Teachers' Christian Fellowship of NSW

ACARA: The acronym we had to have?

Disclaimer: This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of all Teachers' Christian Fellowship members.

ACARA: the acronym we had to have?

According to its website, The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is responsible for:

The long history of attempts to establish a national curriculum and associated national reporting of student performance and progress has been well documented in previous editions of TCFNews and the national curriculum was the focus of the 2009 Annual Conference.

The responsibilities outlined above are threefold: a responsibility for developing a national curriculum, a responsibility for assessing student progress on that curriculum and a responsibility to report on other data collections related to student performance.

In this edition of TCFNews comments are made about the third of these responsibilities about national data.

A national data collection and reporting program

In this area of responsibility ACARA is the tool of a political will to report nationally on literacy and numeracy. The national benchmark program has been operating for some years and now the Commonwealth has put financial pressure on the states to make available this data to the public on a school by school basis.

Some of the values for consideration from a Christian perspective are:By the time you read this newsletter the reports on literacy and numeracy will be available on the ACARA website and will provide information against the national average and against a "similar" set of schools. Although there will not be a rank order or league tables there will be all the information necessary for others, namely the media to construct them, even though NSW laws carry fines for such publications.

The My School section of the website http://www.myschool.edu.au/ makes it clear how this data might be used by the public:

My School will enable you to:

The last three points make it clear: "compare", "view results" "identify schools that are doing well". Everyone can now have access to the data on literacy and numeracy and make their own decisions about how well a school is doing in these areas related to all schools and to a "similar" set of schools (those with a similar socioeconomic profile).

The sample school report form indicates that much more will be shown than these literacy and numeracy results including a descriptive statement about the school context and the following:

Sample Data

In this information there are some points of interest including how many full time and part time staff a school has which will be of interest to parents with primary aged students, the number of Indigenous students which may be a cause of concern for some rural schools and attendance data which also be of interest to communities. But there is more.

Sample data

Secondary schools with senior students will have information about vocational educational courses, the results of students from Year 12 (presumably the results from a further development of a national Year 12 credential) and a most interesting section of the post school destination of students.

Student background information will also be included placing with school population with four quartiles of socio-economic (dis)advantage.

All this information and we still haven't got to any figures on student performance.

The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy results are set out firstly in a comparative table:

Sample data

What about the schools? With this amount of publicity about results and other school information which school is not going to try and focus on achieving the best possible results in literacy and numeracy? Even before this development some NSW primary schools prided themselves on being literacy and numeracy schools in which little time was devoted to science, languages, the humanities and the arts. I am not sure I want my child to be excellent at literacy and numeracy and ignorant about their cultural heritage, the arts and science.

A further consideration should be the pressure placed on students to perform in literacy and numeracy. Many of us know the difficulties caused even for bright children from parent and teacher expectations that lead to anxious children who don't enjoy school even though they perform well. Such anxiety can lead to difficulties in forming relationships, loss of confidence and under performance. Schools retain a responsibility to develop the whole child and the whole curriculum.

As Christians we would want to support schools to have a focus on literacy and numeracy but not at the expense of the rest of the curriculum or the welfare of students. Christian education has always been about knowing God and not only knowing about him. As argued elsewhere, the whole curriculum helps students to know God and explicit teaching about God is also part of this curriculum. Without knowing about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus students are denied essential knowledge to make their Christian education complete. How important does this make Special Religious Education in Government schools? Yet its continued under-resourcing may eventually result in its demise.

For Christians working in Government schools there is a need to remember that they are to be the salt of the earth. They need to be outspoken about the breadth of the curriculum and care for students and not be overwhelmed by the political agenda generated by vested interests to hold schools accountable based on such a narrow definition of student achievements. Literacy and numeracy are important, but they should not become secular gods to be worshiped by schools. What is the point of being at the top of scores in literacy and numeracy and being ignorant about the world we live in and unable to form meaningful relationships with others? Such achievements are not Christian.

John Gore