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Education Minister pushes for ‘back to basics’ approach in schools

Standardised tracking of students’ progress is part of Mr Tehan’s emphasis on a “back to basics” approach in education. Pointing to Australia’s worst ever results in international reading, maths and science tests, he has said schools need to renew their focus on literacy and numeracy as the foundations for student success.

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“Until you’ve got improvement in literacy and numeracy, we are not going to see the gains that we want to be seeing,” he said.

The results of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) released last week painted a picture of long-term decline in Australian students’ outcomes, with the most severe drops in maths. The results will be a key topic of discussion when education ministers meet this week.

The gathering will consider a suite of reform proposals put forward under the “Gonski 2.0” plan. In addition to learning progressions, ministers will discuss a review of the curriculum, the creation of an evidence institute, ensuring teachers are equipped to teach phonics, the future of NAPLAN testing, reducing red tape for teachers and the introduction of a unique student identifier.

Mr Tehan said education systems had drifted from fundamental priorities and people had to “step back and admit there has been too much focus on other things and they are wrong”.

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“I think some educational experts are finding it difficult to do that,” he said.

Peter Goss, school education program director at the Grattan Institute, said learning progressions were a tool to help teachers provide targeted instruction for students.

“In today’s world, too many schools are having to create their own understanding of learning progressions. That’s massively inefficient and probably also lower quality,” he said.

“[It’s much better] to develop national learning progressions, offer them to schools along with resources that can help teachers use the learning progressions in practice.”

Dr Goss warned the method was “no panacea” and needed to be implemented properly and carefully otherwise they would just add to teachers’ workloads.

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