Birmingham: misbehaviour infectious, more control for teachers

PISA reports released overnight have confirmed Australia risks falling behind the world unless educators and policymakers take action to target students and schools who are up to three years behind higher performing peers. 

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the full Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report from the OECD, the full Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the National Assessment Program Science Literacy report all highlighted the need for action to shore up Australia’s high-performing education system and ensure it improved into the future to regain its place near the top of international rankings.

Minister Birmingham said the reports had identified discipline, engagement and ambition as being an important part in improving Australia’s education system, along with the record and growing levels of funding from the Turnbull Government.

“By all measures, we have some of the world’s best teachers and school leaders helping students to achieve outcomes that are the envy of many other countries,” Minister Birmingham said.

In an interview with Robbie Buck this morning on ABC Radio Sydney Breakfast, he indicated that “as a dad of two young children”, he knows “how challenging it can be to regulate behaviour of two kids at any time, let alone a whole classroom of children”.

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Therefore, the minister advocates “a team approach”. “We as policymakers need to take this evidence and look to see whether there are better ways we can empower teachers to have greater control,” he told ABC Radio.

In a statement released by the education department, the minister is quoted: “However the warning signs in these reports make it clear that while we need to ensure our record levels of funding is being properly distributed according to need, it must also be tied to proven initiatives to boost outcomes.

“As the OECD highlighted, ‘for the majority of OECD countries there is essentially no relationship between spending per student and outcomes in PISA…What matters is how resources are allocated and the qualitative differences in education policies, cultural norms and professional practices’.

Minister Birmingham said PISA reported 46 percent of students in low socio economic schools were badly behaved, compared to 32 percent of students in high socio economic schools and 50 percent of students reported being distracted by noise compared in those low SES schools compared to 32 percent of high SES schools.

“This research demonstrates that more money spent within a school doesn’t automatically buy you better discipline, engagement or ambition,” Minister Birmingham said.

“While governments are investing ever more in addressing disadvantage we need communities and families to focus on how we simultaneously change behaviour and attitudes. Turning these results around cannot rest solely on the shoulders of teachers or principals.

“Ill-discipline or a bad attitude doesn’t only hurt the outcomes of the student who brings such an approach to school but can infect entire classrooms of students.

“While well-resourced schools with highly capable and motivated teachers are central to success, we equally need policies and parents that empower teachers to expect high standards and adopt a zero tolerance approach to bad behaviour.”

Minister Birmingham said both from a national level and from the states and territories we need to put more effort into understanding why particular schools get the results they do and implement reforms to turn around areas of performance.

“These reports contain a raft of data and findings that deserve close inspection and I call on educators and policymakers at all levels of government to work together to use this information to help deliver an even stronger education system for Australian students.”

Suzy Barry

Suzy Barry is a freelance education writer and the former editor of School News, Australia.

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