Notwithstanding some impressive sounding moves afoot in Australian schooling at the moment, e.g. the National Curriculum and the yet-to -be acted upon Gonski Report, it is hard to see exactly how Australia can suddenly, or slowly, move to the top of the class because we have a National Curriculum.
Some of the same organisations currently running the show, are also writing the National Curriculum Such as the usual Harvard Business School Model folk responsible for thevery same problems which currently exist in Australian education. Dracula is still in charge of the blood bank - as has been stated elsewhere by Kevin Donnelly.
Will teachers suddenly improve with a National Curriculum? How? There are a lot of basics that are not being taken care of properly right now - and it is very hard to run when you aren't really walking properly.
For example; teacher training is still disturbingly inadequate preparation for young professionals who may be interested in teaching kids. Take a walk with a young teacher named Luke (he will be known as Mr. Skywalker of course once he starts teaching in his new high school). Luke will have nowhere near enough real-life work in classrooms with seasoned teachers mentoring him; practice teaching blocks are phenomenally difficult for teacher trainees who are also trying to pay the rent and feed themselves – none of my prac teachers have had to raise a family or pay a mortgage while undertaking teacher training. It is simply not possible, they wouldn't even attempt it. So, no mature age teachers (the best sort of teachers in my experience). Paid prac teaching blocks are used in medicine (thankfully), it would certainly help quality teachers at the entry level of the profession.
Luke, our talented young teacher somehow survives his Jedi training minus food, clothing, rent etc. by harnessing the power of The Force, and is immediately confronted with improbable amounts of paperwork and admin in his first year of teaching. A recent excursion I worked on required no less than 37 attachments of multi-page paperwork to fill out, none of which could be done by a non-teacher. Why do teachers accept this as normal practice? (Maybe the admin people are sneaking around teaching my students while I am doing their job for them?)
If our young teacher (now known authoritatively as Mr. Skywalker) is persistent and tames the paper jungle (a jungle even Bear Grylls would have trouble surviving) he is confronted with the Death Star of Modern Education – yes, it's the ubiquitous Whatever-The-Latest-Fad-Someone-Just-Thought-Up-Somewhere Sith. Currently, the fad is Quality Teaching – a post-modern term that means neither quality nor teaching.
A recent seminar I attended on this new Wonder Drug involved a two hour continuous monologue pedaled by some of its architects entailing self-justifying statistics which seem to have been generated in order to prove that the statistics themselves were self – justifying. (Nobody could explain what this meant on the day. I think we were subject to some kind of hallucinogenic gas at the time.) Some professional educators can certainly spend a lot of time in a content-less world of rhetoric devoid of actual meaning in the real world of the classroom. The presentation on Quality Teaching itself of course was a superb example of how not to teach something in a qualitative way. As with so many fads, it is another example of the Emperor having no clothes on once again.
Our young teacher, Mr. Skywalker, having proved himself to be astoundingly astute in having identified the weakness of the Death Star of Modern Education and freakishly managing to stay awake during the Attack of the Clones and their deadly unexciting Quality Teaching, is now confronted by the Dreaded Evil Emperor himself - the terrifying Non-Parity Timetable menacing the universe of elective subjects. The National Curriculum is very incomplete, yet it is determining time allocations within timetabling as we speak. Academic subjects are currently pushing yet-to-be-developed National Curriculum subjects off the school day. For example; Arts and Tech subjects are still being developed as part of the National Curriculum, but timetabling decisions are being made to ensure the next round of Naplan results are better than the last set of results (no matter how good those last results were).
The little that has emerged so far in Music for the National Curriculum is fairly terrifying- a one size fits all lockstep approach has been brandished like a sword of Damocles over the heads of unsuspecting music teachers around Australia, many of whom are already cribbed out of on-line timetabling and have to squeeze rehearsals in before or after school. Incidentally, Naplan is a chief driver in developing the National Curriculum. But of course, Naplan only tests a couple of subjects.
How are non-academic subjects currently being benchmarked? The truth is, they aren't being benchmarked - yet someone is trying to construct National Curriculum based on invisible benchmarking (Harvard Business School would be most unimpressed). Some academics may love the smell of Naplan in the morning, but others have trouble even detecting its distinctive odour.
Our Mr Skywalker has, incredibly, survived all that has hitherto sought to destroy him as a teacher, and starts wondering why his mates in real estate are earning more money than him while working less hours. He discusses this anomaly in The Force with Yoda, the local Australian Education Union Official. Yoda earnestly informs young Luke that the Australian Education Union is still opposed to any form of merit-based pay for skilled teachers like him.
Luke is dismayed, he has long since mastered the Force and is a full blown Jedi Teacher, but Yoda insists that skilled teachers should never be rewarded for their hard-won skills, even worse, Yoda knows that there is in fact no such thing as a highly skilled teacher (those who can, do, and those who can't … well, we all know the old saying.) By persisting with an apparently egalitarian approach to career paths, Yoda explains, (see notes on One-Size-Fits-All-Lockstep approaches above), the Australian Education Union has successfully scotched any sort of real-life career structure for teachers who wish to stay in the classroom and continue doing what they do best.