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Difference Of Opinion -

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JEFF MCMULLEN: Stephen O'Doherty, is it - the Federal funding imbalance, the fact that 70 per cent
of the Federal funding is going to 30 per cent of the Australian children in private education, is
that a factor?

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: Well, look, hopefully, we can get beyond this tonight, but that figure, which is
perpetuated by the union movement, the public school union movement around the country, is only a
part of the picture about how schools are funded. The simple fact of the matter that is the average
you talked about the Productivity Commission's report the average amount per student in a
Government school around Australia, when you take Federal and State Government money into account,
is about $10,500 per student The average amount spent by Federal and state governments on a
so-called student or non Government school student is just on $6000. There is much more money from
the public purse going to an individual child in a Government school compared to that child's
sibling if they went to a non government school. In fact if you went to a government school and got
a dollar and then moved to a non government school you would get 56 cents of public funding.

Now, this argument that says that all the money goes to private schools is simply a myth
perpetuated by the union movement, and I do not think that - they are trying very hard to get extra
funding for public education. I agree with them. I think there should be more funding for public
education and also for non government schools, publicly funded non government schools. The pie
needs to be bigger but let's not perpetuate this myth, because, really, it is not helping Judy and
her colleagues in public schools, when her own union says something that is patently not true.

JUDY KING: It depends if you count federal money on its own or federal and state funding, and, of
course, we can do a lot with stats, as Stephen has just indicated, but we cannot get away from the
fact, that since 1996 when the Howard Government was elected 45 per cent of the Federal education
budget went to public schools. After 11 years, it is down to 37 per cent, so there has been a
significant 7 per cent shortfall over the 11 year period. I'm only speaking about Federal funding,
Stephen, I'm not talking about not state funding.

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: But you have to acknowledge in that time the number of enrolments in non
government schools has grown by 20 per cent, so you have a much bigger proportion of students
starting to go to non government schools, and those parents deserve their share of taxpayer

JUDY KING: Well, you would have to agree, Stephen, it costs a lot more to educate the socially
disadvantaged students with learning disabilities, indigenous students, remote students, so the
baseline for the funding for students in public education is much higher, and that is used as the
benchmark to then fund our student in private schools, and they're much cheaper if you - - -

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: That is not true. Judy - - -

JEFF MCMULLEN: Can we bring Kevin in here, please?

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: After I make this point. Non government schools educate disadvantaged kids, they
educate Aboriginal kids, they educate kids in the poorest communities in Australia - - -

JUDY KING: Only 10 per cent. Only 10 per cent.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Kevin Donnelly, if it is not about the imbalance in federal funding and we add the
state funding, then why is the drift from public education to private schools now growing?

KEVIN DONNELLY: Well, it is certainly growing and, if you look around Australia, about 30 per cent
of students now go to non government schools and at year 11 and 12 that goes up to 40 per cent.
Now, there have been a number of surveys as to why parents are choosing, often paying for that
choice, and, really, a lot has not got much to do with money. It has to do with values, things like
discipline, the culture of the school reflecting what parents want in the home, the extracurricular
activities, whether they are playing hockey on Saturday or doing music. I would like to get to the
point, though, where we can move the debate on from simply talking about money and resources. In
the book you mentioned at the start, Dumbing Down, I make the point that the post effective way to
improve standards is to really help teachers, give teachers a clear roadmap of what they are to do,
resource them adequately, but, at the same time, if we have these fads like whole language, which
is lead to this high rate of illiteracy, if we have the fuzzy maths where kids do not do
memorisation, rote learning, timetables, you find that standards do fall, so I'd argue that we
really need to look at the curriculum, the syllabuses, and make sure what we are doing in schools
is supporting teachers and getting on with the job of educating.


ROBYN EWING: It is not just about supporting teachers, it is also about supporting parents. It is a
genuine partnership to do it properly. You only have to look at the resources in some of our state
schools and compare them with the resources in others to see that some kids are being much better
resourced. I have to disagree with you about - talking about fads, fuzzy maths, whole language, et
cetera. We have an outstanding education system. "Whole language" is a term that is constantly
bandied around to mean things that teachers are not doing on their own, and I think that is a
really damaging kind of comment to make.

We are second only to Finland in terms of our literacy and numeracy practices. Again, our
curricular is sought after all over the world, and I think it is really the mis-perceptions being
bandied around that have caused a lot of problems.

JEFF MCMULLEN: What is causing this psychology then where so many parents are beginning to lose
faith and take their children out, because, if we look at the facts, in 1970, 78 per cent of
Australian children were going to the public system, and we said that was the right of all
Australian children, to have a good education, and now we know it is 67 or 68 per cent? So how do
you explain this nervousness about the state? Is that psychological?

ROBYN EWING: I think some of it has to do with a lot of the rhetoric that is around. I think, for
example, sometimes the kind of comments in Dumbing Down" are not substantiated by what is actually

KEVIN DONNELLY: I would have to disagree.

ROBYN EWING: We rarely get an opportunity from an academic point of view to make the counter
argument, in a sense. I would also have to say that it is grossly misleading to suggest that our
standards are going down, and, also, I think you will find that there is actually a trend back to
public education in the last couple of years across a whole lot of regions across Australia -
you'll find that parents are making the choice to send their children back.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Judy, are you seeing that too?

JUDY KING: We certainly are, in the inner west of Sydney and on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. I
can point to several examples that we have surveyed about increased enrolments in public schools.
But I do agree with Kevin when he says that teachers need a roadmap, and I would have to defend
most strongly the New South Wales syllabuses developed by an independent statutory board. The
curriculum in New South Wales is exactly the same in the public schools as it is in the private
schools, and our HSC is well regarded internationally. We have many international students enrolled
at my own school, because they see that as a way forward for their education overseas and they want
to pursue university education in Australia.

JEFF MCMULLEN: But we are talking tonight about a drift that has gone on right around the country,
not only in New South Wales. Can we ask some parents here tonight, who have chosen to take their
children, perhaps after primary school you faced that decision where you opted to go into private
education? Is there a private school advocate here who can explain why is this going on?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm Aboriginal and I chose to send my kids to a private school because I felt
that, as boys, they were unnecessarily being picked on and I had a son who was facing a suspension
and I wanted my child to get a good education. He got a scholarship to St Joseph's College and did
exceedingly well because they knew how to treat boys and knew how to handle him, and I'm really
pleased with that because I want my kids to have an education.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Robin or Judy, would you like to respond to that?

ROBYN EWING: For a start, teacher quality is similar, whether it is a public school or an
independent school. All our teachers undertake their pre service education at the same
universities. It is not necessarily that because it was an independent school it was a better
education, and I guess that is one of the problems, I think. You have got to look at, I suppose,
different experiences for different children, and, certainly, my children have experienced both
public and private education opportunities, and I have to say that it depends very much on how that
child is coping in a particular context and with particular teachers. It is not that this system is
better than the other.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Stephen O'Doherty made the point that we are trying to rise above this old
divisiveness and see if we can improve the situation in the public education system. Do you have
comments or questions for the panel as to how we might get there?

In the front row.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I would argue that it is not with the school, whether it is publicly or privately
owned that makes a difference. In fact, there is no research, when you consider all other factors,
that shows it's public or private ownership that counts. What schools are doing though, in our
crazy landscape of schools, is harvesting the enrolments they want, because that is what choice of
schools is really about, schools harvesting the enrolments they want, and exporting the ones,
whether teachers or students, they do not want. But, certainly, in that sense, all schools, public
or private - no school can claim to be in that sense a superior school.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Do we have any other questions about the quality of schooling for our children?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: My experience of my children going through many schools was it depended largely on
the headmaster or headmistress of that particular school bringing the values to that school and how
the children were treated. A big thing is how the kids are taught to interact with each other, it's
a thing called challenge there about how they are taught not to bully each other, conflict
resolution with each other. They get a basic understanding of relating to each other, they have a
happier life in school and they can take it on more but it boils down to the leader of the school,
I believe.

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: I agree strongly. I think we are talking about school culture in many cases and
our friend here earlier was speaking about that exact same thing and Robyn has touch on it as well.
It is a nonsense to say you have government schools here, non government schools there and there is
this great divide. We are all educating Australia's kids. There is a $30 billion public spend on
educating Australia's kids and we want to get the best we can. It is going to depend on the
leadership of the school, as our friend says, and the culture within that school. It is not just
mathematics or English or literacy or any of those things, it is to do with the whole child, the
culture of the school, the way in which they care for each child, the values that the school
represents, and we will talk about that in more detail in a few minutes, but we want to see quality
schools in every setting and I reckon we do see quality schools in every setting and the sooner we
get on with it together and stop arguing with each other the better.

KEVIN DONNELLY: Just on that point if I could, structurally, there is a great deal of difference
between government and non government schools. I've taught in both. When I was in the government
system the government schools did not have the power to hire or fire staff, so the government
schools were given teachers, a very centralised bureaucratic system. In the non government system
you actually get employed by the principal or the local school council. So, government schools do
not have the same flexibility or freedom that non government schools have.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Let's come to teachers in a minute. First of all, Warren Brown, give us your report
card. It seems to me the divide is there, that eternal divide, some say crisis, some say things are

WARREN BROWN: Well, it is, Jeff, and I'm fascinated by what the panel has had to say and also the
audience. Look, I've drawn two cartoons here and the first one here is sort of the way that I feel
about it, and that is - it has federal funding here, as you can see, and public schools knocking on
the door, it is sort of a closed shop as far as federal funding is concerned. I've got, "Knock,
knock, knock," and this has become the "School of Hard Knocks."

And when it comes to the report card, I'm fascinated by this, we were talking about the report card
for Australian schools. Here's this bloke, a young student, and he's representing Australia, his
report card, it says "Reading, Riting, Rithmatic" and another student says "How'd you go? " And he
says "I got the Rs."

JEFF MCMULLEN: I think we will give him an A for that one.


JEFF MCMULLEN: How would we go marking our teachers these days? Is our standard of teaching as good
as it gets and are we attracting the best people to the profession? Would better pay, based on
merit or other incentives, improve teaching and learning outcomes as well? Robyn Ewing, you teach
the teachers. Are they world class or are standards slipping?

ROBYN EWING: Jeff, I think we have excellent young people and not so young people come in to teach,
and especially at the University of Sydney. I have to say how privileged I feel to be involved in
teacher education. They are passionate, they do not come to teaching because of the money or
because of the holidays, they come because they want to do something constructive, they want to
share the passion for their particular subject area. They want to give something back, they want to
work with children. They are concerned about social justice and equity. I think that the research
that people like Jack Emmanuel(?) and John Hughes have done in that area demonstrate we do have
people coming to education for the right reason.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Kevin Donnelly, you taught for 18 years in Melbourne, how do you rate the teachers?

KEVIN DONNELLY: I'm all in favour of equity and social justice but I would also like to believe
that teachers can teach and that they know their discipline. When I went to university we did an
undergraduate degree first, this was before the Dawkins revolution when I think everybody became a
university or a tertiary and everybody became a professor, and what tended to happen is - students
now do a four year mixed degree, and I know I was talking to some mathematicians today, in response
to the federal report on teacher training that was released today, and they were suggesting to me,
and these are academics from Queensland and Western Australia, that the quality of entry teachers
is not as good as it should be, especially in subjects like mathematics. There was a report, I
think, 2005 on literacy, a federal report, that showed some 600 beginning teachers were
interviewed, some 40 per cent or 50 per cent of primary teachers felt they were not properly able
to teach grammar, phonics, spelling, and 60 per cent of secondary teachers felt they had not been
properly prepared to teach reading.

I'll finish by saying that was supported by a submission to the report today, by the Australian
Secondary Principals Association, who again surveyed many young teachers around Australia. They in
fact concluded that the academics and the teachers from schools need to get together a lot more, in
terms of properly preparing teachers.

JUDY KING: I've had several beginning teachers, I'm very glad to say, in the last few years, all of
them uniformly excellent. We participated in two surveys only last year, one commissioned by our
state Education Minister on assessment and another one by Lindsay Connors on beginning teachers.
Both of them said to me, "You really are fortunate to have such a high quality intake of beginning
teachers," and, of course, I already knew that but it was wonderful to have it validated by their
intensive working with those young teachers over a couple of days. So, while Kevin might emphasise
the negative and construct another crisis, I don't see that crisis in New South Wales schools. In
fact, in recent years, several of my beginning teachers have had UAIs of 95, 96, and they are at
the very high end, and choosing teaching when they could have easily studied combined law or
economics or medical science at university. They have consciously chosen teaching.

JEFF MCMULLEN: We have a situation, though, in Australia where, in the next five years, about 40
per cent of the teachers, the baby boomers, will be retiring, and we have also the survey that
tells us the young teachers now are thinking of dropping out after the first decade. What are we
going to do to attract the best kind of teachers?

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: It is very interesting, isn't it? Training a teacher is not like growing
bananas. You don't just put the input up front, and then cut it down and sell it in the

JEFF MCMULLEN: But we treat them that way, don't we?

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: Exactly. I started life as a journalist and if I had stayed with the same set of
skills that I started with, whenever that was, I would still be cutting magnetic tape, journalists
today do not cut magnetic tape, they cut audiotape but it is virtual. My point is that we've
actually got to continue the training of people right through teaching, and I think the opportunity
to look at merit based pay issue is a deeply cultural, problematic issue because it may break the
collegiality of teaching, but the opportunity - - -

JUDY KING: It would break it. It would break it. There is no "may" about it.

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: All right, let's say it would. My point is, if we can link merit pay or
something like it to ongoing education of teachers, Masters degrees and other postgraduate
qualifications, we will be able to have a teaching force where they find it challenging, where
they're responding to the changes in the marketplace let's face it, it is a digital age and our
kids can teach us often much more about where to access knowledge than most adults in my age group.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Robyn, what is the best choice then? Do we give a pay increase to all 240,000
teachers, recognising that at the moment they hit the top salary after about 10 years and they stay
on that for years and years, without much incentive, or is the merit based formula that is being
much discussed now - can we come up with something that will generally encourage teachers the stay
with it?

ROBYN EWING: I think we need to do a lot to address the way we look at teachers in our society. I
mean, that is an important thing. We are not always attracting, for example, as many male teachers
as we'd like in early childhood and primary, and I think we have to look at that. I do think that
teachers are underpaid and I do think that we need to look at ways for teachers who are good
teachers, who want to stay in the classroom, who do not want to move out of it into administration,
et cetera, to be rewarded. I also think we have to invest a lot more in the professional learning,
because I agree with Stephen that it is a life-long journey - a career long journey, should I say?
It is not something that you have all of your skills in place when you graduate. That is only the
very beginning, only the tip of the iceberg, so we need to look at that as well.

I think it would be fair too complex to say, "Let's reward those teachers who get the best results
at the end of a particular point in time," because are you going to reward all of the teachers who
have worked together, with parents and the community to do it? It's very hard to judge who is going
to deserve what pay. So I think we do have to look at ways to value the whole profession and to
invest in their professional learning over a long period of time. It is not something that is going
to happen overnight.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Kevin Donnelly, if the federal government goes ahead with this idea, should there be
a very careful trial in one area before we try to introduce this Australia wide, and do - as
several speakers suggest, divide the collegiate atmosphere?

KEVIN DONNELLY: It really does depend on what model you come up with and I think that has not been
decided yet. I think Minister Bishop said she would take two or three ideas to the next ministers'
meeting. I would also like to stand back and look at the research suggesting teachers leave after
four or five years. Part of it is problems with behaviour, student behaviour, classroom behaviour.
Another thing that teachers generally mention is they feel as though they are being drowned in all
this red tape, bureaucratic red tape, all of this ticking the boxes, there are so many outcomes
they have to cover.

If you are a primary teacher, teaching four or five subject areas, there might be hundreds and
hundreds of outcome statements you have to individually monitor for every student. So I guess it
comes back to what I was saying before, let's free up teachers, let's give teachers the time, the
resources, the tools to do what they do well, which is to teach. Let's stand back a bit and not
overlay it with another whole layer of bureaucratic red tape.

When I taught, I spent three months preparing my folder to get promoted. Three months it took me
and the problem was I had to agree with everything that was coming down the top, in terms of what
was the orthodoxy in education, so I had to agree with non competitive assessment,
multiculturalism, nobody failing, everybody being valued and, in fact, I left the government school
and went to a private school.

JUDY KING: I would like to comment on that. I really do reject Julie Bishop's assertion that you
can pay cash for grades. That is essentially what performance pay means. The teacher unions do not
fear professional accountability. In fact, they welcome it. There could be a system in place where
teachers matching professionally articulated standards receive higher increases in pay. That can
best be done through the institute of teachers and organisations like that that can articulate the
professional standards. But Stephen alluded to the collegiality of teachers. Lots of teachers work
part time. There are team teachers. Some of the students in some of the more wealthy areas of
Sydney are coached after school in just about every subject. Should the teacher share their bonus
with the private coaches?

We need to look to the recent experiment in Texas, in Houston, where teachers were paid from $700
up to $7000 bonus, strictly according to test results. It caused havoc, dislocation, it caused a
huge crisis of confidence. Parents were demanding to know why students who were doing well were in
classes where nobody was given a bonus and other parents were demanding that their students be put
into the classes of the teachers that received the $7000 bonus, because the school district in
Houston published the list of the bonuses - divisive and very, very counterproductive.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Can we just bring in some members of the audience on merit pay? Do you have some
questions for our panel?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I guess as a principal of a school with about 55 teachers, I would find it very
difficult, Kevin, to be able to pick out the teachers that I was going to reward. I have
outstanding teachers. Getting back to what Robin was saying before and to what Judy was saying
before, some of these people have gone through the university training and actually graduated as
doctors, in the law profession, and so on. They choose to come back to teaching. Their standard is
outstandingly high as beginning teachers,

But I take the point with you that you said before that as soon as you decided that you had to
value people you moved out of the public system into the private system. Is that really what you

KEVIN DONNELLY: It is a false kind of valuing when you have many students going through 10 or 12
years of school, going into university and having to do remedial courses. It is a false kind of
valuing when you have students leaving school, who are culturally illiterate. I was fortunate,
growing up in a working-class area, where I had teachers introduce me to Tolstoy, to Shakespeare,
to Dickens, to the Renaissance, the Reformation. Many young people today go through school learning
a lot about Princess Di and Paris Hilton but that, to me, isn't an education.

JEFF MCMULLEN: We are drifting off the subject of merit pay.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: The idea behind merit based pay is that one person's pay is dependent upon what is
going on in another person's head and what they do with the information or the quality of that the
interaction. So the same principle should apply to psychologists, psychiatrists, prison warders,
police officers, even legislators. What about politicians being paid on the basis of the crime
rate, the rate of health, measure of happiness, whatever? It could go on and on, it becomes totally

JEFF MCMULLEN: Merit pay for politicians who improve education.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I'm not certain that teachers leave the field due to the fact that they pay is not
sufficient. I think there is, as you said, a discipline issue, but, if you have 35 in a class, it
does not matter how much you are paid, how much can you support those students? Therefore, you feel
you are not doing the job, and, yes, you move into an area where they have less students and you
feel more valued. It might also include more pay but I'm sure that is not why your teachers are
moving out.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr Donnelly, whereas I agree that the title of your book Dumbing Down is an
appropriate one for you, do you not under the process of what actually happens in a school? I head
up an English faculty at a school that is multicultural, and that's a word I say proudly and not
dismissively, like you. We get above average literacy results, but it's not because the teacher is
starved, it's because we have literacy across the curriculum. Every lesson is a literacy lesson,
and those results are the consequence of good public education, over a long period of time and
across the curriculum. The sort of false argument that you put up about Di - this is the text I use
today, this is the list of HSC text used in every classroom in public schools across New South
Wales. IT has Euripides, it has Chaucer, it has Shakespeare, it has Austen and the full literary
canon. What and you ought to do is be honest. Every contribution you have made tonight has been a
critical one, and we wonder why there may be a crisis.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Kevin, plainly, Dumbing Down has not done much for the confidence of teachers.

KEVIN DONNELLY: There are a number of issues there and we could probably spend another show going
over them.

Firstly, congratulations on what you do, and I would like you to have the resources and the
flexibility to open many schools, such as yours - - -

AUDIENCE MEMBER: If we had the private school resources, we would, Kevin.

KEVIN DONNELLY: And if the state government in New South Wales gave you that funding, I'm sure you
would like to do it. Secondly, if you read the papers last year, you would know in fact they are
taught to deconstruct classic text, theory, multiculturalism, feminism, clear theory, post
Colonialism, and I think there was a teacher on - - -

JEFF MCMULLEN: Let's pause there because in this classroom we're staying on subject. Stephen
O'Doherty, merit pay for teachers, is there any value of it in your small Christian school system?
Would you go former why it pay for teachers or do you think it is divisive?

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: I think our teachers would find in divisive, if it was constructed in the way
that many of the audience members have said tonight. If it was constructed in relation to
professional learning and some other issues, perhaps not, but I do think the federal government
will have trouble in the public system, certainly, almost impossible, in the current construction
of it, anyway. In most of the non government system Catholic schools, local Christian schools and
so it goes on, except for a handful of independent schools, most of them will reject merit based
pay from a collegiality point of view.

JEFF MCMULLEN: I've got to say, Warren Brown, I'm still hearing more irreconcilable differences
from our educators on both sides of this divide.

WARREN BROWN: It's a fascinating subject. I think it's more about money, it's about respect, and
it's about all sorts of things, but I've got three cartoons. The first one is a teacher who has a
big bonus dangling in front of her and she says, "I remember the old days when they'd give me an
apple." Then we move on to this, and we've got someone relaxing at home and she's saying, "Did you
learn anything at school today, dear?" The teacher coming in and says "Yeah - I'm underpaid and no
one respects me any more." This one, where a teacher says to his class, " Today we'll discuss
economics. If you can do a quick whip-round I'd appreciate a fifty."

JEFF MCMULLEN: More pay for teachers.


JEFF MCMULLEN: Prime Minister John Howard has been joined by the Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd in
pushing for a national curriculum. Mr Howard also wants a different approach to history and
English, a return to basics, and greater emphasis on values as exemplified by the program of
funding chaplains in schools. So, is it the federal government's place to dictate what is taught
and how? Stephen O'Doherty?

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: As it represents the community, yes, it ought to have a large say. However,
giving general guidelines about the literacy standards we want, define that how you might, by the
way, including technological literacy and cultural literacy and other, I guess, qualifications
skills we need, having given those general guidelines, in my view, the federal and state
governments need the allow schools in local areas to respond to the local and regional needs of
their communities. I really like Kevin's idea of allowing schools to explore what that means in
their own environment, less prescription and more innovation at a local level but with
accountability across the top.

Last week you talked about how the states are handing over - begging, really, I think, for their
water to be seen as a national resource. Education is a national resource. The state boundaries are
artificial, they are historical but artificial. If we can get New South Wales, Queensland and
Victoria to agree on the Murray Darling, then surely we can get all the states to agree on a
national curriculum framework. There are eight jurisdictions and then the Commonwealth, eight
jurisdictions, states and territories, that all have a say over curriculum, what ought to be
taught, like the document our friend Denis was holding up. There are eight of those around the
country about the standard of facilities, about the way that schools will report what they do to
parents, and about every little thing, so no wonder people are confused.


JUDY KING: Is it really the essential question tonight that we need a national curriculum? It has
been talked about for decades and decades. I've been working in public education for 42 years and
it was certainly discussed in the 1960s. This does not seem to be a mechanism for bringing the
curriculum into being. We talk about national frameworks and we talk about same starting ages and
Julie Bishop is talking about an Australian Certificate of Education. Certainly, New South Wales
will jealously guard its excellent academic curriculum and it will not give that up easily. So, if
we now have a federal government that uses economic funding via blackmail, bludgeoning the states
into submission on assessment regimes, on national curriculum, on merit pay for tied to grades for
teachers and so on, is this really the new centralism of John Howard where you blackmail
governments into submission and threaten to withhold the funding for 70 per cent of Australia's
young people? It is absolutely unacceptable. So we need a very serious rethink if we are going to
move towards national curriculum and how we might get there. It is a very, very, very large
continent, and I'm not convinced that having a national curriculum is the essential question we
should be debating here tonight.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Robyn Ewing, we have now the Prime Minister and the Federal Opposition Leader
joining on this call for a national curriculum. Does that change this long historic stalemate?

ROBYN EWING: I don't think so, because we - as Judy said, it has been something that has been
attempted for a long time, and I think that it is a very complex and vexed kind of question. I
think New South Wales would agree if it was going to be New South Wales' curriculum, Victoria would
probably do the same, South Australia, et cetera, et cetera. I think we do have to look at - it is
worth investigating principle, it's worth investigating framework but it is also very important
that we look at the children, the students that we are teaching and the things that they need. They
do not all need the same things. They come as individual as you and I are and it would be wrong to
say it has to be one size fits all. A return to the basics is going to be the worst thing that
Australia could get. We should not be looking backwards at what is being called basics, I agree,
technological literacy, visual literacy, et cetera. We need to be looking forward. The knowledge
that our kindergarten children are going to need to work, live, relate to people, a lot of that
knowledge has not been invented yet, so to say we have to look backwards at the education we had in
the 50s and 60s and I'm not saying throw out the good things, I am saying we have to be flexible,
we have to look forward and we have to make sure our students will get what they are going to need.

JEFF MCMULLEN: If we have thousands of Australian children now moving across borders regularly, we
are more mobile than at any point in our history. How are we going to cater for that?

KEVIN DONNELLY: Someone told me last week that is about 2 per cent of the population, the school
population. So that to me is not the issue. In the book Dumbing Down I certainly do not recommend a
national curricular that is mandated or centrally imposed. If you were to ask me do I agree that
these matters should be imposed by government, I would say no, because governments come and go,
and, in fact, there's - - -

JEFF MCMULLEN: Would you also oppose tying federal funding to whether or not the state schools buy
the federal government's prescription? Do you think that is fair?

KEVIN DONNELLY: I think it is wrong because what I would argue is that there should be flexibility
and choice at the local level. It is fascinating, we have not really talked about overseas much,
but many of the schools in New York now are doing the Singapore maths curricular, so they are
importing. I'm all in favour of the Internet and technology, use it every day. What I don't want to
happen in Australia is where, say, Tasmania's essential learnings, where the minister lost her
portfolio lost year, or in Western Australia, with their outcomes based approach, where again the
minister lost her portfolio - I do not want those approaches mandated, because that does - the
lowest common denominator.

I say, why don't we empower school communities to do what they think is best, within the
guidelines? I think we should be looking overseas, benchmarking what we do in Australia against
best practice.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Judy King, could we move to another example of the federal foray into the classroom.
When it comes to the syllabus, the teaching of English, the teaching of history, whose history? Do
you want either federal political party deciding what goes on in your curriculum?

JUDY KING: I think politicians really fear post modernism and they certainly fear the long list of
words that Kevin rejects in all of his writings. They certainly reject pluralism. I think John
Howard would love it if we had one grand narrative, the white Anglo Saxon male Protestant view of
history. That is the 1950s version. I really need to - - -

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: I am just wondering if we can have a debate without the invective.

JUDY KING: I really need to - - -

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: We are talking about kids in schools, we're not talking about some 1970
construction of what John Howard may or may not - - -

JUDY KING: I'm talking about - I'm talking about kids in my classrooms today at River Side Girls
High School and the graduates that come back and see us regularly. They say, "Thank goodness we
have done extension 1 history, thank goodness we've done and extension 1 and 2 English, because now
we are at uni we really know how to deconstruct, we really know how to mount a very solid
argument," not a spurious argument about Princess Di but a solid argument based on research and
evidence and substantiation of a point of view. That is what we are teaching students. If that
means in history they have to have a plural sense of many stories, the story of the dispossessed,
the story of recent arrivals and migrants, the story of women, that white Australia has a black
history - now, if the politicians cannot cope with student that are equipped to deconstruct the
spin doctors and deconstruct crisis construction, then too bloody bad.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Robyn Ewing, another example of this federal foray into the classroom is the
imposition of the A to F report card. Is that going to work? Is that taking us forward?

ROBYN EWING: I do not think it is going to work at all. I think it is incredibly damaging to give a
child that kind of label. I think that the teachers that I work with and have talked to have found
it extremely difficult to make those sorts of judgments, especially for young children. Again, I
think it was hugely damaging to the profession of educators for that to be imposed by politicians.
And, yes, they are important stakeholders in what happens but we do need to give our educators an
opportunity to work together and look at what is going to be most beneficial. That kind of - - -

KEVIN DONNELLY: The problem is most parents did not understand the reporting, did they? Because if
you got a report card on your child it would say "Consolidating, not yet established, possibly,
next week," and parents had no idea what it meant, so I'm more in favour of more concise reports.
You do not start in Prep, 1, 2, 3 but certainly in middle and upper primary and lower secondary I
would argue that parents have every right to be told. Children know anyway, kids know how well they
are going, so all this talk about self esteem, care, share, grow, really is disguising to children
what most of them already know.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Can we ask some of our parents, someone we haven't heard from? This is your last
chance to make a comment or ask a question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: What do you do, say, for example, if you have a child with learning difficulties,
who is trying their absolute best, every time they go - the last thing they need to be told is "You
failed this, you failed that"? At least if you have boundaries, like you've got 2, 3, 4, 5, and you
fall within the boundaries, parent are not stupid, they can get an idea of where their child is
fitting, but just to say to them, "You've failed - - -"

JEFF MCMULLEN: Would someone like to respond to that?

JUDY KING: There is no groundswell across Australia of parents demanding plain English reporting.
It's another - - -

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: How do you know?

JUDY KING: Because I talk to parents all the time, because the New South Wales Secondary Principals
Council, 460 secondary public schools in New South Wales, have surveyed all the parents. There is
no groundswell of people demanding plain English reporting. This member of the audience has
indicated it perfectly well. Parents are not stupid.

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: Nobody wants the see a child with learning difficulties labelled a failure and I
do not think the system actually provides for that to happen but the parents I talk to around the
country, and I talk to them in every state, they say "We just want to understand how he or she is

ROBYN EWING: Yes, but I think you can do that much more effectively than saying "This student is A,
this is a B", and I don't think - - -

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: Yes, maybe, but for parents to have information they have to have information.

JUDY KING: That is not consistent across Australia anyway. There is no way of enforcing an A from
Sydney Boys High is exactly the same as an A from Wilcannia High.

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: Why not? We can do it in TAFE. We have a national competency framework,
precisely so that I can get a certificate of engineering in Melbourne - - -

JUDY KING: But then you'll say syllabuses are dumbed down because they are reduced to competencies,
and they're not competence based syllabuses.

JEFF MCMULLEN: We certainly have no agreement about the report cards. What about the proposal to
fund chaplains in schools? Stephen O'Doherty, in your Christian schools, I imagine that you will
say yes, but how do you respond when you learn that the Catholics are beginning to reject this
offer, the Sydney archdiocese has said, "No, we don't want chaplains through that system"?

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: In various parts of the country people have expressed that concern to me as
well. It is to do with the guidelines about the way the chaplains will work. In general terms,
though, the idea that the government says here is some money so we can educate student not just for
literacy and numeracy but also in the spiritual dimension, because there is a spiritual side to
life, and I believe it has to be part of education, the idea the Government gives money to that I
think is a very good idea. Get the guidelines right but I think it is a good idea.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Can we just have a quick response from the other panellists? Chaplains in schools?
Is this part of the values push or is there some value in counselling? Judy King?

JUDY KING: I would welcome the $20,000 grant if I could have freer guidelines and tie it to a
secular based counselling service because we desperately need a full time social worker.

JEFF MCMULLEN: Kevin Donnelly?

KEVIN DONNELLY: Again, I get back to choice and flexibility at the local level. It is up to the
school community, I would suggest, as to what they do with it and I do not think the government is
saying everybody has to have a chaplain, as such.

JUDY KING: Well, they are, actually, the guidelines are clear.

KEVIN DONNELLY: No, they're not saying you actually have to take a chaplain, it is up to the


ROBYN EWING: I think it is another way the government is looking at funding independent schools. I
think they need to give, again, schools the opportunity to decide whether they need a counsellor or
a chaplain, or a social worker, or a speech therapist, or a physiotherapist, whatever.

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: Those people who want to have a values laden, belief laden education will
continue to go in their droves to non government schools that are faith based. People have to
understand that is a big driver. In Australian communities I go to that is a huge driver of the
move to non government schooling. They want values based and belief based education. The more
public educators - - -

JUDY KING: So Christians have a monopoly on values. That is absolutely unacceptable.


JUDY KING: That is what the Prime Minister says.

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: The more public educators say, "We demand our right to be areligious and anti
religious the worse it is for public education."

JUDY KING: Values aren't necessarily only faith-based. I mean, this is the narrow Christian view of
the world.

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: I agree with you, I completely agree. I have got a very broad Christian view.

JUDY KING: I'm sorry, but Christians do not have a Monopoly on social justice and humanity.

ROBYN EWING: It's also very damaging to suggest that values are not being taught in state schools.

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: I didn't say that.

ROBYN EWING: That was the implication.

STEPHEN O'DOHERTY: I did not say that.

KEVIN DONNELLY: Again, not just related to chaplains but I was a literature teacher for many years
and, when I look at subjects like history and literature, I'd argue the pendulum has moved too far
towards this post modern approach, where there are no truths, there are no absolutes, everything is
relative, everything is subjective, so if there are 20 people reading Macbeth you can have 20
different interpretations.

JUDY KING: That's a cause for celebration.

KEVIN DONNELLY: I'd argue that there is something about our culture, our western civilisation,
which goes back to the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Greeks, the Romans - there is something
about our Judaic-Christian heritage, and I think 70 per cent of Australians at the last census said
they were Christian. Why don't we celebrate what we have as a nation and, in fact, so many people
come to live here because of those very things.

JEFF MCMULLEN: We have covered a lot of ground but there are plainly some very serious divisions.
We seem to agree that at the preschool and kindergarten level we are under investing in our
children and we can do more. We seem to agree that in primary and secondary we can do better and
give more incentive to teachers, that they deserve more pay, whether it's merit pay or some other
trial, we have not settled on that. We know we can do better but we have to overcome some of these
divisions about the public and private school formula.

Warren Brown, give us your report card on a very divisive subject.

WARREN BROWN: I'm fascinated, Jeff, by the last discussion, in particular chaplains coming to
school. I've got three cartoons here. The first cartoon is a principal talking to God in heaven. He
says, "There's 20 grand in it for you if you can pop in on Wednesdays". That was a bit of fun. And
then I have got this one - it leads to all sorts of things. You could also have the Friar Tuck
Shop, but I reckon the crème de la crΦme is, of course, a teacher saying to another one, "Every
school needs a Chaplin."

JEFF MCMULLEN: God bless the cartoonist.