
principal, staff to staff about what it is that's being done in schools that are performing better
in similar circumstances.

So this has the capacity to drive school improvement.

ELEANOR HALL: Angelo Gavrielatos let me come back to you on that. Professor Barry McGraw says that
league tables are a red herring. The New York City schools administrator Joel Klein wrote an
opinion piece today where he said the suggestion that this website will be used to humiliate
individual children he said it's a cynical fear tactic, I mean, are you scare mongering on this?

ANGELO GAVRIELATOS: Hardly, hardly. We're relying on the overwhelming body of research that exists
internationally that highlights the dangers with respect to the agenda and the path that we're on.
We've made it quite clear that the objective of the Deputy Prime Minister may be laudable but
unfortunately the path she has us on may do more harm than good.

So that's our concern and it's universally supported. It's important to note that the Deputy Prime
Minister herself has said that she's opposed to simplistic league tables. What we're therefore
asking is for her to introduce measures to stop the further creation and publication of league
tables.

We have, we are on the edge of seeing unfold in Australia a system of reporting of schools that
will damage the provision of education. We're not against accountability, we're not against school
improvement, the problem is that the policy construct that we have before us is not one about
school improvement.

ELEANOR HALL: Ian Dalton, from a parents' perspective, is there concern about the publication of
league tables?

IAN DALTON: There certainly are, but as Professor McGaw said earlier the potential already exists
out there with the information that's available about schools for people to create league tables if
they want to, so this isn't really an issue.

What we're sort of been saying very strongly is that we think it's important that when this
information goes public that parents are supported to be able to understand the purpose of the data
and also to be able to make some sort of sense of the data as well.

We were a bit concerned at one briefing that we went to when we were told that there was going to
be a reliance on school principals to interpret the data for parents.

ELEANOR HALL: Why does that bother you?

IAN DALTON: Well I think that in a sense you know, school principals are human beings the same as
the rest of us and that there could be a potential there for principals to interpret the data in a
way that presents their school in the best light possible. So we just think that it's important
that parents have the capacity in some way to be able to know and understand this data themselves.

ELEANOR HALL: Well it's interesting Ian Dalton, Julia Gillard the Minister says she wants the site
to be used by parents to badger underperforming teachers, do you think parents will do that?

IAN DALTON: I don't think so, look, this for us is not about increasing parental power or anything
else. It's about helping parents to get a better handle on what's happening in their children's
schools and what sort, being able to make a judgement about what might be the best school for their
child to attend.

So it's not about parental power, but I think by increasing parental knowledge and understanding,
what you then do is allow a greater base, build a better basis for a relationship and a partnership
between parents and teachers and schools so that there can be some really good work done to ensure
that all kids get the best education possible.

ELEANOR HALL: Angelo Gavrielatos, did you have a problem with Julia Gillard saying she wanted this
information to be used so that teachers could be badgered by parents?

ANGELO GAVRIELATOS: I think it was an unfortunate choice of words which have the effect of
undermining the profession. What's more important rather than engaging in blame shifting is
developing a culture of cooperation where everyone works together for that common goal of improving
the outcomes of students - where parents, teachers, parents and government fulfil their obligations
to improve the lot of students.

Ultimately that's what we're there for, to look after the interests of our students. We're not
interested in playing politics, we just want the best possible outcomes for our students and we
want to take note of the international research and evidence to build good policy.

ELEANOR HALL: Professor Barry McGaw, we've just been hearing about a report from the Grattan
Institute that suggests that making more information public is useful but there needs to be
information that shows a student's progress at a school. Do you agree that the information on your
website could be better used?

BARRY MCGAW: The point that the Grattan Institute makes is it would be helpful to have information
on how students have changed from previous occasions, that's a very valid point, the point is
though that the data don't exist - they will next year, they don't this year.

Students were tested in this national assessment for the first time in 2008 in years three, five,
seven and nine. So those students won't be retested again until this year 2010, and at that point
we will report data of the kind that Ben Jensen's recommending.

It's a rather nice point to make from a think tank that you ought to be doing something that can't
possibly be done yet and as soon as it can be done, in fact we're going to do it.

ELEANOR HALL: And if that's the case then, Angelo Gavrielatos, you said you would support this if
the information were used in that way, we've just heard that it will be used in that way, what's
your position?

ANGELO GAVRIELATOS: No, we've said that that certainly provides the basis for ongoing discussions
about developing a good program, a good policy for ongoing school improvement. Our concern remains
the invalid use of data.

Can I just quote from one of Australia's leading statisticians and psycho-metricians Professor
Margaret Wu from the Melbourne University, she said recently and I quote "it would be irresponsible
for the Government and education researchers to tell the public that school performance can be
judged from information provided on the MySchool website and that is because of the over reliance
on that one single test, a test that was done eight months ago - eight months ago - and thereafter
invalidly used to create this index of school performance".

With respect to the website, what we say to all parents is you must be cautious when you visit this
website. It's incomplete, inaccurate and if you want quality information, rich information about
effectiveness of school programs the best thing you could do is visit the school, talk to the
principal and talk to teachers.

ELEANOR HALL: We do need to wind this discussion up but I just want to come back to you Professor
McGaw for a response to that.

BARRY MCGAW: Well look I think it's plain silly to say that individual students' results mean
something and can be used but the average of the students' results for a school can't be and that
the information about how those results are spread in a school can't be.

What the parents already have is where their own student's perform, they've got that in their
personal report, what they'll now get is information on the spread and the mean of the performances
in their own school in comparison with other schools like theirs.

ELEANOR HALL: Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.

That's Professor Barry McGaw the chair of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting
Authority, that's the organisation that created the site. Angelo Gavrielatos, he's the federal
President of the Australian Education Union, and also there was Ian Dalton, the executive director
of the Australian Parents Council.