Education – everyone’s had one so everyone’s an expert.

Opinion pieces by John Roskam (The Age, Jan 31) proposes parents would make government schools better if they were paying for it, and John Keating (Jan 31) proposes to merge the last years of secondary schools with other institutions to make them more flexible. Neither are government school teachers. Indeed, current teachers contribute only a minority of letters. In my 25 years experience their opinions are never sincerely sought – much better to design questionnaires that provide options within policy, than find out what people real at the chalkface really think. My fictitious poll question would be “What is the major factor that prevents you and your school from performing better ?” 89% of teachers would say “Government regulation and policy” and the diminishing remainder would be found to be applying for promotion and thus too scared to comment on the nakedness of the emperor. Over my decades, governments have continued to pile more and more regulations and responsibilities on schools while providing less and less guidance. Take curriculum: we don’t one ! We have a new set of “standards” deliberately vague so that curriculum developers have flexibility (e.g. Maths - Working mathematically - Standard 3.75: “Knowledge of appropriate historical information”). Unfortunately, the government is not willing to approve any of the curricula developed by publishers and strongly implies that those published are against the spirit of the standards. Teachers are left to write a new curriculum from scratch. Only the old hands remember the educational disaster of the 1980’s “school based curriculum”. The alternative is to use the published curricula and mash it up into some form that will appease the government regulations. Needless to say most such experiments rob the curriculum of quality, coherence and, of course, rigor.
The central problem these vage standards are attempting to address is the increasingly dysfunctional levels of social diversity. “Diversity” is actually a government goal – “valuing diversity”. Unfortunately, diversity is only desirable in certain areas and degrees – alternative cuisine cf. inability to accept women in authority; alternative style of expression cf. using fists to solve problems. Over decades governments have been rewriting educational regulations and standards more and more frequently and desperately as the raw materials in government schools become more and more “diverse”. Students who don’t learn must be promoted from year to year (government regulation). Students who endanger the learning of others must have more time (= money) spent on them at the expense of other students
I am lucky to teach in a school that has developed a school ethos supported by a community that has its own standards which are only very slowly being eroded by government policy. If you are in the right enrolment area, you can get into a government school that has similar control of it’s “diversity”. An alternative increasingly chosen is to buy into a non-government school where diversity wonderfully encouraged – within very well defined limits !.
Oh! You heartless traitor ! Heartless: What do you propose to do with those for those that fall outside the limits of your local school definition of “diversity” ? Traitor: Don’t you understand that anything other than effusive praise of government schools is disloyalty ? Full answers to these and other questions just don’t fit into the letters column.
The simplest advice I can give is for parents to fight for local control of the school standards in curriculum and behaviour against a government that increasingly does more harm than good.

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