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Understanding education policy as a teacher

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Teach For Australia (TFA) Associates and education leaders gathered this month to discuss public policy, the Gonski Review, raising the status of teaching and creating a more ‘fit for purpose’ education system. The panel was hosted by TFA Alum Jared Dyson (Cohort 2015) and included Lisa Rodgers, CEO of AITSL and Dr. Peter Goss, School Education Program Director at the Grattan Institute. Live tweets throughout the night allowed the Teach For Australia online community to join the conversation in real-time, with the opportunity to ask questions.


Dr. Goss began his career as a biologist and proceeded to work as a strategy consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. While at BCG, he worked with Noel Pearson, Aboriginal activist and founder of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. In Cape York, Dr Goss described meeting 15 year olds who were just learning how to read, and how it was this experience that gave him an understanding of how “deeply important education is, and how poorly we are doing it in parts of Australia”.

“But it’s not all hopeless. When evidence and systematic approaches are put into local contexts in an appropriate way, real improvements can be made.” Dr. Goss said.

When asked about the Gonski Review to Achieve Excellence in Australian Schools, Lisa Rodgers referred to the common belief that better technology and smaller classes are keys to improvement. “There’s no evidence that class size and school infrastructure are what makes the biggest difference in education. The things that make the biggest difference are the quality of teachers and leadership,” she said. To this point, she added that there is no system of attracting, identifying and supporting teachers to become principals, which is a key factor in the growing school leadership gap in Australia. “We want to ensure that teachers have every opportunity to remain in the classroom, and given the chance to extend and become highly accomplished leaders, working across their classroom and their school to effect change.”

When asked about raising the status of teaching, she said “we need alternative pathways like Teach For Australia to get the best people in front of our kids.”

Dr. Goss suggested that Australia should “train half as many teachers twice as hard” and to use more data and evidence to inform better teaching. To get that data, he suggested asking the students themselves about what’s happening in the classroom. “We know far too little about what’s happening in the classroom today,” he said. Further to this, Dr Goss emphasised that teachers want to know how they’re doing. “Feedback is essential, and hard to get. You need to know where you’re at to know how to improve.”

Lisa Rodgers highlighted the flawed Initial Teacher Education (ITE) model, estimating that of 300,000 that go in each year, 80,000 go on to graduate, and 11,000 go on to work in teaching. 6,000 stay past 5 years. “We need to take a long hard look at ITE.”

When asked by the audience about “tools for teachers”, Rodgers stressed the importance of using tools to understand exactly where each student is at, and where they’ve come from to identify their gaps in knowledge. Curriculum tools that can address individualised learning and enable teachers to understand student growth and progress can be transformative in today’s learning environment.

To close out the night, panelists were asked for their thoughts on teachers’ roles in education policy development, to which Lisa Rodgers said: “The policy is in your hands. It’s what you do in the classroom that will make it happen.”

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