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NAPLAN // Peter Bromhead

Part 1

Intro:

Gabby's a parent of school aged children with lots of questions about education, and Brendan's an educator with 30 years experience in with jargon free answers. This is 'Shaping Futures'.

Gabby:

Good morning, Brendan. Welcome to 'Shaping Futures'.

Brendan:

It's great to be with you, Gab.

Gabby:

Thank you, Brendan. This morning, Brendan, I just want to talk to you about Naplan. I was watching 60 Minutes the other night, which was a hot topic, at the moment. What are your feelings on Naplan and do you feel that it's really important for these kids to make sure they achieve high results in Naplan? What are your thoughts?

Brendan:

I think, Gab, the first thing to get sorted out is exactly what we mean by Naplan, because it conveys so many different things to different people, different audiences. I didn't catch all of the 60 Minutes report on Sunday night, but my wife watched it and I've had a few conversations with other people who followed it right through to the end, and it's been a topic for a decade almost, since its inception. It was very controversial when it came in and the use of that language, Naplan, and I think the 60 Minutes story linked it very closely to an international standardised test, the PISA results, and we're drawing comparisons between them. There are some valid comparisons, but there's also distinctions that we need to understand about. What is the Naplan? It's more how the Naplan is being interpreted and applied than the test itself, and the cycle of what that has done for schools.

Brendan:

Undoubtedly, it has had some impact on the way in which some schools, or some teachers think about what their job is. And it's also starting to shape the mindset of the community about what it is that they're expecting of schools. Both of those are unfortunate and unnecessary, I think. What does an educator think of Naplan vs what does a marketing person or a Systems Manager think of the Naplan and implication vs member of the public? What do they think of Naplan?

Gabby:

So, when myself, being a parent, when I'm looking at different schools, is it fair to actually ask, "How are you going in your Naplan results here?" And is that a fair indication of the quality of the school?

Brendan:

It's a valid question to ask but you'd be doing yourself a disservice and, I think, the school a disservice if that was the sum total of the information that you wanted to gain about what the school was doing and use that as a measure of the quality of the learning that was happening. There are so many factors that have a say and influence what a school's Naplan results will be. As in the context of that 60 Minutes report, the simple analysis of where you were in the rank list of international scores hides a myriad of other issues that all have their particular point of influence but don't get reported, or don't get noted, or aren't acknowledged. It's that classic scenario of finding something that's actually quite complex with a lot of moving parts and distilling it down to something that is overly simplified for the sake of getting a message across. In that process, the message can be quite distorted and, I think, that's what's happened both with Naplan and with the PISA results.

Gabby:

Right. Yep. The reports seem to convey a little bit of a negative attitude towards Naplan. Taking a different focus here, Brendan, what about for the kids? What sort of pressure is this putting on the children and is it good that kids are competing against each other, or is it good to have some sort of scale? What's your opinion on that?

Brendan:

So, this is a really great question actually, Gab, because this notion of competition is at the heart of the problem and it's the way in which Naplan has been hijacked, in lots of ways, to do something other than its intended purpose and that is being channelled into this notion of competitive advantage. Whether that's applied to the students, or whether it's applied to schools or to school systems or the states or to nations, this idea of, "What are we measuring in terms of competitive advantage through these standardised tests." That's the unfortunate application of what the Naplan, as a tool, has the potential to contribute.

Brendan:

There is a lot of research that is showing the environment of education that's being created as a byproduct of this emphasis on competition through standardised testing is having a negative impact on students. There is enough evidence or enough correlation between the rise of those high stake standardised tests and student wellbeing and mental health and school refusal and anxiety to say, it appears there are those negative consequences.

Brendan:

But, on the flip side, there is just as strong of repertoire of research that is showing that in formative feedback, rapid formative feedback about what students can do, where they're at, what their next steps are, are among the most useful things that we can do to help students progress and way back in its inception, that was what Naplan was intended to do. It was intended to be a standardised tool that educators could use in an informed way to get a snapshot of, "Here's where my students are at. This is what they can do. This is where I can make some plans about scaffolding their movement forward."

Brendan:

In that regard, when a school gets the Naplan results, there is a raft of incredibly useful information that comes with it, and it's not just 'here's the score in reading or in writing or in numeracy', there's background issues about what types of literacy students are good at, what questions they did well at or not well at, what growth has happened. Where are the key points of influence that a teacher can then interpret, but that's the issue. They all require somebody with a bit of knowledge, somebody with a bit of commitment to those students to take that data and interpret it into some useful form of action rather than just plug you in to a rank list and say, "Well, where do we sit on that list?"

Gabby:

I guess I'm also thinking, too, what about for those students that perhaps that's not their strong point, at all. They really struggle in those areas, but yet they're gifted with woodwork or agriculture and their careers may not go along that line?

Brendan:

Exactly, and that's part of the criticism about how Naplan has taken on a life of its own and that it has become THE measure of school performance and THE measure of academic success, and it flies in the face of the other conversation that's happening in education at the moment about the need for us to adopt a 21st century approach to what skills are needed. Yes, we do need to literacy and the numeracy in those capacities to write persuasively and the things that Naplan are testing, but Naplan does nothing about how a student's learning to collaborate or to research or to analyse information and the bank of other skills that are becoming just as important, if not more important, for employability and entering useful contribution to an economy, you're exactly right. Naplan doesn't cater for those kids that have got incredibly good relational skills or incredibly good research or analytical skills or creative skills. It's a narrow slice of curriculum and it's become exaggerated because of the attention that it's given that ... ranking.

Gabby:

And perhaps the pressure it's causing and that, too ...

Brendan:

And it is the pressure. Because there's pressure on schools. The students are carrying that pressure but the spotlight comes and says, "Well, where are you ranking?" That's part of the problem because schools think, "Well, we've got to focus on that measure, the measure is what's important, so we focus on that to the detriment of other areas," and schools are under that same pressure.

Gabby:

One of the things, too, you may not be able to answer this, Brendan, I'm not sure. I don't know if you can tell into the future. Do you see Naplan changing or this concept of scaling schools and children? Do you see it changing?

Brendan:

I think it needs to change. Something needs to change. I don't necessarily think that Naplan of itself was a bad thing. If it had been able to remain the tool that it was intended to be, that it would continue to be a useful thing, going forward. But education's changed, curriculum's changed, the expectations of our community have changed, so it would not necessarily have to change in response to those things, too. But, what's happened nationally and internationally, Naplan and PISA, bit the same as what was going on with the HSC. The HSC was meant to me an individualised ... But we know that there are ways the lead tables of schools that were produced and no matter what encouragement was given that the results on the HSC were not intended to formally, it happened anyway. That's the same thing with Naplan. Any of these sort of standardised tests, the nature of comparison, the nature of simplifying something that is complex, will probably lead to a similar outcome, whatever standardised test gets introduced.

Brendan:

That needs to be acknowledged and the current situation, I think, where Naplan has come to this point of such contention and such pressure point that it's lost its ability to do what it was useful in doing and something has to change. What that will be, I'm not sure. Teachers still need something. They still need a reliable, verifiable tool that they can validly apply to benchmark their students so they do get a common understanding of, "Where are the students in my school at compared to students at other schools," but, if that's not Naplan, it'll need to be something else.

Gabby:

Wonderful. Great. Well, thank you, Brendan, so much. It was really informative. Really interesting and I look forward to speaking to you next time.

Part 2

For the second part of 'Shaping Futures' we are now going to talk to one of our school leaders about a recent mission trip that he's been on.

Brendan:

Thanks, Gab. You, too.

Gabby:

Thanks for chatting to us on 'Shaping Futures'

Intro:

For the second part of 'Shaping Futures' we are now going to talk to one of our school leaders about a recent mission trip that he's been on.

Gabby:

Peter, I believe that you have come back from Palm Island on a mission trip. Tell me about that. What was that like for you?

Peter:

Good morning. Thanks for having me. Yeah, we've just got back from Palm Island, just this week and it was a fantastic opportunity. We had a group of 13 students across two different schools from Australian Christian College. We met up in Brisbane and flew off to Townsville, and in Townsville we partnered with a group called YWAM - Youth with a Mission, and in doing that, we learnt about mission, we were equipped for mission and then we went off on an outreach to Palm Island to work with the local indigenous community.

Gabby:

Fantastic! And Peter, how many children did you have with you altogether, and were they all ages? Tell me a little bit about the kids you took with you.

Peter:

Our mission's programme does provide opportunity and is accessible for a number of age groups, but this particular mission trip was for students in Year 9 and Year 10. Age ranging from 14 to 16. We had 13 students and with that, combined with the YWAM crew, when we went on outreach, we had a total of 25 people.

Gabby:

Wow. Fantastic group of people. When you were over there, Peter, tell me exactly what a day would look like for you guys. What you would do in that day?

Peter:

A day on outreach is unpredictable. You had to be flexible and prepared to roll with whatever was going to come. On our very first evening, we were cooking dinner and then the local pastor said, "We have dinner down the road with another pastor, are you ready to come?" And we had to stop what we were doing, work it out. We split the group in half and half went down the road.

Peter:

But, a typical day usually would commence waking up around the 6.30 time, having breakfast. The students would be on a roster for dealing with meals and cleaning up. They would have breakfast and straight after breakfast, we'd have what they called 'Finding 30', when they took 30 minutes just to be reflective, have their own personal devotions time. It was quite beautiful 'cause we're at the mission house on Palm Island. One of the, if not the oldest building on the island, and it's about 100 metres from the water and we'd do their 'Finding 30' just somewhere outside and where I sat was at the opening of the doorway. There's a beautiful white cross that had been there for years, and the background was the beautiful islands and water. We do our 'Finding 30'. After that, we'd have a time of worship and the group would just have a devotional reflect on the day ahead and what the day would look like.

Peter:

Some of the typical days, we'd then walk down the road. It's about a 10 - 15 minute walk down to the local school and the students spent the morning, up 'til lunch time, just in classrooms, broken up into small groups in classrooms where they would provide support, could be literacy support, just helping them keep focused in the classroom. Sometimes, they got to play games and run some activities but, in general, it's just see what the need was and how we could add value to that community. After that, we'd have lunch and then down to PCYC, where we partnered with the police down there. They've got a fantastic set up of local support and the local PCYC administration and we'd play games, run activities. They'd just get involved in whatever way they could.

Peter:

Finished up with dinner, back at the mission house and they'd break into small groups and really reflect on their day and a lot of the students said that's the most enjoyable time of the day was actually reflecting on the things they've learnt, the things they found hard and difficult, how they overcame that challenge. Maybe they didn't. How would they do that next time? And just to take the opportunity to reflect and grow from that day and see how they could add value to someone else's life tomorrow.

Gabby:

Sounds fantastic, Peter. I can't help but ask you, what was the weather like over there?

Peter:

Shorts. T-shirt. Wearing thongs. It was absolutely beautiful.

Gabby:

Fantastic! Peter, do you feel that there's been some special friendships that have developed between the children from Australian Christian College and the friendships they made over there? Is there any example you can give us about some of the friendships that were formed?

Peter:

Any trip like this is quite unique in the opportunities it avails for building relationships and strong connections, and I know that when we went across, we were very unique. We had two separate schools, Australian Christian College and Marsden Park at Moreton, but both those schools had students from their online learning schools with them. So, you really had four entities coming together and having to build relationships, along with the YWAM crew, which were absolutely fantastic. I know that those students really built strong relationships. They were all a bit at odds and ends at the beginning, but by the end of it, there were a lot of tears as they said their goodbyes and really enjoyed that time. I think they made some life-long friendships.

Gabby:

Fantastic, Peter. That sounds like just a really positive trip.

Gabby:

Well, Peter, thank you for speaking with me today and look forward to speaking to you again on 'Shaping Futures'.

Peter:

Thanks for having me.