Heard all this fuss about “Better Schools” and/or “Gonksi”? Scott Bolton and Zid Mancenido, both former Woroni editors and first year teachers, offer their perspectives on what all this education talk looks like on the ground.
The current election climate has pushed the issue of school funding to the forefront of the public’s consciousness. “Gonksi”, “better schools” and “school autonomy” are all terms that have been thrown around in the ether.
Like any other policy platform, the rhetoric around increased funding will often divide opinions. When I mention that I am a teacher, usually the next thing that comes out of the mouths of the people I am speaking with is their opinion of schooling. Opinions will vary between an unwavering “support of greater funding for schools” to “why does it need to occur in this time of economic turmoil?”
It seems that since everyone went to school, everyone is an expert. An actual expert in education, Melbourne University’s John Hattie has stated that the single greatest impact upon a student’s learning is the teacher. The difference between a good teacher and a poor teacher can have more than a year’s worth of growth on a child’s learning.
If you think back to what made the greatest impact on you at school, I can guarantee that it was the teacher, not the funding. Don’t get me wrong, funding helps. It really does. Particularly at disadvantaged schools like the one I teach at. My school will receive a 30% increase in funding over the next 5 years as part of the Gonski/better schools funding model.
The thing that separates us from Canada and Finland is the teaching. The have the funding and now focus on teaching. In Australia it is time to talk about better schooling, not “better schools”.
It’s embarrassing but true. A few weeks ago I was sitting in the staffroom chatting to three other teachers and the conversation turned to the latest education policy showpony. I turned to one of the teachers and whispered: “I know I’m a teacher and everything, but I can’t name one thing that these reforms are actually supposed to be doing in our schools. I know there’s more money and everything, but what’s actually going on?” The teacher laughed, smiled sheepishly, and then responded: “I have no idea either. More money, woo!”
Let me be frank: I have no idea what this latest legislation is really going to do for my school. Believe me, I’ve tried—I’ve followed the news, I’ve heard Gillard, Garrett, Rudd, Shorten talk about how great it is that ACT, NSW, VIC, SA, TAS have all signed up for incredible sums of money and therefore “Better Schools”, but I have no idea what else is going on. Nada.
And this is the problem with this legislation and the current policy debate. There’s all this talk about money but there’s no talk about the substance of the legislation. There’s all this celebration about having better quality schools but no talk about what that actually looks like and how we’re going to get there. Simply put: in this policy debate, there are no teachers talking about teachers; just politicians wanking about money.
The older teachers at my school say they’ve heard it all before; that it’s just politicians trying to bignote to get elected. That’s true, I know—I can read it between the lines when politicians promise me that they’ll do something about the type of schools I work in but then turn away when the cameras start rolling.
The best thing a teacher has said to me so far about this legislation? “Why do teachers let politicians tell us how to do our jobs? They know jack all about it anyway. Oh well, at least let them think we’re listening. I need a new iPad.”
Scott and Zid are Associates with the Teach For Australia program. To find out more: http://www.teachforaustralia.org/