Maxine McKew's 'Class Act': Consistency and needs-based funding necessary to improve schools

September 14 / 144

Detail from the cover of 'Class Act: Ending the Education Wars'
Detail from the cover of 'Class Act: Ending the Education Wars'

Australia’s most impressive schools direct resources toward extending the skills and knowledge of teachers so they can challenge students with intellectually rigorous content, writes Maxine McKew in her new book, Class Act.

The Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education examines a number of “class act” schools, which provide complete pastoral care for students and create a high performance culture.

Ms McKew said consistency in both education policy and quality of leadership is vital for a high-quality school system.

Australia’s “chopping and changing” of policy in recent decades stands in contrast to high performing countries such as Finland and Singapore.

“It's not a question of copying or rejecting particular aspects of what other high performers do, but of taking heed of the importance of continuity of best practice,” she said.

“We know a great deal about what works in the classroom, and about the necessary ingredients for whole school improvement. The challenge is to develop a consensus around the correct settings and then work hard on the implementation.”

She said an important facet of this is ensuring that more funding is allocated to schools where the students face greater disadvantage and difficulty.

Ms McKew said one of the most important points raised by the Gonski Review of School Funding is that it costs a good deal more to educate a child born to disadvantage.

New South Wales is currently applying a needs-based formula as a guide to how it distributes education funds, as recommended by the Gonski review.

“I describe a school in inner Sydney, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, that caters for pre-schoolers with exceptionally limited vocabularies - in some cases their facial muscles are so under-developed they have trouble making the sounds that form speech,” she said.

“Gonski-style resourcing is critical in a school such as this to pay for speech therapists and other professionals to help children get to first base.”

Meanwhile, consistently strong school leadership is essential, as is the recognition that this can be taught.

“Leadership is learnable around the three principles of whole school improvement - constant improvement of the skills of teachers, rich class content, and the encouragement of students to take charge of their own learning,” Ms McKew said.

“As Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership director Bruce Armstrong says in my book, we can't just wait for a mix of experience and serendipity to produce leaders.”


Class Act is now available from Melbourne University Publishing (MUP) ( University staff and students are eligible for a 25 per cent discount on all MUP titles, but until the end of November, get 35 per cent off the paperback and E-book editions of Class Act using the promotional code MUSSE35.

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