Chris Pyne wants to be your BFF!

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blah blahIn his first few weeks as Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne has continued the Coalition’s penchant for pithy – if a little superficial – slogans, saying that the government’s policy on schools is “achievable, affordable and believable.”

It even rhymes.

But what does that actually – y’know – mean?

Speaking last week at the Independent Education Union’s National Conference, Pyne offered us a glimpse into his thinking. The government’s education reform policy is built around three pillars:

·      The Australian Curriculum

·      School Autonomy

·      Raising Teaching Standards

It will be what Pyne describes as an “unapologetically students-first policy.”

In order to develop the “highest possible standard curriculum” Pyne, will “refocus” the work of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) – the group of education experts who have worked over the past five years to deliver Australia its first national curriculum.

By “refocus” he means cutting funds and “transferring to the Department of Education all data, reporting and compliance functions.”

But even with the agency focused solely only on curriculum development, Pyne is unlikely to take much notice of it.

”I don’t believe in handing over responsibility for government policy to third parties,” he says, ”The Westminster system of government requires ministers to take a hands-on approach to matters within their portfolio.”

So it appears ACARA will not only lose $23 million in funding, but also the last three letters of their acronym.

There is history between Pyne and ACARA’s chief Barry McGaw, when Pyne publicly criticized the History Curriculum. Apparently it had too much emphasis on indigenous history and nothing about the Westminster system of government.

It appears Dr McGaw is going to get a personal lesson in the ways of a Westminster system of government and Pyne himself will have a direct say in what is taught in schools.

But that might not be such a bad thing right? Because after all, he says the government’s plan for school education is “unapologetically a students-first policy”.

Great news. Until you realise Christopher Pyne’s idea of students-first might not be the same as a teacher’s idea of students first.

He believes we need more, “didactic teaching methods, more traditional methods rather than the child-centred learning that has dominated the system for the past 20, 30 or 40 years.” He is intent on overturning child-centred learning although he doesacknowledge he will not be able to do this overnight.

And his instincts tell him that, “a back-to-basics approach to education is what the country is looking for.” He says, “We’ll review the Australian Curriculum so that it delivers what parents expect.”

An average mother (with regard to age, not parenting skills) who’s first born is going to high school next year will be forty, meaning that – assuming she finished year 12 – she left school twenty-two years ago.

Personally, I hope school is not what she expects.

I hope it’s changed significantly since she was at school when the hot topic of conversation on the school bus would have been about how to best record a mix-tape off the radio.

As an advocate for school autonomy, Pyne has committed $70 million to an Independent Public Schools Fund “to encourage schools to be more empowered, and to take on more autonomy and responsibility.”

And why wouldn’t he? As Pyne told the IEU Conference, “Such schools have proved a terrific success in Western Australia – allowing locals to set their own priorities and make more day-to-day decisions about important matters.”

Except they haven’t. Not in WA, or pretty much anywhere else in the world for that matter. Pyne Friend Request

In talking about teaching standards in Australia, Mr Pyne recognised that teachers do, “outstanding work in Australia”, and that he and the Government are “here to support them to become the best professionals they can be.”

In fact he went as far as to say that this government wanted to be “The best friend teachers have ever had.”

Although presumably he doesn’t want to be BFF’s with the forty-odd thousand teachers who aren’t “up to scratch.”  I think he wants to kick them out.

And it’s not just those bludgers that need to lift their game. The teachers’ best bud reckons, “Concerted action is required to lift the quality and status of the teaching profession.”

Perhaps teachers aren’t that outstanding after all?

Whilst Mr Pyne’s musings are cause for concern to many in the sector, it’s what he’s not saying that is – frankly – alarming.  He is point blank refusing to talk funding.

Educational inequity – particularly for kids from indigenous and poorer backgrounds – is by far the greatest issue confronting the education sector (and dare I say the country).

56% of Australia’s indigenous population live in QLD, WA and NT.

The significance? These are the three jurisdictions yet to sign up to the new schools funding model.

And the minister’s response?

He says, he’ll have a plan, ‘Hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Far from being best friends forever, I’m tipping that the heady mix of the unwillingness to recognise the funding issues, its meddling in the curriculum and superficial slogans will mean that the relationship between teachers and this government will be far from rosy.

0 Comments on “Chris Pyne wants to be your BFF!

  1. I find myself disappointed with “The Left” in regards to their view on educational pedagogy. I vote left but in the main agree with the right in their summation that more money doesn’t solve the problems so we need to look elsewhere. It has become very clear to me as a parent that the current “way of teaching” is unegalitarian and also far from successful. Child centred learning has had a really long run and in many ways has been very disappointing. I speak as a parent who wants to see my child learn facts, who believes the teacher should impart knowledge and not leave kids to “discover” their own individual way of working something out. I believe that often there is a right answer ie 1 plus 1 does equal 2 and the right answer does count and is important,. I believe that young children in particular need more than just guidance they need to be taught…it alsmost sounds laugable saying that. What I have observed at our local SS is that spiral maths is a disaster there being not time for practice and consolidaiton just leaving the kids confused and convinced they are hopeless at maths. There is no time given over to learning and memorising addition and multiplicatrion facts. As a result you have the kids who do well simply because their parents tutor them or send trhem to a tutoring school (lucky kids) and again the have nots whose parents don’t care or simply don;’t have the time orf money to be teaching their children that which they should be learning at school. So those on the left need to understand that you are helping to perpetuate an unfair, tiered system by not teaching with a lot more direct instruction. My children were doing poorly in maths until I discovered they were learning via the sprial method. Once I tutored them via mastery they began doing very well. It is amazing the difference it has made. And yes they are able to handle more complex,, inquiry based problems too simply because they now have the necessary tools to do so. Direct/explicit instruction should be how most lessons are taught with a small amount of student-centered learning not the other way round.

    • Hi Tempe,
      Thanks for such a thoughtful reply. I guess for me the first thing that springs to mind is that this is not a Left v Right debate. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
      It should be a debate based on best pedagogical practice & research.
      Of course there is a place for Direct Instruction in school, as there is in most environments. If there is a fire, I’m not going to advocate everyone ‘discovers’ a way out for themselves. And my son started school this week – I’ll be the first to kick up a stink if he can’t add up as and when I feel he should be able to.
      My concern is that by relying to heavily on direct instruction – particularly later in a kid’s education – we are setting them up to struggle later in life. Less resilient, critical or creative thinkers.
      It’s my assertion that these skills will be of far more importance in the future rather than the ability to regurgitate facts or complete formulaic operations.
      Why? Two words – Google & Globalisation.
      Anything that can be done faster or cheaper by computer or off shore will be (and as we see in Australia is already being done.)
      So we need (in my opinion) to equip our kids with skills that we didn’t necessarily require when we were at school.
      That’s just my 2 cents. Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment. I really appreciate it.

  2. over parenting theory contains a view that the classroom method is deficient. this plays to the halo effect over parenting types award themselves to justify their use of technology to rectify the deficit and clam their anxiety. the best parenting or teaching gives kids agency. the rest is purely method.

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