John Howard: bullying expert extraordinaire…

15 May

[WARNING: some adult content appears in the second half of this post.]

If you thought last night’s rant was over the top, check me out on the subject in 2004 here (ex-Diary-X stored on the Big Archive). Julie Bishop’s performance last night is transcribed here.

…TONY JONES: You’re not suggesting that good retention rates or higher retention rates are a bad thing, are you? Still, you haven’t explained what this means – ‘a soulless and narrow form of national economic service’. National economic service, what does that mean?

JULIE BISHOP: The focus of Labor has been very much on the numbers only and not on the individuals. I mean, we’re talking about providing choice in schooling. The Labor Party had a policy about no new non-government schools, taking away choice from parents. They were focused on a very narrow definition of education that was strictly public education and strictly on numbers. We’re looking at choice and opportunity and that’s what the Prime Minister was discussing tonight. My point about retention rates was this: you don’t set a target, you pluck a target out of the air and say, ‘That must apply across the board’, you look at what’s best for individual students. Now some students would rather leave school at 16 and then come back to education later. The point is that they ought to have the basic skills when they leave school so that they can come back to education. It’s the quality of the education they receive, not whether they were forced to stay to complete Year 12, for example.

TONY JONES: Let’s be absolutely clear on this. Does the Government think it’s a bad idea to link education to national prosperity and productivity?

JULIE BISHOP: Not at all. Of course it’s fundamental. But the point is we’re not constrained by just a narrow focus on targets and numbers. We’re looking at the individual. We’re looking at choice and opportunity for students…

What the PM actually said last night is not at this stage on his web site, but it is in The Australian.

[Contextualising claptrap section] What links our education reforms is a simple yet powerful idea: that the way of the future is to trust the people whose decisions matter most – students and parents, employers and employees – the people whose decisions will determine Australia’s future productivity.

Let me make a broader point. Education serves a much wider purpose than a material one. It’s about the rounded development of the individual. It’s about giving people the capacity to control their own lives and to make informed choices over the course of their lives.

Second only to families, our schools are charged with society’s greatest task – the socialisation and character development of children. Education provides the seeds for an informed citizenry and the shared values on which a free, democratic and open society rests.

It’s our main source of cultural and historical sensibility. A nation can’t know where it’s going if its children don’t know where it’s come from. The project that I launched at the start of last year – the restoration of Australian History in our schools – is one I’ll return to in coming months.

Education speaks to the great liberal ideal of hard work and self-sacrifice opening doors of personal freedom, social responsibility and civic duty…

[Bullying and all the usual suspects section] Schools

The Australian Government makes a substantial investment in schools, providing about $33 billion over the period 2005-08 to government and non-government schools and delivering genuine choice for Australian parents.

Contrary to the professional peddlers of misinformation in this area, non-government schools still receive much less public funding than government schools – roughly $6,000 per student compared with about $11,000 per student at government schools.

The states and territories have primary responsibility for government schools. They run the schools, develop the curriculum and employ and appoint teachers.

Controlling these levers creates a framework of incentives, but sometimes not very good ones. The incentives need to be right to ensure our schools perform at their best with high academic standards, good teachers, principals with real power and proper accountability.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring all Australian children receive a good quality education and develop core skills in areas such as literacy and numeracy. From 2009, Australian Government funding will be tied directly to quality reforms.

This builds on the reforms Brendan Nelson advanced in the last funding agreement and is consistent with what Julie Bishop has proposed to the states and territories in a spirit of co-operation.

In the case of principal autonomy, for example, the Commonwealth has proposed that all jurisdictions agree that principals should be provided with a statutory right to:
• veto the transfer to their school of a new staff member;
• appoint any registered teacher to the staff of their school; and
• terminate a staff member from their school on prescribed grounds, including for a lack of performance.

We also believe principals should be given greater control over school budgets. Whilst some of these are in place to varying degrees, there is a need for greater consistency to empower principals to make decisions at the school level.

The Australian Government remains in the market for the best ideas to improve the performance of Australia’s schools.

Overall Australia’s schools are delivering good results based on standardised international testing. But a rising Australia demands we aim much higher than good results based on minimum benchmarks.

The percentage of underperforming students is still too high. The Year 3, 5 and 7 literacy and numeracy testing implemented at the Australian Government’s request show that around 10 per cent of students are not meeting basic benchmarks in literacy and numeracy. Worryingly, performance actually declines at higher levels of schooling.

Research shows that literacy and numeracy achievement in Year 9 is the most influential factor in students staying on to complete Year 12 and the strongest predictor of tertiary entrance performance.

There is also a large and persistent performance gap between students in metropolitan areas and regional and remote Australia. And there’s no doubt that our challenge is greatest in the case of indigenous education outcomes.

Many of our mainstream, quality-focused reforms will help indigenous students who are falling behind and reward schools and teachers working to lift their performance. We are also providing more financial support for indigenous students in the form of scholarships, new boarding school facilities and assistance to relocate from remote locations to attend high schools and be in a position to pursue further education.

I am conscious also of the detailed work Helen Hughes and others at the CIS are doing to advance indigenous education, with ideas like ‘twinning’ mainstream schools with indigenous schools.

One of David Kemp’s many legacies as Federal Education Minister was to push reluctant state governments towards literacy and numeracy testing. Now, finally, we have a national framework of testing on which to base improvements.

Last Tuesday, the Government announced $457 million in assistance for students who are not meeting the literacy benchmarks at years 3, 5, 7 and 9. Parents will receive $700 vouchers to enable those children to receive extra, personalised tuition.

We are also providing financial rewards to schools that achieve the greatest improvements in literacy and numeracy.

As if on cue, the Australian Education Union is now arguing that literacy and numeracy tests are invalid because they cannot assess a child’s ‘sense of wonder’.

No, I’m not making this up. In 2007, the Australian Education Union believes that testing if a child can read, write and add up is wrong. I await the howls of protest from those on the so-called ‘progressive’ side of politics who supposedly care about social mobility.

I look forward to reading the co-authored letters and full-page advertisements attacking the AEU’s outdated ideology from those human rights lawyers, academics and welfare groups who regularly criticise the Government for not doing enough for the underprivileged.

This thinking is not simply a recipe for a failing schools system. It’s a script for national decline. And it only strengthens my determination to implement in full the Government’s forward agenda in education.

A second key focus of our schools agenda is teacher quality. The evidence on the importance of teacher quality is overwhelming and let me recognise in this context the fine work of Jennifer Buckingham of the CIS.

School teachers are an important but undervalued profession. In their crucial work shaping the lives of future generations, teachers and principals deserve strong community support.

We need to create better incentives for good teachers to do what they do best. Current teacher salary arrangements are largely based on annual incremental progress through a number of salary bands and teachers hit salary peaks relatively early in their careers. Promotion unfortunately often means taking an administrative role.

It’s clear that pay dispersion in teaching has stayed the same, or declined, over the past thirty years, while wages and dispersion have increased in alternative occupations. And OECD evidence suggests that lack of financial recognition of teaching performance is a contributor to teachers leaving the profession.

Performance-based pay for teachers is an idea whose time has come. But the Australian Government is not prepared to wait for the states to reward teachers who put in extra effort.

From 2008, we will establish Summer Schools for teachers to undertake professional development to upgrade and to extend their skills in a range of areas. Teachers will receive a $5,000 bonus on successful completion of their courses.

We are also providing better training for student teachers, including more practice time in the classroom.

A third quality reform area I’d like to focus on tonight is the need for greater transparency to assist parents in assessing school performance. International evidence suggests that schools with higher levels of public reporting and accountability deliver greater improvements in student results.

Because of this Government’s efforts over many years, a lot of data is now collected. It’s just that state governments hate the idea of shining a spotlight on school performance.

The key issue, as Gary Banks of the Productivity Commission has argued, is ‘the willingness of the education sector to submit itself to scrutiny’. In most Australian states, school-based test score information is very limited, in contrast to countries such as Britain and the United States. Keeping test scores secret especially disadvantages low-income parents with limited information about schools.

Many seek to defend the indefensible – data on school performance would be misleading, choice would be dangerous. These are defences from an outdated philosophy of education, out of step with international best practice, and barriers to delivering higher quality education in the 21st Century.

Parents should have information about school performance and be able to exercise choice about which school is right for their child. The Australian Government is not prepared to accept the patronising view that too much choice and information is dangerous. We don’t believe Australian parents are either.

Parents also are entitled to expect that their child is safe at school, that classrooms are orderly and that teachers and principals have the authority to maintain a strong learning environment.

Like all Australians I am very concerned when I hear reports of school violence and disorder. At the moment, state government information about school discipline, bullying and disruptive behaviour in the classroom tends to be partial and fragmented at best.

I believe this is another area where greater transparency and more information for parents would serve a useful purpose. Too often, the only information available is on an aggregated, state-wide basis when parents need to know what is happening at their child’s school or a school that they are considering sending their children to.

Now perhaps in speaking about this issue I’ll again be accused by my political opponent of being captive to old ideas. Perhaps a well-ordered classroom where teachers have authority is an old idea. But it is a good idea, a forward-looking idea, and a prerequisite for giving every Australian child the chance to reach their full potential.

In education, as in any area of public policy, the test of an idea is its merit, not its age.

1. What links our education reforms is a simple yet powerful idea: that the way of the future is to trust the people whose decisions matter most – students and parents, employers and employees – the people whose decisions will determine Australia’s future productivity. Who is missing in that list? I’ll tell you: governments and teachers. Prelude to privatising?

2. Parents also are entitled to expect that their child is safe at school, that classrooms are orderly and that teachers and principals have the authority to maintain a strong learning environment. Like all Australians I am very concerned when I hear reports of school violence and disorder. At the moment, state government information about school discipline, bullying and disruptive behaviour in the classroom tends to be partial and fragmented at best. I believe this is another area where greater transparency and more information for parents would serve a useful purpose….


Click to visit the site.

Bullying. No way! is created by Australia’s educational communities:

  • State, Territory and Commonwealth government education departments, and Catholic and independent education sectors
  • Students, staff, parents, agencies, education officers and community members from schools around the country.
  • We are working together to create learning environments where every student and school community member is safe, supported, respected, valued — and free from bullying, violence, harassment and discrimination.

    The clear implication of the PM’s remarks is that bullying is a state school issue, reinforced by the coincidental publicity surrounding a damages case in NSW. This is of course not so, as recognised in the backing noted there for Bullying No Way: a recent Australian film explores this. [The following trailer of Boys Grammar contains adult content.]

    — YouTube

    A hard-hitting new Australian film depicting the terror and impact of bullying in a boys’ school will be shown at a string of international film festivals, and its makers hope schools will use it to combat bullying.

    Boys Grammar director Dean Francis and producer Justin Davies drew on their own experiences of bullying in Melbourne and Sydney schools 10 years ago to make the 12-minute film.

    “When a father says in the film that bullying is just a rite of passage that will make you tougher for life, that resonated with all those who were bullied,” Mr Francis said.

    “The attack on one boy by a pack of others is an amalgamation of real-life events reported in the press and our own experiences. The victims become the bullies. I saw it happen time and again at my school, Ivanhoe Grammar in Melbourne.”

    Mr Francis said he hoped the film would strike a chord in schools and at home and that it would be shown in boys’ schools.

    “Parents of perpetrators refuse to acknowledge the truth and schools would rather employ a PR expert to handle negative publicity than to try and fix the problem,” Mr Francis said.

    Mr Davies said his school days at Sydney’s Waverley College were filled with terror. “I was hung out from a second-storey window by my ankles above a concrete court,” he said.

    “I was strangled by my tie in a soundproof music room. It was terrifying. In a way I am exorcising my demons with this film.

    “Bullying hits everyone. All of the half-dozen young actors we used in the film had their own stories of bullies in school.”

    OK then, aside from the wedge politics being exercised now, what would Howard’s initiative achieve? Answer: nothing.

    ELEANOR HALL: We’ve been hearing from the politicians, but what do some of the experts on school bullying think? Professor Ken Rigby is an education specialist at the University of South Australia. He has spent the best part of two decades studying bullying and he argues there’s no easy or quick fix. Dr Rigby says parents are in regular contact with him, often to complain that they’re not aware of what’s being done to combat the problem. And he is on the line now in Adelaide…

    ELEANOR HALL: Now, the Prime Minister suggests that principals should play a greater role. Do you agree?

    KEN RIGBY: Yes. It depends of course on how informed the principals are. I mean, I go to schools quite regularly and I know that some principals are extremely knowledgeable about what can be done about bullying, the variety of things that are coming out to deal with different cases, different kinds of bullying.

    If principals do make a point of becoming informed and skilled in the area, then greater autonomy is obviously desirable.

    ELEANOR HALL: Is there a danger or any danger at all that schools may not to be so open about dealing with the problem if they have to account publicly for the level of bullying?

    KEN RIGBY: Well, it depends what we mean by account for. I think it is very desirable for schools to let parents know about the anti-bullying, the nature of the anti-bullying policies that they have developed, and to involve parents in meetings and tell them all about what is being done and what kind of help they can actually get. That’s a form of accountability that I would be very much in favour of, and I think there should be more of it.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to have a kind of league table of schools indicating how much bullying at this school and that school and so on, because measuring bullying is rather a subjective matter. And also I think that it could be really quite unfair on some schools because they’re in some areas where there is a good deal of violence and they could get a reputation that was undeserved.

    ELEANOR HALL: I guess the Prime Minister’s answer there though would be that the parents do have a right to know.

    KEN RIGBY: The parents have a right to know what the school is doing, and they’ve a right to be informed I think in the process of helping to stop the bullying, but I don’t know that the kind of detail that some people perhaps would be in favour of providing is in the public interest…

    ELEANOR HALL: So, what would you like to see on bullying in the Prime Minister’s speech tonight?

    KEN RIGBY: Okay, I look with great interest to see what he would say. I think that it’s necessary to be aware of the fact that our practices in schools at the moment are not very effective in reducing bullying.

    I don’t mean simply in Australia, I mean worldwide the so-called experts have not been able to produce the programs that reduce bullying very significantly. About 15 per cent reduction is around the norm…

    ELEANOR HALL: Fifteen per cent?

    KEN RIGBY: And so, I think we need to have a good deal more research on what practices work with what kinds of bullying, and far more information about what appears to be working going into schools.

    ELEANOR HALL: Just clarifying there, you said 15 per cent or 50 per cent?

    KEN RIGBY: Fifteen. One-five. Fifteen per cent. So, about one in six, reduction of one-sixth. So, that if we’ve got five or six bullies going on, bullying incidents going on in the classroom, then perhaps one of them is being solved and means that a great number of, great amount of the bullying is not at this stage being dealt with effectively.

    And this is not because of the inadequacy or the laziness of schools or the culpability of schools, it’s simply because at this stage a lot more work needs to be done to work out what are the best ways of actually dealing with it.

    ELEANOR HALL: Professor…

    KEN RIGBY: It’s not enough simply to say we need more discipline. We need to know more precisely what kinds of work it needs to be done with both bullies and victims…

    Substantively, then, the PM has offered nothing. Zilch.

    Let him turn his attention to bullying in the Australian defence forces. Or the Liberal Party of NSW… That should keep him busy.

    — YouTube

    Not only here in Australia…


    Two more points.

    • A bullying “league table” would encourage schools to under report, don’t you think?
    • Schools can only address bullying incidents if they are reported. Even in the best schools this does not always happen. It is important for schools to have in place mechanisms like peer support, conflict resolution, anti-racism and anti-homophobia policies and personnel, and of course a full welfare program. And rules. The Prime Minister’s old school, a state school with a sometimes challenging clientele these days, is a good typical example of what is being done. In 2004 there was a notable TV series on the school, Our Boys. Not the following, but you will get the idea…

    — YouTube

    For other issues raised — most of them old issues — in the PM’s propaganda exercise last night, go to Literacy — Why I reject Kevin Donnelly’s educational analysis.

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    2 responses to “John Howard: bullying expert extraordinaire…

    1. Daniel

      May 15, 2007 at 4:23 pm

      St John, the Robin Hood for the Rich, must know there is an election. He is actually concerning himself with the poor for a change. He does this for a short period, a matter of months, every three years. He is, without doubt, the greatest opportunist this country has ever seen.

      He is trying to bribe, bully and frighten the voters into electing him again!

      Faint hope indeed.

    2. ninglun

      May 15, 2007 at 5:45 pm

      Since this strikes me as being part of a campaign to denigrate public education and steer a privatisation agenda, I think he is in fact running true to form. It might look as if he is concerned about the poor…

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