Bookmarked Unbeaching the whale by AdministratorAdministrator (

There is no shortage of things that could be added to this list. The revolution’s questionable taken-for-granteds (“equality of opportunity,” “choice,” schooling’s economic contribution) badly need re-examining. So does the habit of looking for silver bullets in other countries rather than trying to understand how Australia’s system has developed and what it can and can’t become. So also the endless talk about what makes a good teacher or a good school to the exclusion of what makes a good system.

But the point is not in a to-do list. The point is that the revolution has failed and so has its way of thinking. The first step towards unbeaching the whale is to start thinking outside that suffocating box.

Dean Ashenden reflects on the failure of Gonski and the education revolution. He suggests that the biggest ‘success’ was the way of talking about education which focuses on outcomes:

The revolution’s one real success was in directing the attention and shaping the language of “policymakers” and “thought leaders.” They now have no other way of thinking and talking about schooling. Hence ministers declaring that yet another bad PISA result to be yet another “wake-up call,” hence more announcements about lifting teachers’ pay or entry scores, hence new tests to make sure that teachers can spell, and hence more looking at other countries to see what they are doing right that might work here — all less from conviction than from not knowing what else to do. Seen from the outside it comes close to a famous definition of insanity.

As a model, the notion of outcomes comes from health services. Ashenden posits that this is problematic as those doing the ‘working’ are in fact the students, not the teachers.

The most fundamental mistake lies in imagining that schools are essentially deliverers of the service of teaching in much the same way that hospitals and clinics deliver health services. In reality, schools aren’t like that at all.

Schools are sites of the production of learning, not by teachers but by a four million–strong workforce otherwise known as students. The big determinant of their productivity is not the quality of supervision but the organisation of their work.

As much as I agree with what Ashenden is saying, my fear is that we are all always already ‘inside the box’? I also worry about the metaphor of the ‘beached whale’ as some whales cannot be unbeached and are blown up, or simply left to decay, providing food for opportunistic seagulls and sharks.

Replied to Don’t waste a good crisis, even in schooling | Dean Ashenden (Inside Story)

The immediate problem is to ensure that the non-government system isn’t gutted and the government system isn’t inundated. The risk of that happening seems likely to grow, and to go on growing, along with unemployment, under-employment, and fear of debt. If it does the cost of a quick fix will grow too, and that will compound the big problem.

The way out has three parts.

First, the government must help schools help parents, immediately. In doing so it should remember that government schools lean on parents to make “voluntary contributions,” often quite substantial ones; they’ll need help too. The government should establish a fund to which all systems, government and non-government alike, can apply, and it should commission an urgent analysis of the likely trajectory of the problem.

Second, it should make clear that this is an interim measure only. It should announce an in-principle intention to move to full public needs-based funding for all systems and independent schools willing work within a common charter of rights and obligations. The core principles and objectives of that charter would include: no fees, the right to faith-based schooling, the obligation to reduce within-school segregation, and full transparency as to performance and compliance.

Third, it should set up the machinery to turn these principles into a well-designed proposal.