The Lofty View From The Age’s Schools Summit

Yesterday, The Age held their annual Schools Summit. Of course we wouldn’t shell out a shekel to attend, presuming that not a lot could be learned, but reports on the Summit are here, here, here and here. And, what was learned? Clearly, not a lot.

Our main interest was in the idiotic Maths Wars discussion and the talk by ACARA’s CEO, David de Carvalho, and they appeared to be pretty nothing. But there were a couple notable things in the nothingness.

From the scant reports, it is difficult to know what to make of De Carvalho’s talk, but presumably it contained less of the triumphant twaddle exhibited last yearGreg Ashman described De Carvalho as “gently uncertain and slightly ruffled”. Of course if anybody had been permitted to ask him why the draft is currently Top Secret, and why ACARA’s current process is unsanctioned lunacy, De Carvalho might have been fully ruffled. But, it is obviously too much to expect proper questioning from a journalist-led summit.

On the mathematics draft, it would appear that De Carvalho was as honest and as forthright as ever. Ashman reports that

“[De Carvalho] claimed that he would have been disappointed if there had been no debate. In terms of the woeful draft mathematics curriculum, he acknowledged that there had been objections to the Year levels at which certain concepts were introduced and that there was a perception that the curriculum advocated certain pedagogical practices (teaching methods).


But, yeah, a few year-level switches, and a “perception” of pedagogical advocacy just about sums up the objections to the draft. As for the “debate” that apparently pleases De Carvalho, we’re not sure that he quite understands the meaning of that word. No matter, since it is all pretty much done. To quote Adam Carey, De Carvalho claims

“There’s agreement on 6 of 8 learning areas, humanities and maths still need tweaking.”


As for the “maths wars” discussion, without a single participating mathematician, it would appear that, predictably, the debate missed the whole goddam point. So Greg Ashman got to make his important point, yet again, that inquiry learning is nonsense. But Ashman’s important point is not the point, not that anyone cares. At least, however, we got to find out about a new clown.

One of the participants in the Maths Wars discussion was Russell Tytler, Professor of Science Education at Deakin University. Tytler’s thing appears to be “problem-solving” and inquiry learning, repackaged as “guided inquiry”, and plenty STEMmed. As for Tytler’s contribution yesterday, to quote Carey,

“Tytler says there is a problem with engagement in maths classrooms that explicit instruction can’t solve.”

Yes? So?

Tytler’s solution, as it always is with these guys, is to “engage” the students in “maths classrooms” by embarking on some idiotic and pointless exploration and then slapping the label “maths” on it. This fools only fools, which includes, unfortunately, pretty much everyone.

But Tytler does have a point, since they also do this kind of thing in successful countries. To quote The Age‘s blog of yesterday,

“Professor Russell Tytler of Deakin University says it’s often overlooked that Singapore’s maths curriculum is also big on problem-solving. That’s one of the things the draft Australian curriculum was so heavily criticised for upon its initial release.”

No, it is not overlooked, you twit; it is simply corrected with this thing we call truth.

Great panel, Age guys. You really know how to resolve a maths war.

38 Replies to “The Lofty View From The Age’s Schools Summit”

  1. Let me comment on your reports about the statement from the Acting Minister for Education and Youth, The Hon. Stuart Robert.

    Spending $3.5 million on podcasts sounds like an off-the cuff, and dare I say, shallow, reaction by the Minister to a serious problem (harrasment and related matters) that many teachers across Australia experience every day – and it’s not simply a result of lockdowns. The annual surveys of principals indicate that this is a long-standing problem.

    His comment that “10 per cent of students in teaching degrees fail LANTITE” is not stated correctly. My understanding is that a satisfactory score in LANTITE ranks the candidate in the top 30% of Australians for numeracy and literacy. Now it may well be true to 10% of candidates are not in the top 30% of Australian in these areas, but this is not the same as “failing”. It’s not accurate to say that “one-in-10 prospective teachers are failing foundational literacy and numeracy”.

    I did wonder how our politicians would go on the LANTITE test.

    1. Terry, I very confidently predict that at least 10% of politicians would fail the LANTITE. But it would get laughed off … (I would classify at least 1/3 of all politicians as functionally innumerate).

      Perhaps what Robo-debt Robert ( ) meant to say, but didn’t have the necessary level of literacy to properly express it, was that Principals in private schools find it easier to remove teachers that are not performing to required expectations than Principals in public schools.
      But even then, I’m not sure this would be true. Although I’ve heard many stories about the difficulty of removing incompetent teachers in the public school system (and even when they are removed, they often move to another school because they’re the “first in line”).

      I have extensive experience with the private and public education systems and I can assure Robo-debt Robert that there are plenty of dud teachers – of long standing – in private schools (and catholic schools).

      Before Robo-debt Robert declares and then doubles down on his
      “it’s the dud teachers in the public system that are dragging results down”,
      he should focus on the dud:

      I anticipate that he will soon say something similar to the odious Michael Gove (former education secretary for England), who demanded that all children achieve above-average test scores. (And who could forget Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools and head of Ofsted, who in 2012 condemned the fact that one in five pupils are leaving primary school without reaching the “national average” in English).

      Marty, De Carvalho would not have been “fully ruffled” had the secrecy question been put to him. I am confident he would have had a mealy-mouthed non-answer prepared for such a question (or maybe he would have said that the answer was a secret). And then he would have moved on to the next question. But I agree that it’s very disappointing that the question wasn’t asked.

      And the Age is not interested in resolving a maths war. The summit is simply a promotional stunt designed to create interest and lure readers. I have personal first-hand experience with one of the delegates on one of the panels (no, nothing to do with maths) and I can tell you for a fact that it is laughable that this person was on the panel. The summit is nothing more than a circus. I calculate that for every Greg Ashman-esque delegate there would be at least five laughably unqualified-to-the-point-of-dangerous delegates. But it’s the squeaky idiot that gets the most oil.

      PS – Greg’s account of the circus ( ) was an excellent read (as are all of Greg’s pail fillings)

    2. It always astonishes me when people discuss things like LANTITE, or NAPLAN, or PISA, as if they mean something. Why do you do it? Why do you ask how politicians might perform on a test that is utter garbage? Who the Hell cares?

      1. Without disagreeing with you (because I don’t), clearly some people *do* care.

        Why? That I don’t know.

        Perhaps it is their way of illustrating how amazingly unfair such tests are: we expect you to score in the top 30% but will offer you a salary well below the median wage.

        Perhaps it is because they themselves (please advise if grammar is incorrect…) scored highly and wish to make the point that others cannot or did not who are in more well respected or higher paying positions.

        And then, perhaps, as with many things it is an easy, visible target at which to direct frustrations.

        But then again, as Marty already said more succinctly: who cares?

        1. Marty, I care.
          If idiot politicians want to pontificate about standards, I want to see them measured by the standards they would use on others.

          If idiot ministers want to pontificate about the numeracy and literacy, or lack thereof, of teachers, I want to see \displaystyle their literacy and numeracy measured. It would be a real eye-opener and maybe quantify their stupidity in a way that the average person can understand.

          In my experience, when idiots are forced to be measured by the same standards they pontificate onto others, they shut their big, ignorant gobs pretty quick (or should that be quickly …?)

            1. Maybe. Nevertheless, I expect/demand that our leaders be held at least to the same standards as they would hold others to. If that’s a mistake, so be it.

                1. Maybe (almost certainly) our fearless will better appreciate how meaningless the standard is if they are forced to be measured by it …

                  It is never a meaningless exercise to force those who would apply standards on others to have those same standards applied to themselves. It is pure hypocrisy from leaders who refuse this.

                    1. Are there any (genuine) consequences for doing well or doing badly on NAPLAN or for that matter LANTITE?

                      There seems to be a lot of talk but not much action (climate change, anyone?) so, until there are known consequences, I really don’t care if our political leaders are held to the same standard or not.

                      NAPLAN sucks. VCAA exams suck. My students doing badly on VCAA exams will have consequences for me, so I care about these and not about NAPLAN.

                      Have I missed the point (again)?

                    2. You get three shots at LANTITE. If you do not pass on those three attempts then (presumably) you cannot be a teacher.

                      Private schools ask for NAPLAN results. Whether or not it matters, I don’t know.

  2. “Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools and head of Ofsted, who in 2012 condemned the fact that one in five pupils are leaving primary school without reaching the “national average” in English).”

    We can do better in Australia. We should have a national goal that all students will be above the national average.

    As for what are the characteristics of a good teacher, I recall that I took a graduate course in mathematics. There were about 15 of us in the class; 13 thought that the lecturer was so bad he should be sacked; another student and I thought that he was so good, he should teach every course in the department. Was he a good teacher?

    1. Is your second paragraph sarcasm?

      I have to ask because I did once hear a (science) teacher complain “half my class have scored below average.” Given the sample size in this case was less than 30 it is feasible that the median and mean were quite different…

      …and last I checked, universities care more about “research potential” than quality of teaching. Marty has posted about the skill of lecturing before. Quality teaching is quite a mystery to me – lots of people seem to have an opinion that it should be improved, but the definition of “good teaching” is perhaps still unresolved.

      1. Of course my second paragraph was meant to be sarcastic.

        I have asked before, if there were no league tables, what would be the purpose of a university?

  3. I watch job ads carefully … looking for my next gig. It seems that NAPLAN results of a school are taken into consideration for those teaching positions where NAPLAN performance is used to assess how well the teacher performs. I’ll admit that it is not perfectly clear from the ads, but the measure is suggested in some ads. Evidently this is common in the US.

    Now there must be formulae (state and federal) for funding for schools. I have heard it said that NAPLAN results affect funding. I would like to see these formulae and where NAPLAN enters the equation. If a school performs badly, does it get less money, or more?

  4. So… a prospective school can see NAPLAN results from MY class or I am expected to know these numbers?

    Or, does the new school look at the overall results of my current school and based on this decide if I’m a decent teacher?

    Not doubting this happens, btw, but there is a story about an Irish gent who migrated to Australia and in doing so raised the average IQ of both countries.

    1. The jobs to which I was referring are senior teaching positions where the successful applicant will have some overall responsibility for NAPLAN in the school. The ads suggested to me that this teacher will have to lead the charge in improving NAPLAN results – and, I guess, share a large part of the responsibility for the results.

      This year will be the first year that NAPLAN will be done on-line everywhere in the nation. I read the guide for teachers who may be involved in supervising these tests. It’s complicated.

      Click to access 2022Years3and5NAPLANTestAdministratonHandbookforTeachers.pdf

      1. “This year will be the first year that NAPLAN will be done on-line everywhere in the nation.”

        TM, I believe this was an \displaystyle aim for 2022 (as oppose to a reality) … Anyway, we all saw how this disaster movie ended a couple of years ago. I doubt the sequel will have a different ending (you can always guarantee FUBAR when Govt technology is involved) *.

        (On-line census, anyone?)

        I’m sure Marty will say
        “On-line FUBAR or not is irrelevant, it’s NAPLAN itself that’s FUBAR”.
        To which I would agree. Nevertheless, I would then contend that an on-line debacle is relevant because that’s what the public will see and then associate with the NAPLAN itself.

        * I hear the trial NAPLAN was done through a Govt portal and I’ve heard from some schools that it went smoothly. Does anyone know if the trial was simultaneous across the state? (I heard it was meant to occur as close as possible to 11.30 am, but I wonder if this happened in reality because I find it very hard to believe that the Govt system could cope with a simultaneous statewide log-in).

      1. I have forgotten all the arguments; I was hoping that someone would remind me of the key objections.

    1. I’ll give my 2-cents worth:

      Some schools that were heralded as massive success stories were found to have cheated by telling weak students to stay home on the day of the tests.

      Students (and some parents) get very stressed about the process.

      The tests are stupid and do not actually test what they claim to test.

      The “journalism” that follows the release of results each year creates unnecessary state-to-state rivalry, and nearly always concludes that teachers are crap.

      And, I think you might find that correspondents to this website are an indicative sample of the wider education population in this regard.

      Then again, based on your previous comments, I suspect you might be fishing for wisdom to use in a job interview, so best wishes with that.

  5. Sincere thanks to Marty and Red Five for your replies.

    I asked the question because I have been studying NAPLAN tests lately.

    As for the meaning of “numeracy”, it’s a buzz word, the meaning of which is hotly debated. As I have said before – for me – numeracy is applied mathematics. C’est tout, although nobody agrees with me.

    Asking some students to stay at home is a flaw in the system; but it demonstrates how much importance schools place on NAPLAN.

    As for stress, one of my Year 9 students asked this week “Why do we do this?” My answer was that governments are interested in these data; e.g. why is there so much variation between states? Schools are interested in these results; e.g. are we improving? But is makes no difference for the individual student – and I stressed this. Another student proffered a sporting analogy, “Don’t let the team down.”

    Do NAPLAN tests assess what they claim to test? Well, what do they claim to test?

    I did not ask my original question with a future interview in mind – but thanks anyway; it won’t be far away and I need all the wisdom that I can get. I learn a lot from this blog and I am grateful to Marty for this; I can rehearse my answers to interview questions here.

    1. Everyone thinks NAPLAN is important because everyone thinks everyone else thinks NAPLAN is important. There is nothing else. The test is garbage, and any body that promotes the tests, any body that requests or demands test scores, is complicit in the promotion of this garbage.

      1. It has been consistently argued by supporters of the NAPLAN that it has “major benefits”. I have not seen or heard of any benefits, either major or minor *. Has \displaystyle anyone heard of any benefits?

        * I’ve heard of a few non-benefits.

    1. Jesus. Apologies if I say again that NAPLAN is garbage and thus any discussion of NAPLAN, other than to be declaring that NAPLAN is garbage, is garbage.

  6. Let me offer some comments on the “N..N” word. I am hesitant to say it in full – I’ll get flamed enough anyway.

    There is the issue of the word, “Numeracy” which I have addressed elsewhere.

    There is the question of “stage not age”. Why should we expect all students of the same age to have the same mathematical ability?

    Then there are issues concerning how results of these tests are interpreted and used.

    Here, I am interested in the content of these tests. I have worked through some of the past papers, and I am left with the impression that they are a reasonable assessment of what students, at that level, should know about mathematics.

    1. Two questions, both genuine (although I will be the first to admit I don’t always appear genuine):

      1. If you light a fire, are you at fault if you get burned later or is it the fault of the person who poured petrol on the fire?

      2. Is saying “there is an issue with the word ‘numeracy'” and then saying NAPLAN is a fair test of Mathematics, when NAPLAN claims to test numeracy, not Mathematics a bit of a contradictory statement?

      And now a non-genuine question:

      “What students, at that level, should know about mathematics”. Is this not the source of immense debate at the moment that seems to have no clear agreement from those in charge of documenting it?

      1. Thanks RF.

        I don’t know the answer to Q1.

        In answer to Q2, there does not appear to be a generally accepted definition of numeracy (although I have my own). I used the word “mathematics” because I did not want to use the word “numeracy” in case the reader does not agree with my definition. (Anyway, what is mathematics? Could be a book.)

        As for the last question, let me suggest that there is widespread agreement on many aspects of the mathematics curriculum in schools. But, obviously, there is widespread disagreement on other parts.

        Thanks for the ideas – helpful as always.

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