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National Conference on Quality Teaching, Melbourne: opening address.

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11-12 JULY 2001

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here to open this conference on Quality Teaching.

The Conference is one of the outcomes of the Government’s Teachers for the 21st Century initiative, and looking at your programme I believe it will make an extremely valuable contribution to our understanding of quality teaching, and hopefully to our capacity to develop further the quality of teaching we provide to our students.

It has to be our educational goal as a country to ensure that all schools give all students the knowledge, the understandings, the analytical and other skills they need to be effective participants in rapidly changing world in which we live. Achieving this goal is still an aspiration that will take sustained effort to realise.

Quality teaching must be a central element of any strategy to achieve educational success for all students.

The identification and achievement of quality in teaching is the focus of this conference.

Let me put this conference in a wider perspective.

The central preoccupation of this government in its policies for schools has been to ensure that all students have the opportunity to obtain the schooling that will bring out their potential and prepare them for life and for lifelong learning.

We are very conscious that in the knowledge society and the knowledge economy which is coming into existence opportunity for all more than ever requires educational success for all.

There is no doubt that in many respects Australian schooling has been amongst the world’s best, and that the current generation of young people coming from school is the best educated generation this country has seen. I have been conscious of this quality as I have experienced the extraordinary skills exhibited by the members of the National Youth Roundtable and other youth bodies. It is a fact that has been evident when the achievements of Australian students have been benchmarked against international standards, as they have been in fields such as science and mathematics. The international maths and science surveys have shown that some Australian school systems are producing students whose learning is equal to any in the world.

Such international benchmarking studies have also shown that there is considerable variability in student achievement among the States and Territories, and it is this variability which has now become a key focus of educational policy.

Everyone with a significant connection to education knows that there are many students whose potential is far from being realised, and for a whole variety of reasons.

In a democracy such as Australia we cannot simply accept that there will always be students who will not realise their potential and whose level of achievement will be low. The promise of democracy is that every person will have the opportunity to express the best of which they are capable. That is the foundation of the equal respect, and equal right to participate that is the very core of the democratic promise. If we were able to achieve this goal for every student it would transform the lives of these students, the life of our country and its capacity to contribute to the world beyond.

The challenge for governments and for educators is to draw the lessons from their experience of past policies and from their experience of different approaches to teaching and learning to put in place frameworks for schooling that increase the prospect of achieving such an objective.

We need to be prepared to take a long hard look at what we have achieved to date - the good things and the not so good - the successes and the failures - what works and what does not - to collect and weigh the evidence and in the light of that evidence to push forward with improvements that will take us closer to the achievement of the goals we all share.

When this government came to office in 1996 it was the fact of variability in performance which bore heavily on us, and which has had a major influence on our approach - recognising that we are a national government, concerned with national interests, but not a government which accredits and runs schools nor employs teachers.

When we came to office we were faced by an accumulation of evidence that there was a substantial minority of students - around some 30 per cent of all students - who did not have adequate mastery of literacy and numeracy. It was not simply the constant refrain and anecdotes from employers and universities that many students did not have the basic skills required either in the workplace or in higher education. Repeated surveys of student achievement had demonstrated this- the surveys of the Australian Council for Educational Research since 1975 and in 1996 the National Schools English Literacy survey. For Year 9 students, for Year 3 and Year 5 students, the results of these studies were essentially on all fours - our schools were failing to overcome the most fundamental educational disadvantage faced by a significant group of students.

The ACER studies indicated that there had been no change in this situation in two decades, despite a number of efforts - including a billion dollar Disadvantaged Schools Programme - to address the problem.

ABS studies of adult literacy gave further weight to these findings.

The challenge was how to make a difference, how to effectively overcome educational disadvantage, how to avoid simply spending more for no better outcomes. It was to work out what were the causes of the problem and to address these causes with a strategy that held out some greater prospect of success. We decided on an evidence-based approach.

Our first step was to make sure we had agreement on what we meant by literacy and literacy standards. We brought together the nations most expert educators to determine if a workable agreement on literacy standards was possible and it was. In April 1998 all State and Territory Ministers for Education signed off on national standards for reading, writing and spelling. Recognising that these were not the only dimensions of literacy, it was agreed that these should be the focus of the initial efforts. The year 3 standard defined basic literacy.

The Ministers then agreed that the appropriate goal was that every student should have achieved adequate literacy skills by the time they left primary school. Recognising, again on the basis of expert advice, that the early years were crucial, especially the first three years, Ministers then agreed that there should be an additional objective to give meaning to this goal - that every child entering school in 1998 should be numerate, and able to read write spell and communicate by the end of their third year of schooling.

Goals are easy to state, but how would it be determined whether the goals were being reached? This led to an historic breakthrough - it was agreed that there would be an assessment of the literacy skills of every student against the national benchmarks in years 3, 5 and now year 7, and that the results of these assessments would be published by State and Territory, so that progress could be monitored.

Thus was established for the first time an evidenced based policy framework with targets. I believe it is fair to say that this was an historic development in

educational policy in Australia.

Obviously, much followed from this. The goal would only be achieved if the reasons why many students were achieving below the benchmarks were addressed - and there was debate over what these reasons were.

It was obvious that existing teaching methods, whatever their strengths, and they had strengths, were not sufficient. They were plainly not working for all children

Consultations with primary principals pointed to an overcrowded curriculum as an obstacle to giving each child the time and attention required - space needed to be cleared so that a proper focus on literacy was possible.

It was also evident that many primary teachers had not had training in the identification of the special needs that some students had. Initial teaching and professional development for existing teachers was clearly called for.

There was also a need for specialist support for the classroom teacher, through programmes such as Reading Recovery.

To implement these understandings, the States and Territories agreed with the Commonwealth to a National Literacy and Numeracy Plan under which students literacy and numeracy needs were to be assessed, for diagnostic purposes, as soon as possible after entering school, early intervention for children with special needs was to be undertaken and appropriate professional development was to be made available to teachers.

The Deans of Education faculties agreed that renewed attention would be given to teacher training in the skills required for success in literacy. States and Territories, and non-government schools and systems, adopted a whole range of additional strategies, building on what was already in place, such as the requirement for a minimum number of teaching hours per day to be given to literacy and numeracy. While not directly addressing the issue of the overcrowded curriculum, such strategies inevitably heightened considerably the priority for literacy and numeracy against other curriculum elements.

In April 1999 all Education Ministers signed the Adelaide Declaration on the National Goals of Schooling for the 21 st Century. Unlike the earlier Hobart Declaration of a decade before, the Adelaide Declaration was much more heavily focussed on outcomes, and on the importance of outcomes for the achievement of equity. It explicitly stated as a goal that "the learning outcomes of disadvantaged students improve and, over time, match those of other students".

The Adelaide Declaration stressed the importance, in overcoming educational disadvantage and developing fully the talents and capacities of all students, of "further strengthening schools as learning communities", "enhancing the status and quality of the teaching profession", "continuing to develop curriculum and related systems of assessment, accreditation and credentialing that promote quality and are nationally recognised and valued".

The Ministers in particular saw the importance of "increasing public confidence in school education through explicit and defensibe standards that guide improvement in students’ levels of educational achievement and through which the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of schooling can be measured and evaluated".

We are now in a position where we can begin to assess the impact of this strategy. The results of two population assessments of literacy achievement in years 3 and 5 are now available, and some education systems have now published the results of the Year 2000 assessments.

The evidence is that we are now seeing the first measurable improvements in the proportion of students acquiring key literacy and numeracy skills in a quarter of a century. The percentage of Australian Year Three students achieving the reading benchmark has risen by some fifteen per cent from seventy-two per cent in 1996 to eighty-six point nine per cent in 1999. The rate of illiteracy in the early years assessed by this benchmark has halved. What we already know about last years assessments indicates that standards have risen further.

There are several important results that are flowing from this benchmarking exercise.

Firstly, parents and the community are entitled to have growing confidence that the needs of all students are increasingly being met by the quality of teaching of literacy that is available.

Secondly, teachers have played a central role in achieving these learning outcomes, and the strategy in turn is empowering leadership in the school and the classroom. Armed with evidence of how their students are performing, teachers and school principals are empowered to innovate and implement the best solutions for their students in their schools. Evidence of attainment becomes a pressure to innovate - to better embrace the needs of those students who are still below benchmark standards.

Thirdly, benchmarking is increasingly focussing attention on the needs of students who are still not performing at or above benchmark levels. It is challenging policy-makers, principals and teachers to devise innovative approaches to ensure that the needs of all students are effectively met.

The Commonwealth has recently responded to the evidence of the large gap in literacy skills between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students by writing the strongest performance contracts ever with the States and Territories in relation to special needs funding. States, Territories and other school systems have been required to agree to specific targets for improved outcomes as the basis for Commonwealth funding. These targets have been to either close the gap in literacy performance between indigenous and non-indigenous students either completely or by 50 per cent by 2004. The benchmarking process has for the first time enabled agreements to be written with performance benchmarks included.

Again, the school funding legislation passed by the Parliament last December has had the effect of putting into law as a basis of Commonwealth funding the agreed goals of schooling, including the literacy targets, which have now become the basis for school funding in Australia by the Commonwealth. $22 billion of funding is now allocated ion part on the basis of solid commitments to achieve literacy targets.

The achievement of the targets is, of course, ultimately depends on the expertise of the teaching profession. It is clear that principals and teachers are willing to innovate to achieve these goals if they have the flexibility and the resources to do so. Innovation in response to measured outcomes has become a key strategy in Australia to overcome educational disadvantage.

On the resources side, Commonwealth funding for schools is a rising proportion of an expanding GDP - funding for public schooling has increased some 43 per cent in the last five years. Few areas of Commonwealth activity have received the priority in investment that has flowed to schooling. In recent years, Commonwealth funding has been increasing more rapidly than spending in the States and Territories. In this context criticism of Commonwealth spending on public schooling has to be seen for what it is - a partisan attack in an election year.

Today I am launching the results of a study commissioned by the Commonwealth School Innovation: Pathway to the Knowledge Society .

This Report details the findings of the Innovation and Best Practice Project which was undertaken by a consortium chaired by Professor Peter Cuttance. I would like to thank and congratulate Peter and his colleagues Professors Max Angus, Frank Crowther, Peter Hill, with Shirley Stokes, Graeme Jane, Glynis Jones, Anthony Mackay and Harriet Olney for their work, and acknowledge the contributions of The University of Melbourne, Edith Cowan University, The University of Southern Queensland and The University of Sydney.

This was one of the largest educational research projects ever undertaken in Australia that has specifically focussed on innovation in schools.

Each of the 107 participating schools developed and implemented a significant innovation aimed at improving learning outcomes for students.

This is not a report on one sector or another: a wide cross-section of schools participated in the project. Two- thirds were from government school systems, one-fifth described themselves as serving communities with significant levels of social and economic disadvantage, more than one-sixth indicated that their innovation was in response to a perceived crisis or threat to their viability.

This report contains powerful conclusions for governments, education systems, schools and teachers.

I would like to speak to some of these, which point the way forward to how we can equip schools to innovate and respond to the challenges in their environment.

First of all, the report notes that teaching and learning was the major focus of most of the initiatives. Rather than focussing on organisational change, the schools involved in the project focussed their attention on student learning first and made organisational changes as required to address student learning.

The project provides strong evidence that professional learning can only be achieved by teachers working with the knowledge that they are incorporating into their innovations. Teacher-based research and evaluation of their practice is a necessary component of successful school innovation.

The report states that "Probably the most important outcome of the IBPP project was its lessons for teacher learning. The most powerful innovations incorporated teams of teachers learning by "working" with new knowledge and, in the process, enhancing their understanding of the learning needs and capacities of their students." The report goes on to say, "Models of professional development based on the dissemination of information are inadequate for supporting teachers in their role in the emerging knowledge society."

We already have a good working knowledge of how professional development is undertaken by teachers and the sorts of professional development activities that most appeal to them through the report PD 2000 Australia. This report is also on my Department’s website and there are some hard copies available in the foyer.

Among other things that report tells us that some 80 per cent of teachers state that the professional development they undertake is school based and that over 50 per cent attend activities that are either planned according to school goals or individual needs. Reading the two reports together, we get a view that is encouraging, but still has some way to go to ensure that professional development is supportive of school innovation.

The report School Innovation: Pathway to the Knowledge Society also provides powerful evidence of the crucial role of effective leadership in the successful implementation of innovation.

The strategic leadership of principals was essential in almost every successful innovation with principals being the initiators and the driving force behind innovation in many cases.

Teachers also played critical leadership roles. The research demonstrates that schools need to have access to a critical level of high quality instructional leadership by teachers if they are to be successful in developing and implementing innovations that lead to substantial improvements for students.

The driving professional passion of teachers was evident in many of the successful innovations.

The Commonwealth has engaged principals and teachers in national discussions and projects dealing with the processes of change and the determination of

priorities in school education. The government has established annual meetings with representatives of primary and secondary principals and has supported ongoing professional development through the Australian Principals Professional Development Council.

Principals have undertaken key projects on the impact of the literacy and numeracy agenda in primary schools and more broadly have established a key role in overcoming the educational disadvantages of Indigenous students through the Dare to Lead project. The engagement of principals and teachers through this conference and other projects under Teachers for the 21 st Century will better guide future directions in the enhancement of knowledge and skills of the future leaders of school change and reform in Australia.

School Innovation: Pathway to the Knowledge Society also shows that, given the appropriate conditions, schools can produce innovative approaches that are capable of responding to the challenges ahead. It argues that the broader policy agenda needs to focus on how the future of schools in Australia can be supported and informed by encouraging innovation.

It points out that few of the schools involved in the project were influenced by systemic programmes and policies to embark on their innovation. This leads to the conclusion that the primary role of systems in innovation may be in the development of an infrastructure that supports schools’ access to external resources of expertise, programmes and resources that they require for innovation.

The report highlights a need for system authorities to ensure that schools have the means of evaluating change, particularly in the light of increasing demands on schools to account for their performance.

You will be the first members of the education community to have access to this report and are ideally placed to disseminate its findings in your schools. I encourage you to do so. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Professor Cuttance and his colleagues on a job well done. (I particularly welcome Professor Cuttance here today as I understand that he had the alternative of being in Rome at this time.)

Last September, I announced the Teachers for the 21st Century Initiative: the Government’s plan to improve teachers skills, support and encourage effective school leadership and management, and to recognise excellent teachers and schools.

The first element of Teachers for the 21st Century, and certainly in dollar terms its largest, is the provision of professional development activities for teachers under the Quality Teacher Programme.

This program is aimed particularly at providing professional renewal for teachers who completed their initial teacher education ten or more years ago, teachers re-entering the workforce and casual teachers.

It also addresses the needs of teachers of disadvantaged students such as Indigenous students, students in rural and remote locations and students in urban disadvantaged schools.

The key focus areas of Quality Teachers are literacy, numeracy, mathematics, science, information and communication technologies and Vocational Education and Training in schools.

An important part of the Quality Teachers programme will be the establishment of an information exchange project to provide teachers, schools and other educational stakeholders with information about best practice in teacher professional development. The programme will facilitate sharing and learning between States and Territories in relation to programme activities, provide a vehicle for national reporting on professional development activities; and disseminate the findings of projects to be funded under the Quality Teacher Programme and Teachers for the 21st Century.

The Commonwealth has negotiated contracts with government, Catholic and independent school authorities in all States and Territories for the delivery of this professional development.

The approach taken by the Commonwealth during the consultations leading to the implementation of the program was to emphasise the need for professional development activities to be school and teacher initiated as far as possible. It is gratifying to note that this approach is supported by the findings of both the School Innovation: Pathway to the Knowledge Society and PD 2000 Australia reports.

Teachers for the 21st Century also has a clear role in helping us achieve the aims of the National Indigenous English Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, particularly promoting the use of teaching methods that have been shown to effectively improve Indigenous student literacy and numeracy outcomes.

Recent work, particularly through the What Works and Will Work Again project, has shown that educators can accelerate Indigenous student learning outcomes by combining high expectations with good teaching and learning practice and by linking this to performance indicators and targets in terms of Indigenous student outcomes.

Schools involved will be supported to explore models of effective practice and to adopt those that meet their school and community characteristics and needs. The project will deliver school and community based workshops and effective practice, and develop and promote a professional development package that captures the detail of current effective practice for Indigenous students. Developmental work on this project is almost complete and I expect the professional development package to be introduced into schools in the second half of this year.

Through Teachers for the 21st Century, the Government is also working to facilitate the development of professional standards for teachers. One of the

hallmarks of a profession is that it establishes and maintains its own high professional standards.

For the past two years the Commonwealth has been funding three projects to develop teacher professional standards with the assistance of Australian Research Council Strategic Partnerships with Industry Research and Training (SPIRT) grants. In each case the industry partner has been the relevant teacher professional association: the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, The Australian Science Teachers Association and the Australian Association for the Teaching of English with the Australian Literacy Educators Association.

In April this year Teachers for the 21st Century funded meeting of these associations so they could share the insights gained from participation in the projects and to identify areas for further development.

This workshop also produced a report which is intended to assist other professional associations or organisations that may wish to develop professional standards for teachers. It will be released later this year, and be available on the information exchange website.

The Quality Leaders element of Teachers for the 21st Century will support the professional development of school leaders and aspiring school leaders. The Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council is undertaking a project to provide professional development programs for primary and secondary principals, with a major focus on innovations in teaching and learning and the impact on student outcomes. It will also enhance principals’ knowledge and understanding of international developments in education and develop a national framework of succession planning for school principals. Concurrently the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association has commenced work on the identification and definition of key issues relating to school leadership in the twenty first century.

Quality school management is the third element of Teachers for the 21st Century. The report on innovation and best practice in Australian schools which I am launching today tells us that teacher-related factors are particularly significant in introducing school-based management initiatives.

Of particular interest in the area of school management is a project which is being funded to look at the linkage between teacher professional development and improved student learning outcomes.

While it is generally held to be axiomatic that professional development will improve learning outcomes, a project funded through Teachers for the 21st Century will investigate the nature of the linkage between teacher professional development and improving teacher quality and student learning outcomes. The project is also intended to identify examples of good national and international practice of teacher professional development linked to student learning outcomes. Importantly, it will look at work that is going on in schools at present as well as academic work in

Australia and overseas and will involve field testing of models in some 80 schools. The results of the project will help inform teachers and their schools about their approach to professional development.

Recognition of quality is the fourth and most public aspect of Teachers for the 21st Century. A key aspect of this recognition of quality teaching is Australian Teachers Prizes, which were first presented in conjunction with the National Excellence in Teaching Awards in April this year.

We are now working with the NEiTA Foundation to deliver a new round of awards. This round culminates in the presentation of regional awards in October this year and of national awards in March 2002.

These awards are a means to acknowledge innovative teaching and to recognise the contribution of the individual and of the school team. The Australian Teachers Prizes include significant monetary rewards to support continuing professional development, with a share of this available to the school as well as to the teacher. However, Teachers for the 21st Century seeks to go beyond this and to support and recognise highly effective schools and teachers. We are therefore looking at a process that will enable schools to assess how they are performing against established best practice principles.

The Commonwealth intends to develop a quality schooling framework which will provide guidance to the school community, particularly school leaders and teachers, on how to identify, monitor and assess schooling and teaching practices that lead to measurable and improved learning outcomes.

This project will also develop options for a national awards scheme that is built into and founded on the Framework and that seeks to recognise quality schools and teachers who deliver quality outcomes. In the longer term the Commonwealth awards for teaching excellence will be linked to this framework.

There are six key elements to the Commonwealth’s strategy to achieve equity and higher standards:

A shift in focus toward improving student outcomes benchmarked against both national and international standards; ●

A consistent strategy of increasing the total resources available to Australian schools; ●

Broadening the curriculum and innovation in schools to enable schools to better meet the needs of all students and enhance the relevance of the curriculum both in the eyes of students and of the wider community;


The development of partnerships between the Federal Government and industry in the recognition of skill shortages; ●

Ensuring that principals as the leaders of schools, and teachers as the keys to successful learning, are involved in national discussions and projects dealing with the process of change and the development of priorities; and


Building partnerships between Federal, State and Territory governments to secure, as far as possible, a common understanding of the requirements for ensuring that Australian education and training systems are best equipped to prepare school leaders, teachers and students for the knowledge age.


These are not motherhood statements, they elements have been the building blocks of a strategy which is actually delivering for Australian students and schools.

There is now an alternative position for most of these key elements.

This week’s Knowledge Nation document was silent on the issue of testing against national benchmarks. Given the open opposition to testing from some of the Labor states there can be little doubt that a Federal Labor government will permit states to abandon literacy and numeracy testing.

On the issue of funding, Labor has already signalled a return to the funding of education as a zero sum game. Labor has already said it will cut funding from some schools to fund, in part, teacher education policies that essentially duplicate the professional development initiatives already contained in the Government’s Teachers for the 21st Century initiative. Leaving aside the moral questions over cutting one part of the education sector to fund another, such a policy implicitly signals an abandonment of the principle of consistent growth in resources for schools.  

The theme for the conference, quality teaching through improvement or transformation, gives you the opportunity to canvass a range of views on whether quality teaching can be achieved through improving upon what you are doing now or through changing the way it is done. The program that has been put together is challenging but provides a balance of discussion sessions and presentations that will allow you to formulate issues relating to quality teaching, reflect on these issues and identify ways forward to improve learning outcomes for students. This conference is part of a process that I hope will help to lift the level of an ongoing debate about what quality teaching means in Australia today and I wish you well for the your discussions over the next two days.


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