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My Opinion Pieces

Age Melbourne - 'Education State'? They're kidding us

   Friday, 9 February 2018
Age Melbourne 9 February 2018

In September 2015, the Andrews Labor government launched new student performance targets as part of its so-called ‘‘Education State’’ slogan. However, since then, they have remained very quiet about how schools and kids are performing.

No wonder Education Minster James Merlino has been silent about them, because on Monday The Age reported that ‘‘out of the nine targets that have reported data for 2016 and 2017, only two areas improved’’.

Then, with some front,Mr Merlino wrote in these pages on Tuesday: ‘‘In two short years we’ve made progress in key areas related
to the targets …’’ You’ve got to be kidding me! By the government’s own figures, student outcomes have gone backwards in seven out of nine target areas.

In year 5 maths, the government is nowhere near its 2020 target of 39.9 per cent of students reaching the highest levels of achievement. It’s stuck on 30.6 per cent. In year 9 reading, students declined from 20.7 per cent to 20.5 per cent, with a 2025 target of 28.7 per cent.

It’s no wonder parents’ trust in the government school system has taken a hit, with only 51.7 per cent reporting high levels of confidence in the sector,down from 55 per cent in 2016.

Victorian Labor has been in government for 14 of the past 18 years and yet James Merlino is constantly making excuses for students’ performance going backwards.

Reading and numeracy continue to stagnate in Victorian schools, according to the 2017 NAPLAN report, with no significant improvement in results. In reading, year 9 continued a downward trend, achieving a mean score below 2008 levels, while the year 7 reading score was essentially the same as it was in 2014.

In numeracy, Victorian students in years 5 and 9 have gone backwards since 2015. Victorian students are beaten by other states across the board in year 9. For example, Victoria comes fourth out of eight jurisdictions in reading, grammar, numeracy and spelling. Our year 9s are behind their peers in numeracy in NSW,WA and the ACT. They are beaten in grammar by NSW,the ACT and Queensland.

Further evidence of the stagnation of Victorian student outcomes can be seen in the recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, which have barely changed. We scored 516 for reading in 2000, and 507 in 2015. We scored 513 for scientific literacy in 2006, and achieved the same in 2015. For maths,we scored 511 in 2003, but dropped to 499 by 2015.

As the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher said: ‘‘Australia used to have one of the world’s leading school systems, but in the past decade learning outcomes have dropped to levels closer to the average of school systems in the industrialised world.’’

More of the same is going to fail our kids. We need to de-clutter the curriculum and prioritise literacy and numeracy skills. That’s why, if successful at the November state election, a Matthew Guy-led government will introduce a compulsory phonics screening check for all year 1 students.

The current curriculum is so crowded our kids aren’t mastering the basics. That’s why we will ask Australian Institute for Teaching
and School Leadership board member Dr Jennifer Buckingham to review the Victorian curriculum.

The Labor government love to talk up their Education State slogan. These poor results just prove that the slogan isn’t worth the number plates it’s written on.