The one outcome from education reform that matters most is improvement in student learning. This means the learning of relevant knowledge and skills by students in all schools.
The launch this week of the My School website is an important step towards this overall goal because it introduces greater transparency and accountability into our school system. The Business Council of Australia supports this key reform, and the commitment of the federal, state and territory governments to its implementation.
The publication of performance information will increase the focus on student knowledge, especially in the key areas of literacy, numeracy and foundation science. It does this by providing school communities, especially parents, with access to information about how their school is performing compared to similar schools.
Parents have always had information about the learning and development of their own children. Access to information about school performance will make a positive contribution to improving the performance of schools by subjecting schools and school leaders to greater accountability.
Any organisation should value accountability because it focuses attention on what matters most. For schools, this is the knowledge and skills of students in key areas. There are far reaching benefits that will flow from this. Where schools are not performing as well as similar schools, it prompts questions that require an explanation and, where necessary, it will require a commitment to actions aimed at improvement . This transparency will be an incentive for school leaders at schools that are not performing well to make greater efforts to learn from better performing schools.
Transparency and accountability will require leaders to tackle issues that are difficult. These include the performance of personnel who are not as effective as they could or should be. The effectiveness of our education system depends on the skills and commitment of all our teachers. The vast majority of teachers are dedicated professionals and are the reason so many Australian students do receive a very good education. But, if we have a minority, even a small minority, who are not doing their job as well as they could be, then this impacts on the learning of many students.
Increased transparency and accountability should also lead to motivating and rewarding excellent performance. A research report released last year by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that three-quarters of all teachers in OECD countries feel that they do not have incentives available to them to improve the quality of their teaching.
Most Australian school systems do not have the capacity to recognise and reward the very best teachers. To their credit, the federal and state governments are also introducing reforms in this area.
Work is under way on a new career structure that recognises and rewards individuals who demonstrate that they are highly accomplished in what they know, do and achieve in the classroom. Other forms of recognition and reward in addition to a higher salary should also be available.
Greater autonomy when it comes to hiring and rewarding the talented teachers should be seen as going hand in hand with greater transparency. Taken together, these reforms have the potential to make a positive difference in providing school students with a high quality education.
It is right that the Prime Minister has made improving the school system a key national priority. Our future economic and social well being depends on us having an education system that is among the very best in the world. If Australia is to accomplish this, then greater transparency of performance is a vital step to take.