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My School website to expand -

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My School website to expand

Simon Santow reported this story on Monday, February 1, 2010 12:14:00

ELEANOR HALL: Rather than backing down on its controversial national schools website, the Federal
Government says that parents have been asking for more information and it is promising to expand
the 'My School' site. Indeed the Prime Minister made this his first election commitment of 2010.

The Government says it will invite parents to fill out a survey about issues like bullying at their
child's school and will publish the results online.

But Simon Santow reports that teachers and parent groups are already raising concerns about the way
that that information is to be presented.

SIMON SANTOW: The My School website might be less than a week old but already the Federal
Government is planning to expand it, starting with giving parents a say on the merits of individual
schools and their teachers and then sharing that feedback with the world via the web.

JULIA GILLARD: We will work with our experts at the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting
Authority to put this together.

Our authority has worked on the My School website. It has brought the data that you have already
seen on the website to fruition. We will work with them on the best way of surveying parents so
that we do get accurate information about how parents feel on issues like how a school is dealing
with bullying, how a school is working with the local community, what approaches it is taking to
teaching and learning and how a school is managing that important transition for secondary school
students into the world of work or the world of further study.

SIMON SANTOW: So if the feedback from parents was that bullying was rife in a particular school,
how would putting it on a website help?

JULIA GILLARD: Well, more information I believe always helps. It helps to focus the mind on
addressing the issues and problems. It helps to focus the conversations happening between parents,
teachers and the principal about how to improve the school and obviously from the point of view of
government, it also raises issues for us to respond to.

For example, with the current My School website, we knew that it would show that some schools were
falling behind in performance on literacy and numeracy and attendance and retention to Year 12.
That is why we have already decided that we will invest more than $2 billion of new money in new
programs to make a difference.

SIMON SANTOW: The Government's approach has been met with fierce resistance from teachers and
expanding the concept isn't likely to mend fences any time soon.

ANGELO GAVRIELATOS: These are very dangerous propositions. Unfortunately they are driven by
populist politics.

SIMON SANTOW: The president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, says the
website's fundamental problem is that it doesn't compare apples with apples.

ANGELO GAVRIELATOS: Teaching is now a popularity contest. Teachers have a job to do and they
execute it professionally. That is what the main essence of teaching should be. We are concerned
about the direction that this may be going in.

Ultimately we support parents' right to quality information, accurate information. What we have in
the public domain at the moment is information that is inaccurate.

SIMON SANTOW: While teachers might concede the Government's hitting on an area of great concern to
parents, the group representing parents of public school kids thinks the level of concern in the
community is being dramatically overplayed.

PETER GARRIGAN: It is very easy to say this is what parents want. Which parents are we talking
about? I am not aware of our organisation or any of the peak parent bodies or even the state bodies
who represent the parents in those local communities being asked what parents want.

SIMON SANTOW: Peter Garrigan is the president of the Australian Council of State School
Organisations. He says much of the so-called new information on the My School website is freely
available elsewhere.

PETER GARRIGAN: The best way to make an assessment, if you're moving into a community is to
actually go to the school, have a talk to the parents, have a talk to the principal. Have a walk
around the school community through the school itself and see how the children interact with
themselves and also with the staff and then have a look at the report that the school has to
produce every year.

That gives you some good base data and some good grounding to determine well is this the best
school for my child.

SIMON SANTOW: For private school parents, there's in-principle support for expanding the amount of
online information but there's also caution about the way it's presented, especially giving
opinions about the merits of particular teachers.

Ian Dalton is the executive director of the Australian Parents' Council.

IAN DALTON: What we find is more important for parents is how a school basically fits a child's
individual needs and so it is not so much about individual teachers or so on, it is about whether a
school is meeting the needs of individual students within their student cohort.

SIMON SANTOW: So what sort of information can be put on a website that can convey that information
to the satisfaction of a parent?

IAN DALTON: Well, possibly the parent survey might be okay but we would be very cautious about how
such a survey would be worded because we believe that it is very important that these sorts of
processes are constructive and that you are encouraging parents to provide honest assessments if
you like and not to provide a particular critique of schools.

So we would look forward to working with the Government to try and put that sort of survey together
because it would be very sensitive and needs to be done properly.

ELEANOR HALL: That is the executive director of the Australian Parents' Council, Ian Dalton, ending
Simon Santow's report.