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Policy Forum Reflections

Another Policy Forum has passed and it’s good that soon after we process our thoughts and reactions. Following is a brief collation of reflections from Martin Hanscamp, Dr Ken Dickens (Christian Education National) and Michelle Dempsey (Christian Education National).


Sharing Unity

There were many comments about celebrating our unity. The Policy Forum is a place where we can join together across denominational and allied groups to get updates, be encouraged and inspired and step away from the immediacy of running a school and have the freedom to ponder more broadly.

Some of you noticed and commented on the banners out the front and wondered why our banner was not present. For the record, we were invited to put forward a banner, though this began a conversation around the structure and organisation of the Policy Forum not being as collaborative as we would like. This is a conversation that will probably continue. It was on this basis that we decided to not put up our banner.

It is always great to have the opportunity to network together with our colleagues in Christian education. If you missed the Policy Forum this year, we hope these short reflections give you a picture of what was covered.


Conference Program

This year’s emphasis on School Improvement Tools was  topical. Geoff Masters (ACER CEO) gave us a summarised version of what has become known as the National School Improvement Tool. We suspect it would be better labelled a ‘framework’ as it isn’t a tool as such. The overview was helpful, though we suspect for many of our school leaders it wasn’t ‘the lights turned on’ moment but rather a reminder that putting things into a more specific intentional plan can be helpful. For many, establishing an ‘improvement’ culture is already largely happening and the stimulation was to keep developing and tweaking this.

Good to hear that the usual strategies for improvement such as incentives and competition are not working. The normal assumption is that there is a lack of effort. This was refuted by Masters. Rather, teachers need professional development in pedagogical practices that lead to improvement. School autonomy appears to be significant and this has implications for a full and mandated curriculum. Gerry Beimers made this point eloquently to the minister.
It was also heartening to hear the emphasis on broad educational outcomes for all students rather than just test scores.

Click here for all the information referred to in Geoff’s presentation


The Panel

Darryl Murdoch, CEO of Adventist Schools, gave a report of the implementation of a systemic approach to the use of the national improvement tool. Key aspects include internal responsibility with systemic validation and focusing on three questions:

  • How are we doing?
  • How do we know?
  • What are we going to do about it?

Sue Skuthorpe from NSW spoke about ongoing collegial focus on pedagogical improvement in her school with an emphasis on an authentic integration of biblical faith and learning. Her analogy of a mud cake rather than choc-chip was apt.

Marcel Rijken from SA reported his school’s use of a University of Southern Queensland strategy called Innovating Design developed by Dortothy Andrews in addressing improvement in teaching and learning.

Peter Hart spoke from the perspective of organisational psychology into the issue of school improvement. Linking with Masters’ framework he sought to give insight into the How. There was a huge emphasis on collegial relationship and the advantage that Christian educators have. He noted, however, that ‘Christian’ community can sometimes be used as an excuse for not holding people accountable or encouraging unhealthy workaholism. Of particular interest was his reminder of the relative effectiveness of strategies for pedagogical improvement from isolated PD days being 10%; feedback yielding 30 % and mentored practice being most effective at 70%.  Allie Owies (Christian Educators’ Professional Association) has been making this point for some time. Consequently, we note that, the National Institute for Christian Education, are seeking to expand their PD courses with follow up webinars focusing on action from PD.

John Collier was the final speaker, and borrowing from the book title No Icing on the Cake (Mount Evelyn Christian School), challenged the delegates to guard against the drift towards a dualism where there is a Christian veneer over a largely secularist educational mindset. He admitted his own school, St Andrews Cathedral School in the heart of Sydney Anglican evangelicalism had lost its way–now with less than half the teachers Christian. It was a salient and timely warning against complacency and an encouragement to hear his efforts to make a real stand for the gospel in that context.

Dan Egeler – ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’. An inspiring set of stories about the impact faithful men and women of God have had into their missionary contexts. It was good to be reminded of impact of God’s Word and his people.


Parliamentary Dinner

The visit to Parliament House is always a highlight though there’s always some concern as to which table you land on. For future reference, plan a group of 8 and as a long term strategy of connection I’d (MH) suggest that we target a few more senators in key committee roles (I’ll work on that before next year).

Kate Ellis – Kate gave the standard party line speech that had no surprises. Her finish line of committing to support all students, “no matter which school you attend” was something that’s good to hear from the ALP.

Christopher Pyne gave a fine speech  – he obviously knows his material and is extremely confident. His comments (not just in this speech) about going back to a ‘basics’ content-driven curriculum and criticising the current emphasis on skills, are of concern. Minister Pyne ably handled questions from the audience and surprised us by committing to a direct funding relationship between the Federal Government and the independent sector. This was different to last month’s message, but then we’re getting used to some pretty big swings from Mr Pyne when it comes to funding. We remain concerned about a longer term stable model. On the one hand we suspect Minister Pyne feels in comfortable territory amongst us because of the Coalition’s support for the Christian school sector and our appreciation of that support. That being said, some tough future discussions are on the cards.

Karl Faase was the ‘Great Hall’ keynote and it was a great listen. It was refreshing to see the statistics that Karl used to show that those who paint Christians into a small corner forget the powerful evidence of a Christian voice and how many Australians still identify themselves as ‘Christian’. It builds our confidence to know that the Christian voice is still desired and needed. If the CSA website gets his statistics they’ll be worth looking over. CSA has placed many of the Forum’s presentation on their website.