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Researchers respond to CIS report: Getting the most out of Gonski 2.0

In early October, policy thinktank, the Centre for Independent Research (CIS) released its report: Getting the most out of Gonski 2.0: The evidence base for school investments on the use of Gonski funding. It tapped into an ongoing debate over phonics, literacy, and behaviour management.

With submissions for David Gonski’s review on funding for education initiatives now closed, leading researchers respond to the CIS report.

Prof Linda Graham, leader of the Student Engagement, Learning & Behaviour (#SELB) Research Group at the Queensland University of Technology, is sceptical of the report. The CIS has provided no credible evidence to support the claim that Australia has high levels of classroom misbehaviour" she said.

“Their comments contradict recent research from UniSA which provides a more nuanced account from teachers at the chalkface. According to this research, Australian students are generally cooperative and only a small percentage engage in deliberately disruptive behaviour.”

“The CIS' recommendation to provide more classroom management training reveals a lack of knowledge of the Australian educational context. Classroom management is one of the most covered topics in teacher professional development. Most teachers are competent at CM because they seek support from colleagues or request PD when they feel they need it. To churn out more of the same is to miss the mark.

Prof Graham has completed extensive research on children’s behaviour. “Our current six-year longitudinal study has found that most teachers in our sample scored well in behaviour management (mean of 5 on a scale of 1-7). So far, our results indicate that there are other more deep-seated factors that come into play that are worth paying attention to. These include the intellectual quality of teaching, productivity, and emotional climate.”

Dr David Armstrong of Flinders University questions the report’s claim that teachers need more training in behaviour management and techniques for teaching reading, such as phonics. “Research from respected scholars in Australia, the UK and the US suggests that attempts to improve children’s academic performance through managing their behaviour can backfire,” he said.

“They often lead to a punitive cycle of intervention and teacher frustration until the situation escalates to exclusion. Children who have a disability, who are from disadvantaged backgrounds of have a mental health difficulty often suffer most in these circumstances.

“For a recent study on mental health I spoke to academics leading UG courses across Australia. Many academics expressed concern that child mental health was being crowded out of the curriculum by instruction on how to control children’s behaviour so that they performed academically, or by a focus on literacy or numeracy. 

“The ‘behaviour management’ concept is outdated and requires urgent reform in favour of modern research-informed perspectives from developmental psychology and behavioural science. Framing children as mini-performers in a competitive academic environment is also counterproductive for the academic performance of many typically-developing children and adverse for their psychological welfare.” 

But Prof Pamela Snow of La Trobe University says the CIS report makes some important points. “The ongoing debate concerning uneven and in some cases, disappointing reading skills of Australian children typically comes back, in large part, to the way children are taught to read in the early years," she said.

“The extent to which children arrive at school with a well-developed language 'toolkit' is extremely variable, hence it is critical that teachers are knowledgeable about these aspects of language and how to promote them as the basis for the transition to literacy. Consistent with the CIS report, evidence from Australia and overseas consistently shows that teachers as a group have inadequate explicit knowledge of the structural aspects of language. Approaches such as 'Balanced Literacy' are eclectic rather than systematic and so leave much to chance and individual interpretation in early years classrooms.”

"My experience working with teachers at a postgraduate level is that they do not feel well-prepared to understand and respond to the challenging behaviours displayed by students with complex underlying emotional / mental health needs. Emotional self-regulation, attention, and academic achievement are closely inter-connected in the early years, so we do teachers and their students a great disservice when we do not provide explicit pedagogy, coaching, and support in evidence-based ways to address these fundamentals in the early years classroom.”

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