This one is by request, and it’s way, way late. A month or so ago, I was contacted by Jessica Ring, a member of something called the ACT Alliance for Evidence-Based Education. Jessica contacted me because there had been set up a lightning ACT literacy and numeracy inquiry, and Jessica was hoping I would make a submission. Which I will, because I tend to do what people ask, and because Jessica and AAEBE appear to be batting for the good team. I would also appreciate it if readers considered making a brief submission, either by email or by answering the typically easy (and typically annoying) online survey. I give some details of and general thoughts on the inquiry below, the Terms of Reference are here and the Consultation Paper is here. The deadline for submissions is in a week, on 14 February. 13/02/24 The deadline for submissions has been extended two weeks, until 28 February.
The inquiry is being conducted by an Expert Panel. Of course. The Panel is led by Barney Dalgarno, “a distinguished university educator with significant experience in initial teacher education”. A few months back, Barney distinguished himself with a clueless “ITE is in great shape” op-ed (Murdoch, paywalled). Beyond Barney, the “numeracy expert” on the Panel is our old MERGA mate, Catherine “The Curriculum is just fine” Attard. It’s a safe bet that the rest of the Expert Panel is of a similar bent, and of a similar calibre.
It’s a little difficult to get the sense of the purpose of ACT’s inquiry. From the Consultation Paper, some of the motivation appears to be SES inequity, with the ACT plebs doing significantly worse on NAPLAN et al:
The Expert Panel has been established to provide the Minister with independent advice on how to address equity gaps, and achieve ongoing improvement in literacy and numeracy outcomes, in and across ACT public schools.
The proper response, of course, is, “well, duh“. Underlying that, there appears to be the traditional inquiry-explicit battle. All in all, the usual. AAEBE’s submission, focussed on literacy, is here.
The Consultation Paper is odd to read. Less attention is spent on elaborating issues than on declarations of how Thoughtful and Good the ACT leadership is:
Launched in 2018, the ACT Government’s Future of Education Strategy (Strategy) sets out the ACT Government’s 10-year vision for education. Its foundations are:
- Students at the centre – each student treads their own educational pathway and should be empowered to make informed decisions about how their learning environment operates.
- Empowered learning professionals – education professionals are experts, highly skilled at working with students to guide them through their learning journey.
This Strategy sets out a progressive approach which values student voice, alongside delivering a rigorous and high-quality education that provides all students with the foundational skills and knowledge they need to be successful learners.
There’s plenty more like that, the standard “progressive” nonsense, along with the standard assurances that everything is “evidence-based”. It all feels very defensive, as if some, and maybe lots of somes, are not buying it.
The section of particular note to readers of this blog is 2.1.2, on “numeracy”, which I’ve excerpted, below. Again, if readers have time make a submission, Jessica would very much appreciate it. Also, any thoughts expressed in the comments will help me with my own submission. (There seem to be obvious elephants in the excerpt below, but I’ll leave off until readers have had a go.)
Numeracy is a crucial skill that empowers students to engage effectively in academic learning and societal interactions. As outlined in the Australian Curriculum, numeracy involves not only mathematical knowledge and skills but also behaviours and dispositions essential for utilising numeracy confidently in diverse real-world situations. It encompasses recognising the role of numeracy in the world, understanding its applications, and using mathematical knowledge and skills purposefully.
Numeracy skills foster critical thinking and problem-solving abilities across various contexts and are essential for active participation in society.
Early Years and Primary School
ACT public school teachers in preschool to year 6 adopt targeted practices to equip students with essential numeracy knowledge and skills necessary for coping with numeracy demands across different subjects. Emphasis is placed on introducing and reinforcing mathematical vocabulary daily. Various resources are employed to strengthen students’ conceptual understanding, blending regular practice of familiar concepts with the introduction of new mathematical ideas. Additionally, educators intentionally embed daily opportunities for applying mathematics within other learning areas.
Primary schools use structured numeracy teaching which incorporates whole-class, smallgroup, and individualised teaching to meet students’ individual learning needs effectively. Teachers employ targeted small group teaching to address specific points of student difficulty, allowing for tailored teaching that supports diverse learning styles.
The Panel will consider the efficacy of current targeted practices in fostering a strong mathematical foundation in early education. It will also look to understand the impact of interdisciplinary use of numeracy skills across the primary curriculum. The Panel is eager to hear from primary school educators and middle leaders to understand how prepared they feel for teaching and leading numeracy education and what supports are working best.
The Panel is interested in exploring the variation of teaching of numeracy within ACT public primary schools, and understanding how this aligns with the evidence. In particular, the Panel will review evidence about inquiry learning, explicit and structured instruction, along with small group teaching and how this enables differentiation.
In ACT public high schools and colleges, the focus extends beyond continued numeracy development to embrace numeracy in different subject areas. Across various subjects, teachers introduce specific mathematical concepts and skills relevant to the discipline, emphasising their contextual applications. For instance, in history classes, students analyse timelines, graphs, tables, maps, scales, and statistics to explore historical issues and ideas.
High schools and colleges offer dedicated mathematics lessons focusing on advancing students’ mathematical ideas, numeracy skills and problem-solving strategies, progressively increasing in complexity. Lessons are structured to enhance students’ fluency, deepen their understanding, foster mathematical reasoning, and equip them with problem-solving strategies. Additionally, students leverage a range of physical and digital tools, such as calculators and digital graphing software, to augment their learning experience.
Similar to literacy, there is an interdisciplinary component to numeracy; however, anecdotally, there is less engagement with the teaching of numeracy outside the maths classroom. The Panel will be keen to test this with ACT public school educators and school leadership. There will be a focus on evaluating the effectiveness of teaching disciplinespecific numeracy skills and their transferability across subject areas.
The Panel is eager to understand how mathematics can be best delivered across the public high school context, and to provide suggestions for how schools can ensure that the foundations of numeracy are provided to all students. Noting the evolution of technology in mathematics education, the Panel will consider the effectiveness of technological tools in enhancing students’ numeracy achievement and engagement.
1. What supports are required to ensure the literacy and numeracy outcomes within the Australian Curriculum are met? Are there examples of system-wide or school-based supports that have been found to be particularly effective?
2. What teaching practices have been found to consistently improve literacy and numeracy outcomes?
3. Are there curriculum and teaching practices, approaches or supports in ACT public schools that are working well or are not having the desired impact? Are there any lessons the Education Directorate can take away from what is/is not working, and what should they stop, start or expand upon to improve outcomes?
4. Does the Education Directorate’s approach of suggesting but not mandating teaching approaches support improved learning outcomes or would a greater degree of evidencebased prescription be more effective?
5. Are there examples of system-wide approaches to literacy and numeracy teaching in other jurisdictions that the Panel should examine?
6. How can school leaders and the Education Directorate be confident of what is being taught and the effectiveness of how it is being taught?