Schools going back to basics?

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 22 September 2015

The following letter was submitted to The Australian for possible inclusion in the edition of Monday 21 September 2015 but it was not selected for publication. It seems that a regular theme of reporting on education in this and some other papers is that schools are constantly drifting away from "the basics" and need to return to them. I suspect it must be the alliteration in "back to basics" that they find so alluring.

Schools going back to basics?

If, as your front page headline proclaims, the nation's schools really are going back to basics, perhaps we can help balance governmental budgets by abolishing secondary schools entirely ("Phonics, coding and faith as nation's schools go back to basics", Sep 19-20)?

Wherever do you find the sub-editors who come up with such journalistic gems?

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

Educational measurement

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 9 September 2015

The following letter was submitted to The Courier-Mail for possible inclusion in the edition of Wednesday 9 September 2015 but it was not selected for publication.

Number crunchers in charge of education

Professor Kenneth Wiltshire wisely warns against allowing "measurers" or "number crunchers" to be in charge of any part of a school system ("In-school senior assessment still needs more examination", Sep 8).

Professor Barry McGaw, the inaugural chair of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), that developed the national curriculum, was sometimes inaccurately described by journalists as an expert on school curriculum. He would not have made that claim himself. His expertise and experience were in educational measurement.

And I suspect that Professor Wiltshire would be appalled if he had a better undertanding of the contemporary focus on data in the school system, which sometimes amounts to an obsession. Data is of course useful but a sensible balance must be maintained. There is some timely advice often attributed to Einstein (inaccurately, I believe): not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts".

Garry Collins
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English

Posted in: Assessment   0 Comments

Another post re external exams

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 9 September 2015

An edited version of the letter below was published in The Courier-Mail of Tuesday 8 September 2015. It was part of an exchange featured in another recent post. I have provided my original version and what the paper printed.

What I submitted

Syllabuses and external exams

I suspect that physics teacher Jeevan Soorya Dhas might be confusing some members of the general public.

In his letter in Friday's edition he suggested that there was no physics syllabus in Queensland. In his follow-up letter (7/9) he conceded that there is a syllabus but dismissed it as "silly".

Given his opinion of the document, he would presumably not wish it to be the basis of external exams in the subject. What, then, would be the source of the questions? The whims and pet topics of the chief examiner? And if official examiners are no more honest than Dhas suggests science teachers in schools are, then advance copies of exam papers should be readily available.

It is clear that Dhas thinks there should be little scope at school level for decision making about curriculum and assessment with all such matters being thoroughly detailed in a syllabus. Whatever the merits of that position, it does run counter to the currently widespread push for greater school autonomy to be observed around the country.

Garry Collins
Immediate past president, English Teachers Association of Queensland

What the paper printed

School daze

Jeevan Soorya Dhas (Letters, Sep 4) suggested there was no physics syllabus in Queensland. In his follow-up (Letters, Sep 7) he conceded there is a syllabus but dismissed it as "silly". It is clear that Dhas thinks there should be little scope at school level for decision-making about curriculum and assessment with all such matters detailed in a syllabus. Whatever the merits of that position, it is counter to the push for greater school autonomy around the country.

Posted in: Assessment   0 Comments

Charter schools

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 7 September 2015

An edited version of the following letter was published in The Australian of Monday 7 September 2015. It had been submitted in response to an opinion piece in the weekend edition. Underlined words were deleted and bracketed ones inserted. The paper's heading was "Rigidities of regulation".

Charter schools

In describing charter schools in the US, Jennifer Buckingham writes that they (says US charter schools) have "greater freedom in employment practices (most charter schools are not unionised)" ("Charter system could be the key to energising underperforming schools", Inquirer, Sep 5-6).

What this probably means in practice is that teachers in charter schools would be subject to exploitation without anyone to defend their interests. No doubt this would result in higher rates of teacher burn-out and disillusionment than are already disturbingly evident.

If local control is so obviously better, shouldn't we be trying charter police stations and army units as well? Surely these are also hampered by what Buckingham describes as the rigidities of regulation.

Posted in: General news   1 Comments

More on external exams

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 5 September 2015

I had a letter about senior secondary school assessment published in The Courier-Mail of Saturday 5 September 2015. It was in response to a letter in the previous day's edition.

What I submitted:

School and university exams

Jeevan Soorya Dhas, (Letters, 4 Sep) writes that under Queensland's current senior secondary school assessment arrangements "teachers are able to tell their students what questions would be in their exams", insultingly implying that this is common practice.

This unprofessional practice is also possible in universities where exams are set and marked internally rather than by any external body. I wonder whether Dhas is consistent enough to extend his slur to academics across the country.

Strangely, Dhas claims that "schools can teach whatever they want instead of following a common syllabus". If he goes to the website of the QCAA (Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority) he will find the senior physics syllabus at https://www.qcaa.qld.edu.au/1964.html . Dhas identifies himself as a physics teacher but perhaps he has never looked at this document.

If the accuracy and logic evident in Dhas's letter were representative of science teaching in the state then we certainly would have a problem.

Garry Collins
Immediate Past President, English Teachers Association of Queensland

What the paper printed:

Criticisms aimed at senior school assessment are not on the mark

Teacher Jeevan Soorya Dhas, (Letters, 4 Sep) wrote that under Queensland's current senior secondary school assessment arrangements "teachers are able to tell their students what questions would be in their exams", implying this is common practice.

I wonder whether he would extend his slur to all academics as this unprofessional practice is also possible in universities where exams are set and marked internally. Dhas claimed that "schools can teach whatever they want ".  He will find his physics syllabus on the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority website. 

Garry Collins, Immediate Past President, English Teachers Association of Queensland

Posted in: Assessment   1 Comments

Schools going back to basics?

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 22 September 2015

The following letter was submitted to The Australian for possible inclusion in the edition of Monday 21 September 2015 but it was not selected for publication. It seems that a regular theme of reporting on education in this and some other papers is that schools are constantly drifting away from "the basics" and need to return to them. I suspect it must be the alliteration in "back to basics" that they find so alluring.

Schools going back to basics?

If, as your front page headline proclaims, the nation's schools really are going back to basics, perhaps we can help balance governmental budgets by abolishing secondary schools entirely ("Phonics, coding and faith as nation's schools go back to basics", Sep 19-20)?

Wherever do you find the sub-editors who come up with such journalistic gems?

Posted in: Curriculum matters   0 Comments

Educational measurement

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 9 September 2015

The following letter was submitted to The Courier-Mail for possible inclusion in the edition of Wednesday 9 September 2015 but it was not selected for publication.

Number crunchers in charge of education

Professor Kenneth Wiltshire wisely warns against allowing "measurers" or "number crunchers" to be in charge of any part of a school system ("In-school senior assessment still needs more examination", Sep 8).

Professor Barry McGaw, the inaugural chair of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), that developed the national curriculum, was sometimes inaccurately described by journalists as an expert on school curriculum. He would not have made that claim himself. His expertise and experience were in educational measurement.

And I suspect that Professor Wiltshire would be appalled if he had a better undertanding of the contemporary focus on data in the school system, which sometimes amounts to an obsession. Data is of course useful but a sensible balance must be maintained. There is some timely advice often attributed to Einstein (inaccurately, I believe): not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts".

Garry Collins
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English

Posted in: Assessment   0 Comments

Another post re external exams

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 9 September 2015

An edited version of the letter below was published in The Courier-Mail of Tuesday 8 September 2015. It was part of an exchange featured in another recent post. I have provided my original version and what the paper printed.

What I submitted

Syllabuses and external exams

I suspect that physics teacher Jeevan Soorya Dhas might be confusing some members of the general public.

In his letter in Friday's edition he suggested that there was no physics syllabus in Queensland. In his follow-up letter (7/9) he conceded that there is a syllabus but dismissed it as "silly".

Given his opinion of the document, he would presumably not wish it to be the basis of external exams in the subject. What, then, would be the source of the questions? The whims and pet topics of the chief examiner? And if official examiners are no more honest than Dhas suggests science teachers in schools are, then advance copies of exam papers should be readily available.

It is clear that Dhas thinks there should be little scope at school level for decision making about curriculum and assessment with all such matters being thoroughly detailed in a syllabus. Whatever the merits of that position, it does run counter to the currently widespread push for greater school autonomy to be observed around the country.

Garry Collins
Immediate past president, English Teachers Association of Queensland

What the paper printed

School daze

Jeevan Soorya Dhas (Letters, Sep 4) suggested there was no physics syllabus in Queensland. In his follow-up (Letters, Sep 7) he conceded there is a syllabus but dismissed it as "silly". It is clear that Dhas thinks there should be little scope at school level for decision-making about curriculum and assessment with all such matters detailed in a syllabus. Whatever the merits of that position, it is counter to the push for greater school autonomy around the country.

Posted in: Assessment   0 Comments

Charter schools

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 7 September 2015

An edited version of the following letter was published in The Australian of Monday 7 September 2015. It had been submitted in response to an opinion piece in the weekend edition. Underlined words were deleted and bracketed ones inserted. The paper's heading was "Rigidities of regulation".

Charter schools

In describing charter schools in the US, Jennifer Buckingham writes that they (says US charter schools) have "greater freedom in employment practices (most charter schools are not unionised)" ("Charter system could be the key to energising underperforming schools", Inquirer, Sep 5-6).

What this probably means in practice is that teachers in charter schools would be subject to exploitation without anyone to defend their interests. No doubt this would result in higher rates of teacher burn-out and disillusionment than are already disturbingly evident.

If local control is so obviously better, shouldn't we be trying charter police stations and army units as well? Surely these are also hampered by what Buckingham describes as the rigidities of regulation.

Posted in: General news   1 Comments

More on external exams

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 5 September 2015

I had a letter about senior secondary school assessment published in The Courier-Mail of Saturday 5 September 2015. It was in response to a letter in the previous day's edition.

What I submitted:

School and university exams

Jeevan Soorya Dhas, (Letters, 4 Sep) writes that under Queensland's current senior secondary school assessment arrangements "teachers are able to tell their students what questions would be in their exams", insultingly implying that this is common practice.

This unprofessional practice is also possible in universities where exams are set and marked internally rather than by any external body. I wonder whether Dhas is consistent enough to extend his slur to academics across the country.

Strangely, Dhas claims that "schools can teach whatever they want instead of following a common syllabus". If he goes to the website of the QCAA (Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority) he will find the senior physics syllabus at https://www.qcaa.qld.edu.au/1964.html . Dhas identifies himself as a physics teacher but perhaps he has never looked at this document.

If the accuracy and logic evident in Dhas's letter were representative of science teaching in the state then we certainly would have a problem.

Garry Collins
Immediate Past President, English Teachers Association of Queensland

What the paper printed:

Criticisms aimed at senior school assessment are not on the mark

Teacher Jeevan Soorya Dhas, (Letters, 4 Sep) wrote that under Queensland's current senior secondary school assessment arrangements "teachers are able to tell their students what questions would be in their exams", implying this is common practice.

I wonder whether he would extend his slur to all academics as this unprofessional practice is also possible in universities where exams are set and marked internally. Dhas claimed that "schools can teach whatever they want ".  He will find his physics syllabus on the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority website. 

Garry Collins, Immediate Past President, English Teachers Association of Queensland

Posted in: Assessment   1 Comments

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