David Roy is a lecturer in Education at the University of Newcastle. He tweets at @dmsroy
Around 150 delegates from across Australia were invited. Many teachers and principals were present, as well as representatives of each schooling sector, a number of teaching organisations and unions, think tanks, parents councils, universities, cross-sector specialist organisations and Indigenous education leaders.
Along with Tanya Plibersek MP, several key political leaders from the ALP were present. Bill Shorten MP opened the forum, along with the Victorian Minister for Education James Merlino MP. Senator Deb O’Neill, Senator Jacinta Collins, Graham Perrett MP and Andrew Giles MP (Assistant Shadow Minister for Education – Disability) were present throughout the whole day.
The aim of the forum was for the ALP to consider, from stakeholders, how best to implement education policy and the potential additional $17 billion it is promising in the next Federal Election, and was structured into 4 discussion areas.
1. A Vision for Australia’s School Education System
Key Question: Do the Melbourne Declaration goals remain relevant?
The panel for this session consisted of representatives from a union, from government authority, and Indigenous education leader and a principal.
All the panel members agreed that the Melbourne Declaration was still an important document but that Australia had not implemented the declaration statements. Due to the nature of the panel, focus was given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and low socioeconomic status issues. I argued that rather than ‘promote equity and achievement’ we should update the statement to “apply equity, inclusion and achievement” as through multiple inquiries and evidence children with a disability are being routinely discriminated against and disadvantaged in the system.
2. Australia’s Performance in Education
Key Question: How do we ensure all students are making good progress over time and what are the barriers?
For this session, the panel was made up of principals in schools, mainly from Victoria. It was good to hear about the positive work their own personal institutions undertook. I think the next step is a further discussion of the issues facing schools, including giving children a greater voice.
3. Raising the Status of The Teaching Profession
Key Question: How do we ensure that teaching is valued by our community, so we attract, develop and retain great teachers?
Session three focussed on status with general agreement that education is not seen as a priority in the system. The unions were strong contributors to the discussion, and said teachers deserved more respect. But I think more discussion is needed on failings in the education system, including the need for some staff needing to be moved on. That all said, an academic on the panel did challenge the system stating it was failing, archaic and needs to be completely ‘knocked down and rebuilt’.
I would argue that all areas of the education system need to reflect on what they need to radically change – teachers, schools, principals, systems, organisations, universities and policy makers. All offer positives, all have flaws.
4. School Leadership
Key Question: How can we better prepare and support aspiring principals and leaders and how can we foster and support our school leaders to drive change in their schools?
The final session rightly noted that leadership is key. It commented on how to improve, but some more self-reflective criticism from some of the panellists would have been welcome.
The forum, as a whole was a useful start of what will be a larger discussion. Tanya Plibersek said she was very keen for the conversation with her, and with Labor, to continue. I do applaud Labor though for inviting multiple stakeholders and letting them present ideas and not interrupting at all, but listening. A serious elected presence was there throughout. The ALP must be commended for their demonstrated commitment.
In her summary, Tanya Plibersek was insightful. She recognised that perhaps wider discussion should have happened. She also noted that disagreement often leads to better discussion and potential solutions and that the conversation must go on. It would have been good to have a more extended discussion about inclusion and children with a disability, but Tanya highlighted this area as the one that holds the greatest concern for her in the education system and that we must focus on equity and inclusion. This was coupled by the opening address from Bill Shorten, which was very personal, in relation to the role his educator mother played in his life and why education must be the focus of future policy.
David Roy jointly initiated the 2017 NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Students with a Disability and Education with Caroline Dock.
His research focuses on how we can use the Creative Arts to for inclusion and to support diverse learners, particularly those with disabilities.
He has been part of examination teams in Scotland, Australia, and for the International Baccalaureate. He is the author of eight texts, and was nominated for the 2006 Saltire/TES Scottish Education Publication of the Year and won the 2013 Best New Australian Publication for VCE Drama and/or VCE Theatre Studies. His most recent text is Teaching the Arts: Early Childhood and Primary (2015) published by Cambridge University Press.