Uniforms a weapon in the school marketing wars

By | Education, Media, Print | 2 Comments

School uniforms increase equity and decrease bullying. But school choice is leading to significant upscaling of uniform costs at exactly the same time as the government removes financial assistance aimed at defraying those costs. The result will be sharply less access to our education system for those who depend on it the most.

I served my time at primary school in a selection of government schools in Western Queensland in the 1970s. It was the dawn of “school choice”. The federal government was yet to dabble in funding private education so almost everybody went to either their local public or their local Catholic. And there wasn’t a lot of difference between the two (except the government schools tended to have more money).

We all wore pretty much the same uniform. Cotton button-up shirts for the boys and checked dresses for the girls, khaki for the public kids and blue for the Catholics. The only distinguishing feature was a school badge which was usually pinned to the collar. It was a simple, cheap uniform that could be bought from any supermarket.

Roll forward four decades and much has changed. We have many more choices about where we send our kids to school. This marketisation of schooling (school choice) is increasingly driving schools to see the school uniform as a branding exercise. And it’s not just the swanky independent schools giving their uniforms a zhoosh. Increasingly public schools, especially those which become “independent” are using their uniforms as a weapon in the marketing wars against each other and their private competitors.

Blazers, ties, cotton shirts and formal school dresses are starting to be part of the required “kit” and all of it is intentionally different to anything you can pick up at Kmart. This inevitably and significantly increases the costs of those uniforms.

Suddenly uniforms are no longer a way of keeping us, well, uniform. We are no longer on an even playing field. There are those who can afford the gear and those who can’t. And those who  can’t, frequently choose not to attend school at all. As Julia Gillard once said (as part of announcing subsidies for school uniforms) “having a uniform helps undercut the kind of unhealthy competition we can see at schools to have the latest, most expensive, fashionable gear”.

Most Australian state governments maintain schemes aimed at defraying the costs of education incidentals (such as uniforms) for those who need it most. In Victoria, the scheme is called the Education Maintenance Allowance. It pays up to $300 per child a year to help with education costs. In 2014 the allowance was paid to a quarter of the state’s schoolchildren (more than 208,000 kids). Next year it will be paid to nobody because the state government has killed the allowance. In 2016, the Feds will join the party by cancelling the Schoolkids Bonus, a similar scheme worth up to $842 per student a year.

In place of its allowance the Victorian Government has implemented a scheme of increased funding for schools in disadvantaged areas but the disbursement of the money is entirely at the discretion of the school principal. It turns an administrative entitlement into a degrading demonstration of need at the school gate (not to mention competition for that terrific new professional development course, the principal had their eye on). Worse than that, it will completely exclude disadvantaged children who happen to attend schools in more advantaged areas. There will be no replacement for the Schoolkids Bonus.

The OECD has closely examined the relationship between the equity of a country’s education system and its performance, and decided: “The evidence is conclusive: equity in education pays off. The highest performing education systems across OECD countries are those that combine high quality and equity.

When the OECD ranked the equity of the various education systems in 2007, Australia came in just a little below average (lagging behind Italy and Switzerland but ahead of France, the United States and the United Kingdom). And as the OECD suggests might happen, that result seemed to predict our plummeting academic ranking. Each new round of international testing tells us we are falling further and further behind.

You don’t need to have won the Nobel Prize in economics to calculate that, at a time when parents need more help than ever with uniform costs, pulling the economic rug from under them is likely to have dire consequences for many families. And the destruction in equity that will follow, will have even more disastrous consequences for the performance of all of our children, uniformly.

First published in The Age

Fat school fees no guarantee for top results

By | Books, Education, Media, Print | No Comments

Monday, 29 September, 2014, 5:44pm
Karen Pittar life@scmp.com

Australian lawyer and businessman David Gillespie grew up in Brisbane and was educated at one of the city’s top private schools. But as he and his wife were mulling over where to send their six children, the “eye-watering sums” involved at elite institutions prompted them to consider alternatives.

It also led Gillespie to examine what it was that made a school, and an education system, effective. The result is Free Schools (Pan Macmillan), a book that challenges many widely held beliefs about quality education, especially in Australia.

“I wanted to find the answer to the question: if I spent millions of dollars on education, was that money well spent?” he asks. “Would it guarantee a better result for my children?”

His conclusion was an unequivocal “no”.

“Going in, I had no agenda and no preconceived ideas about what makes an effective school. What I did know was a lot of educational research is hard to understand and seems to be based on hunches – very little of it on hard facts and trials,” Gillespie says.

What surprised him most was that many factors parents assume to be important in schooling mattered very little.

Chief among these assumptions is that high fees equalled a superior education.

Wealthy families dominate in independent or private schools, he says, but “studies have consistently shown when you adjust for the socioeconomic status of children in independent-versus-government systems, both are equally effective. Paying more for education will get you nicer buildings and your child can hang around with kids of ‘his class’, but then we have to assume that’s a good thing?”

Similarly, Gillespie argues smaller classes do not necessarily lead to better learning and higher grades.

He refers to the Australian system as an example, where class sizes 50 years ago were double what they are today. Smaller classes meant increased spending to employ more teachers; yet Australia is slipping in the global education rankings.

“Classes need effective teachers who can manage students and maintain order,” he says. If behaviour is a problem and not well managed, there will still be a problem, whether it’s a class of 12 or 20.

Homework is another contentious area. A 2006 study at Duke University, in North Carolina, showed there was no benefit to assigning homework to primary schoolchildren. Gillespie says recent research suggests there may be significant downsides because it takes up teachers’ time with marking and setting homework.

However, he concedes some studies show that homework is helpful during high school.

Ultimately, Gillespie says an effective school depends on one thing – leadership: of the school and in the classroom.

Every four years the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, releases the results of its Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which evaluates the skills of more than 500,000 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading.

Hong Kong came in the top three for each discipline in the 2012 Pisa report – an impressive ranking out of 65 countries including the US, Britain and Australia.

Gillespie says schools that do well tend to adopt a collegiate approach, where principals and senior teachers still teach some of the time, but spend most time supervising junior teachers in the classroom, making sure they are learning to be better teachers. Senior teachers are not turned into administrators: they are turned into teacher-mentors. “This is what gets results.”

To retain good teachers, you need strong, accountable and involved leadership, he says.

Gillespie suggests parents visit potential schools and also interview the principal.

“What you want is someone who describes their team as professionals who work together to get the best results – that their role as a leader is to help teachers, to mentor them.”

His book also outlines other areas that parents should consider when selecting schools, such as its language and music programmes, communication and behaviour management.

“Look for a school that provides study skills – it’s all about learning to learn,” he says. “It is often assumed children learn by osmosis, but they don’t – they need to be taught the skills to do it effectively. Does the school offer language and music programmes? Consistently, study after study shows, that by just learning a language or a musical instrument – it doesn’t matter how good you are at it – this improves results.”

He says the general behaviour of students is another critical indicator because no one can learn or teach effectively if children are behaving badly.

“A great way to assess this is to look at the uniform. It’s [author] Malcolm Gladwell’s broken windows theory: if kids in a suburb break a window and it isn’t repaired, then they break another and so on – a small misdemeanour turns into a bigger one.

“Uniform policy is the same. You want a school where no deviations are accepted. Even if the school doesn’t have a specific uniform they will still have a dress code; find out before you visit what that is and make sure the children are complying.”

Finally, Gillespie says a successful and productive school is one that communicates with parents.

“An effective school will offer programmes that run parents through what is being taught and how it is taught – ‘these are the concepts and this is how to teach/reinforce it at home’.”

Parents should be active participants in education, he says. Rather than simply applying to elite private schools, parents should be focusing on those that can offer effective leadership.

Like any other organisation, the ethos and work ethic of school filters down from the top.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post.

Whoops – Australia accidentally privatised its education system

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Australia is sleep walking into a privatised education system that will deliver massive inequity, steadily declining results, and cost vastly more. Last week the Federal Treasurer gave us a giant shove further down that road. In deciding to remove $5 billion from the State Education budgets, he is telling the States (who run the government schools) to make do with less. The inevitable result of this will be to accelerate the rush to private education and ultimately, the destruction of our once great school education system.

According to the APC (Australian Productivity Commission) in 2012 Australian Taxpayers spent $8,546 per student per annum on educating children in non-government schools. And according to the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) taxpayers spent $11,980 per child in government schools. Neither number includes capital expenditure, which was about the same per child in both systems. In other words, the average non-government school student costs the taxpayer 71 per cent of the average public school student.

And therein lies the core argument for boosters of private education in this country (unfortunately including our Education minister). You see, the argument goes, children at non-government schools are actually saving the taxpayer money. They are transferring the cost of their education from the community to their parents (and church congregations presumably). They are choosing to participate in a user-pay community. And even if it does only amount to a 29 per cent saving, they are doing us all a favour.

But those average numbers hide some pretty big gotcha’s for the public system. The government schools are overwhelmingly the ones providing education to Australia’s most remote students. They teach 7 times as many students classified by the ABS as living ‘very remotely’ and 4 times as many students classed as being ‘remote.’ When it comes to children with special needs, once again it is the Government schools doing the heavy lifting, educating 3.3 times as many children with a disability as their non-government brethren. Unlike public schools, non-government schools are exempt from the provisions of Australia’s discrimination laws. They are permitted by law to pick and choose who they will and will not be bothered trying to educate.

Educating the hard-and-expensive-to-teach students is undeniably a task that is increasingly falling to government schools but strangely it is in the non-government sector that the costs (to government) are exploding.  Over the decade prior to 2012, per student government recurrent spending on government schools increased by just 19 per cent. At the same time government funding for ‘private’ students increased by 28 per cent (both numbers after inflation).

That means that if current funding trends continue, it is inevitable that the taxpayer contribution to private schools overtakes the contribution to government schools. And that is notwithstanding that the Government schools are the ones educating the vast majority of the children with special needs, in remote locations or with behavioural difficulties.

The small and decreasing taxpayer ‘saving’ is the reward we have reaped for the decision to destroy the equity (and the achievements) of our education system. In the half century since Australian taxpayers started funding private education choices, our school education has been progressively failing.

Even though we now pay five times as much (after inflation) to educate a student, by the time that student reaches Year 9 they are 3 months behind where the same student was in 1964. And if that’s not bad enough, when we compare that same student to the world’s highest performing educators, we find they are more than two years behind. The leaders in education (a group that used to include us) have marched forward and we have slid slowly backwards.

Some people might be able to justify that destruction if the privatised part of the system was setting the world on fire. Unfortunately not even that is true. All Australian schools performed terribly in the latest round of international comparative tests. But our best private schools did even worse than everybody else.

And while (after adjusting for socio-economic disadvantage) all Australian schools performed equally badly overall, there were significantly less really high performing students in the nation’s private schools. There were no changes in the numbers at those levels in government schools. If private schools are supposed to cultivate the best and brightest, those results suggest they are failing dismally.

The privatisation of education, just like the privatisation of healthcare, results in islands of underperforming privilege amongst a sea of despair and it drags the whole system down. We have systematically created a school education system which performs worse for everyone (even the better off) than the system it replaces. That’s quite an achievement, but it is not irreversible. We can return to a high equity, high performance system. Unfortunately it appears the current Government is hell-bent on doing exactly the opposite.

Also published in The Courier Mail

Letters to the editor in response appear here.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Time to focus on the private school elephant in the pool

By | Education | One Comment

Tony Abbott’s hand-picked head of the Audit Commission, Tony Shepherd wants to end middle-class welfare but the Family Tax Benefits he’s targeting are just a sixth of the value of the annual subsidy paid to ‘private’ schools. In 1963 Australian taxpayers contributed less than a brass razoo to private education. Now we pay over $10 billion per year in recurrent funding. On top of that we taxpayers build fabulous facilities on private property (with capital funding) that very few of us have the right to access. It’s time the Audit Commission looked at the real middle class welfare, private schools.

Educating the children of prisoners (or guards) was not a priority in the early Australian colonies. And because it was charitable work, it was left to the churches to do with as they pleased.

As the population changed from largely prisoners to largely free colonists and the demands for education increased, the churches were able to negotiate significant government aid for their efforts. Unfortunately this resulted in a large amount of competition (and school choice) for easy to reach students in the cities and no education for everyone else.

In Australia, the market can deliver most things efficiently in the cities. But huge distances mean no profits to private providers and consequently no services for the rest of us. That particular ‘market failure’ is exactly why Australia found it necessary to have a state funded bank, a state funded telecommunications company and a state funded broadcaster.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Australian colonies solved this problem in schooling by withdrawing their funding from church run schools and investing in their own ‘state schools’. The aim was to provide a free education to every citizen no matter where they lived (or what brand of religion they favoured).

The Catholics opted out and decided to run their own schools (on a shoestring) and there were a few Anglican secondary schools who continued to rely exclusively on private fees. But for almost a century, Australian governments refused to fund private choices about school education. And for almost a century we had a high equity, secular education system which was the envy of the world.

It was mostly fear of an electoral backlash that kept the politicians at bay. But when Sir Robert Menzies won the 1963 election with a promise to fund science blocks in non-government schools, the can was open and the worms tasted freedom. There was no backlash. The electorate no longer cared.

There is no better way to target a marginal parliamentary seat than selectively distribute largess among school communities. School funding is the laser guided vote buyer. The pollies had entered pork barrel heaven. And Australia has incessantly increased funding to ‘private’ schools ever since.

But the annual funding is just the tip of the money-berg. In addition to the cool $10 billion the taxpayer forks out every year to run ‘private’ schools, we are buying Olympic swimming pools, cricket ovals that the ICC would envy, fabulously appointed gymnasiums, fantastic science facilities and computer labs to die for.

The total bill for all this extra taxpayer generosity between 2005 and 2010 was just a smidge under $5 billion (on top of the $10 billion a year in running costs).

Over the same time frame we invested about $10 billion in government school infrastructure. And while those ratios are roughly in line with the respective numbers of each, they don’t take account of the fact that after the money is funnelled through the state government bureaucracies, $1 buys you about 60c worth of building work in a state school.

In 1964, DOGS, (the Council for Defence of Government Schools) was formed to protest the decision by the Australian Government to fund private schools. Their campaign against ‘schools with pools’ goes on to this day.

A favourite publicity stunt of the early DOGS protests was to turn up to the pools their money had purchased and ask for a swim. They were swiftly given the bum’s rush. These are not like other tax payer funded gyms, pools and libraries. These gorgeous facilities are not open to the public (that would be you).

Taxpayer funds have been used to significantly improve the value of private property and provide educational facilities that no government school could ever afford. Yet ordinary taxpayers are not allowed anywhere near them.

So the next time you peer over the hedge of the local ‘private’ school at the new Olympic pool, remember this was built using (upper?) ‘middle class welfare’. The Audit Commission will ruthlessly target all manner of what it deems to be unnecessary government spending but I guarantee you it will coyly avert its gaze from the ‘private’ school elephant wallowing in the pool.

Also published in The Courier Mail

Image courtesy of markuso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Should we de-fund ‘private’ schools?

By | Education, Media, Television | No Comments

In 2011-12 Australian governments spent a tad over $47 billion on running the country’s schools. But only three quarters of that went to government owned schools. The remaining $10 billion or so went to ‘private’ (catholic and independent) schools. Governments are not normally big fans of throwing public money at private choices, but when it comes to schooling, the purse is well and truly open.

I recently had a chat on air with Dr Timothy Hawkes, Headmaster of The Kings School about whether Australian taxpayers should be footing the bill for ‘private’ schools.

Click Here to watch the recording.

Tide of inequity to blame for falling education results

By | Education | One Comment

Education is a very big line item in State and Federal Budgets. And, thanks to incessant demands for smaller classes, it is getting bigger at an astounding rate. But rather than address the obviously impaired state of our education system, the Government’s plan is to send you the bill.

In 2011-12 Australian governments spent a tad over $47 billion on running the country’s schools. But only three quarters of that went to government owned schools. The remaining $10 billion or so went to ‘private’ (catholic and independent) schools. Governments are not normally big fans of throwing public money at private choices. If I hire a security guard because the local coppers are not doing the job to my liking, a request for funding from the government will fall on deaf ears.

Joe Hockey may think the age of entitlement is over, but when it comes to funding private educational institutions it is anything but. The average Australian ‘private’ school kid costs the taxpayer about 60% as much as they would if were in the other kind of government school.

From the government’s perspective that’s a great thing. And it’s getting better all the time. Australians are stampeding from state run schools.  But the enormous growth in non-government schools has not been spread evenly. The average growth of the sector over the 15 years between 1998 and 2013 was 30%. But the number of students attending Islamic schools tripled and the schools aligned under the banner of the CSA (Christian Schools Australia) exploded to over 55,000 students in 2013.

The parents rushing out of the public sector are not choosing an Anglican Grammar school or even the local Catholic, they are choosing small, strongly faith based, low fee, suburban independents. Anyone would think we had all suddenly become devoutly religious, but the research suggests that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In 2008, the ISCA (Independent Schools Council of Australia) commissioned a study to get to the bottom of why parents chose a ‘private’ school. The answers were (in order) ‘educational excellence, good teachers, a supportive environment and good facilities.’ Religion barely scored a mention at all.

The flipside to that survey is of course that parents think they will not be getting those things from a public school. Massive increases in teacher numbers (because of reductions in class size) since the 1970s, combined with significantly greater employment choices for women has meant that the academic aptitude of the average teacher has steadily declined. Over the same timeframe, the unionisation of the teaching workforce has meant that should a teacher be hopeless, there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Independent schools have more flexibility when it comes to hiring and firing teaching staff. And they play off that in their marketing to parents worried about dud teachers.

The better facilities are paid for using a fair chunk of the fees that the parents are paying (since the government is still picking up most of the cost for the actual education).

Because such a large proportion of government education spending is diverted to fund private choices, the public schools become progressively more and more decrepit. And so the vicious cycle continues.

If you love the purity of markets, then I suspect you will be saying ‘so what?’ You might be thinking the push to ‘private’ education is a good thing. The problem is that in Australia we already know how this story ends. And it doesn’t end well.

In the middle of the 19th century almost all our education was publicly funded but delivered by churches. The result was a massively unequal society. Some communities were significantly overserviced, with schools competing with each other for the best students and those students receiving the very best education available. Other communities had a choice of just one school and most of the population had no access to schooling at all.

The solution was to bring in free mandatory secular education for all and to immediately de-fund the ‘private’ sector. By the start of the 20th century, Australia was a shining beacon to the world. It had a high equity, high performance education system which anyone and everybody could and did access.

But we are on the fast train to inequity again. And as the studies have predicted, the more the tide of equity sinks, the worse our education results as a nation become.

Running away from the public system is not the solution to Australia’s education woes. It simply drives wedges into cracks in Australian society and replays the disaster movie our education system has seen once before. Any government that encourages that as a solution is looking after its bottom line not your child’s future.

This post also appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald

Buy David’s Books

By | Books, Cookbook, Education, Recipes, Sugar, Sweet Poison, Vegetable Oils | 6 Comments

All of David’s books are available from this site. And each book purchased is personally signed by David. If you buy multiple copies of books you will receive multi-buy discounts and keep an eye out for sugar themed or oil themed bundles which also offer great discounts.

All of the books are also available electronically (obviously those aren’t signed).

In addiction to the books there is a great range of electronic resources (such as guides to the sugar content of common foods) available in the Resource Store.

The Books

 Free Schools Cover Small
Free Schools

David Gillespie has six kids. When it came time to select high schools, he thought it worth doing some investigation to assess the level of advantage his kids would enjoy if he spent the required $1.3 million to send them all to private schools.

Shockingly, the answer was: none whatsoever.

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The Sweet Poison Quit Plan Cookbook

Ex-lawyer and ex-sugarholic, David Gillespie, revolutionised the lives and eating habits of thousands of Australians with his bestsellers on the dangers of sugar, Sweet Poison and The Sweet Poison Quit Plan. To help get us unhooked from sugar, David with the help of wife Lizzie, gave us recipes for sweet foods made with dextrose-pure glucose, a healthy alternative to table sugar. Here, David has worked with a chef to develop more delicious fructose-free recipes.

All proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to charity

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Toxic Oil

“‘Vegetable’ oil makes you exceedingly vulnerable to cancer. Every extra mouthful of vegetable oil you consume takes you one step closer to a deadly (and irreversible) outcome.”With these words David Gillespie begins his follow-up to the bestseller Big Fat Lies: How the diet industry is making you sick, fat & poor. In Big Fat Lies he analysed the latest scientific evidence to show us that vegetable oils, specifically seed oils, are dangerous to our health, despite that fact that they are recommended by government health agencies.

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Big Fat Lies

In Big Fat Lies David explodes the myths about diet, exercise and vitamin supplements, examining the latest scientific evidence and exposing the role the multibillion-dollar food, health and diet industries have played in promoting the health messages we follow or feel guilty about not following.

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The Sweet Poison Quit Plan

Packed with reader anecdotes and lists to help you organise your sugar-free life, this book presents one of the most accessible and achievable strategies around for losing weight and avoiding some of the more pernicious lifestyle diseases that are increasingly associated with excessive sugar consumption. Gillespie is an informed and entertaining writer who makes his subject fascinating, and inspires with his passion and logic.

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Sweet Poison

The #1 Bestseller, Sweet Poison exposes one of the great health scourges of our time and offers a wealth of practical and accessible information on how to avoid fructose, increase your enjoyment of food and lose weight.

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Apple selects Free Schools as one of its 12 Best Books of the Month

By | Education | No Comments

Every month, the team at Apple Australia and New Zealand read and review a selection of books which are about to be released. They then select the 12 which they enjoy the most. I’m very proud to announce that Free Schools has been selected as one of the Best Books of the Month for February 2014. Click here to see what the other 11 were and to read the Apple review of Free Schools.

Lifelong love of learning key to great teaching

By | Education, Media, Print | One Comment

ACCORDING to international benchmarks such as the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment tests, Australia’s education system is sliding backwards at a dizzying speed.

And while the research is unequivocal that teaching effectiveness is the primary driver of student performance, blaming teachers for the slide is like blaming an infantryman for the Iraq War. Band-Aids will not suffice. It’s time for open-heart surgery on Australia’s education system. Unfortunately, the Band-Aid brigade is out in force when it comes to “fixing” teacher quality. In Britain, the Conservative government plans to fix teacher quality by continuing to support Teach First. It is a social enterprise that enrols recent graduates from non-teaching courses and puts them through a six-week course before dropping them into a classroom while they complete a two-year education qualification.

The same program runs in Australia and the US, and while there are impressive queues of fabulous graduates waiting to join, the five-year retention rate for qualified teachers is abysmal – so much so that the program has been derided as “teach first, then get a better job”.

The British Labour opposition has a different plan. It wants to relicense teachers every few years. Its manifesto would allow the worst ones to be sacked and the not-so-terrible to receive some training. In the US, the Band-Aid contains a little more carrot and a little less stick. There, Bill Gates is pumping a lazy $US335 million ($384m) into a trial teacher incentive program. One of the trial districts, Hillsborough County (193,000 students and 15,000 teachers) in Florida received $US100m of the pile, and $US60m of that went directly to teachers. With the bonus payments, a fourth-year teacher in Hillsborough could earn as much as someone who’s been in the job for 20 years. The bonuses are based on student outcomes and in-class evaluations of teachers. But now that the trial results are in, they are not encouraging. There seemed to be no statistical relationship between any student improvement and the people identified by the program as effective teachers.

Elsewhere in the US, and most recently in NSW, “raising the bar” is seen as the panacea to ineffective teaching. People have been noticing for some time that it’s getting easier and easier to enrol in an undergraduate teaching degree. Latest results from Queensland, for example, tell us that entry is open to all but the lowest 8 per cent of secondary school leavers, and it isn’t much higher in NSW.

Statistics like that have inspired the NSW O’Farrell government to insist that, from next year, you don’t get to study teaching without at least an 80 per cent score in three HSC subjects (one of which must be English). It’s a big call with an almost complete lack of evidence to support it.

It’s not unreasonable to suggest we need moderately literate teachers, but study after study tells us that beyond that, there is no correlation between a teacher’s marks and their classroom results. Worse than that, it runs the real risk of excluding people who will be effective teachers on the basis of something that is likely to be about as relevant as their favourite colour. Unlike Britain and the US, the countries handing us a solid flogging in international tests (China, South Korea, Singapore and Finland, for example) are not worried about how to produce effective teachers, because they have already solved the problem.

The detail varies from place to place but the end result is the same. Effective teachers are produced by systems that use effective teachers to make more, you guessed it, effective teachers. In these systems, teachers are closely managed and mentored from the moment they darken a classroom doorway.

They are not thrown into a locked class, never to be seen again. They don’t sit down with the principal for a once-a-year box-ticking “performance review” (and then get a pay rise anyway). They are watched by their peers, assessed by more experienced colleagues and work as part of a team based on continuous feedback about the performance of their students. They can also be dismissed if they fail to deliver.

If they measure up, their career advancement is based on their performance (and that of their students), not on the amount of time in the job. And they are required to continue to learn and publish throughout their career. In other words, they are lifelong learners in the art and science of teaching. And they are trained by the best, the highest performers from the generations before them.

To someone who is “doing teaching” (because it’s easy to get into, with a pretty good graduate pay and great holidays), I have just described a nightmare of lifelong assessment. To someone who loves learning and loves teaching, I have just described paradise. Bring it on.

Opinion piece also published in The Australian 28 January 2014