A response to the latest Gonski Review

by Principal Jennifer Haynes

I write this with the hope and belief that today heralds the beginning of a new era in Australian Education. The latest Gonski report “Through Growth to Achievement” demands a radical overhaul to improve the education system in our country; echoing a call we have been making at BIS for 50 years.

“Australian education has failed a generation of Australian school children by not enabling them to reach their full learning potential. Dealing with this situation requires a significant shift in aspirations, approach, and practice, to focus on and accelerate individual learning growth for all students, whether they are lower performers, middle ranking or academically advanced”.

It has been hard to watch as year after year our education system has gone from being inadequate at best to now dangerous and damaging; all the while aware that the much-needed shift to putting the child – not the system – at the centre, seems impossible in mainstream schools. A child-centred approach is our core at BIS,  and it forces us to constantly improve and evolve in order to better educate each individual child. So many of the processes developed at BIS have given us expertise in supporting the individual learning journey of every student. Whatever works for their success is our cornerstone, and this should be true for all Australian Schools.

Today’s report stresses “Australia still has an industrial model of school education that reflects a 20th century aspiration to deliver mass education to all children”. Mainstream systems attempt to push schools like BIS into conforming to the traditional, one-size-fits-all model of education first born in the industrial age. This model favours structures and hierarchies without flexibility or agility, and is firmly based on the efficiency needs of the system, rather than those of the student.  At BIS we have held firm against this pressure for the last 50 years and worked to maximise our flexibility to cater for each child as an individual. Instrumental to this is allowing our students to transition to new Basecamps (classrooms) and topics when they are ready, not just because it is the “average” expectation.

Flexibility is so fundamental to individual students’ success, and yet it is starkly absent in mainstream schools. A key feature of Australia’s outdated education model stressed in today’s report are the constraints placed on curriculum and assessment; “inflexibility in curriculum delivery, reporting and assessment regimes, and tools focussed on periodic judgements of performance, rather than continuous diagnosis of a student’s learning needs and progress”.

At BIS our  learning process incorporates constant assessment for all our students that is meaningful, deep and connected. Ask a BIS teacher about any of their students and they will be able to give you an overview of that child’s learning journey across their academic and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum, right at that moment. We know our students, and aim to keep them motivated and extended at the level they need their learning to be. Asymmetry in academic subjects shouldn’t hinder a student in their learning; if they are leaping ahead in English, we let them fly. Our multi-age and multi-grade classrooms actively encourage this to happen.

Gonski’s list of suggestions for improving the quality of Australian schooling reads much like an advertisement for BIS, proposing an increased focus on parent involvement and taking on more student feedback. It would certainly be tempting to rest on our laurels and use this moment to smugly say, “Hey, we have been doing this for years”. Instead, I would like to challenge every teacher and parent, whether they are at BIS or not, to write to their Federal and State Representatives and Education Ministers demanding immediate action in response to this report. It is time to wake up education across Australia, and it will only happen if we, the citizens, get involved directly. Let’s get writing!