Professor Pasi Sahlberg of the University of NSW and Future Schools Alliance Peter Hutton at the Blue Sky Thinking forum at CQU’s Noosa campus on Friday.
Professor Pasi Sahlberg of the University of NSW and Future Schools Alliance Peter Hutton at the Blue Sky Thinking forum at CQU’s Noosa campus on Friday.

NAPLAN ‘doesn’t work’ in current form

THE Scandinavian education system has long been held by many to be a beacon of positivity that other nations could only envy.

But ask former director general of Finland’s Ministry of Education and you will get a mixed answer.

Professor Pasi Sahlberg, who has worked in more than 60 countries’ education systems and is now with the Gonski Institute in University of NSW, joined Future Schools Alliance founder Peter Hutton on Friday to discuss educational reform with an 80-strong audience of education professionals, at the Blue Sky Thinking forum.

“When people ask me back home in Helsinki what do I think about Australian education, I say my answer is that this country has probably one of the best education systems in the world — but not for everyone,” he said.

Prof Sahlberg, who not too long ago appeared on television’s 60 Minutes, said our system had “good and bad news”.

“The good news is great schools are here – and to improve them we don’t have to go overseas for how to do that. The bad news is there are systemic handicaps, deep-rooted inequality and inequity in our system, and that leads to great schools not being available for everybody.”

“We have to fix it if Australia wants to be world-class like I hear (government) ministers say.”

Mr Hutton said the forum was not about a clean slate in education.

“We’re not planning on doing anything about things that are already working,” he said. “We’re wanting to change the game for the huge number of kids who are disengaged or think that school is just a waste of time.”

“At the moment only about 70 per cent of kids are turning up to school and according to the Grattan Report, 40 per cent of these are disengaged.

“There’s a fair percentage of kids for whom the current system is not working so we want to give an education system that’s meaningful for them (by) looking at their interests and passions — and we can build from that.”

Mr Hutton started his alliance 18 months ago and has 43 Australian schools on board, “and the aim is 200 schools by the end of 2020 across Australia and New Zealand”.

One issue the two have very similar views on is the national NAPLAN system.

Mr Hutton, a member of the ‘Say No to NAPLAN’ group, said when you look at the error rate, “17 per cent of kids’ parents will get a result showing their kid has made no progress when in fact they’ve made normal progress”.

“It never designed to be released to individual families,” he said.

“For a school it’s great – you can see where your kids are – but individually, it was never designed to be that way.”

Professor Sahlberg said NAPLAN was “a badly outdated system”.

“No world-class system has something like NAPLAN,” he said.

“Testing students all the time, and then using this information publicly for all things it was never (designed) to do, so my response is I am in favour of NAPLAN — but NAPLAN 2.0, that would be sample-based high-quality system that would look at many other things than reading and writing and mathematics where the data would not be used to rank schools, or label students or communities.”


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