Professor Margaret Vickers of the University of Western Sydney has challenged figures suggesting boys no longer perform as well as girls at school. In a presentation to the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) 2005 Conference, she notes that the mean differences between males and females on literacy tests are quite small, much smaller than the mean differences between the children of professionals and the children of process workers. The figures also indicate that while boys outnumber girls in the lowest performance bands on literacy, they also outnumber girls on the highest performance bands on numeracy tests. Professor Vickers says a dramatic decline in the number of low-skilled jobs in traditional female occupations means girls who leave school before completing Year 12 fare even more poorly than under-qualified boys in the labour market. She points to research which shows that, in terms of full-time employment, boys who completed school are only fractionally better off than those who did not, while girls who completed high school are, on average, 20 per cent ahead of those who left early. Professor Vickers also argues that the apprenticeship system continues to favour boys. See UWS media release 1 December 2005.
The USA's National Science Foundation has funded a $2m project to compare high school maths programs. The four-year study will focus on schools which offer a choice between a conventional maths sequence and integrated maths courses. It will involve 3,000 to 6,000 students in different US states. The research will be managed by the University of Missouri–Columbia (MU). Traditionally, US high schools have taught subjects such as algebra or geometry in separate classes. Integrated maths uses a series of classes that blend various maths subjects. The research will measure students’ performance when the study begins, then track their progress in a series of maths classes. Results will be analysed in several areas, including skills, knowledge, problem solving and attitude toward maths. At the same time, the study will look at teachers’ roles and send evaluators to observe classroom practices. The MU researchers say there is very little research showing how different maths curriculums are actually used in classrooms and how different programs affect student learning. See article in Columbia Daily Tribune 1 December 2005.
In a move that reflects trends in Australia and elsewhere, England's Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, has announced that from next September all 5-year-olds must be taught to read using the synthetic phonics method. Schools in England will be told to drop the 'searchlights' system under which phonics is taught alongside the whole-word, grammar and context approaches to learning. Phonics was the main way children were taught to read in England until it began to be phased out in the 1960s. Steve Sinnott, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has opposed 'the promotion of a single fashionable technique' and has called for the reinstatement of a range of strategies to teach reading. See article in the Scotsman 1 December 2005 and commentary in the Times Online 2 December 2005.
Year 12 students in South Australia are increasingly choosing subjects that are assessed without State-wide exams, according to Dr Janet Keightley of the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia (SSABSA). She notes a trend towards more school-based assessment. Less than one-quarter of Year 12 subjects in the State require assessment by traditional examinations. However, school-based assessments are scaled down more than examination-based subjects during the Tertiary Entrance Rank process for deciding university applications, according to Bob Heath, president of the South Australian Secondary Principals' Association. See SSABSA Media Release 28 November 2005 and article 'Students dump exams' in The Advertiser 1 December 2005.
The CensusAtSchool is a free Internet-based data-collection and analysis project being conducted throughout 2006. The program will involve students in Years 5 to 12 and is open to all Australian schools. Students are asked to provide information about themselves through an online questionnaire. The response data is then released back to teachers and students for use with supporting activities across the curriculum in all States and Territories. The first phase begins in January 2006 and registration is now open. The program is being administered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and is part of an international initiative. See earlier report on CensusAt School New Zealand.
Preschools would be included in Victoria's education system under a policy being drafted by the State Liberal Party. Kindergartens now operate outside the government education system. They are registered by the Department of Human Services and run by independent management committees. The Liberals' proposal has been supported by the Australian Education Union and the Kindergarten Parents Association. See report in The Age 3 December 2005.
The number of primary students performing at acceptable levels in benchmark testing in English and mathematics in England has increased, with 79 per cent and 75 per cent of 11-year-olds, respectively, achieving the benchmark for those subjects. Despite this improvement, some school principals have criticised the tests, claiming that they detract from the ethos of the school, and that there was evidence that departing from the prescribed numeracy and literacy strategies actually improved students' performances. For more information see the article by Matthew Taylor in the Education Guardian 2 December 2005.
Personal, Social and Health Education in Schools: Time for Action, a report by the Independent Advisory Groups on Sexual Health and Teenage Pregancy, has adovcated a revamp of sex education in England and Wales to address the high levels of teenage pregancy and the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases among young people. The report recommends that Sex and Relationship Education be implemented in primary and secondary schools, with primary curriculums addressing the emotional aspects of relationships and puberty, and secondary curriculums considering the subject of sexual activity. For more information see the article by Denis Campbell in the Guardian 4 December 2005.
Legislation recently passed by Western Australia's Parliament will raise the school leaving age to 16 from next year, and 17 as of 2008. An additional 280 staff will be employed to develop training programs for disengaged students, starting with a Participation Coordinator in each education district from 2006. See Ministerial Media Release by Ljiljanna Ravlich, 'It's official, 15 is too young', 16 November 2005.
The annual School Leadership Conference of Western Australia's Leadership Centre will be held at the Parmelia Hilton in Perth from 17 to 19 January 2006, with the theme of 'Connecting the Leadership Dimensions'. Workshops and presentations will cover leadership and change management in schools.
Applications for Western Australia's 2007 Teacher Exchange Program are now open until 27 January 2006. The program includes both interstate and international exchange options.
The Victorian Minister for Education and Training, Lynne Kosky, has criticised the training of new teacher graduates, claiming that many are inadequately prepared for the demands of the profession because their lecturers have lost touch with classroom teaching. Subsequently, she has called for academics in university teaching faculties to spend at least two days a year in schools in order to acquaint themselves with current classroom practices. Responding to Minister Kosky's claims, the president of the Australian Council of Deans of Education, Professor Sue Willis, noted that demanding teaching loads in education faculties, and an absence of funding, would prevent academics from spending more time in school classrooms. For more information see the article by David Rood in The Age 3 December 2005.
A new international school in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates, will be based on the Victorian curriculum and school-building design. Victorian consultants and advisers will design the school and provide professional development, school accountability, review and governance support. The school will be the first built and operated on Victorian specifications outside Australia. China and Indonesia have already utilised the Victorian school curriculum. The school will cater for approximately 3,000 students and is expected to open in September 2006. See article available in pdf version of Education Times, 1 December 2005 p3.
Victorian schools in drought-affected areas can now apply for grants from a $200,000 assistance fund. Principals are invited to contact their regional office. See article available in pdf version of Education Times, 1 December 2005 p7.
The Victorian Catholic Education Commission (VCEC) is considering standardising school term dates for its 490 schools. The commission will seek input from schools and parents and release the guidelines next year, with implementation to begin in 2008. Each Catholic school currently sets its own term dates, which has caused difficulty for those families with children who finish at different times. The Victorian Parents Council, which represents parents in non-government schools, has applauded the move. The Association for Independent Schools of Victoria indicates that independent schools are not considering standardisation of holiday dates at present. The VCEC's revision of term dates may involve extending the number of school days. This move is likely to raise concerns among teachers according to the Victorian Independent Education Union, which represents staff in the Catholic and independent sectors. See article by Chee Chee Leung in The Age 5 December 2005 p7.
Victorian Education Minister, Lynne Kosky, has written to all school principals and councils to warn that parents should not be forced to pay voluntary fees. She has reported isolated instances in which students whose parents had not paid the charges were excluded from school activities. The Victorian Council of State School Organisations has welcomed the move, while also calling for further funds for schools. See article by Shane Green in The Age 5 December 2005.
Teaching Australia – Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership has been officially launched by Australian Government Minister of Education, Dr Brendan Nelson. Teaching Australia, formally known as NIQTSL (National Institute for Quality Teaching and School Leadership), will advance the quality of teaching and school leadership in our schools and strengthen the standing of the teaching profession. Its aims include developing professional standards for accomplished teaching and for school leadership, ensuring high quality teacher education through a national approach, building leadership capacity in schools, developing a new generation of school leaders, rewarding excellence in the teaching profession, and promoting teaching as a career. The Australian Government has committed $30 million to Teaching Australia over the five years to 2009. See Media Release from Teaching Australia 4 December 2005 and Ministerial Media Release 5 December 2005.
The Australian Government Minister for Education, Dr Brendan Nelson, is commissioning research to compare the quality of Year 12 English, maths, physics and chemistry teaching in Australian States and Territories. The project is expected to run from 30 January to 25 March 2006. The research will complement a study being conducted by ACER to prepare options for an Australian Certificate of Education for Year 12. Tenders for the research may be submitted to TenderSearch until 21 December 2005. See 'Push on for uniform Year 12' in the Australian Financial Review 2 December 2005 p69. (Article can be purchased from publisher)
The New South Wales Government plans to introduce legislation in 2006 that will prevent profit-making businesses from operating schools funded by tax-payers. The move follows similar laws in Queensland. See article in The Sydney Morning Herald 2 December 2005.
Research led by John Munro at the University of Melbourne's Exceptional Learning and Gifted Education Unit has challenged the findings of the just released National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy. The research suggests that the report's emphasis on phonics as a starting point to improve reading is misguided. According to Dr Munro some children do not possess prerequisite skills such as identifying sound patterns or letter symbols needed to learn phonics. Dr Munro's position is supported by a longitudinal study of 450 Victorian children aged between 6 and 8 years. See article in The Australian 2 December 2005.
The Bound for Success: Education Strategy for Torres Strait recently announced by the Queensland Government includes an improved early childhood program, a consistent regional curriculum and new boarding facilities on Thursday Island. There will also be changes to the curriculum across all year levels in all government schools in the Torres Strait to ensure consistent standards. The new curriculum will be trialled in the second half of 2006 and used by all Torres Strait schools in 2007. As part of the new curriculum, primary schools will integrate into their learning programs units that will better prepare students for living and studying away from their family and community. Every government school will also record students' intentions for further education and training beyond Year 7 and Year 10 and monitor their progress. See Ministerial Media Statement 5 December 2005.
The Australian Government's Inquiry into Teacher Education continues to receive submissions. Michael Bateman of the ACT Department of Education and Training has suggested to the Inquiry that increasing salaries may not be the most effective way to attract top graduates to the teaching profession, arguing that high starting salaries for graduates may 'lock people into careers ... where it's not the best place for them to be.' Mr Bateman called for preservice teachers to spend half the academic year in the school classroom. Catholic Education Office Director, Geoff Joy, has warned that longer placements could be disruptive. In an earlier report to the Inquiry, Professor Denis Goodrum, head of the University of Canberra's School of Education and Community Studies, said a decline in Australian Government funding over the past 15 years had resulted in fewer full-time staff and a rise in the number of casual employees in education faculties, leading to larger tutorial and lecture sizes and fewer contact hours for pupils. Australian Government Minister for Education, Dr Brendan Nelson, convened the Inquiry in February 2005 to examine the adequacy of teacher training courses. Due to report its findings by mid-2006, the Inquiry has attracted more than 160 submissions. See article in Canberra Times 2 December 2005.