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Pursuing national school system improvements

By John Benn - posted Thursday, 26 September 2013

Limited media attention followed a policy statement by Mr Tony Abbott that if elected his government would instigate an indigenous advisory council to examine issues of indigenous disadvantage involving education, employment and social interaction.

Noted Cape York indigenous leader Mr Noel Pearson would join former ALP president Mr Warren Mundine and WA mining magnate Mr Andrew Forrest on the council as well as the former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Mr Peter Shergold.

Commenting on the education efforts of the Cape York Aboriginal Academy Mr Pearson said a staged intervention in school improvement would: "put a poor-performing school on the trajectory to become a good school, and a good school to become a great school, and break the cycle of low performance."


Mr Pearson's terminology regarding school classifications - 'Poor' to 'Good' and thence 'Good' to 'Great' – raises critical issues involving student and system outcomes. His vision foreshadows improving indigenous schooling will help 'close the gap' between indigenous and national education performance.

Mr Pearson's vision raises another broader consideration for all Australian schools.

If teaching innovation will improve indigenous learning could equivalent principles and system analysis apply across Australia's entire school structure?

Positioning Mr Pearson's proposals into a broader national context incorporates concepts outlined in a 2010 international school system review by management consultants McKinsey & Company.

Improving school system performance from 'poor' to 'good' to 'great' was extensively examined by McKinsey which extended this classification to include an 'Excellent' whole system outcome. According to McKinsey only Finland achieved that pre-eminent classification.

The McKinsey study did not closely evaluate Australia's school but ranked it as a 'Good' system outcome along with Japan, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Germany, England and the United States although Australia ranked below these countries within this system category.


The Abbott government could evaluate the McKinsey study to develop broader national targets for school and student improvement by examining and applying the review's classification criteria, a markedly contrasting approach from the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd government's comparatively narrow terms of reference for the Gonski review of school funding initiated in April 2010.

The McKinsey review identified that 'whole system' evaluations should constitute the basis for system analysis and schooling change, a strategy broadly espoused by noted educationalist Professor Michael Fullan.

This system approach differs from assessing student measurements determined by international performance criteria alone which may be less relevant to Australia's education structure noting that 34.6% of all students attend a non-government school.

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More extensive commentary regarding the McKinsey system analysis is located on 'Indigenous learning approach could benefit all schools', 17 September 2013.

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About the Author

John Benn has more than 25-year's administrative experience in fund raising, communications and marketing in the non-government school sector. He blogs on education matters affecting schools on He holds post graduate degrees in communication from The University of Technology Sydney.

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