Everything seems to evolve around the economy now. Education is no exception.
On the home page of the federal government’s Department of Education Schooling website it repeatedly refers to being about access to schools. It states the department is responsible for access to “quality and affordable” education that meets the needs of all children (Australian Government Department of Education 2013a). The words access, quality, affordable and needs all relate to the field of economics and economics is about constant measurement and assessment. Education is no exception: “The My School website contains school performance data and other information on Australian schools” (Australian Government Department of Education 2013b). It is interesting that the judgement-laden word, performance, is used, as if the data displayed is a definitive evaluation of schools. The media then further analyses these numbers to create the Australian version of league tables.
There have been many criticisms of the use and display of league tables including that it humiliates low-ranking schools (Farrell 2009) and sends administrators into “damage control” (Joseph 2006), place teachers under pressure (Joseph 2006) which results in teaching to the test and frequent tests (Hawkes 2010) and is used for “wedge” politics (Clennell and Patty 2009). The main issue, however, is that the data only covers a very narrow aspect of education. League tables neglect the cultural, sporting, extracurricular, ICT and community aspects of schools (Joseph 2006, p.16). Boston (2009) claims employers find young people with formal qualifications “unable to communicate simply and well, cannot work collaboratively, lack initiative and enterprise…lack a thirst for continued learning and personal growth…deficit in the soft skills that form an essential component of the human capital of each individual” (p.37). This is an example of an argument against league tables, an economic driven measurement, also being stated in economic terms.
The government argues that MySchool exists to provide transparency to parents but it is such a small window it “becomes a proxy for all the other information which is inferred” (Boston 2009, p.37). It has created a stronger market situation for schools using economic rhetoric about choice and asset allocation to support its case (Cobbold 2009, Joseph 2006). Choice may actually lead to social and racial segregation (Cobbold 2009, p.10) and is not readily available to many due to the financial restrictions of fees, transport and lost time (Reid 2010, p.13). Tim Hawkes (2009), Principal of one of the most prestigious schools in Australia, The King’s School, recognised the negative issues of league tables but also argued that MySchool is good as an indicator of the value added by a school and how government is allocating taxpayers’ money. This constant economic language ties in with the government’s neo-liberal focus on individuals instead of community.
Education should be much more than about creating a product called human labour, contributing to Australia’s role in the global economy. Education is about community, friendships, nurturing, caring, the whole person, contributing to the world in more than the economic sense. It is about understanding ourselves and each other. The MySchool website is a tiny window into just a fraction of what school is about. Other information needs to be gathered if it is to be a realistic indicator of school performance. Even so, the rhetoric about choice and asset allocation as justification for transparency needs to cease because it is a complete fallacy.
Australian Government Department of Education. (2013a). Department of Education: Schooling. Retrieved from http://www.education.gov.au/schooling
Australian Government Department of Education. (2013b). Department of Education: MySchool. Retrieved from http://www.education.gov.au/my-school
Boston, K. (2009, October). League tables. Teacher, n.205, 36-42. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/
Clennell, A. and Patty, A. (2009, November 12). Breaking the law: the exam results they don’t want you to see. smh. http://www.smh.com.au/national/breaking-the-law-the-exam-results-they-dont-want-you-to-see-20091111-i9zt.html
Cobbold, T. (2009, March). League tables. Professional Educator, 8(1), 8-11. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/
Farrell, J. (2009, November 19). School league tables. Club Troppo. Retrieved from http://clubtroppo.com.au/2009/11/19/league-tables/
Hawkes, T. (2010, January 27). Ladder of opportunity rises above league tables. smh. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/ladder-of-opportunity-rises-above-league-tables-20100126-mw8b.html
Joseph, J. (2006, October). Report Cards: Reporting what matters. Professional Magazine, 21, 14-17. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/
Reid, A. (2010, March). The My School Myths. AEU (SA Branch) Journal, 42(12), 12-13. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/